All-New Wolverine #1 Review

X-23 gets a breathtaking debut as Wolverine with the full weight of her past behind it.

Ironically, the All New All Different Wolverine debut’s greatest strength is that it is neither new, nor different. While X-23 taking over for her father -more on why that’s not a parenthetical later- in the flagship Wolverine role is certainly novel, the costume change is the only perceptible difference post-Secret Wars. Laura still wears the battle scars of her twelve-and-counting years in publication thanks to Tom Talyor’s impeccably researched and considered take on her, establishing his bona fides and intended direction for the character immediately.

X-23 is a deeply troubled character both in her construction and her history, but she currently stands as perhaps the best example of a character whose problems weren’t overwritten or ignored by successive creative teams, resulting in a pretty incredible body of work dedicated to overcoming some of the harshest trauma imaginable. It’s one thing to take a character like Barbara Gordon following The Killing Joke and transform her into Oracle the way that Kim Yale and John Ostrander did, but Laura was introduced into the comics as a street kid and self harming sex worker in then-Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada and Joshua Middleton’s NYX, none of which was handled with much nuance or grace at the time.

She began to take shape under the guidance of Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, who had originally created her for the X-Men Evolution cartoon series, filling in her backstory in X-23: Innocence Lost and Target X, depicting her time in the Weapon X program and her eventual escape prior to the events of NYX. Despite how well received their initial takes on fleshing out Laura’s backstory were for giving her a voice in her own story and added dimension beyond being utterly detached as she was in NYX, their inclusion of her in the hyper violent X-Force relaunch drew considerable fire for putting an ostensibly teenage character on a death squad. Her time in X-Force was almost immediately depicted as being wrongheaded in story as soon as the title ended, shortly before Marjorie Liu’s ongoing series launched.

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Liu picked up the character and immediately set about processing her accumulated trauma, including her time in X-Force, by pairing her with characters like Gambit who understood the loss of agency she experiences when exposed to the trigger scent that drives her into a murderous frenzy. Liu carried the title with a succession of artists including her Monstress collaborator Sana Takeda for an impressive two years. As the first significant writer on the character since her original creators, Liu established the tone and major character beats that ushered her through to Tom Taylor and David Lopez’s current series.

When the series was announced in June, my initial concern was that Secret Wars was likely to result in a continuity reset that would alter Laura significantly from her previous depictions. While we still don’t know exactly what happened in Secret Wars, or if it matters at all, All New Wolverine finds her so far untouched by the event’s aftermath, picking up from her time in All New X-Men seamlessly with Liu’s shadow looming large.

The story opens at the Eiffel Tower, which is an interesting choice given that the last time Laura was in Paris it included an erotically charged splash page of her inviting Jubilee, a vampire at the time, to feed off her. Laura is currently dating Angel, so we’re sadly unlikely to see Jubilee with her lips on Laura’s neck again any time soon, but Taylor and Lopez can feel free to revisit that whenever they want.

The action kicks off full in media res with Laura taking a couple bullets, including one to the head, trying to stop an assassination. The brain trauma knocks her into a flashback to her time in X-Force with Wolverine where they discuss her being unable to kill their intended target, which frustrates and upsets her. She apologizes to Logan for not killing him when she had the chance and he rejects the apology, telling her that for them killing is easy, what’s hard is resisting what they were programmed to do. It’s a point that hits home much harder for Laura than it does Logan, given that she was engineered to respond to a trigger scent that her handlers would mark a target with, causing her to go into a frenzy similar to River Tam’s post hypnotic trigger in Firefly.

Logan goes on to say that he admires that after everything she was put through, they couldn’t make her as mean as him. It’s a powerful statement and he goes on to express regret that she had to be born into his world, which she flat out rejects, refusing to feel shame or penitence for being his clone, and effectively his daughter. “I want them to see The Wolverine coming,” she says later, making it clear what she took away from the conversation.

It’s an apocryphal take on that era, but it’s a valuable retelling. Laura’s time with X-Force was unmistakably her nadir, seeing her lose her grip on her humanity and personhood and slide into indiscriminate killing until she bottomed out with a suicide attempt after being infected with the Legacy Virus. Laura and Logan, in that flashback, embody one of the moments in which the mutant metaphor doesn’t need an explicitly LBGTQIA labeled character to bring queerness out in the most beautiful ways.

