Get to Know X-23, the Female Clone of Wolverine: What to Watch, What to Read, and What I Hope For In Her Logan Debut

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The new Logan trailer has shown that the next Wolverine movie will be introducing a whole lot of unfamiliar audiences to the character X-23, or at the very least, to the idea of a young girl who shares Wolverine’s powers. Although X-23, a.k.a. Laura Kinney, hasn’t been explicitly named in the trailer or in any of the promotions for Logan, the inspiration for this character is very clear to anyone familiar with her source material.

But what is that source material, exactly? If you’re brand-new to all things X-23, you might be asking yourself, who is she? Which comic books should I read so that I can find her first appearance?

Well, first off, you don’t need to read any comic books if you want to find her first appearance. Just like the DC Animated Universe introduced Harley Quinn to comic book canon, so too did X-23 start out in the animated universe. Laura first appeared on X-Men: Evolution, an animated show that doesn’t necessarily have the cult-hit staying power of other X-Men cartoons, but nonetheless existed and still has its own small fanbase. That said, the show doesn’t hold up that well, particularly in terms of the narrative and the portrayal of its many teen girl characters, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend diving in and watching it all. It has a very, uh, early 2000s approach to feminism and to teen girl empowerment, which could stand to use some updating by 2016 standards! That said, it did introduce us to X-23.

X-Men: Evolution first came out in the year 2000, and its overall aesthetic vibes with that time period. It’s clear that the character designs, particularly for edgier goth characters like Rogue and X-23, were inspired by the grungy look of the 90s. Even Shadowcat’s hairstyle reminds me of middle school, and Rogue’s purple lipstick is definitely a staple of late 90s and early 2000s fashion looks. X-23 wears that style proudly, too, even in her later comic book versions, long after wearing knee-high boots was as popular as it once was. Since that’s the generation that I grew up in–the year 2000 was the year I started my freshman year of high school–this entire vibe speaks to my former gothy, outcast self. (I mean, I’m still wearing knee-high black boots covered in buckles, because I haven’t moved on, and neither has X-23’s fashion sense over the years.)

Resonating with teen girls was the whole intention behind X-23: she was a version of Wolverine designed for the youths. Her creator, Craig Kyle, specifically said he introduced X-23 to X-Men: Evolution in the hopes that she would “connect more to the younger kids,” compared to Wolverine, who was “one of the old, grizzled guys” from a former era of X-Men gone by. All of X-Men: Evolution‘s young characters were clearly meant to evoke the style of the youth of the late 90s and early 2000s.

That’s the same thing that the modern-day X-Men movies are still trying to do, so it makes sense that Laura is popping up in the 20th Century Fox movies. Rebooting the core cast of X-Men with teenagers in X-Men: Apocalypse was a risky move—one that the movie didn’t seem entirely willing to commit to making, since most of that movie revolved around Xavier and Magneto, rather than the new teenage cast. Time will tell as to whether the next round of X-Men movies will actually commit to highlighting its new young characters, as opposed to continue to focus on the “old, grizzled guys” that we’ve already seen in many movies before now (lookin’ at you, Hugh)!

My point is, X-23 isn’t just a female clone of Wolverine—she’s a product of her time, created to appeal to a specific demographic. She’s a knee-high boot-wearing, post-grunge girl with a defy-authority attitude. Hate to say it, but she probably listens to screamo.

Like Kick-Ass‘s Hit Girl (another alt-grunge girl of the mid-to-late 2000s), X-23 has a “girl killing machine” backstory… but X-23’s storyline is much, much sadder. She was trained from birth to be a brainwashed child assassin who works for the baddies. Unlike Wolverine, she was born in an experimental laboratory that had stolen intel from Weapon X in order to create her. Villainy is all she knows, at least at first, and she has a long ways to wander before she gets to finally join the X-Men and have a “normal” life (well, “normal” by mutant teenager standards). She does eventually join the X-Men, obviously. Spoilers? You must have guessed that her grim childhood would result in a happy ending, though. Bad girl gone good is, like, a comic book staple!

As for which X-23 comic books you need to read in order to get the whole update, you would have to start with her very first comic appearances in a series called NYX. However, her first appearance revolves around a storyline that is pretty disturbing, even by “child assassin” standards. X-23 is still underage during this series, but after escaping her “killing machine” employers, she ends up pursuing sex work as a profession. She self-harms a lot, as well, and because she’s got a healing factor, she’s able to recover physically from anything that happens to her–but, she’s still struggling psychologically.

This early storyline has been controversial even among fans for years now, with some saying it seems in-character given her lack of options at the time, but others saying it would have made more sense for X-23 to find a different line of work. Since she’s an underage homeless girl on the run from shadowy corporations, though, it’s hard to imagine what else she could really do, so you could argue that this storyline is realistic. I could go either way on it, personally; I think the storyline was probably included for shock value at the time, and X-23 is certainly not the first “bad girl” character type to have a history of sex work (Catwoman springs to mind). I’m not opposed to the storyline existing, but it’s worth noting that it’s barely ever mentioned in any other X-23 storylines after NYX. It seems as though Marvel would rather we all forget it happened.

