If you’ve been following my reviews on weeklycomicbookreview.com, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of a little series called C.O.W.L. A heady superhero period piece, C.O.W.L. follows the Chicago Organized Worker’s League, America’s first superhero union. It’s a great concept, but more importantly, it’s backed up by the fantastic world-building of writers Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel.

I actually brought the idea of doing an interview to Higgins in April, but every month I put C.O.W.L. down and thought, “I need to know more.” I’m glad I waited. After last month’s gut-wrenching conclusion to the first arc, there isn’t a better time to jump onto the book or to be asking questions about what comes next and what drives the characters.

It also helps that Higgins is also writing one of my favorite comics out of DC, Batman Beyond Universe.

Whether in the past or the future, Higgins consistently churns out interesting, thoughtful superhero stories and I was extremely grateful that he found time to sit down with me at this year’s busy New York Comic Con to talk about some of the ideas he’s bringing to the table.

WCBR: My first question was about C.O.W.L. I was curious, what’s it like to work on something that’s obviously been a part of your life for this long?

Kyle Higgins: The funniest part about it is that Alec and I have had so many iterations of stories within the world – and often it’s the same kind of core story but the details are different. We’ve talked about it for so many years and we’ve had different outlines and stuff like that, but, now that it’s actually coming out, it’s kind of like whatever we decide now is canon. It’s the only story that people know of those characters.

So, in a weird way, we’re dealing with something right now, backstory on someone, and it’s like, ‘well what did we decide?’ ‘Was it this, this, or this?’ And it’s like, well it can be whatever we want. It’s just whatever we choose, that’s it going forward. And it doesn’t matter what versions we’ve had in our heads for so many years, it could change and that’s the new canon- or that’s the only canon.

So, that’s kind of the interesting thing, from our perspective. And that’s not typical of projects I’ve done in the past where I basically develop the project for it to come out, y’know, like, a couple months ahead of time and that’s pretty much it. So, there’s not as much second guessing as there is on C.O.W.L.

Arclight is debatably C.O.W.L.’s most powerful member, in more ways than one now…

Particularly for people who’ve read issue #5, Arclight really has sort of, I don’t want to say stepped up, but definitely taken a place on the stage going forward.

Yeah, he… He did. I mean, he’s an interesting character in our minds because he’s someone who was born for this kind of work. He’s a thoroughbred. Being a hero with superpowers, the things he can do athletically, it all comes naturally to him, but with the organization kind of not having as big of a place in the city anymore, he’s a thoroughbred without a racetrack now.

So, he acts out. He comes off as kind of a smug asshole. He’s like a quarterback who’s ridiculously talented and it comes easy to him, but he’s also a jerk, and they’re kind of related. And so, with the events at the end of issue #5 and him trying to step up, that’s definitely a big thing that we’re going to be dealing with for the next arc. And why he did what he did and whether Geoffrey supported it or not is going to be a big question going forward. And, yeah, I mean, I think he just became a much more interesting character.

So, one thing I wanted to ask in addition was: do you see him as a character who does have things that are right with him that we aren’t seeing, or is he a character that could have had things right with him that did not come to pass?

H: I think it’s- I think it’s a little more of the latter. I think that he definitely has been successful as a hero in Chicago before the series started. We just haven’t seen that stuff yet.

Y’know, he’s the face of the organization for a reason, and, like I said, the things he can do, the talent he has, is off the charts, but it’s a lot of kind of unreached potential. I mean he is kind of a self-saboteur in some ways. The strippers and the alcohol and the whole nightlife that he’s kind of involved in, is a distraction. So he’s kind of fallen down a path that is not really conducive to hero work.

I guess I would just say, particularly as we explore more in the next arc, it’s up for readers to decide if there’s anything redeeming. I mean, he definitely has reasons for what he did and he’ll have guilt over it too. So I don’t think it’s up to me to decide whether he’s a redemptive character or not.

C.O.W.L #6 will take us back in time…

Fair enough. So next issue is going to be Geoffrey Warner’s backstory, as licensed by C.O.W.L.

Right.

So, I’m curious, in issue #2 we saw him discussing another retrospective of C.O.W.L. where he wanted them to play down his sidekick, Sparrow, and another character called The Dart. How much of them will we be seeing given that this is still Geoffrey’s take on it, or will we not see them-

We won’t see them in issue #6- We won’t see them at all. Issue #6 is his origin from the 1930s and becoming the Grey Raven before WWII. He didn’t actually meet Paul Braddock, who is Sparrow, until the war.

I see.

So, we won’t get any of that backstory in issue #6, that specific backstory, but we’ll definitely be dealing with that stuff in the series.

I don’t know how much you can say, it’s a little further ahead, but, y’know, we had a month gap here and then we have a month of the 1930s. What are we really going to be looking at when we get back to 1962?

Well, it’s a fallout. It’s the immediate fallout of John’s murder, but it’s also a big look at this false flag operation that Geoffrey’s embarking on with Camden Stone- the idea of creating supervillains, how do you do that? What goes into that? What types of people…and are they all just people that Camden already employs that he’s going to put in costumes? Do you have to set up new identities for these people? Like, how do you convince them to do this in a city that’s filled with superheroes, right? And it doesn’t necessarily go off without a hitch, so we’re looking at that stuff.