What’s clear here is that anyone reading it can appreciate that distinctions like “clone” are semantical and irrelevant. Logan is Laura’s father, a relationship he wears with discomfort, but the gravity of which he appreciates. There still is something to be said for the need of having actual LBGTQIA mutants in prominent places, but the X-Men absolutely do represent queer as a political identity. They have an entirely separate structure of customs, relationships, and conception of family than the rest of the Marvel universe, and one of those central things is the venerable tradition of Wolverine acting as a surrogate father figure, most notably for Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, Armor, and Laura.

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What has made his relationship with Laura so compelling and fraught is that she’s the closest thing he has to a biological daughter, meaning that he feels like he owes a lot more responsibility for who she was prior to joining the X-Men, which he never had to contemplate for Kitty or Jubilee. When Laura and Jubilee met in Paris for that moonlit feeding, they were accompanied by Gambit and Wolverine respectively, with Laura and Logan barely able to speak to each other so soon after their experiences in X-Force. Gambit, as odd of a character as he is, was there to support Laura because he understood the loss of agency she experienced with the use of the trigger scent from his time as one of Apocalypse’s horsemen, while Jubilee’s vampirism had forced Logan into having to guide her through a part of his world that he hoped she’d never see (as explored in depth in Kathryn Immonen and Phil Noto’s Wolverine and Jubilee).

What Taylor and Lopez accomplish by revisiting Laura and Logan’s shared time in X-Force the way they do is establish that Laura knew and understood Logan better than anyone else, that she had experienced every facet of his world for herself. It also re-establishes that she is Logan’s heir apparent, which Fang stated unequivocally in the Wolverines weekly series that spun out of The Death of Wolverine. Fang’s assessment of Laura carried weight because of his long and intimate friendship with Wolverine, but there was a unique connection between the two that went unrecognized, the first costume Laura wore in a comic was patterned after the same one that Logan stole from Fang. The seeds of Laura’s ascension to follow her father as Wolverine appear to have been sown long ago, which is the key element that separates her from the majority of Marvel’s new legacy characters.

The fundamental problem with Jane Foster as Thor, for example, is that it feels like a gimmick, not least because her identity wasn’t revealed until the title went on hiatus for Secret Wars. There was nothing to cling to or invest in besides the idea that the Odinson had been replaced by a woman. She remained a complete cypher. Radioactive Spider-Gwen suffers from a similar novelty effect. She could very easily become a flagship character, but most of her title’s appeal currently rests on a clown car full of alternate takes on current characters instead of creating a viable and compelling character in Gwen herself. Ms. Marvel is the real standout when it comes to new legacy characters that outlive their initial novelty appeal, but the raw power of the ascendancy of a long suffering and much beloved character seems to be going largely undiscussed and untapped in the ANAD initiative when it comes to new female leads.

When you have a character like Carol Danvers or X-23 given a strong push, there’s so much more to tap into with the audience. Carol’s most recent ascendancy, which was built off the back of the fading momentum Bendis built up when he dusted her off for Mighty Avengers, was explosive because of the long term investment people had in her. Her revamp under Kelly Sue DeConnick attracted an entirely new generation of readers, but it also benefitted immensely from the evangelism of her significant fanbase.

X-23 has a fraction of Carol’s publication history, but she has a deeply invested fanbase precisely because of her difficult provenance. X-23 comes from a bizarre and generally exploitative crop of characters that one section of the fandom typically refers to as “assassin babies,” the children of heroes and villains who were indoctrinated into extreme violence at a young age, the most prominent examples being Cassandra Cain, Rose Wilson Worth, and Damian Wayne. In the case of Cassandra Cain, the idea seemed to be a fairly crass scenario of trying to create a super assassin without really taking into account the monstrousness of raising a child without the ability to read or speak, or the fact that putting a career killer in the Batgirl role made her completely inaccessible to the little girls who crave Batgirl merchandise and media. The distinction that she carried the solo Batgirl title longer than anyone, a record that has yet to be beaten by the renumbered Post-Flashpoint volume, is almost completely irrelevant considering how oppositional much of it was to girls and women.

Where X-23 has been able to separate herself from the field is that Yost, Kyle, and Liu all, at various times, sought to pull something understandable and productive out of Laura’s misery despite its fantastical nature. When Liu first took Laura on, she endeavored to place the bare facts, that she needed time and space to deal with a history of self harm and a suicide attempt, at the center of her initial arc and what that accomplished was to make Laura’s pain instantly understandable and relatable to anyone, but young women especially, who have similar struggles in their own lives. When Brian Michael Bendis brought her into All-New X-Men to interact with the time shifted original X-Men, it was to give her a new peer group and a space away from the violence that defined her life, as well as to give the others someone who understood what it was like to be such an extreme outsider while also intimately connected to one of the in-group.

