Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Juann Cabal
Colors: Nolan Woodard
Cover: Mike Choi, Jesus Aburtov
Published: July 11 + July 25, 2018
Hello readers, how’s it going? I want to jump in here and talk to you a little before I get into the review of issues #1 and #2 of the new Marvel series X-23, because this isn’t going to be a normal review exactly. For anyone who’s read reviews here before, or if this is your first time (welcome if it is, I hope you enjoy), I try to write my reviews in the third person and sometimes (often) use the pronoun we when it’s appropriate. The goal of this is to prevent myself from getting too in my feelings while writing a review and focusing too strongly on the tiny details that I liked or didn’t. I have a couple other columns that I write on here where I use the first person and I notice that I can sink into minutiae very quickly when writing those and miss the larger thematic/narrative/political/artistic themes being developed (it’s a whole forest for the trees thing). I use the word we (and prefer to call these discussions instead of reviews) because I think about what I write here as more of a considered and ongoing dialogue than an absolute opinion. But for this discussion of X-23 I want to try something different and write this one in the first person. I absolutely loved All-New Wolverine and was more than a little torn up that they ended that book (although the final arc is wonderful) and sort of reverted Laura back to a secondary position now that Logan is back. I had planned to write a whole think about this in the spring when it was announced, but that never happened. I want to take the opportunity now, as the new series begins, to include some of my personal thoughts into the discussion of the first two issues of X-23. I don’t have any particularly hot takes but I have a few things I’d like to say, and I think saying them in the context of the new issues will actually work out because these issues assuaged some of my concerns. To whomever read all that, thank you, and let’s get into X-23.
When Marvel announced last spring that All-New Wolverine would be ending with issue #35 I was pretty upset. I’ve only been following comics for about eighteen months now and that was the first comic series that I fell in love with. I’d enjoyed Hugh Jackman’s version of the character in the movies, but it was Laura in the comic books that tapped into something and kind of stole my heart. I know this sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true and I know the moment it happened. I’ve come back to this panel (see below) many times in other reviews, but as a new reader to comics and so used to Wolverine being an ultra violent character this just tripped something for me. It’s Laura and Logan walking through a field (that is on fire) and Logan tells her that she doesn’t have to do this, doesn’t have to be this. Laura is the only instance where a someone was able to replicate the Weapon X experiments that bonded Adamantium to Logan’s skeleton. The other clones that were created were too unstable or not strong enough to survive that excruciating process, so she is special. As soon as she was born her identity was stripped from her, she was referred to only as X-23, and her childhood was taken by those who would use her (the first comic she appeared in was called innocence lost). Laura was created to be an assassin for hire, controlled and enslaved, and sold to the highest bidder. Even after she manages to escape that facility and learn her true name, Laura Kinney, she went to work as a sex worker in NYC for a controlling pimp who wouldn’t let her go. I mention all of this to say that there is real and very serious trauma in Laura’s past, trauma that Tom Taylor’s run on All-New Wolverine did not ignore. This is where the beauty of that series comes from, starting with that panel in issue #1, that Laura had to work to gain control over her own identity, over her own actions, to not be the thing that other people made or wanted her to be, to change. One of my biggest fears in life is that I am incapable of meaningful change. That the person I am now is what I will be for the rest of my life, and reading something like All-New Wolverine with a character like Laura reminds me to not stop trying to become the person I know I can be.
To then see Marvel launch a new series staring Laura under the name X-23, what message does that send? It’s reverting Laura back to a time when she had no identity and was not in control of her actions. It’s reverting her back to something she no longer is, and (as this article puts it) when she was entirely in servitude of others and had no agency. The renaming seems like a massive step backward for a character who, along with her sister, has grown so much. I think my feeling about where the series is headed have been assuaged after the first two issues (will get to them in a moment) but it’s still upsetting that Laura has fallen victim Marvel’s reversion to the status quo. They succumbed to pressure from people who aren’t happy that the trend in comics (and creative media in general) is to include more LGBTQAIP, black and brown, and female voices both on the page and in creative team (the same people that perpetuate comicsgate). I really thought that I was done with reading about Laura and Gabby, but upon learning that Mariko Tamaki would be writing the new series and that Juann Cabal would be continuing on art, I gave the first issue a chance (even though I still really hate the name). And after reading issue #1 + #2, I was back in.
