By Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
It’s hard not to view Laura’s return to the name “X-23,” after wearing the mantle of “Wolverine,” as a demotion, even a regression for the character. X-23 1 does all it can to smooth over this transition — writer Mariko Tamaki’s pitch-perfect channeling of Laura and Gabby’s voices combined with the return of one-time All-New Wolverine artist Juann Cabal gives this issue a lot of forward momentum, making it feel like a continuation of the story Tom Taylor began rather than a radically new take — but never explicitly addresses the change of code-names or the reason behind it. Instead, Tamaki and Cabal tackle the ideas of identity, growth, and regression head-on through the examples of Laura, Gabby, and the Stepford Cuckoos. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was all leading towards an argument for “X-23” later in the storyline.
In the meantime, though, we’re obviously meant to see the similarities between Laura and Gabby and the Cuckoos, which Tamaki makes quite explicit not only through Laura’s internal monologue, but through their dialogue as well — they’re all clones, they’ve all lost sisters, and none of them are what their creators ever bargained for. Late in the issue, Laura actually laments the fact that she’s not unique, that she shares DNA with a veritable army of killers, and she’s not wrong there. I always viewed Laura taking up the mantle of Wolverine as growth and progression, but one could feasibly make the argument that it was actually the opposite, that it was Laura embracing her shared DNA and the fact that she’s a clone of Logan rather than the unique qualities she brings to the table. In X-23 1, that might just be the worst possible thing you can do.
After all, it’s that kind of regression, that loss of their unique identities, that makes the Cuckoos the issue’s antagonists. The longer the characters have been around the more they’ve built unique identities, but those identities fly out the window in this issue, and that’s a planned, purposeful decision on the Cuckoos’ part. They want what they once had, not only their once-dead-now-revived-but-once-again-dying sisters Esme and Sophie, but their identical aesthetic as well. The only problem is that what once came easy to them is now forced.
The Cuckoos can’t stop being unique, can’t stop having their own personalities, so they have to repress them and cater to Esme’s tastes in a vain effort to pretend that that’s what they all want. Their rejection of their individuality and the separate lives they built as they grew leads them to kidnap, to use the very experiments Laura’s devoted her life to stopping, and to reviving a sister that’s now looking to murder them all. It was clearly the wrong choice.
Does that make Laura’s return to her unique identity of X-23 the right choice? I’m not necessarily convinced (if she does need to have a new identity, it shouldn’t be the name she was given by the evil men who created and de-humanized her), but I think it might be the argument this first arc of X-23 is out to make. Given the fact that Laura herself isn’t quite convinced of the power of individuality yet (she still thinks of herself as not being unique), I’m sure Tamaki realizes that she has quite a bit of work to do to get this point across, and given the wit and nuance of this issue, I very much look forward to watching her try.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?