Thoughts on X-23 #1 (2018) – “Two Birthdays and Three Funerals”

X-23 #1

Wolverine is back, which means Laura is no longer the All-New Wolverine as we begin X-23 #1.  But does that leave her without purpose, or can she carve out a new direction for herself and Honey Badger?

X-23 #1

X-23 #1“Two Birthdays and Three Funerals”
Writer: Mariko Tamaki
Penciler: Juann Cabal
Colorist: Nolan Woodard

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Cover Price: $4.99

Release Date: July 11, 2018

Amazon/Comixology Link

Collected in: TBD

League of Comic Geeks Link

Reviewer: The Watchman

Solicitation Text

Cloned from a warrior, raised as a killer, Laura Kinney has gone through hell and come out the other side a hero. After a stint as the All-New Wolverine, she returns to her roots as X-23 to make sure no one ever has to go through the horrors she did. With her sister Gabby and their pet Jonathan in tow, X-23 forges her own destiny in this new series by Mariko Tamaki (HULK, HUNT FOR WOLVERINE: CLAWS OF A KILLER) and Juann Cabal (ALL-NEW WOLVERINE, ELEKTRA).

Background

Laura Kinney, aka X-23 aka All-New Wolverine, has not been around all that long, but her history is already as bloody as her father’s.  Since her first appearance in Nyx #3 back in February 2004 Laura has murdered her way across the Marvel universe as a one-dimensional moral-less assassin.  At first she was under the control of an evil corporation that unleashed her on their enemies.  Later she joined the junior X-Men squad before being dragged into a black ops X-Force team where her father unleashed her on the enemies (for good reasons! … probably).

Until a few years ago when writer Tom Taylor started developing her in All-New Wolverine Laura was primarily defined by being two things: 1) the daughter-clone of Wolverine, and 2) having no personality outside of that.  To be fair there were a few efforts made to round her out before Taylor got to her, but even a stint in Avengers Academy and it’s later pseudo-sequel Avengers Arena couldn’t get much out of her.

Fortunately we did finally end up getting the aforementioned All-New Wolverine where her grim-dark exterior was finally shed in favor of a more interesting character.  She got paired up with her own clone, Gabby, aka Honey Badger, and became more rounded overall.  While the series would prove to be inconsistent with some excellent stories marred by odd interludes, it would give us massive improvements to Laura.

The real Wolverine is back in play now (or, rather, will be soon), so it is time for Laura to drop the moniker and set off on her own.  Why she settled on X-23 — a name that suggests a reversion to her older stories — I’m not entirely sure (I know why from Marvel’s perspective, just not from Laura’s), but that’s where we are at.  Fortunately it would seem that the name is the only thing looking back as the direction Tom Taylor started has been enthusiastically picked up by new series writer Mariko Tamaki.

General Thoughts

The character of Laura has gone through such a night-and-day transformation under Tom Taylor that I was reasonably worried that a new writer would undo all his good work by accident.  As it happens Mariko Tamaki — whose prior work I am not familiar with — has a solid grasp of Taylor’s take on the character, and seems to have an idea of where she wants to take Laura from here.  Equally importantly she seems to have a good handle on Laura’s ward, Gabby, who sits on that borderline between utterly adorable and manically homicidal that can be so hard to straddle.  Unlike Laura, who definitely follows in her father’s footsteps, Gabby seems to skew more towards Deadpool in style, which provides a great dynamic between the two when written right.  And, as I already alluded to, Mariko Tamaki seems to have the skills necessary to do just that.

Just as important to getting Gabby and Laura right as characters is giving them a story to work within, and Mariko has found an interesting angle to follow.  Given that being a clone is such an ingrained part of Laura’s character it is surprising that no one has ever paired her up with the other notorious X-Men clone characters, the Stepford Cuckoos.  I will not go into their backstory as it is convoluted enough to give Wolverine himself vertigo, but the short version is that they are clones of Emma Frost who share a hive-mind style mental link.  Since both they and Laura have pseudo-parents that make for poor role models (to put it mildly) you could easily draw a link between them.  To a degree that is what Mariko Tamaki has done here, although it is not yet entirely clearl if she is reaching for a deeper connection beyond “they are all clones of crazy people”.  Adding in the wrinkle that they somehow share a birthday with Laura is perhaps a bit much, but we will see if there is more going on beneath the surface.

The plot thus far is fairly standard first issue fare.  Laura and Gabby deal with a threat which leads to a clue about a bigger issue which they proceed to investigate.   The investigation takes them to the X-Mansion where they encounter the Stepford Cuckoos to introduce them to the reader.  More hints are drops, ominous things happen that the heroes don’t know about and that’s where we leave off.  As far as first issues go it does a perfectly fine job of baiting the hook and leaving the reader wanting more.  Where the book sets itself apart is in the characters and the banter.  I’ll be the first to admit that the Stepford Cuckoos are pretty high on the list of characters I find completely uninteresting, but they have potential as foils for Gabby and Laura.  More importantly Laura and Gabby both come across well, and remain likable throughout despite Gabby’s homicidal tendencies and the brutal violence they are both capable of.

Gabby the Pretzel in X-23 #1

To be honest, I think that Gabby really steals the show in X-23 #1.  She was already starting to overshadow Laura in All-New Wolverine, and she is well on her way there in X-23.  That probably says more about Laura than it does about Gabby, but it is still something to keep an eye on in both this book and in X-Men: Red, where Tom Taylor continues to write them as cast members.  Gabby could easily find a future in the Marvel Universe as Deadpool-lite, and I cannot say that would necessarily be a bad thing.  Mariko Tamaki will have to make sure that X-23 does not get kicked out of her own book, though.  She does seem like she has the skills to keep both characters balanced, but we will have to wait and see what future issues bring.

Thoughts on the Art

Juann Cabal is on art duties in this title, and he brings a solid balance to the table.  I last reviewed his work in Elektra #1, where I thought his art was solid, but unexceptional.  In the year since that title’s cancellation he has improved quite a bit, and giving him Nolan Woodard as his colorist has also helped.  Juann’s framing, layouts and background work are miles above what he produced in Elektra, and it makes X-23 #1 a visual treat.  He even seems to do a fair job of matching Frank Quietly’s style for the Stepford Cuckoos, which is no mean feat (though I wish he wouldn’t, even if Quietly was their original designer).  Nolan provides some bright colors for the title, too, which helps keep the book’s violence not feel as gratuitous as it could be.  All told the art team has produced a good looking book that complements the story.

Gabby Meets the Stepford Cuckoos in X-23 #1

Final Thoughts on X-23 #1 (2018)

Tom Taylor left such a mark on Laura that even though he did not create the character I would argue he might as well have.  The character he introduced us to in 2016 is so radically different from the one we first met in 2004 they may as well be different women.  Fortunately Mariko Tamaki has shown to be more than up to the challenge of taking Tom’s work and building on it.  She has not tried to reinvent the wheel with X-23 #1, which is fine for a first issue, but she has proven that she at least understands why it has worked so well so far.  There is a lot of potential to the story we are introduced to here, and I am eagerly looking forward to seeing where we go from here.  X-23 #1 is an excellent addition to the X-library, even if Laura really should come up with a new codename.

X-23 #1 (2018)

4.99
9

X-23 #1 (2018) Final Score

9.0/10

Pros

  • Lovely art from Juann Cabal and Nolan Woodard
  • Interesting dynamic between Laura & Gabby and the Stepford Cuckoos
  • Writer Mariko Tamaki has a good grasp on the characters

Cons

  • Returning to the X-23 name is an odd choice
  • Lots of info dumping due to complex back stories for many characters