Major Story Arcs
The superheroes Grey Raven (Geoffrey Warner), Sparrow, and Blaze fought in World War II. When they came back, they fought crime in Chicago, and after three years formed a superhero union, C.O.W.L., the Chicago Organized Workers League, in 1949 to better fight supervillain crime.
Through the 1960s, C.O.W.L.'s main antagonists are the Chicago Six, a team of supervillains--although unknown to almost anyone, one of the Six is actually John Pierce, working undercover for the CIA. In 1956 he leaves the CIA and starts working for C.O.W.L. At some point, and under mysterious circumstances, the Dart badly hurts Sparrow, who leaves the union and goes into hiding, causing a rift between himself and Warner. Warner eventually gives up working the streets and takes on the full-time job of leader of C.O.W.L., with Blaze as his deputy.
In 1962, C.O.W.L. learns that Skylancer, the last of the Chicago Six, is meeting with Alderman Lowe, presumably to kidnap him. A C.O.W.L. team stops Skylancer, with Radia eventually killing him. With the terror of the Six gone, Mayor Daley now wonders if there is a need for C.O.W.L. any more. Since their contract with the city is up, he tries to renegotiate it to the city's advantage. Warner and the union are angry, and threaten to strike.
Meanwhile, John Pierce realizes that Skylancer was getting his tech designs from C.O.W.L. somehow, and starts to investigate. Warner tells him that Alderman Lowe was actually the one leaking the tech to Skylancer, although Pierce is still suspicious that Warner is involved somehow.
Another source of trouble for the union rises when member Grant Marlow goes after Michael, an enforcer for mobster Camden Stone. The problem is, Michael has super-strength, but doesn't wear a costume, so he doesn't fall under the union's jurisdiction. Marlow kills him in a fight, and ends up in the hospital himself. The incident becomes another pressure point in the contract renewals as an example of the union being out of control. Meanwhile Eclipse and Radia, fed up with union politics, take matters into their own hands, and start wrecking Stone's joints as revenge.
The union goes on strike. During an altercation on the strike line, an unknown member of C.O.W.L. shoots a fire blast at City Hall, causing havoc and more bad press for the union. C.O.W.L. starts trying to find out who did it.
Pierce decides to bring his information about the leaked tech to the Chicago Police. On his way over, he's waylaid by hotheaded member Arclight, who has been under pressure for beating a pimp and a hooker that he had bought. Warner talked with him about the problem with Pierce, and Arclight decides to do something about it, and kills Pierce. However, Warner convinces Arclight to admit to the crime and say it was self-defense. However, former C.O.W.L. member, current cop, and Pierce's contact with the police Evelyn Hewitt doesn't believe it, and starts trying to prove that Warner was behind it all.
Meanwhile, Warner decides that the only way C.O.W.L. is getting a good contract is if the city believes that supervillains are still a threat. He pays Camden Stone to have his super-powered criminals start wearing costumes, and start causing crimes throughout the city. The first of these criminals is Doppler, who soon kidnaps Alderman Hayes. Now the pressure is on the city to let C.O.W.L. do their work and save the alderman. However, getting his hands dirty by working with Stone means that now Warner has to pressure Radia and Eclipse from messing with Stone's illegal activities.
Radia, however, goes even more out of control and stops Doppler and rescues the alderman, thereby breaking the strike, causing problems for Warner's plan to pressure the city, and hurting Stone's operations. Stone wants Warner to have Radia killed, and Warner reluctantly agrees, although he puts it off.
Meanwhile, Sparrow, working with Detective Hewitt, comes out of "retirement" in a new, darker identity. He forces some criminals to admit to the police that they saw Arclight kill Pierce. However, even with these new witnesses, the case falls through. Warner persuades Arclight to leave the city anyway, knowing that Hewitt is tenacious and will get Arclight eventually.
Blaze discovers that union member Frank started the fire at City Hall, and tries to get Eclipse to make false statements saying that he saw him do it, but Eclipse refuses, moving him down a path towards eventually quitting the union. The union takes his refusal out on his partner, Marlow, and fires him for his earlier killing of Stone's enforcer. Radia quits too, tired of being told what to do.
Some new powered criminals, unrelated to Stone's organization, kill some cops, an event that pushes the city over the edge, and it finally renews C.O.W.L.'s contract. With the union taken care of, Warner ties up loose ends, and kills Stone.
With several high-profile members gone, and blood on their hands, Warner and Blaze wonder if it was all worth it.
In Other Media
The creators of the C.O.W.L. comic made the movie The League before the comic. In the movie, the superhero union is called The League of Heroes, often called the League for short. Its early history is largely the same, but the "modern" details differ.
It is established on June 8, 1946. Its villains included Dmitri Popov, Nicolai Lennin, the Dart, the Red Renegade, and Big Ivan. The main villain group is called the Fearsome Five.
Seventeen years later, C.O.W.L. is ready to go national. However, since most of its villains are now inactive, Blaze and Warner create a plan to bring supervillains back into the spotlight. Blaze pretends to be the Dart and starts killing other supervillains. The reappearance of the Dart catches the attention of Sparrow, now calling himself Wraith. He tries to track down the Dart but eventually realizes that Blaze and Warner are behind it. He fights Blaze, who can't bring himself to hurt Sparrow, and manages to capture him. Wraith exposes Blaze's and Warner's plans to the media, and they are presumably arrested.