X-23: The Complete Collection Vol. 1
X-23: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 (collects X-23 (2005): Innocence Lost #1-6, X-23: Target X #1-6, Captain Universe/X-23 #1, X-23 One-Shot (2010) #1, X-23 (2010) #1-3 and material from X-Men: To Serve and Protect #2)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Release Date: September 22nd, 2010
After seeing the outstanding Logan last weekend, I wanted to dive a bit into the origin of Laura Kinney, or X-23, a character that I've noticed on the periphery of my Marvel knowledge, but not a someone I was thoroughly familiar with. X-23 was created by writer Craig Kyle for the 2003 animated show X-Men: Evolution. So like DC fan-favorite Harley Quinn, X-23 immigrated from an animated show to the comic book, and also like Harley Quinn, X-23 is a female version of a popular male character. Her first comic appearance was in 2004 in a series called NYX about homeless mutants in New York, where she further became a breakout star and was given her own series of comics.
To learn more about the character's past, I picked up the first collected volume of X-23-centric comics, X-23: The Complete Collection Vol. 1. This contains six different stories that focus entirely on Laura's past, as well as her attempts to discover who she is as her own person. It doesn't cover a lot of craziness in between: the events of NYX are only referenced, as are her times with the X-Men and X-Force.
For those of you unfamiliar with the character, X-23 is a clone of Wolverine, made by the same facility that ran the Weapon X program that gave him his adamantium skeleton. There are a few key differences between X-23 and Wolverine, the most obvious of which is that she's a she. She also only has two claws sprouting from each hand (like Wolverine's son, Daken), as well a blade sprouting from each foot. While she has Logan's healing factor, her skeleton lacks his adamantium coating with the exception of her claws, so she's not as indestructable as her older counterpart. X-23 was raised to be a weapon and originally sold off to the highest bidder to perform assassinations. Like every X-Man character, she has a lot of backstory and a lot of baggage, but she currently stars in her own comic that began in 2015 as All-New Wolverine, where she has donned the now-deceased Wolverine's costume.
X-23: Innocence Lost
Writers: Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Artists: Billy Tan (penciler), Jon Sibal (inker), Brian Haberlin (colorist), Chris Eliopoulos and VC's Cory Petit (letterers)
Innocence Lost tells the origin of X-23: how she was cloned from the leftover genetic remnants of Weapon X (Wolverine); how her mother Dr. Sarah Kinney created her and raised her; and how Dr. Kinney came to love her "daughter" and the events that led to Laura's eventual escape from the Weapon X Facility. This is the book where most of the characters from Logan received their origins and names, such as Dr. Zander Rice, whose father was killed during the original Weapon X program (just as the character mentions in the film).
This is probably the strongest of the books in this set, and definitely one of the better written ones. There is a lot of intrigue going on in the comic, between Dr. Kinney butting heads with Zander on how to treat X-23, Zander's affair with their boss's wife which plays into a major plot point down near the end, and the inhuman and horrific development of X-23. The full extent of her training is put on display as we see her tortured, abused, and molded into a remorseless killing machine. It's both horrifying and tragic, and stands out as one of the darker things I've seen in Marvel's comics. However, X-23 has some semblance of self, as she makes a few choices throughout the book that show that there is a side to her that is not a mindless killing machine.
X-23: Target X
Writers: Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost
Artists: Mike Choi (artist), Sonia Oback (colorist), Troy Peteri (letterer)
Directly following the Innocence Lost storyline, Target X details X-23's attempt at connecting with a family by finding her aunt and niece. The story is told by Laura as she is held prisoner by Captain America, who has enlisted Matt Murdock (Daredevil) to act as a lie detector. After her escape from the Facility, Laura meets up with her Aunt Debbie and cousin Megan, who she quickly bonds with. Unfortunately, she puts them in danger as she is still being hunted by remnants of the Facility, including Kimura, her former handler with impenetrable skin who was created specifically to counter her.
While Innocence Lost is probably the better of the two, Target X is the story I was hoping to read. I wanted to see how Laura reacted as a character in the real world and with real people, rather than as a prop or tool. One of the biggest issues I had with the hand-picked stories used in this collection is that Laura is spending so much time trying to come to grips with what she is that we don't ever get to see her acting as a human, let alone a character. Killing machine or not, she needs to have some semblance of a personality, and this becomes lost in the other comics that seem to focus more on the agony of her past than her future development. I wanted to know: what was it about X-23 that fans loved about her? Because there needs to be more than a cool character concept. Target X has these moments and then some.
Writer: Jay Faerber
Artists: Francis Portela (penciler), Raul Fernandez (inker), Impacto Studios (colorist), VC's Rus Wooton (letterer)
This was a weird issue. It involved some nonsense from the Cosmic Marvel stories and Captain Universe, and only reminded me of other "event" comics that are thrown into character's story lines that do nothing but interrupt perfectly good narratives. There's a team-up between X-23 and Scorpion (a green-haired heroine, not the Spider-Man villain) that has some decent moments, but not enough to make it worth it. (I liked the Scorpion character, I want to see more of her stuff.)
