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X-23: Innocence Lost (Marvel Comics, 2005; #1-6)

In the aftermath of Wolverine’s escape, the Weapon X program lives on in secret.  Years later, Zander Rice, the son of one of the teammembers during Logan’s time as an experiment, continues his father’s work.  However, he needs a suitable subject—enter Sarah Kinney, a geneticist who promises a clone.  After deliving on her promise and giving birth to Logan’s female clone Laura, Sarah comes to doubt Zander’s motives and intentions and looks for a way to make things right for her daughter.

I’m conflicted about “Innocence Lost.”  On the one hand, the arc is well-executed.  Kyle and Yost’s plotting and dialogue are solid, and they keep a tight, urgent pace.  It is framed as Sarah's story; that makes it possible to fill in the gaps between experimentation on Wolverine and on Laura and to provide context about the Laura’s childhood.  And there are emotional stakes tied to Sarah’s role as Laura’s mother—even expecting its ending, I got choked up when I got to it.  But it casts Laura as a passenger in her own origin, and that’s where I begin to have problems.

In a general sense, Laura’s origin mirrors Wolverine’s:  she’s an experiment, she's treated brutally, and she's conditioned into a killing machine.  But there are added layers that make it more complicated.  For one, part of Zander’s motivation for carrying out Weapon X’s goal is to torture Laura for his father’s death at Logan’s hands.  Rather than injecting the adamantium into her, he finds an even crueler way to go about it.  He psychologically tortures her.  And, as an official part of the program, he develops a chemical cocktail that removes her autonomy.  Between framing the story as Sarah's instead of Laura's and making a key feature of it the removal of Laura's autonomy, the character is framed as a victim and a hollow killing machine. It's a story entirely about stripping away Laura’s personhood and personal choice, but it never actually makes much effort to restore either to her.

Tan, Sibal, and Haberlin’s art is not what I’d expect for such a thematically dark comic.  It often comes off as smooth and exaggerated, which helps to take the edge off of the book’s tone—I prefer that, actually, to what this might have been in a more photorealistic style.  Their more action-oriented pages shine brightest, making Laura’s speed and agility clear.

Overall, X-23 is a solid comic, with skillful writing and art driving it.  I do have misgivings about contextualizing Laura so specifically as a product of trauma, though.  Whether or not I’d recommend X-23 comes down to your famliarity with the character.  If she’s fairly new to you, I wouldn’t start here; I’d suggest Tom Taylor’s All-New Wolverine.  If you’re up-to-date on that book and want to dig into a deeper dive, then I think it’s okay to go on to X-23.  Knowing her current status quo and seeing how she does eventually move forward helps take the edge off the parts of this story that, on their own, can be troublesome.  But if you have no interest in diving into an origin centered around dehumanizing a young woman, you can pick up the relevant details from Taylor's run.

Collected in

  • X-23: Innocence Lost (#1-6)
  • X-23: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1 (X-23 2005 #1-6, X-23: Target X #1-6, Captain Universe/X-23; X-23 2010 One-Shot & #1-3, Material from X-Men: To Serve and Protect #2)


Writers: Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost | Penciller: Billy Tan | Inker: Jon Sibal | Colorist: Brian Haberlin | Letterers: Chris Eliopoulos (1-2), VC’s Cory Petit (3-6)

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