The X-Men feature some of the most diverse characters in comics and X-23 is one of my favourites. As the clone of Wolverine, Laura Kinney was never meant to have a normal life, yet she managed to find her own place in the world. I recently picked up a graphic novel that contains her greatest stories, starting from how she was created, to how she became a member of the X-Men. Her creator, Craig Kyle, has been able to work wonders with her. X-23’s journey is emotional and after reading this collection you’ll gain a new appreciation for the character.
The graphic novel begins with X-23: Innocence Lost, written by Kyle and Christopher Yost, which describes how scientists of the Weapon X program wanted to create a living weapon based on Wolverine’s DNA. Doctor Kinney, a brilliant researcher, headed up the process, but it turned out that a female clone was the only viable option. Kinney acted as a surrogate mother for the clone and she came to see X-23 as her daughter.
The relationship between Laura and her mother is the most stirring part of the first arc. It’s disturbing to see a young girl experimented on and presented as nothing more than a tool. To maintain control of her, Laura’s handlers condition her with a trigger scent that made her kill anyone who smelled of the compound. X-23 is sent on various assassination missions and her youth makes her effective at what she does. All the while, Doctor Kinney is looking for a way to help her daughter escape from the facility. Eventually, Kinney manages to help Laura escape, but she’s coated with the trigger scent. In a blind rage, X-23 kills her mother.
The next arc, Target X, focuses on X-23 trying to evade her handlers while living with her aunt and cousin. For a while, Laura is given the chance to lead a normal life. There are funny moments throughout the story, such as Laura being sent to detention for reciting how to torture someone in French class. Her happiness is short-lived when the facility catch up with her and she’s forced to kill the rest of her family. The second arc also introduces her nemesis, Kimura, a genetically enhanced woman with indestructible skin.
Alone and angry, Laura tracks Wolverine down and they engage in a bloody brawl. Their first encounter is emotionally charged, with X-23 believing both of them have to die. Logan manages to convince her that she deserves to live and they begin to develop their bond. This was my favourite part of the collection because the parallels between Wolverine and his clone are contrasted well. Logan believes he deserves to die, but he can see a bright future for Laura.
“You. Listen. Once upon a time, beneath the ancient stars of night, a prince found a girl who lived amongst the bones of the dead. A rare and dangerous creature, gathering to her all manner of darkness. Wicked girl. Lovely girl. Born with murder in her blood. She should never have been found. The prince, you see, was not a good man. He was not good, because he was lonely. Driven to do desperate things, in the name of his heart. So for his heart, he decided to play a game. And take the girl…until she was his own.”
The collection also contains the Majorie Liu stories X-23: Women Of Marvel one-shot and The Killing Dream. Liu was instrumental in developing Laura’s personality and helping her to move on from her past. The one-shot centres on Laura dealing with her past as a prostitute and overcoming a sinister entity called the Gamemaster that lives inside her head.
This leads directly into The Killing Dream, where Wolverine’s soul has been taken over by a demon and it torments Laura as well. She fights to overcome its influence and resolves to take control of her own destiny. It’s a very different X-23 from the one we meet at the beginning of the collection, and seeing how far she’s developed under different writers is a great transition.
Kyle and Liu’s stories are the strongest in the collection because they present two sides of X-23’s personality: the child who was controlled all her life and the young woman who wants to be free. The notion of slavery and being trapped by trauma is brought up throughout the graphic novel.
Each story has different art and I’d say my favourite is from the X-23 one-shot. It has a trippy, colourful vibe that provides a window into Laura’s mind and how she struggles to fight her inner demons.
X-23: The Complete Collection Vol 1 is separated into different stories, but it feels like a true graphic novel. You get to see X-23 develop from a mute and traumatized killer to a courageous young woman determined to protect the people she loves. You can buy it now on Amazon.
On a side note, the introduction from Kyle on how he created X-23 is worth reading. He gives some fun facts about the character, like how on missions Laura always set her watch for 22 minutes because it was the length of a Saturday morning cartoon.