The series picks up with Gabby and Laura in mid air fighting unidentified aliens. It’s mostly a bit of fun as it shows that Laura and Gabby have developed into a team, and are still good at taking down bad guys (Laura gets to use her foot blades to slice their achilles, it’s great). At one point when they get separated and Gabby is calling over the comms, she first calls her Laura and then, “I mean X-23.” I want to (and am) interpreting this as Tamaki having a bit of fun and acknowledging that X-23 is massively stupid name for a character and that it’s not up to her what the name is. This is where my justification in reading this book comes from, (and I’ll do it again with aspect of the art) It was not Mariko Tamaki’s choice to name the character that and I’m not going to hold a corporate decison against the writer. Anyways, cut to the X Mansion where Laura is talking with Hank/Beast and we learn that she is currently hunting down scientists who have continued to work on the Weapon X program. This feels like a continuation of the second to last arc of All-New Wolverine where Laura worked to bring justice to those who revived the Weapon X program and cloned her. She is still working to shut down anyone who would continue that work. At the mansion she and Gabby run into the Cuckoos, three identical clones of Emma Frost, who are on their way to celebrate their birthday. This naturally prompts a ton of questions from Gabby and precipitates later ruminations from Laura about individuality, humanity, and what it means to be unique. This is probably the contemplative/philosophical streak that this arc will follow as Laura wonders how she, as a clone, can begin to think of herself as unique. I really like this line of questioning as it seems a natural continuation of Laura’s story. She has done the work (in All-New Wolverine) to prove to herself that she is not the thing they made her to be. This begs the question, what does she want to be now? She has been told for her whole life that she is a mutant and clone, two categorizations that set her apart from being human. This makes the question of a birthday a complicated one for Laura, as it’s a celebration of her as a unique person, but is is also tied up with the idea that someone else created her. Death, injuries, and birthdays are all more complicated for Laura, and it’s her struggle to see these complications and their inherent messiness as things that instead make her deeply human. This is the revelation that starts to develop at the end of issue #1 into #2.
This line of thought is opposed by the actions of the Cuckoos over these two issues who very much embrace their identity as clones and see themselves as beyond human. We learned near the end of issue #1 that there are actually five Cuckoos, two of whom everyone thinks are dead. The three remaining sisters refused to let their two sisters die and had the consciousnesses of the two transferred (via one of the scientists Laura is looking for) into new but rapidly deteriorating bodies. Of the two weak sisters, one is very weak, and she is killed by the other so now four sisters remain. At the end of issue #2 they kidnap Gabby, who has the same regenerative abilities as Laura and is impervious to pain, with the goal of using her to preserve themselves. The way the Cuckoos understand themselves as unique is rather opposite the way Laura does. The Cuckoos are willing to ‘cannibalize’ each other and Gabby (potentially), placing themselves above humanity. They leave the X-Mansion, their friends, all of that behind in order to ‘save the four.’ Laura is trying to become a part of humanity, to enter into it as a unique part of the whole, to understand herself as special and not other. In the middle of issue #2 Laura reflects on the idea of home, another way in which she, Gabby, and the Cuckoos have been othered. There was no house or apartment for any of them to remember fondly, but a cold sterile lab that they couldn’t wait to escape. These two issues seem to be setting up differing approaches towards understanding yourself as a unique part of life on earth. The Cuckoos are isolating themselves, valuing their lives above others, while Laura is leaning towards seeing herself as a unique part of humanity with a responsibility towards preserving it.
I’ll finish up here with some talk about the art in these first two issues which greatly benefits from continuity of artist with Juann Cabal and Nolan Woodard drawing the last ten or so issue of All-New Wolverine and continuing onto X-23. I mentioned earlier that, in the same way it’s terrible that Laura’s super hero name reverted to X-23, they have also reverted her suit. You can see here that there were some other designs for Laura’s suit which are more sexualized and much worse than what they settled on. It looks like fancy running gear more than a superhero costume, and although there is some midriff it’s not hyper sexualized (it’s not great though). It does harken back to her X-23 days and while I can’t hold this against Cabal and Woodard it is just such a shame that this is what Marvel told them to do. Other than that, the art was very good. It’s clean with lots of bright colors. There’s a wide variation in panel layouts, one really interesting full page spread, some genuinely frightening moments with the two dying Cuckoos, and some scenes where the action is framed in a unique way by the surrounding panels or continues from one panel into the next. The scenes in Gabby’s room have some great background details in the posters on her wall. One is her as Neon Midnight from the final arc of All-New Wolverine, and the other is her and Laura in their suits back to back. It’s great stuff and Cabal and Woodard have continued their good work in this book. Sometimes I think they draw Laura and/or Gabby’s face a little pinched but it’s great that these characters get some artistic continuity, and I’m excited to see what they show us next.
(Subjective) Score out of 10 (for both issues): 8