Opinion: Marvel Relaunch Leaves “X-23’s” Future Uncertain

x-23 3 covers 2
[Update 4/20/18: From top to bottom, the original “X-23” #1 cover, the revised version, and additional cover art.]
This spring, Marvel is “relaunching” their comics line, a common practice. The lineup of writers and artists and their assignments may change. New series will be started. Other series will be ended or taken in new directions. It’s all to keep things from getting stale and boring. Marvel is marketing this new plan under the name “Fresh Start,” since these things always have to have names (it’s a bad name, but whatever). You can see the video ad here.

 

The currently-published Marvel series I follow are not the big mainstream titles that are put under the relaunch knife, so I usually don’t have a horse in these things — although I find the frequency that Marvel pushes the reset button inane and have full sympathy for readers who find their series of choice are in a constant state of flux by the relaunch-addicted Powers That Be. However, even I’ve been hit by this round of meddling. All-New Wolverine, a currently-running series I’ve been faithfully collecting in trade paperback form, will be canceled in July and subsequently be replaced by a brand-new new series, X-23 (the official announcement can be read here).

Both All-New Wolverine and X-23 star my favorite X-Men character, Laura Kinney (AKA X-23). Created for the underrated cartoon X-Men: Evolution, by TV, comic, and movie writers Craig Kyle and Chris Yost in 2003, Laura is a clone of Wolverine (complete with the same mutant powers and adamantium-laced claws), who was bred with the intent of being a weapon for her creators. She eventually escaped and found the X-Men, beginning a journey toward self-determination.

Ironically, given that the character has largely stood on her own two feet, she was originally created to be a vehicle for telling Wolverine stories. Laura’s creation began when Kyle and Yost were given a request by their bosses for the then-next season of Evolution that they didn’t like; to alter Logan from an adult character to a teenage one. “Having to answer the request in some form or another,” Kyle said, I poured back over my X books. I was trying to find way to find a solution to this request, and I very quickly realized there’s no bettering Wolverine. But, when I hit Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X and gave it a read again, I found that maybe there was a way to remake him.” (podcast interview, 23:50 – 24:17)

Kyle and Yost wanted their new character to be distinct from the original, though and made their’s an exact opposite in traits (young girl vs grown man, someone trying to escape their past vs. someone searching to recover it, etc.). “…It was really to create a mirror against Logan,” Kyle has explained, “that can ask and answer questions his life can’t, and he can be the hope for another character. Because if he found a way back, maybe this child has a chance in finding her way as well.” (podcast interview, 24:50 – 25:11)

Seeing the Evolution show online in college was my first exposure to the Laura character, who appeared in two episodes, “X-23” and “Target X.” At the time, I thought the character was a good idea, but, while I had a vague understanding that she’d been popular enough to be written into the comics, I wasn’t interested in pursuing the subject any further. It wasn’t until seeing her used in the trailers for the then-upcoming movie Logan (see here for my disappointed thoughts on that situation) that I got curious to see how Marvel had handled the character since the original cartoon. I gave it a shot, found I liked the stories, was given one more reason to curse Fox for making Logan R-rated, and here we are today.

While the Innocence Lost and Target X miniseries that Kyle and Yost wrote for Laura’s comic book backstory remain my most favorite installments and I really liked the character focus she got in the first X-23 series written by Marjorie Liu in 2010, All-New Wolverine, by Tom Taylor, is the Laura series that’s the most enjoyable. Building off of the Death of Wolverine story that had Logan dying for real, it showed Laura carrying on the legacy by becoming the second Wolverine. It introduced new characters who’ve proven to be worthy additions, had some decent plots, and finally paid off on the overall story arc of the X-23 mythos that Laura would find her place in the world.

However, we can’t have nice things, and so All-New Wolverine has been canceled in the literal name of a “Fresh Start.” While it has not been confirmed why, I strongly suspect that it is because Logan, the original Wolverine, has been resurrected (you didn’t seriously think that Marvel would keep one of their superstars dead forever, did you?). If Laura took a demotion, then the “real” Wolverine can come back and be the star again, right?

