A Wolverine by any other name…
Of the many comics revealed as part of Marvel’s Fresh Start relaunch, X-23 seemed the least appealing at first glance. Not because of the character herself or the creative team, but the title and what it implies about the character’s future. These past few years have been a boon to Laura Kinney, allowing her to rise above her tragic origins and embrace the legacy of her “father.” Can Marvel keep that momentum going even as they pave the way for the original Wolverine to make his comeback? That remains to be seen. But the good news is that, for now at least, X-23 is basically All-New Wolverine in all but name.
For the most part, everything readers loved about Tom Taylor’s All-New Wolverine is present in this relaunch. Laura is still an uneasy hero and loner trying to find her place among the X-Men. The emphasis is still heavily on the bond between Laura and her younger sister Gabby, with Gabby providing much of the book’s humor and charm factor. Apart from Laura’s new costume and old codename, the new series doesn’t read like a drastic departure from the old.
That’s a good thing, to be sure. All-New Wolverine was consistently one of the highlights of the otherwise troubled X-Men line in recent years. Reading this issue is a reassuring experience, as it quickly becomes clear that new writer Mariko Tamaki isn’t necessarily looking to reinvent the wheel. Above all, it’s satisfying to see Tamaki nail the relationship between Laura and Gabby and the concern Laura feels for her young, overeager partner.
If anything, the biggest difference with the new series is that it feels more directly tied to the larger X-Men franchise. Much of this issue takes place at the Xavier Institute and features the two sisters interacting with their fellow mutants. Tamaki makes particularly great use of the Stepford Cuckoos, who have regained some of their Grant Morrison-induced weirdness. Frankly, if the series is going to revisit the Weapon X/Weapon Plus well yet again, at least the Cuckoos offer a slightly different vector of approach.
Helping maintain a sense of continuity and cohesion between books is the fact that artist Juann Cabal has returned. Cabal impressed quite a bit with his All-New Wolverine work, delivering a style that combines the clean, elegant clarity of Jamie McKelvie with the expressive characters of Kevin Maguire. Cabal renders attractive action scenes, but it’s often the more intimate forms of character interaction that stand out the most. The scenes between the Kinney sisters and the Cuckoos take on an even more off-kilter edge thanks to Cabal’s strong emphasis on body language and physical comedy.