Two comics with Laura Kinney released today, and because I feel very differently about the two, I figured it’s worth reviewing them together to contrast how each title depicts my favourite X-Men character. I apologize in advance, but part of this review will come across as a bit of a rant.
All-New Wolverine 5
Written by Tom Taylor, this issue takes place immediately where the last issue left off, with Laura and her clone sisters in one of Pym’s old labs. There are nanobots inside Laura’s sisters that not only stop them from feeling pain, but they’re killing the oldest of them, Zelda. Wasp shows up fairly early in the comic, and the following interactions are very entertaining. Wasp scolding Dr. Strange on the phone over his lack of courtesy is hilarious, and Gabby shouting “Magic” when she asks how they got into the lab is part of what makes her such an adorable character. So far, these guest characters not only have significant roles in the comic, but in a way that helps move the story along rather than to distract from it.
Laura and Wasp traveling through Zelda’s blood stream is a fun sequence in itself, and it again shows the differences between Laura and Logan. Wasp even comments that Logan would just carve the nanobot up, while Laura takes a moment to figure out the most efficient way to destroy the thing. As fun as this comic is for the most part, it takes a dark turn at the end. Without spoilers, let’s just say that the next issue will probably get bloody.
The art by David Lopez and David Navarrot is fantastic. The stunned and confused look when Bellona is struck by Wasp’s sting is hilarious. Pym’s lab is complete with well-organized diagrams, books and equipment. The scene in Zelda’s bloodstream feels epic with all the blood cells floating around, and the nanobots swarming Laura and Janet. Navarrot mostly draws the various screens spread in the issue, and the grittier look works well for them. But the real highlight with the art is at the end of the issue, where everyone’s facial expressions perfectly convey the mix of emotions going on when tragedy strikes. Nathan Fairbairn’s colouring is also great. The lab is clean and shiny, Zelda’s blood stream has a nice reddish orange hue to the whole thing, and the changing colours on a certain character’s skin further emphasize what’s going on.
All-New X-Men 4
First off, let’s talk about this issue’s positives. Most of the moments with the rest of the All-New X-Men are good. There’s a silly moment where Iceman completely freezes someone’s drinks on a tray and that feels a little weird, but Iceman is clearly hiding some sort of emotional pain and that moment is meant to emphasize it. The collection of scenes where the X-Men teleport around the world and help people is kind of awesome. It shows that they’re doing what Superheroes are meant to do. It’s nice that they’re actually getting positive attention instead of the usual anti-mutant hysteria going on. The explanation of how they’re finding trouble situations thanks to Beast’s ingenuity is also kind of fun. But since this issue is more about Laura and Warren, it’s time to talk about their characterization. Just so you know, there will be spoilers for this issue.
There are three moments that kind of work here. One, there’s the scene where Laura charges into a fire to rescue a few people before Idie snuffs the flames. That in itself is fine, even if her “BRB” line and her out of place grin are cringeworthy. There’s also Laura and Angel’s serious talk about Angel not liking her charging into things too much, as if she’s intentionally hurting herself. Until something comes up she does let him talk, and that shows that she’s putting at least some effort into their relationship. Three, when asked by a crowd, she explains that pulling out bullets hurts, but not as much as leaving them in. That’s a nice touch.
But then we get to the completely out of character bits. The very opening has her speaking in a fashion more bizarre for Laura than Bendis’s earlier X-23 issues, and she just stands there while a bunch of gangsters shoot her. When she soaked up bullets like this in Black Widow, it was for a distraction while Natasha snuck in through the window. Here, she’s the only one fighting the gangsters – there’s no reason why she wouldn’t take them down fast and hard like she usually does. Instead of diving into the water when she knows she’s not a good swimmer, why didn’t she shout for someone else to dive in for the dog, like Beast for example? Besides their serious talk, she keeps blowing off Angel’s concern or joking away, and she’s not the biggest joker in the world. When she tells the rare joke in All-New Wolverine, it’s specifically to relieve tension for herself and others. Here it does the exact opposite. Judging by these scenes, it’s hard to understand why Laura and Warren lasted more than a week as a couple.
And of course there’s the ending, where she refuses Angel’s request to get backup when they find the Blob terrorizing a restaurant. Instead, she not only pounces in alone, but announces her arrival. She’s supposed to be a master tactician and a stealth expert. Barging in on the Blob on her own is the dumbest possible thing she can do and she should know that. She’s well past her masochistic days from her early years. If one of these out of character things happened in this issue then there might be some sort of reasoning behind it, but all of these put together implies that writer Dennis Hopeless either doesn’t understand Laura at all, or he’s intentionally misusing her. At this point, the only good reason I can think of for such blatant mischaracterization is that the Wolverine in this book is actually another one of the sisters from All-New Wolverine, who somehow gained a healing factor, adamantium claws, and is covering for the real Laura as she deals with her Wolverine business.
The art by Mark Bagley is really good though. The environmental detail in each location the X-Men visit is complete with a lot of detail. There’s the fancy Tokyo skyline, the burning forests in California, the giant storm pounding Thailand’s islands and downtown Paris, all complete with detailed buildings and trees, and a good variety of civilian onlookers. The action flows well and with the fire in particular, the flames almost look real in a couple of panels. Facial expressions do a good job at conveying emotions, whether it’s Angel’s concern, the Blob’s menacing look or Laura’s subtle cringe when she pulls bullets out of her arm. Nolan Woodard’s colouring is also great. The fire gives everything a bit of an orange glow, it’s easy to tell different characters apart, and even if Laura’s characterization is bad, at least her eyes are green.
So between these two issues, you have an example of Laura being portrayed right, and probably her worst portrayal I’ve seen in an ongoing series. In All-New Wolverine, she uses strategy, shows compassion for all those around her and when she does smile or crack a joke, there’s a purpose behind it. She never complains about the help she receives, which makes sense for a character who’s been on a number of teams and has shown the capacity to lead them. This is perfectly consistent how her character has grown over the years. In Hopeless’s All-New X-Men, she’s an overly aggressive, stupid berserker who isn’t much of a team player. It’s not just an unexplained step back in her characterization, but she’s never acted like this anywhere before … except maybe in the Black Vortex issues that Sam Humphries wrote.
All-New Wolverine 5 is a great comic. It’s fun, dramatic and gives Janet some great moments. The story of the Sisters continues to show not only how much Laura’s grown over the years, but the sisters each represent a part of her old self. It’s a genius way to give us both the old X-23 and the All-New Wolverine in the same time period. X-23 fans should be buying this series, and anyone interested in the All-New Wolverine should check it out.
All-New X-Men 4 has its moments with the other X-Men, but when the issue mostly focuses on the very out of character Laura, the entire issue suffers as a result. I know Hopeless can write a character using strategy, because Spider-Woman uses ambushing techniques in the current Spider-Woman story arc. He even wrote a better X-23 in Avengers Arena, so there doesn’t seem to be an excuse here. Bagley’s great art can’t save this for me, and unless Laura’s characterization improves soon, I’ll be dropping this. As it stands, I can’t recommend this issue.
5/10 (and it would be lower if not for the art)