So what Tom Taylor and David Lopez are given to work with on All-New Wolverine is the strongest and healthiest Laura there’s ever been, but they make it clear within the first couple pages that they aren’t going to skim that off the top, nor are they out to destroy it. By bringing the reader back to the X-Force era and the red lense costume, they’re sending a clear statement that her entire history is known to them and in play, but by revisiting it in a way that reaffirms her relationship with Logan, it’s sending the message that they’ve learned the lessons of that era. Which we see throughout, in subtler ways.

One of the things that makes Laura unique, and what I truly treasure about her, is that she has a very different engagement with violence than most of her peers that also represents the schism between her and her brother Daken. Logan is mercurial in the sense that as the situation dictates he can either be incredibly protective and absorb massive amounts of violence in service to others, or he can be gruesomely sadistic and luxuriate his violence. Thus his children, just like how each of the Robins amplify different aspects of Bruce Wayne’s personality, are sharply divided along those lines. Laura loathes and struggles against her urge towards violence, preferring to put herself in harm’s way while Daken is a transgressive figure driven almost purely by self interest.

We see this immediately in All New Wolverine, with Laura rushing the intended target and taking a bullet to the head without a second thought. We see it again when she races up the tower and confronts the assassin, slicing through her gun and tearing free a section of the fence to fight defensively, intentionally trying to avoid unnecessarily harming her opponent. Part of this restraint is due to the fact that her enemy, who wants Laura working with her rather than against her, is her own clone. Pitting Laura against her own clones is a genius way to start, it illustrates cleanly the point Laura has always been her own worst enemy in the sense of her struggle against what she was created to be, which the clones also appear to be struggling with, in their own way.

What truly upsets Laura about the clones is that they’ve had the ability to feel pain, and presumably anything else, taken from them. Pain is particularly fraught for Laura as it was, in her darkest moments, the only connection she had to her humanity and selfhood. Her engagement with violence and tendency towards self harm is just as gendered as the two claws in each hand and foot that differentiate her from her father and brother. The reason why Laura has one of the deepest engagements with violence and trauma in mainstream comics is the same reason why Katniss Everdeen is so easily and fearlessly portrayed with symptoms of PTSD in the Hunger Games franchise and why Lara Croft was able to be portrayed processing the trauma of killing someone for the first time so openly in her recently rebooted franchise. The gender expectations of genre storytelling make it difficult to impossible to portray a male character dealing with violence and trauma in such a way without it being dismissed as emasculating. Women are expected to find meaning and strength in suffering and so, in an odd way, have more freedom to properly articulate the effects of these kinds of trauma.

Laura’s femininity, unconventional as it is, is also what provides the context for Taylor and Lopez’s portrayal of Logan in this issue. His position in the story is already intriguing because defining characters in their absence, and more specifically, death is typically the province of women, and in the case of the X-Men, Logan and Scott’s viewpoints on Jean Grey. This is the true payoff, a year later, for Paul Cornell’s criminally underrated Wolverine run and Charles Soule’s The Death of Wolverine that followed it.

The most compelling and human moments in Logan’s history are typically those seen through the eyes of a female viewpoint character, because those young women, Kitty Pryde, Armor, Jubilee, and Laura, bring a liminality with them that temporarily suspends the performance of masculinity that Logan is typically locked into. There’s a certain cruelty to the fact that Logan had to die, had to suffocate in a block of adamantium, to bring about the most human and compelling portrayal he’s ever had.

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“You’re the best at what you do,” he tells her as she fades back into consciousness, “But that doesn’t mean you have to do it.” Here then, at last, the cult around Logan as a paean to hypermasculine violence crumbles to dust as he subverts his most famous quip. But perhaps most powerfully, he isn’t telling Laura anything she doesn’t already know here, and he knows that. He’s giving her permission to be her own person. Which we see her trying to do and manage in small ways in her relationship with Angel. It’s oddly novel to see Laura speaking in full sentences without a robotic syntax, but it’s interesting and rewarding to see her trying to navigate intimacy and how Warren conceptualizes the risks that she takes. He worries that she could die, which would ordinarily seem like a laughable thing to say to Wolverine’s clone, but beyond her respect for his feelings for her, Logan’s death and Daken’s recent loss of his healing ability put a sharp point on it.

