Note: Some of the ground in this article was covered in “From X-23 to Wolverine: All-New, All-Different Laura Kinney” and “All New, All Different Reviews“. The trade of the issues of All-New Wolverine covered in this post trade will be released in May.
Almost four months ago, with two issues released, I saluted the All New Wolverine series for “the fact that Laura is being allowed to move out of her X-23 role and grow into the protector – and hero – that she did not previously believe she could be”. With the first arc completed, I take my hat off to Tom Taylor and David Lopez for writing more or less my ideal comic for Laura Kinney – not just gender-swapping Wolverine, as some fans were concerned might be the case, but letting Laura Kinney be a new kind of Wolverine.
Logan Howlett (the first Wolverine) has been around for a long time. Introduced as a rebel, an aggressive counterpoint to the more peaceable X-Men of the time, one of his defining characteristics has always been his violence. One of his most iconic lines – almost a catchphrase – is “I’m the best there is at what I do. But what I do isn’t very nice” (Uncanny X-Men #162). Frequently portrayed as savage (The Savage Wolverine) or animalistic, in more recent years he’s mellowed into a kinder, gentler Wolverine, founding the Jean Grey School to continue Xavier’s dream of educating young mutants (while Cyclops founds an isolationist city to train mutants as warriors in San Francisco). Nonetheless, the popular image of Wolverine as a hyper-masculine warrior endures. (This despite the fact that an equally important part of his character is his mentorship of various young women: more on this later.)
Then there is Laura Kinney. Laura, or X-23, first made her appearance on an episode of X-Men: Evolution as a female clone of Logan Howlett – the twenty-third attempt at a clone of Weapon X, as Logan was known to the scientists who made him Wolverine. Cloned in an attempt to create the perfect killing machine, Laura (named in secret by her “mother” Sarah Kinney) was tortured, dehumanized, and used to kill – and in the event she resisted, her masters made a “trigger scent” to bring on an animalistic killing frenzy. Her past stands out even among the many traumatic backstories of comics heroes: even in her escape from the Facility, Laura kills her own mother under the influence of the trigger scent, then finds herself on the streets of New York as a child prostitute. At one point, she assaults Logan, desperate to destroy them both, seeing them as too dangerous to live.
X-23: Target X #6 (2007) by Christopher Yost/Craig Kyle
Pursued at every turn by the Facility attempting to claim her once again, and confronted again and again with those who tell her she is nothing but a killer, she has been consistently shown as struggling with self-harm and severe self-loathing. On finding herself in Hell (comics!) Laura is startled to learn she has a soul. Even the well-meaning X-Men place her on a secret kill squad (X-Force). While the series New X-Men gave Laura a chance to shine as part of a team, and X-Force allowed her a few memorable moments, it was in Marjorie Liu’s X-23 (2010-2012) that Laura really began to bloom, striking out on her own (with the companionship of Remy LeBeau (Gambit) and Wolverine’s surrogate daughter Jubilation Lee (Jubilee)) to find her own way – to define herself for herself.
All-New Wolverine is the spiritual successor to that series, just under five years later.
With Wolverine dead, Laura has taken up his mantle, and the first arc demonstrates that while she may have taken the name, she’s far from a simple carbon copy of the original. The first arc of this comic, “The Four Sisters”, shows that this is a new kind of Wolverine.
The story, in brief, follows Wolverine as she tracks down three clones of herself, escaped from the custody of a group of scientists. This is not the first time Laura has encountered clones of herself. The first time, in Venom #13, she reacts with horror.
Venom: Circle of Four #13 (2012) by Rick Remender
In this series, however, she approaches them as equals, even before speaking with them: targets not just to be stopped but to be saved. She pointedly corrects one of the scientists referring to them as “experiments”, correcting “people.”
All New Wolverine #2 by Tom Taylor (2015)
She quickly learns, upon approach, that the three clones (named Zelda, Bellona, and Gabby) are dying from injections of nanites given to them by the scientists to prevent them from feeling pain. Laura immediately changes sides, determined to save their lives and help the clones escape from their creators.
The obvious point deserves to be made explicitly: this young woman, who has in the past seen herself as a dangerous weapon, now sees these other versions of herself and claims them as sisters.
For all her trauma, and all her anger, one of the most remarkable aspects of Laura Kinney has always been her compassion for others, a trait that is very much on display in this series. She continually insists on non-fatal methods as much as necessary, threatening rather than wounding and wounding rather than killing. This Wolverine is not out for herself, by herself, but driven by a desire to help others – to save others, and the certainty that while she may have been bred as a killer, that doesn’t mean she needs to be one.
The funny thing is, this isn’t such a new thing for a Wolverine. For all his reputation as a grouchy loner, Wolverine has worked with almost every superhero there is at one point or another, and has significant relationships with many of them – perhaps most notably his series of young female mentees. Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Jubilee, and Laura have all at one time been taken under Wolverine’s surly wing, all of them now heroes in their own right. And in grand Wolverine tradition, at the end of the first arc Laura takes her own mentee: the youngest of the three clones, Gabby.
All New Wolverine #1/All New Wolverine #6 (2015-6) by Tom Taylor
What the first six issues of All-New Wolverine say thematically and about Wolverine Kinney, taken together, is simple but nonetheless vital: you are what you choose to be. You deserve to make that choice. It suggests that Laura’s begun to forgive herself, to see herself as a hero, as (to use the parlance of another recently passed mantle) worthy. She shows restraint even as she avenges the wrongs done to others like her. And she’s ready to pass that knowledge on to others.
X-23 #1 (2010) by Marjorie Liu
She isn’t just another Logan Howlett. She is Laura Kinney, aka Wolverine, and I for one say: long live Wolverine.