Marjorie Liu likely had some sweeping, poetic ideas for a long-form narrative which would take the character X-23 and turn her into Laura Kinney, giving her purpose and meaning as a character for the first time since her introduction. Sadly, the series was one of several which ran out of readers and was ended as part of the Great Cancellation Rush of last year. Alongside books like Ghost Rider, Black Panther and Daken, X-23 was cancelled before the full story could be told - but Liu had more issues than many in which to tell her story, and did manage to make a little headway with the character. Issue #21, released last week, was the last part of her shortened narrative, and elects to be an impressionistic, dialogue-free farewell to a character who remains hampered by her creation.
Working with artist Phil Noto on the story, this final issue sees X-23 doing what her father has done many, many times before: heading into the snowy wilderness in order to go on a spirit quest of sorts. While there, she wanders about aimlessly, looking for anything that can provide her with a sense of direction. Which, really, mirrors the intention of the series as a whole. X-23 was created to be a clone of Wolverine who was brutally, brutally tortured for years. This made her into an emotionless robot of a person, unable to decide anything for herself and letting anybody take advantage of her. Her creators Craig Kyle and Chris Yost spent several years pretending that they were going to start telling the story which unravelled this, and let her move into becoming her own person, but that story never materialised and she was left a blank slate.
Marjorie Liu came on to possibly one of the toughest writing jobs in mainstream comics. X-23 doesn’t have an internal narrative, or defining characteristics, or motivation. She was designed to be a female Wolverine, kill things, and make other characters feel sympathetic. No momentum was ever put into the psyche of the character. Which makes this issue all the more interesting. Over the course of the series, Liu has tried again and again to deconstruct the flawed character she was given, and rebuild her into something usable. That’s been a struggle. Arcs guest-starring Gambit, Jubilee, Daken and the Fantastic Four all failed to get X-23 into a workable place for other writers to use her. They were entertaining, but the character remained stubbornly difficult to progress.
Issue #21 basically accepts all that, and goes feral. X-23 sheds her clothes in the wilderness, leaves her things behind, and wanders in search of… something. What she encounters is a pack of wolves, which she follows until they lead her to a white wolf. Oh, if only Colossus were around! This leads into a strange dream-type sequence where she if made to fight a feral version of herself in what appears to be a snowy dreamscape. Liu has spent twenty issues trying to destroy the dark side of X-23 in order to insert personality into the light half. In the end, though, she realises to change her tactic - much like X-23 does. Instead of one half killing the other, they instead merge into one and reveal X-23 as she is: a scared, directionless clone of Wolverine, sitting lost in the woods. She leaves on her bike, watching the black wolves but waving to the white wolf. She’s not leaving her demons behind, but instead choosing to keep them within herself. She finds a little peace, almost manages to smile, and moves on.
It’s an interesting final issue, open to interpretation, and drawn beautifully by Noto. Her story is going to continue (and, in fact, is currently doing just that) in Christos Gage’s Avengers Academy series. But really, this is the final adventure for the character, and a final definition for what she is. It isn’t so simple as “she is light and dark”; but more that she believes she can be both. She isn’t going to just focus on how dangerous her demons can be, but will instead acknowledge and embrace the good parts to her, the human elements. I think, anyway. X-23 as a series was an attempt to showcase how the character could work within the wider Marvel Universe. And while it didn’t always work, and ultimately leaves the character in a rather nebulous place, it still gave X-23 a chance to expand and grow. X-23 #21 was a curious issue, but a rather fitting finale, and it feels as though X-23, finally, has managed to move past her origin story and into a character of her own.