It's 1962 Chicago, where superpowered heroes have joined together to form a labor union called the Chicago Organized Workers League — or C.O.W.L.
The new Image comic kicks off later this month, spinning out of a college film by Nightwing and Batman Eternal writer Kyle Higgins called The League. Co-written with Alec Segal, the movie imagined a world where superheroes had formed a labor union, but now the two are expanding the concepts for a new comic featuring art by Rod Reis.
With the first issue due out later this month, Newsarama looks at who's who in the organization, talking to Higgins about what readers can expect from the new series.
Who They Are: In this universe, after World War II, the development and deployment of the atomic bomb apparently kicked off superpowers in the world. "They happened at the same time," Higgins said. "So there's definitely is a connection."
"The founder, Geoffrey Warner, believed started C.O.W.L. because he believed that heroes could be better if being heroes was their only focus," Higgins said. "By striking a contract with the city of Chicago, it actually allowed the formation of this organization that combats the threats and the villains of the post-war years.
And it's this whole organization, so it's really an ensemble cast. One of the things we wanted to do with the book is really explore how the organization works, and the best way to do that, in our opinion, was to build different points of view in the series based on the different divisions of the organization.
So you have Geoffrey Warner, who's the leader. You have the Tactical Division, which includes the three most powerful characters, the Trinity. Then you have the Patrols Division. And then you have the Investigations Division.
Biggest Challenge: "It's an organization that's in a time of change," Higgins said. "At its core, this is a story about the corruption of an American institution. It's a group that was started with the noblest of intentions, and for quite a long time, it worked.
"Now, it's gotten to the point where it's big, it's bureaucratic, and it's not able to maneuver and pivot to reflect the needs of this new era," he said.
"So this story is an exploration of these characters and an organization as they're faced with a changing landscape that calls into question why they do what they do."
Who He Is: John works in the Investigations Division of C.O.W.L.. "He's kind of our moral compass in the book," Higgins said. "He recognizes what C.O.W.L. used to be, sees what currently is, and in a lot of ways, is afraid of what it might become."
As an investigator for C.O.W.L., "he's the guy who susses out leads, information, cases…" Higgins said. "He has informants on the street. If you think of C.O.W.L. as compared to a police department, John is working as a detective. He's the one who's driving the intelligence gathering of C.O.W.L..
"This is 1962, so it's 13 years after the organization's started. The times have started to change. The 'villains' aren't operating the same way anymore," Higgins said. "It's not as flashy, it's not as costumed as it used to be. They've become smarter, and they're hiding their actions.
"For example, in the first issue, you find out that Skylancer is the last of the big, flashy villains of the mid- to late-1950s, the Chicago Six. So finding Skylancer and where he's been all this time comes down to John. He's the one who uncovers an assassination plot that opens issue #1."
Higgins said Reis was trying to make John Pierce look particularly "distinguished."
"John isn't in a costume," Higgins said. "He works the streets. He has a look of superiority about him. He's also got a pretty awesome mustache."
Biggest Challenge: "The case that John gets involved with in issue #1 really challenges all of his pre-conceptions about C.O.W.L.," Higgins said. "He has to take a look at the organization, and it really reveals the status of C.O.W.L. in 1962 — how far it's fallen. As I said, he's our moral center of the book, and I'm a big fan of his story. Right now, his part of the story is my favorite."
Who He Is: Geoffrey is the primary founder of C.O.W.L., and the organization's current leader. But he used to go by the superhero identity, "The Gray Raven."
"He's one of the first heroes of Chicago, from before World War II," Higgins said. "He grew up on Chicago's South Side. He's kind of a Chicago staple. Even before the U.S. got involved in the war, Geoffrey was oversees, leading a special operations unit, pulling missions in North Africa, and then he was also involved in D-Day and other places during the war.
"After the war, he was able to use his political contacts to start C.O.W.L.," Higgins said.
