Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Juann Cabal
Colors: Nolan Woodard
Cover: Mike Choi & Jesus Arburtov
Published: August 29, 2018
*Hey everyone, just a few quick thoughts before we get into this discussion. For anyone who read read about the first two issues of X-23 (which you can find here) I wrote those in first person, which I try to avoid when writing about comic books. It’s not about maintaining objectivity, because these reviews/discussions are very subjective, but it forces me to work my critical analysis skills a little harder by removing the option of jumping back to the well of my own personal feelings. This issue of X-23 is great and brought back many of the vibes that made Tom Taylor’s All-New Wolverine run outstanding. This issue made me feel/think about things I wrote in that previous piece and I want the opportunity to address that and offer praise for the group of artists working on this book and what they have done in these first three issues. So for this review I will be using “I” and writing a bit about my personal reaction to a series I’ve quickly grown to love.
There’s a moment during the first cinematic in the game Destiny 2 where the enemy leader says to your player character (you play as an undead space wizard who of can be brought back to life at any time by your robot companion) that, “You’re not brave. You’ve merely forgotten the fear of death.” I thought about that moment while reading the opening pages of issue #3 which are a flashback to the first issues of All-New Wolverine. In those issues Laura was tracking down four clones of herself (Four Sisters) and trying to prevent them from being exploited by the company Alchemax. In this arc one of the sisters, despite having Laura’a DNA, is killed. Laura herself is pretty impervious to most injury but she’s seen clones of herself die, Logan died (for a while at least), and she has killed people. Death isn’t just conceptual for Laura, her own death might be farther away than most or impossible, but it’s something she’s intimately familiar with. This is what her narration over the opening panels is concerned with, that the fear of death has transformed into something more nebulous. Laura calls it “Fear for the Fearless.” She understands (unlike that Destiny 2 villain) that there is more to fear in the world than just death.
From that opening page we jump straight into the action with Laura surfing on top of a van. The Cuckoos kidnapped Gabby at the end of the previous issue and Laura has tracked a van away from their hideout. There are some great panels of Laura leaping about the cars as she moves to the front of the van and stops the engine. When the van is stopped and she opens the back she only finds a piece of Gabby’s clothing as the Cuckoos and have already arrived at their destination. With Gabby missing and Laura still unsure of the Cuckoos’ intentions she finds Dr. Marks and forces her to explain what the Cuckoos wanted from her. There were hints towards it in the previous issues, but it appear that the physic energy of the Cuckoos acts like type of virus in bodily host that were not adapted for it. Laura and Gabby, because of their healing abilities, would make ideal hosts for the consciousness of the dying Cuckoo sister and Dr. Marks built the machine that will allow them to do this. The real powerful moment in this scene, and a significant reason that I wanted to have room to personally respond to this issue, happens towards the end as Laura has gotten enough info out of the doctor and is figuring what to do next. She grabs Dr. Marks and says,
“I took an oath to make sure nothing like what my sisters and I went through ever happens again. I took a name I hate… so you know your end, the end of this work, came at the hands of your creation.”
I spent a lot of time during reviews of All-New Wolverine discussing Laura’s progress. The real personal growth that she went through during that series, starting in issue #1 and ending (seemingly) in #35. In my review of issues #1 and #2 of X-23 I talked about how shitty it is that Marvel has reverted Laura in look and name back to something that she no longer is for reasons to do with restoring the status quo and pandering to fans who want the status quo. I stand by my dislike of the name change, her suit is growing on me, but I have to retract any concern that Mariko Tamaki wouldn’t honor the change Laura went through or the hero she has become. This might be too much editorializing for a single panel, but it’s right there. Laura is telling the doctor and all of us reading that you can change her suit, change her name, but she knows who she is. She knows what her mission is and what she believes in, and no person or company will change that. No person will ever take her agency away from her again. I apologize for any reticence that was present in that previous review and am all the way back in on this series. There will undoubtedly be ebbs and flows, Tom Taylor’s run had more than a few, but I belive that Mariko Tamaki knows exactly who Laura is, what makes her special, and where this story goes next.
The action kicks back in at the end of her scene with Dr. Marks when Gabby’s transponder finally comes back online. With Gabby’s location confirmed, Laura needs transportation and (in a scene very reminiscent of the first issue of All-New Wolverine) calls Angel for a lift. She drops in on the warehouse where the Cuckoos are performing the consciousness transfer, landing just as the one of them flips the switch. This possibility that Laura could lose Gabby calls back to the opening panels and the discussion from the top about fear, bravery, and death. Laura’s opening lines are engaging with the idea that mortality does not make one inherently brave. What exactly bravery is, or under what conditions it occurs is an interesting question. I think we generally assume that in order for a person to have done something brave they have to have been in danger of losing something. Or maybe the question is better posited as, can your actions be brave if you have nothing to lose? This posing of the question opens up some interesting considerations in Laura’s context. If you knew you where going to live for an indeterminately long time and that everyone you ever loved would die before you, what would you do? Would you give into apathy let the world be what it will, or would choose to still care and love even though you know that it will end in pain. I have to imagine that this is what Laura refers to in what she calls “Fear for the Fearless.” That without or despite her best efforts the world will continue to change/degrade around her and only she is stuck knowing that it could have been different., but still she continues to work. Again this might be finding more than what’s on the page, but as she has picked up this book Mariko Tamaki has not flattened Laura in any way. She remains complex and conflicted and always trying to do and be better.
Juan Cabal and Nolan Woodard’s art in this issue is extremely good from the first page, where the eye of Laura’s dead sister transforms into a highway tunnel, to the last, in which her red, black, and grey stealth suit is on full display. There are a number of inventive pages that elevate simple scenes to a new level. The page where Laura opens the back of the van, has panels that alternate with the Cuckoos opening their van to see Gabby. They maintain the same art style, but the panel layout underscores Laura’s mistake while revealing the Cuckoos next step. There is another great panel when she’s talking to Dr. Marks about the difficulties of cloning. The epidermal (skin), muscular, and skeletal systems of the Laura and the Cuckoos are compared to each other against a background of ATCG genetic code. Again the stitching together of panels in a really creative way relates Laura to the people she is hunting, highlighting points of similarity and difference. I mentioned early that we see Laura being very acrobatic as she moves around the tops of cars, and it’s always great when they emphasize her athletic ability and that (unlike Logan) she is very graceful. In the same way that Tamaki, in just three issues, has demonstrated her grasp on this character, Cabal and Woodard seem to have really hit their stride with this book and it’s exciting to see what they do next.
(Subjective) Score out of 10: 8