There’s a slight chill in the air when mortality is mentioned, again, thanks to Logan’s death. But there’s also an incredible thrill to Laura’s fearlessness and her imperviousness to harm. Women are taught to shrink, to avoid confrontation, and avoid drawing attention to themselves. “I want them to see The Wolverine coming,” she tells Warren. Laura is going to be seen, she’s going to be loud, she’s going to be her father’s daughter, and seeing her that unrestrained and proud of herself is incredibly empowering. As a survivor of immense trauma who refuses to be diminished by it, Laura could easily be poised to become Marvel’s own Mockingjay.

The dynamic between Laura and Warren is, as I’m loathe to admit, an intriguing and so far well executed one. The normative gender dynamics are nowhere in sight, they aren’t even up for discussion or reference. We aren’t exactly looking at a full inversion like Barda and Scott Free, but there do seem to be some complimentary echoes with the better end of how Midnighter and Apollo have been portrayed. There’s a softness to Laura in how she deals with Warren and finds ways to engage with him on his level that had only just started to emerge under Bendis prior to this. It gets played up humorously when Warren, barred from hugging Laura as she heals, pats her on the head and she deadpans that she didn’t tell him to stop after acknowledging the awkwardness of it, looking for all the world like a homicidal housecat as she says it.

David Lopez, coming off his time with Kelly Sue DeConnick on Captain Marvel, suggests how seriously Marvel wants readers to take this book and it shows. Lopez’s Laura is stunningly pretty, which is brand new for the character. While she’s never been drawn as being intentionally ugly before, there was a sense of otherness and distance in her that came through in most interpretations of her, with Sana Takeda being one of the few exceptions. Lopez clearly isn’t attempting to inappropriately eroticize Laura and so it works well, the net effect communicating just how much better Laura is doing emotionally than ever before, her usually gaunt, withdrawn features now flush and full of life.

It’s in Lopez’s hands to provide the necessary context for Laura’s dialogue, to give it the inflection that truly tells us who this Laura is, and he makes her wonderfully engaging and human. There’s a subtlety and a fullness to Lopez’s Laura that hasn’t really existed before, the contrast being most deeply felt in the flashback in which he draws on what she’d been like all those years ago, her posture and expressions radically different from how we see her in Paris. His Logan is absolutely wonderful too, going through the range of gruff, shocked, remorseful, and sympathetic in a way that truly carries the moment.

He also blocks out the action cleanly and fluidly, but doesn’t forget to have fun along the way. One of the most endearing things about Laura is her foot claws and their bizarre applications, which come into play in a really great way when she lands on a drone, winding up in a position that makes her look like a very confused cat at the close of a very tense moment.

What shines through the brightest in All-New Wolverine is the recognition that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Laura’s twelve years in print have frequently been needlessly rough and exploitative, but at every turn there’s been someone willing to step up and course correct, and make those darkest moments mean something and contribute towards the culmination we see here. A young woman who can heal quickly physically, but has spent a lifetime trying to heal emotionally, a process she’s still undergoing. Laura isn’t an aspirational figure, but she speaks directly to women who are used to the taste of their own blood in their mouths, and there’s a lot of women like that out there right now. That’s what being a mutant is, it’s about finding strength and community in your pain.

The title does chafe to a certain extent given that Laura carried her own title for nearly two years as X-23 and likely does not need the boost of being called Wolverine having such a strong identity of her own, but Taylor and Lopez build the rejoinder to that point right into the story. This is about Laura being proud of who she is and asserting her right to take up her father’s legacy.

Until Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze unveil their Black Panther, it’s going to be nearly impossible to challenge All-New Wolverine for the strongest ANAD debut.

Written by Tom Taylor

Drawn by David Lopez and David Navarrot

Colored by Nathan Fairbairn

Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit

Cover by Bengal

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Emma Houxbois

Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman from the wilds of Canada, most recently spotted in the Pacific Northwest. She is a two time IWC Women’s World Champion and has written about comics for the web since 2005 for sites including Playboy, Bitch Media, and Graphic Policy.

  • Victoria Cole

    Excellent piece! Very well thought trough.

  • Charlene Navarrete

    Great article about the new Wolverine series starring Laura Kinney. I’d have to respectfully disagree with the assessment of Cassandra Cain as a “career killer” though, as she was only eight years old when she first killed under the manipulations of her father, and was so traumatized by the act that she left him and rejected the assassin way of life. (Pre-reboot of course) But otherwise, excellent analysis on the complex and intricate history of Laura. I’m definitely looking forward to more of this book.

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