This review contains minor spoilers.
Laura Kinney, X-23, defines herself by a mission: find and kill anyone who dares recreate the conditions she was born and conditioned under. She tries to deal in absolutes, few exceptions are made. Burdened by all that her life is, all that her job is, and all the existentially dreadful miasma that attempts at reconciling any semblance of family and her own creation mean to each other, she is unhappy.
Save, for the light that her sister, Gabby, (Honey Badger, Scout whatever you want to call her) brings into her life. In Gabby, Laura sees a different chance, a chance to cultivate something less resolute, more flexible and earnest, if too prone to flights of fancy and passioned defenses of turkey’s lives. A new life and opportunity born out of the things Laura hates most.
Writer Mariko Tamaki and artist Diego Orlotegui’s final issue of X-23 is not only about this dichotomy, first introduced in All New Wolverine, it pushes the conversation around it forward, forever changing these characters, some of my favorite in all of comics in ways both heart-wrenchingly sad and warming. It is, for all intents and purposes, a near perfect conclusion.
On its surface, its still an ostensibly silly comic about saving some clone turkeys, of course. The kind of superhero fare that Gabby and Johnathan would find themselves deeply involved in, natually, only to be deflated a bit by the much more serious Laura. The action is tense, dynamic, and beautifully rendered by Orlotegui who gives both Gabby and Laura the much needed blend of agile and aggressive that makes their specific heroism so engaging. The quips, quick back and forth of Laura saying “whatever” to Gabby’s “whatever” also fit well, really nailing a familial feeling like few other comics do. Because, ultimately that’s what this is all about.
Tamaki smartly writes Laura as having found her family, and her happiness, a semblance of a new purpose in Gabby alone. Singular minded, resolute, and protective, Laura is scared — even of turkeys. Gabby is not. Gabby wants to find more family. In wolverines, in assassin robots, in turkeys and more — her mission is the making of a family, not the destruction of it. A near diametric opposition to Laura’s entire ethos, but one that makes sense, herself owing near everything to an older sister who was her everything for a long time, but doesn’t have to be.
Can Laura let go? Yes, and no. She’ll concede Gabby her new codename – Honey Badger to Scout, she’ll let her, and Johnathan, go off to find some family, however Scout ends up defining it. But she’ll always be watching, worrying, wondering. That’s family. That’s Laura. And that’s Gabby. It’s also some of the best character-centric writing and plotting I’ve ever seen. It’s sad, in a sense, the same way watching a kid go off to college might be, but its also immensely rewarding and the authenticity and originality with which its delivered honestly do make me feel like I’m watching my own kid go away, can you say the same for many books on stands today? I certainly can’t.
Did they know, months ago when X-23 started that it was going to be cancelled in favor of Hickman’s coming HOX and POX? Probably not, but they nailed it none the less. Here’s hoping that Laura and Scout are back sooner than later. I will miss these creators and this honest, sad, hilarious strange story very much in the meantime.