X-23: Women of Marvel One-Shot
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artists: Filipe Andrade, Nuno Alves (pencilers), Jay Leisten, Nuno Alves, with Sandu Florea (inkers), Sotocolor & Nuno Alves (colorists), VC's Clayton Cowles (letterer)
While the art quality varied with the first few stories (Innocence Lost looked dated and "in house" but was filled with great action and emotion, Target X was brightly colored and detailed, but plastic-looking and anime-inspired), this one-shot had some incredible design and artwork. The story drifted back and forth between X-23's inner thoughts which were being dominated by a being known as the "Gamesmaster," and the streets of New York where she, Wolverine, and Jubilee, are searching for... something? Not sure. X-23 runs off on her own and comes across her former companions from her time on the street: Kiden, Tatiana, Bobby, and Lil Bro (the characters from NYX).
Besides the art, I enjoyed the theme that writer Marjorie Liu establishes here and continues in the next story, Even though she's free, X-23 is still caged by her memories and ideas of self-worth. She's still used by everyone, both friends and foes, as a tool designed for one purpose: death.
X-23: The Killing Dream
Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artists: Will Conrad with Sana Takeda (artists), John Rauch (colorists), VC's Cory Petit (letterer)
The Killing Dream continues Liu's story by bringing Laura back to the X-Men after her time with X-Force. Liu continues the thematic conflicts from the previous story, but unfortunately it gets muddled with a bizarre story about a demon disguised as Wolverine. It's a shame, because we get to see Storm, Wolverine, Cyclops, and Emma Frost discuss Laura's future and what to do with her, and each have their own point of view. The story ends within three issues, but the series continues in volume 2 of the collection, and I'd be interested in seeing where this goes.
"Judgement" from X-Men: To Serve and Protect #2
Writer: Si Spurrier
Artists: David Lafuente (pencilers), Marte Gracia (colorists), Dave Sharpe, VC's Joe Sabino (letterers)
This quick story has a team-up between X-23 and Ghost Rider of all people, as they begin slaughtering a bunch of mutant racists. I say slaughter, because X-23 lets a child go, and we're supposed to think that this act of mercy shows there's some good within her. Meanwhile, the last scene shows all the corpses strewn in the parking lot of their fight scene, so... yeah. Way to use restraint there, Laura. When X-23 learns about Ghost Rider's Penance Stare, she wants him to use it on her, because a) she's not sure she has a soul, and b) if she does, she wants to feel punishment for all of the death she's caused over the years. It's a revealing moment for the character, but it gets lost in the over-the-top fight scene.
So far, X-23 doesn't fascinate me like other Marvel characters have, and I think it's because these stories don't really show me the character behind the initial concept. If her appeal is "attractive lady Wolverine," then they've lost me completely. When X-Men: Evolution released, X-23 was originally created as a Wolverine character that would appeal to younger fans. It's pretty clear in her early 2000's aesthetics, which were re-used in the comic. As an article by The Mary Sue points out, "She’s a knee-high boot-wearing, post-grunge girl with a defy-authority attitude." Her penchant for goth clothing and low-cut midriff shirts combined with her background as a broken girl that characters feel they need to save seems more like a manic pixie dream girl fantasy than a fully realized character.
Her characterization isn't entirely flawed though, it just means that I need to see more. I really enjoyed her two opening origin books Innocence Lost and Target X, and I'm fascinated by the idea of an individual fighting her upbringing to find some form of redemption. It's a great psychological study and makes for some fascinating character moments and interesting choices. So if there's more out there like those two stories, then I'd be happy to check those out, and I'll probably pick up some copies of All-New Wolverine as well. The Killing Dream story line (of which this collection only has the first three issues) has some great moments, especially with the great question of whether a clone has a soul, but there's too much background that the writers assume the reader knows (everyone is referencing her time with X-Force, which is not in the book) and it then goes off the rails with a weird demon story that has good intentions, but adds to the bloated mythology of the X-Men world that turns off casual readers.
As a character, X-23 has some disconcerting representations that lends itself to the oft-deserved stereotype of over-sexualization in comic books. At no point during the first few stories is Laura over 16, and I'm pretty sure she doesn't age much in the follow-ups. Despite this, her clothing choices are incredibly revealing and her body type idealized. Her very first comic appearance in NYX (which is not covered in this volume) shows her as an underage prostitute forced to engage in some pretty horrific material clientele. There are two sides of this that I want to address. For one thing, there's the complaint that this is a degrading and exploitative plot-line and that comics, a medium that has constantly been undermined by misogyny and sexually-charged content, too often relies on these types of stories for shock value. On the other hand, stories like these are not made in a vacuum. Sex slavery and the exploitation of minors is a serious and very real epidemic in our modern world. But are the pages of a mass-market comic book the most efficient way to discuss these problems? What is shock value, and what is an honest attempt at creating an interesting backstory? At what point does a work like this pander?
These disturbing thoughts aside, I'm giving this entire collection a "Good" rating of 3/5. It has some excellent stories mixed in with some non-essentials and easily-skipped comics, and I'm not entirely sure this volume gives us the full breadth of the character. What it does give us is a beginning and a place to jump from, which is what I wanted. If you're already a fan, then this collection is definitely for you. As for me, I might hold off on volume 2 for now and look into her other story lines instead. The first two volumes, X-23: Innocence Lost and X-23: Target X are both available as separate trade paperbacks, and I give each of those a 4/5.