While I can kind of see why they might want only one Wolverine, I think that it’s unnecessarily doing a disservice to Laura. First of all, it’s arguably a demotion, despite the character having proven herself to not only be a worthy successor but also capable of carrying the series in question. Secondly, while “Fresh Start” does involve a lot of classic characters taking back their mantles from successors, there are some cases where two generations share it (read Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye to see how it can make a great story). Given the characters’ relationship, Laura and Logan sharing is a far more logical outcome then only one having it. Finally, All-New Wolverine has made it clear that the “X-23” designation is considered dehumanizing in-story, so if Marvel is trying to push Laura back into that role (we don’t know yet if it’s just the series name or not), it’s an extremely problematic decision, at best.

However, with the new X-23 series not yet in print, it remains to be seen how well it handles these questions and concerns. What we do know that Mariko Tamaki is going to be the new author, replacing All-New Wolverine’s Tom Taylor. Artist Juann Cabal, an All-New Wolverine veteran, is the interior artist, while the front cover of the first issue that you saw at the top of this article was illustrated by Mike Choi.

x-23_evolution 2
(top to bottom) The evolution of a mutant:  Laura Kinney/X-23 in “X-Men: Evolution,” in the Marvel comics, as Wolverine in the comics, and portrayed by Dafne Keen in “Logan.”

Mariko Tamaki is an author I have no prior familiarity with. Her description of what she has in mind for her series is: “It’s about what it means to wrestle with legacy and identity when you were created to be a weapon and not someone with a birthday and a sister.” That suggests more serious storytelling than All-New Wolverine had, which could be good or bad. I would be up for some more serious fare as a change of pace. However, since we don’t know the new narrative direction yet, there’s not much to say beyond: “Hope it’s good” and “Tamaki seems to be on the right track for understanding the character.”

[Update 4/20/18: Since this article was originally posted, we have gotten some more information with Marvel’s July solicitation list being officially made public. The description notes that in the series Laura “returns to her roots as X-23 to make sure no one ever has to go through the horrors she did.” That’s an extremely common X-23 storyline, but we’ll see how that actually plays out. A more specific clue is the second piece of artwork attached with the solicitation (the third image at the beginning of this article) showing Laura fighting the Stepford Cuckoos.

Since the Cuckoos are usually X-Men members, it remains to be seen what the context the battle is in the story. Seeing as the Cuckoos are clones of X-Men villain Emma Frost, it is an interesting choice to have them play a role in a series starring another X-Men clone character. Since Marvel will be publishing the first two X-23  issues in July, the Laura/Cuckoos fight artwork could be the cover of the second issue.]

Marvel has this deplorable habit of changing artists all the time, robbing a series of a single consistent look. Because of that, I’m not sure how long Juann Cabal will illustrate X-23, but I hope he has a chance to stay awhile. While the way he draws people doesn’t quite click with me, he has some extremely creative layouts and framing. His work on All-New Wolverine Vol. 4: Orphans of X, which involves visual representations of the characters’ headspaces, is a prime example. If Tamaki explores the introspective side of the franchise, this could be a perfect combination.

Mike Choi has had plenty of experience drawing Laura’s adventures, having been the main artist for Target X, the X-Force story arcs “Old Ghosts” and “Not Forgotten,” and pieces of Messiah War and Second Coming. His depiction of Laura is the one I default to when thinking of the character, so I do have serious regrets that he’s not drawing the insides, even if Cabal’s work is a more-than decent consolation prize. At least the covers will let us see his depiction of the modern day twenty-year-old Laura, since all his prior work was set during her teen years, answering a question that had been bugging me since I started reading All-New Wolverine.

The cover, while striking, isn’t descriptive of what the plot could be (although the color-inverted blood splatter background does not suggest comedy). We do see that Laura has turned in her Wolverine costume for a new one. The composition doesn’t show much of it, but the sleeves and colors are reminiscent of her X-Force uniform. While it remains to be seen what the full costume looks like in action and I wish I knew what that black thing wrapped around Laura’s neck is supposed to be, a distinct costume allowing us to know in an instant which series this is seems like a good idea. As much as I think Laura should’ve stayed the Wolverine forever, I will be the first to admit that the long-eared cowl always looked more than a little odd on her.

[Update 4/5/18: Mike Choi has since posted a head-to-boots print of the new X-23 costume on his Twitter account. It definitely looks like it’s in the lineage of Laura’s old X-Force uniform, but an improvement. The red highlights prevent things from getting too drab and it looks a lot more like something someone would wear in public. The text in the image is an edited version of a quote from All-New Wolverine #18 (collected in All-New Wolverine Vol. 3: Enemy of the State II). As of this writing, a limited number of prints of the image in question can be ordered online here.