We’re also going to be introducing some new characters. We’ve got Detective Evelyn Thompson who works for the Chicago Police Department, used to be a member of C.O.W.L. back in the day – she’s about Geoffrey Warner’s age – so there’s some history there. And she’s looking into John’s murder from the police department’s perspective, so some of our points of view are going to expand outside of the organization in the next arc.

The first arc we really wanted to focus and keep things centered on the organization and members of the organization, so we could really see how it works, but going forward we definitely want to start portraying outside elements and different people in the city and basically how the public and people that work for the city perceive C.O.W.L., as opposed to just how the members of C.O.W.L. perceive themselves.

…before December’s issue #7 crashes back into the the present story.

You’ve mentioned particularly in the ending to issue #5 that in these earlier versions you might not have had what we’ve seen so far. You might have started with the false flag operation. 

Mmmhmm.

Particularly since you’ve fleshed out characters like Radia, who now has kind of a particular beef with Camden Stone is there going to be-

Well, there’s not really a big backstory between Radia and Camden Stone. That more comes out of Eclipse’s desire to send a message to Stone. I mean, one of Camden’s guys beat the shit out of Grant and almost killed him. So, Eclipse wants payback and he goes to Radia looking for her help and, y’know, you read issue #3 and you kind of see some of the shit that she has to deal with on a day-to-day basis, just being a woman in C.O.W.L., and being able to take out these frustrations on Camden is kind of a great release for her in some ways. So, it’s more about that.

It’s not personal.

It’s not necessarily personal, no. Camden Stone represents a lot of shitty things that have been done to Kathryn.

So, turning away from C.O.W.L. specifically, you came into comics through film in a pretty big way. How do you feel that affects your writing process?

I don’t know that it does. I think my stuff tends to be- it tends to be very cinematic, I think. And I don’t mean that as far as big scale and scope. I guess I mean that more from a pacing and structure standpoint. I also don’t really like writing voiceover, which is kind of an accepted part of comics. Not always, but-

It’s not not something that you often do in film.

Well, I mean you can, but it’s not as common obviously. Yeah. I just- I don’t like writing it. I don’t think I’m particularly good at it and it takes me much longer to write and I’m more comfortable getting information across in dialogue and exchanges between characters. So, with something like C.O.W.L., it’s an ensemble cast and it’s much more… I don’t know. It kind of feels more like a TV show than a comic in some ways, y’know?

“It’s an ensemble cast and […] It kind of feels more like a TV show than a comic in some ways…”

Yeah.

Defining ‘when you got started’ however you like, was there anything you really wish you had known then that you know now? 

Well, I mean, I don’t know if I would say there were things I wish I knew. I think there are things I probably wish I would’ve done differently, but that just kind of comes with experience. You’re always going to look back at the mistakes you made and…y’know, I think there are books that I’ve written that I don’t think are particularly good and I wish I would have fought harder on some of those…

Fought harder with yourself or with-

Yeah, I just wish I would have…I don’t know. I mean, everything is a case by case basis and there are some stories you write that-

I think all the stuff I’ve done is fine. There are certain things I look at and go “I wish I could have that one back”, y’know? I wish I could redo it.” But that just comes with experience.

Finally, turning to Batman Beyond for a minute. That is winding down now, but, one thing that I think was really interesting- “Justice League Beyond” kind of marked a big turning point for the series. Obviously Christos Gage left and we just had your work, but one of the big things that it left was that now Terry can kind of see his dad.

Right.

And in some ways that’s a pretty radical thing. It’s a Batman with two parents.

Right.

How do you think that changes Terry and can we expect fallout on that?

Batman Beyond Universe wraps up digitally on November 1st and in print later that month.

Yeah, I mean that’s what the final chapters of the series are about and that’s what they’re exploring. Terry is someone who is kind of living in a dream now. Being able to go see a version of his father, that’s a pretty novel concept for anyone who’s lost someone in their life. Like, if I said you could go see a person close to you who died and they’re still alive in this other timeline, like, why wouldn’t you? But, at the same time, in some ways you’re holding onto the past that way, you’re dwelling on the person that you no longer have in your real life and that’s not healthy either.

And so, we pick our family- the saying is that you can’t pick your family, but I think you can.

Yeah.

Y’know, like, you can…

I mean, Bruce definitely did-

Yeah. The people that you choose to let be close to you…

In my mind, the thing we’re exploring is this idea that oftentimes it’s better to exist in the present and look ahead, even if that’s more painful than the past, because it’s real. Nothing good comes out of dwelling on the past and that’s the kind of the thing that Terry’s going to be going through in this last arc, that he’s living this life that isn’t real, y’know? By going and seeing his dad it’s kind of like the bit from The Matrix where Cypher wants to be reinserted and he’s like, “Well, I don’t wanna remember anything. I just want to exist in this fake world,” he said, because ignorance is bliss. And that’s kind of the idea, that’s one of the concepts that we’re playing around with in this final arc.

Thanks so much.

Yeah, of course, man.

 

Higgins’ current projects remain two of my favorite comics every month. I strongly suggest checking out C.O.W.L.: Principles of Power when it’s released in trade this Wednesday and, if you want the full experience, consider snagging a digital download of The C.O.W.L. Sessions, the jazz soundtrack to the comic created by Kyle’s friend and high school bandmate, Joe Clark.

You can also get your hands on my vote for the best new series of last year when Batman Beyond 2.0: Rewired hits the shelves early next month.

 

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