If you want to skip NYX, which is totally do-able since it’s not referenced much afterwards, go on ahead and start with the first X-23 mini-series from the late 2000s. Between the brainwashed killing machine backstory, the homelessness, the propensity for self-harm, and the sometimes-mentioned-sometimes-ignored underage sex work, X-23 clearly has quite a depressing backstory– so it’s lucky that many smart writers have had the chance to give her storylines about overcoming trauma since then. If you want to fast-track your way through the whole X-23 mini-series, I highly recommend Marojie Liu’s The Killing Dream volumes. These books will hit the ground running on the assumption that you already know all of X-23’s backstory, but since I just told you most of it, you should be good to go.

Here are a couple more gaps that I can fill in first, though. After she leaves behind sex work and joins the X-Men, she finds the new gig to be a difficult one, since Scott Summers (who’s leading the X-Men at this point) expects Laura to be able to fight in battle and kill people… even though she’s still a child and still suffering from PTSD. She has trouble adjusting to these expectations, and also, Scott Summers pushes her way too hard without realizing that she’s a child. She’s so “mature,” after all, that it’s easy for the adults around her to forget what she’s been through. The Killing Dream is all about Laura figuring out how she feels about her situation, and determining that the adults in her life don’t always know what’s best for her. She also ends up connecting more with Storm, as opposed to Scott, and regaining her trust in Logan, who has become a sort of reluctant father-figure for Laura over the years … although not a great one, because it’s Logan. X-23 is also longtime friends with Gambit, another mopey Marvel character with his own internal demons; the two of them hang out a bunch.

To backpedal ever so slightly, if you’re completely unfamiliar with X-Men entirely and you need a good place to hop on board, while still getting to meet X-23, I would recommend starting with her appearances in the Messiah War and Messiah Complex volumes. These are both big X-Men volumes, but they’ll also introduce you to other characters who have ended up becoming favorites of mine (like Cable and Deadpool, for example). These storylines show X-23 becoming tentative friends with some of the X-Men who are closer to her own age. X-23 ends up becoming a roommate with Pixie, who is another teen girl who is the polar opposite of X-23 in terms of attitude; I loved reading their dynamic, since it’s great to have a goth character balanced out by a spritely dose of positivity (sort of like Wolverine and Jubilee’s dynamic).

After you’ve gotten caught up on reading all of those bits and pieces of X-23’s backstory from the mid-2000s and late 2000s, it’s time for you to enter the new world of 2015 and 2016 by picking up all of the new issues of All-New Wolverine— the brand new series in which Laura takes up the mantle of Wolverine. Logan’s healing factor has been compromised, which is a storyline that’s been ongoing in Marvel for the past few years; basically, Wolverine has retired (the details aren’t super important, unless you want to circle back and read all of Old Man Logan).

The All-New Wolverine issues have done a great job of catching everybody up on Laura’s backstory, introducing new audiences to the other experimental clones who have shared in her struggle (Laura’s “sisters”), and giving them all a proper coming-of-age story that is quite a bit more light-hearted and fun to read than some of the other storylines that X-23 has suffered through over the years. It’s been great to see her grow up and come into her own as a hero on her own terms–different from Logan, but still able to nurture a good relationship with him, even though they’ve both got the “inner demons” thing going on. (Although, really, Laura’s past is a lot more fraught than Logan’s. Not that it’s a contest. But, just saying.)

Once you’ve read all of that, you’ll understand why I’m so excited to finally see X-23 make it to the silver screen. You’ll also understand my hesitation about the bizarre timeline problems with the X-Men movies, and my concerns that X-23 will never escape her tragic backstory and make it all the way to the solid ground that she currently has in the comic books.

The reason why X-23’s story is compelling to me is not because she’s a grim-dark teen killing machine, although that did speak to me when I was a depressed teenage girl. These days, her story resonates with me because it ends in self-acceptance and self-actualization. She gets to work with X-Men of various ages, decide which parental and authority figures are worth her trust, make new friends her own age, build a new family of her own with Logan and her “sister” clones, and – the cherry on top – she becomes the Wolverine! It’s a triumphant story that has been going on for about a decade, and it would be amazing to bring it to more audiences who aren’t as familiar with it.

I have no idea if future X-Men or Wolverine movies are going to do right by X-23’s character. Obviously, I hope that will happen. But since we have no idea at this point, you may as well go back and check out her pre-existing storylines that we already know are great.

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Image of Maddy Myers
Maddy Myers
Maddy Myers, journalist and arts critic, has written for the Boston Phoenix, Paste Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and tons more. She is a host on a videogame podcast called Isometric (relay.fm/isometric), and she plays the keytar in a band called the Robot Knights (robotknights.com).