Choi has also posted concept art of different ideas he had for the new uniform , along with additional posts explaining the path the project took. Cosplay and athletic wear seemed to be more of an influence than classic superhero spandex. I think I like the final design a lot better then many of concepts, although I preferred select element from some over the equivalent parts in the final design.

Choi’s first behind the scenes post

Choi’s second behind the scenes post

Choi’s third behind the scenes post

Choi’s fourth behind the scenes post

Choi’s fifth behind the scenes post

Choi’s sixth behind the scenes post]

All that is secondary to my primary hope, that the series has good writing and art. My wishlist beyond that is that the promise that the All-New Wolverine supporting cast will remain intact is kept. Similarly, I hope that the character development that Laura has had isn’t regressed for the sake of going “back to basics” or something (the official announcement did indicate that regression is not the plan). The “Orphans of X” storyline ended on a story hook that I hope is addressed and not just forgotten about. There needs to be a good “in-universe” explanation for why Laura hung up the Wolverine cowl. I want see her and Logan’s reunion “onscreen” somewhere (he’s alive “now” and they haven’t seen each other yet). And please, above all else, do not give into the urge to have her call herself “X-23” again.

Time will tell what we get, but for now All-New Wolverine will wrap up with its final issues, #33 – 35, giving us a three-part finale that shows a possible future for our favorite cloned superhero. Laura’s membership in the current series X-Men: Red, written by All-New Wolverine’s Tom Taylor, is still going to stand, giving those of us who like Taylor’s writing for her an outlet for more. If we’re lucky, that and X-23 will stay around long-term and the X-23 solo movie that Fox is considering will get made before Disney pulps it (but remember, we can’t have nice things).

I have very mixed feeling about the new direction of the X-23 franchise. On one hand, I believe that All-New Wolverine was canceled before its time and that the rebranding is based on very flawed ideas (namely that Laura becoming the Wolverine was a gimmick and not an important part of her character growth). There will always be the usual uncertainties, like if the new authors will be as good as the old ones and if we’ll like the new story directions. For all my reservations, though, I do like what we’ve been shown of X-23 so far and am curious what kinds of stories a new voice could tell. It’s always better if the character stays in print than not, so I will be giving this a chance when it comes out and hoping that it’s the best at what it does.

What do you think? Will Laura still see the stars in this new series, or will any shot she had at being human slip further away? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

eXtra Notes:

– From poking around the web, I’ve gathered that the “Fresh Start” relaunch is not exactly being warmly received, with older characters getting the priority over newer ones and the fact that the relaunch is coming so soon on the heels of the last one being notable points of contention. Marvel is posting the “Fresh Start” comics they’ve announced and will announce in the future here, for the curious (note that it’s very incomplete as of this writing).

– I find it a very amusing coincidence that Mariko Tamaki has the same first name as of the original Wolverine’s more notable love interests from the comics (played by Tao Okamoto in the movie The Wolverine). Also an ironic coincidence, Tamaki is Canadian, just like Wolverine is. (Laura is American, so it’s not quite a prefect match of character and author nationality.)

– Cover artist Mike Choi has posted a photo on Instagram showing a painting of his X-23 cover (sans text and background) alongside an alternate version showing Laura wearing a different costume, including a jacket, fingerless gloves, and a domino mask reminiscent of her X-Force goggles. It remains to be seen how the alternate clothing is or is not used in conjunction with the one on the final cover and in the series proper.

– In the weirdness of how comic book publishing works, Tamaki’s series is considered the fourth “volume” of the overall X-23 series, meaning that there are three other “X-23 #1s” in existence. By Marvel’s reckoning, the Innocence Lost miniseries, by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, is the first volume; the 2010 single issue story by Marjorie Liu is the second (why didn’t X-23: Target X earn a spot, I wonder); and the subsequent 2010 X-23 series, also by Liu, is the third. None of this makes sense.

– The X-23 logo for the new series is the same one from the original 2010 X-23 series, except with the colors inverted. [Update 4/20/18: The logo has since been modified into an unique one, as can be seen above.]

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