Tom Taylor’s All New Wolverine starring Laura Kinney (X-23) as the titular Wolverine and featuring her clone/sister Gabby (Honey Badger), as well as a whole other slew of characters and villains was a stunning feat of genuineness married with gravitas that was always going to be difficult to follow up. Where would Laura go from here? What’s a believable next step for someone who’s been Wolverine for both better and worse? What about Gabby? These aren’t easy questions to answer. Believe me then, when I say that the creative team of X-23, writer Mariko Tamaki, and artists Juan Cabal and Georges Duarte have found suitable, if not stunningly well conceived answers to them.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
Cloned from a warrior and raised as a killer, Laura Kinney has gone through hell and come out the other side a hero. Now, after a stint following in the footsteps of her “father” as the All-New Wolverine, Laura returns to her roots to make sure no one else ever has to go through the horrors she did! With her sister, Gabby, and their pet wolverine, Jonathan, in tow, Laura forges her own destiny as X-23! But when Gabby becomes a target, all bets are off.
Over the course of the six issues included in this trade, Tamaki’s keen pacing and witty dialogue more than lives up to that promise. Eager and earnest in a super fun and energetic way, Gabby is the perfect boon to Laura’s more serious predilections — which are lightening ever so softly as time goes — and their back and forth carries even the sometimes painfully slower pacing of this introductory arc exceedingly well.
Little bits like Laura being hesitant to celebrate her birthday, or even so much as assume a date for it in return to Gabby’s want to go all out for it ring true, funny, and even a little sad in a grounded way that I appreciated. This is a zoom in on their relationship, on the familial aspect that Laura herself (and the villainous Stepford Cuckoos, in their own sinister ways) is attempting to appreciate, really, for the first time and if that’s the direction Tamaki and others want to explore from here? I’m all for it. The high-stakes heroism and inventive twists and turns don’t hurt, of course.
Similarly, Cabal’s art is equal parts expressive and explosive. There’s a seriously impressive number of inventive panel layouts, transitions, action scenes and character anatomies here that transports you from scientific dribble to wolverine-accompanied breakfast scenes with ease. The Georges illustrated issue, number six, is a little simplistic for my taste (in narrative as well) but Chris O’Halloran’s colors elevate it well enough that it’s neither here nor there. Most importantly, across all the efforts, this is an X-23 book through and through. Laura moves with ferocity, she beams at Gabby with pride but also a protective glare, she pulls punches but also cuts loose. It’s all realized, considered and fitting in a way that rings true to her through the inclusion of some of the more important motifs for the character design but also keeps pace with the storytelling surprisingly well.
All in all, there’s very little to fault here. A slightly slow but warm, still weary take on Laura, and her new family that feels like a near perfect step to monumental high she’s coming off of. No easy task, but one realized here with aplomb.