"He's something of a living legend," Higgins said. "He's now in his mid-50's, and he hung up the Gray Raven costume about five or six years ago. Now he operates solely as C.O.W.L.'s union chief. It's an administrative position as well as a political position. So he runs the show from behind a desk now.
"He's a strong leader — six-foot-three, 220, an imposing presence," the writer said. "When he enters a room, he takes over. He's a straight shooter, and he commands respect in most situations.
"Everyone respects Geoffrey, but they may not necessarily like him," he said.
Geoffrey doesn't have superpowers. He was athletically very gifted. He was a boxer before he became the Gray Raven. "He brandished two Colt 45's," Higgins said. "Those were his weapons of choice — with rubber bullets, of course."
In fact, rubber bullets have become the standard armament for C.O.W.L.. "Part of the contract with the city of Chicago is that they only use non-lethal ammunition," Higgins said. "Of course, rubber bullets were not around in real life 1952, so in this universe, C.O.W.L. is actually the first adopters of the rubber bullet technology."
Biggest Challenge: His big challenge is that the times have changed. "He's most comfortable in an era that's no longer relevant," Higgins said. "The world is shifting. The threats facing the city and the country are changing. And in some ways, if you want to look at it as a metaphor for comics, he's kind of a character from the Golden Age that's now trying to navigate the beginnings of the Silver Age, where the heroes are more flawed and the threats are more ambiguous.
"Also, Geoffrey and John end up being two opposing forces within C.O.W.L.," Higgins said.
Who She Is: Radia's real name is Kathryn Mitchell. "In our first arc, Radia is one of the most prominent characters, and definitely the most prominent female character," he said. "She's part of the Trinity of the Tactical team, which is Arclight, Blaze and Radia.
Because it's the 1960's, she's been made out to be something of a sex symbol — "kind of like a Marilyn Monroe," Higgins said.
"The media has portrayed her as a sex symbol, and it's been somewhat reinforced by C.O.W.L., because they use her for publicity," the writer explained. "They even script her interview answers.
"None of this sits well with her, obviously," Higgins said.
"Also, Radia has a big secret."
Powers: Radia has telekinetic powers, and Higgins called her "arguably the most powerful person on the planet."
Biggest Challenge: "Her development in the series and her arc is really tied to perception, the way that C.O.W.L. and the city of Chicago view her," Higgins said. "She, along with the character Blaze, who is African-American, both deal with issues that were very pertinent in 1962. For Radia, her story is tied to the beginning of the women's liberation movement. So there are topical issues of the time that come into play in the book.
"Her perception as a sex symbol is something that Radia is going to be rejecting," Higgins said. "So her story, ultimately, is about redefining herself."
Who He Is: Blaze is the deputy chief of C.O.W.L., and he's in charge of the Tactical Unit.
"Even though he's the deputy chief, he's a member of the organization who is down on the streets still, working with the other heroes," Higgins said. "He's someone that the other heroes like and trust. Reginald commands respect, but also is approachable and is someone who has a lot of relationships within C.O.W.L.. He's also been doing this for almost as long as Geoffrey."
Powers: "Blaze" mantle dates back to World War II. "The gauntlet that actually generates the electromagnetic fields that he's able to manipulate is a piece of Nazi technology that was recovered during World War II," Higgins said. "Blaze was part of the special operations unit that Geoffrey led during the war.
"It's a piece of Nazi technology that German scientists were developing, part of a slew of different weapons in this alternate history," the writer said.
"The technology is a little further advanced in C.O.W.L. than what actually was around in the 1950s," Higgins explained. "Anytime that you introduce something like superpowers into the world, you're creating a divergence from history, obviously. So for us, we look at what the other characteristics of the time would be like — what would have been more advanced and what might have changed?
"For example, everyone at C.O.W.L. speaks on a wristwatch communicator," the writer said.
