Ever since Laura was created in a lab, bread specifically to be a killer, she’s struggled with her own sense of identity. It doesn’t help that she’s not only cloned from the original Wolverine, but due to being a female clone, there’s that added element where nobody would ever confuse her for the original. However in the last few years, even if Tom Taylor’s All-New Wolverine series didn’t focus on it too much, Laura’s grown to accept herself. This issue not only delves into that, but also how she’s reached a point where she’s got at least some sort of happiness in her life.
X-23 5 kicks off immediately where the previous issue left off. Esme, one of the recently resurrected 5-in-one (Stepford Cuckoos), is possessing Gabby’s body (Gabby is an imperfect clone of Laura’s, and is very much the child Laura should have been). Meanwhile, the other telepathic sister is inhabiting Laura’s mind, and they’re working together to save their different clone families. Previous issues dug into what being clones meant to each family, and how there are at least a few mutual experiences between the two families. Although this one ties a few story knots for both families, the main focus is on the conflict. The longer it takes to get Esme out of Gabby’s head, the more likely it’ll be that the Gabby Laura knows and loves will be gone forever.
The action in this issue is fun. The Laura/Sophie team uses both of their talents together to at least slow Esme down, and a lot of the telepathic action is told mostly through the art as well. The dialogue finds the right amount of exposition to explain what’s going on and how urgent the situation is, without making the action feel slower than it should. Laura’s threatening line towards Phoebe regarding her role in her sister’s potential fate is perfectly written, as is Phoebe’s one word response. The ending scene feels a little weird, but also appropriate for the way Gabby’s mind works. It’s a nice little scene that shows how close Laura and Gabby really are, even if they had some disagreements in the first couple of issues.
There is one moment that bothers me however, and I know I’m not alone on this. Just before the fight between Laura and Esme begins, Laura says something about Gabby being the only person she likes in the world. The writer seems to be forgetting about Gambit (who’s pretty much like a brother to her), Jubilee (clearly up there with her best friends), her aunt and cousin Debbie and Megan, and the other friends she’s developed over the years. A much better line could be “the only sister I have left”. That line would have hit the point home for the other Stepford Cuckoos as well, and Laura’s usually known for her pointed dialogue.
The art in this issue is handled by both Juann Cabal and Marcio Fiorito, Fiorito acting as a fill-in artist. Both of them do a good job, with a fairly similar style, even if Cabal’s art is clearly more detailed. The first half (Fiorito) does a good job with facial expressions. The opening page clearly takes place in Laura’s head, and an imaginary couch that she, Phoebe and Sophie are sitting on. It’s a nice touch with a mostly normal looking room, yet the walls are just a big pattern. When taking over Gabby’s body, Esme looks downright intimidating, even when she’s carrying shopping bags and a drink. Laura’s facial expressions perfectly show the range of emotions she’s feeling, from the suppressed rage when she tells Phoebe off for her actions, to the look of worry but a moment later. What’s nice is both artists clearly show some of Laura’s athletic muscle tone.
Cabal’s art takes over right when the fight starts. When the bodies of Laura and Gabby charge at each other, you see outlines of the two previously deceased Stepford Cuckoos glaring at each other above. It’s great how Laura spends most of the fight dodging and blocking, utilizing her acrobatic skills. However there’s also a moment where Esme/Gabby seems to gain the upper hand, and Laura’s look of pain sells the wound very well. At the funeral party, Cabal brings back some of his little Easter Eggs for extra entertainment. I won’t spoil them, but make sure you read everything that’s in the fridge. The final panel perfectly sums up Laura and Gabby’s relationship as they pose for a picture, with Laura giving her sister a warm smile as Gabby looks a lot more silly. Jonathan the Wolverine leaning into the frame is also a nice touch. And as usual, Nolan Woodard’s colouring is brilliant all-round.
This is a great finish to the first story arc in Laura’s new solo series. There are some problems, like the narrated line where Laura says Gabby’s the only person she liked. Some of the dialogue feels a touch off, although you could say it’s because multiple characters are switching heads in this issue. But as a whole, this is a great closer to a fantastic opening storyline for writer Mariko Tamaki’s run on X-23’s new series. Fans of Laura Kinney will likely enjoy this, despite that one line, and Stepford Cuckoos will also probably enjoy this story arc.
8/10 (would have been a 9 if not for that one line)