Last week, a number of previews were leaked to Bleeding Cool showing the post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe – a soft-reboot of the comics which restarts all series with #1 and advertises itself as a brand-new status quo. Just how much things will change remains to be seen – but there are some exciting changes coming in October, including the release of All-New Wolverine #1, starring the new Wolverine: Laura Kinney.
For those unfamiliar with the name, Laura Kinney is the female clone of Wolverine. Also known as X-23, she was the 23rd iteration of an attempt to clone the original Wolverine, Logan Howlett. Her mother, Sarah Kinney, contributed some of her genetic material, as the sample of Wolverine’s DNA was damaged – thus explaining, in comic book science, why Laura is female.
Laura was raised in a laboratory facility where she was trained as a killer, performing assasinations for the highest bidder as instructed by the facility which created her. She was known only as X-23 and was treated as subhuman, isolated from human contact and affection. After a number of years, Sarah Kinney sought to escape with her daughter, regretting the horrific and dehumanizing treatment her daughter was given in the facility. However, a “trigger scent” which was designed to send Laura into a killing frenzy upon exposure caused her to kill her mother, who shared Laura’s name with her dying breath.
After escaping the facility where she was raised, Laura spent some time on the streets in New York as a prostitute and later with her cousin Megan. She eventually crossed paths with the X-Men and joined the team briefly, only to land at Xavier’s Academy where she spent a number of years working with young mutants like Dust, Hellion, and Surge. When the X-Force team was formed by Scott Summers (Cyclops) as a black-ops mutant team, he recruited Laura.
During the Schism event, however, when the X-Men divided among themselves behind either Cyclops and Wolverine, and finding herself increasingly isolated from her classmates, Laura struck out on her own, seeking to carve her own path and discover her own identity. In her last solo series, spanning 2010-2012, X-23 (written by Marjorie Liu), the focus of the story was primarily on Laura’s struggle to define herself in spite of the shadows of her past. Since then, X-23 has primarily played small roles in team books, including Avengers Academy and Avengers Arena, and most recently in All-New X-Men.
Laura Kinney, despite being a relatively minor character, is nonetheless a complex and compelling one. She is a deeply damaged young woman nonetheless fighting to do better – and indeed to do good. For all her pessimism about herself, Laura is deeply protective of people, particularly other women. In X-23 #20, she helps save a group of women from a human trafficking ring. In another issue, she attacks a man implied to be a child molester. In addition, Laura’s struggle to define herself – to prove her own humanity, both to herself and to others – can speak deeply to anyone, even those who have never been a clone or a killer. There is something to be said about the ways in which Laura’s character is deeply gendered in a way that can be intensely powerful to read. The way in which she has been objectified, dehumanized, and used by powerful figures, frequently male, throughout her life, is an experience that in exaggerated form may echo the lives of many women.
All of this is to say – I’m excited to see Laura put on the Wolverine costume. I’ve seen a number of fans say that they fear it will cost Laura her unique identity – but I see this as Laura taking on an identity she’s earned. X-23, the designation given to her by her former handlers, a number and letter meant to dehumanize her and make her no more than an experimental subject, is being left behind. Instead, she is claiming the name of her mentor and father figure. The iconic title of “Wolverine” is going to a woman, just as a few years ago the title “Captain Marvel” passed to Carol Danvers and the title “Thor” has passed to Jane Foster. Women are taking up mantles previously occupied by men, and that is exciting.
The passing on of legacies in comics is not new, exactly. Of course, frequently it doesn’t last – witness poor Monica Rambeau, who was Captain Marvel for only a few short years before nearly vanishing into the ether. Nonetheless, the fact that there is now a space in comics for women to don the iconic costumes, to occupy iconic positions, is still exciting. And the fact that it is specifically Laura taking on the Wolverine costume is even more exciting to me specifically, because it means she might be getting to move forward. Sure, to many people she’ll still be the “female Wolverine clone”, but she can also just be “Wolverine.”
Does this mean I’m not worried? No. I’m worried that this is a temporary shift and the status quo will return in a year, or maybe less, pushing Laura back into the background. But even more so, I’m worried that the title won’t do the Laura I know and love justice.
As an avid fan of Laura’s character, and especially of the self-titled series, I found her most recent appearances especially disappointing. From a socially awkward teenager, uncertain even of her own humanity, Laura transitioned from a feral, traumatized woman in her first issue of All-New X-Men to a girl dancing cheerfully in a club with a boy she barely knows a only a few issues later. All of this with little explanation or on-panel development.
I hope that Tom Taylor, the writer on All-New Wolverine, remembers that Laura Kinney isn’t just adamantium claws and a healing factor, not just a stereotypical teenage girl + Wolverine, but that she’s someone with a long history of trauma, with a deep moral center, who’s fought to prove to herself she has a soul.
But until proven otherwise – I, personally, welcome the All-New Wolverine.