Last month, Marvel released several teasers for their new, post-Secret Wars Universe. The first mostly showed characters we already knew would stick around. The second teaser however revealed a girl donning Wolverine’s name and uniform. So who is this Wolverine girl?
To the uninitiated, this might seem like a simple gender swap, a part of Marvel’s newfound “feminist agenda” that the ignorant keep complaining about. But that’s not what this is. That’s not what the new female Thor is either, but that’s another discussion. This female Wolverine has existed in comics for more than 10 years, and she didn’t even begin in the comics. And she’s popular – how else do you explain these recent poll results at comicbookresources.com?
X-23 first showed up in 2003. More specifically, she appeared in a third season episode of the animated show, X-Men Evolution. The episode introduced Wolverine’s teenaged female clone as someone created by Hydra to kill, yet she escaped Hydra and ended up hunting Wolverine. The character was popular enough that Joe Quesada (then recently appointed Editor in Chief) brought her into the main Marvel Universe in the NYX mini-series.
As a side-note, X-Men Evolution is actually a pretty good show. It explores a world where the X-Men go to a normal high school. For the first two seasons, the world doesn’t know that Mutants exist, and in season 3 and 4 they must deal with the world finding out. The first season is a little slow and focuses a bit too much on teenage drama, but it starts getting good with season 2 and by the time Apocalypse shows up in the season 3 finale, the show gets awesome. I wrote a full post about the show HERE.
X-23’s comic origins are similar, although much more detailed and tragic. A facility with ties to Weapon X made 22 failed attempts to clone Wolverine until they realized the Y chromosome was too damaged to repair, so they turned her into a female clone. Laura’s origin series, X-23: Innocence Lost, is arguably among the best X-Men origin stories in existence. It explores her stolen childhood in detail, her work as an assassin and her “mother’s” efforts to free her. It introduces the trigger scent, a chemical that X-23 is conditioned to slip into a berserker rage and kill anything covered in the scent, something that still affects her today. The ending is both glorious in how X-23 tears apart the facility, and tragic in how her mother dies. The equally good sequel series, Target X, is about Laura’s first attempt at a normal life, meeting her aunt and cousin, and the facility’s brutal attempts to recapture her. For anyone who’s curious about X-23, these two minis are must reads.
X-23 shares the same abilities and the same basic skill set as Wolverine. She’s a very talented fighter. She heals very quickly from injury. Thanks to her specialized training, her senses are more acute than even Wolverine’s. Because of her black ops training from birth, she’s also a tactical thinker, a stealth master and a weapons expert. Although her claws are coated in adamantium, her skeleton is still normal. This means she’s more vulnerable to serious injury, but she also heals faster than Logan, something that’s been subject to several jokes over the years.
While their abilities and roles on a team are very similar, their personalities couldn’t be much more different. Wolverine is an animal in a fight; the team berserker. He’s prone to anger problems and usually he relies more on his intimidating nature and abilities than he does on his actual combat skill. That’s not to say he doesn’t use his skill, but he often doesn’t bother. X-23 is better described as a machine in combat. She’s cold and calculating, always thinking several steps ahead in a fight and thinking of as many ways to kill her opponents as possible. She doesn’t just attack people, she targets specific points on the body, whether major arteries or in Lady Deathstrike’s case, her cybernetics. That’s right, she killed Lady Deathstrike using strategy.
In the facility that created Laura, they tried to weed out all emotion and self-value from her. For years after escaping, she struggled to understand social situations, often leading to amusing conversations in her early X-Men years. She saw herself as less than human, making her selfless in a fight and protective of others, but often led to huge emotional struggles. For years she cut herself whenever negative emotions affected her. When she started feeling guilt for her actions as an assassin, she contemplated suicide and lost control of her usually stoic nature. These emotional struggles add a lot of depth to her character.
Laura is, in a sense, the fictional poster child for all forms of child abuse and how they affect people. Despite all of this, her strength of will helped her push through the pain. Her solo series, written by Marjorie Liu, focuses on Laura finally coping with her emotions, learning to trust her friends and best of all, she started to value herself. Her journey of self-discovery, reconnecting with her emotions and learning the nature of mercy is downright inspiring. She’s basically reached the point where she could pass off as normal. She’s not without her limits; she almost broke down during the O5’s trip to the Ultimate Universe in All-New X-Men, but she’s a much stronger person than she used to be.
Laura still struggles with her killing nature. Her head is always calculating the best ways to kill everyone around her, even her friends and allies. But despite all her struggles, she’s grown into becoming quite the hero. In fact, she’s more of a straight hero than Wolverine has ever been. In both Brian Michael Bendis’s All-New X-Men and Charles Soule’s Wolverines, she’s shown leadership and wisdom. With Wolverines in particular, she not only showed mercy to incredibly dangerous individuals, but even convinced Wolverine’s evil son, Daken, to not kill the monster who stole his healing factor. She’ll continue to struggle with her urges to kill. She’ll always have the mindset to kill when necessary, but she’s not the mindless killing machine the facility tried to create.
That’s what makes her such a great character, and in my opinion, she’s been more interesting than the original Wolverine for years. She’s certainly more consistently written, considering how half the time Wolverine tries not to kill, and the other half of the time he slaughters everyone. I have no problem whatsoever with Laura taking on the Wolverine mantle. Not only is she finally tossing aside the facility’s codename, X-23, but she’s openly declaring that she wants to be a hero. A good writer will portray her as a completely different kind of Wolverine, one who doesn’t usually start fights but will certainly end them. She obviously hopes to honour her adoptive father’s legacy.
Of all the characters who could take Wolverine’s codename, she’s the only one who deserves it.
In addition to her origin minis, her solo series, All New X-Men and Wolverines, you can read about X-23 in Craig Kyle and Chris Yost’s New X-Men run, X-Force volume 3, Avengers Academy post Fear Itself, Avengers Arena and the Messiah trilogy of X-Men events. She’s also playable in several video games. She was actually the first Marvel female character announced for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (the game that pushed me into reading comics), she’s playable in Avengers Alliance, and most recently, she’s playable in Marvel Heroes 2015. From the pure melee characters I’ve played, she’s the most fun thanks to her variety of movement powers and bleed-based attacks. She’s certainly a more varied fighter than Wolverine, who mostly has copies of the same attack with slightly different status effects.
I’m not ashamed to admit that Laura is my favourite X-Men character, and the one who got me into comics in the first place. By no means do I dislike Wolverine, but I found him tiring after a while when he appeared in everything with sometimes contradictory characterization. I don’t remember the last time I felt this excited for something in comics. That said, I hope they don’t give X-23 Wolverine’s power of showing up pretty much everywhere. Marvel, please keep her contained to 2 or 3 regular appearances at the most. This way she’ll be more likely to have consistent characterization.
And to close this post off, here’s some general X-23 awesomeness:
Escaping the facility in X-23: Target X
Temporarily blinding the Hulk during the World War Hulk X-Men tie-in
Saving the other X-kids from a Purifier trap in New X-Men 27
Kicking Mr. Sinister out of her head through sheer willpower in X-23 6.
Striking the final blow in her duel with Daken in their Collision Course crossover
And of course, tearing through mercenaries after having her arm chainsawed off in X-Force 20 (before she learned mercy). Don’t worry, it grew back
Written By: healed1337