"And Blaze has this electromagnetic, energy field generating gauntlet. There are also weapons that Skylancer uses that are like photon cannons, and jetpacks. It really allows Rod to have a lot of fun with the visuals. He's a big science fiction fan. He's a big 1950s sci-fi fan. So it's been a lot of fun, and it's allowed us to build out the world."
Biggest Challenge: Similar to Radia, Blaze is not happy with his role. "He's a fantastic No. 2 who wishes he were a No. 1," Higgins said. "As much as he respects Geoffrey, and as much as they're friends, there are things Geoffrey does that Blaze doesn't agree with, and Blaze often thinks and wonders if he'd do a better job in the leadership role, in the top spot.
"In 1962 though, since Blaze is also black, his race plays a role in terms of perception of him," the writer said. "As respected as he is within the organization, that doesn't keep people from having opinions about him, as the race relations in America come into play. It just keeps those opinions a little quieter.
Blaze also has "a pretty big secret," Higgins said. "It's a different secret from the one we mentioned that Radia has. They're keeping those secrets at all cost, but those are things we'll start to hint about in the first couple issues, and we'll develop and explore those as we go forward."
Who He Is: Arclight is the all-American hero. He has a bright red costume with a blue cape and a white "A" across his chest and torso.
"Like most of these characters, he's not what he seems," Higgins said. "The public persona that he and C.O.W.L. project is one of a grounded, approachable, likable, all-American quarterback. As you can see on the cover of issue #2, he's in it for all the wrong reasons. He likes the fame, he likes the power, he likes the money. And he has a lot of vices that sometimes get the better of him."
Powers: Similar to Blaze and Radia, his powers are energy based. "They're fueled by cosmic radiation," Higgins said. "There's a little bit of a Havoc vibe to his powers, so he's able to make concentrated bursts of energy. He's also able to fly."
Biggest Challenge: "His biggest challenge is going to be picking a side," Higgins said.
Eclipse & Grant Marlow
Who They Are: Eclipse and Grant Marlow are part of the Patrols Division, which is the largest division in C.O.W.L.. "It's broken up into different sectors of the city," Higgins said. "If you take a look at the title page of our first issue, there's a map of Chicago, and that map has been split up into color-coded districts. And each district is a division of C.O.W.L.."
Grant and Eclipse work in the Western District, and they drive a black car with a gold-and-black C.O.W.L. logo on it, and an orange gumdrop light on the top.
"Their closest analogy within the police department would be 'beat cops,'" Higgins explained. "So they're our street level view."
Eclipse's real name is Carl Samoski, but "you'll notice that Grant doesn't have a superhero name, which is a big story point," Higgins said.
Powers: Eclipse's powers are energy powers, but Higgins said "they're kind of the opposite to Arclight's powers," calling them "anti-kinetic powers."
"So he's able to disrupt the flow of energy, the flow of electricity," Higgins said. "It can be anything from causing lights to go out to causing guns to misfire, just by disrupting the flow of energy. He's kind of an anti-Gambit, if you will.
Grant Marlow, on the other hand, doesn't actually have superpowers, but he's a very good sharpshooter. "He's probably a better fit than he is for an organization that deals with superpowers and villains," Higgins said.
Biggest Challenge: Grant is "pretty beaten down when we find him," Higgins said. "His biggest challenge is going to be finding purpose. He's in an organization where he is, in some ways, the weakest link, compared to the other heroes. He doesn't really have powers."
Eclipse is perceived as "something of a raging asshole," Higgins said. "He's definitely a black hole personality — but deep down, he really does have a good soul," the writer said. "And I think you'll see in issue #1, some of the things he does. He comes off rough initially, but there's definitely good intentions behind his actions."
Readers in the area are invited to a launch party/signing at Beach Ball Comics in Anaheim, as well as two days of signings at all four Amazing Fantasy stores in the Chicago suburbs. The comic will have exclusive variants available at Beach Ball Comics/Laughing Ogre Comics (by Rod Reis) and for the Amazing Fantasy stores (by Douglas Klauba).