As a female clone of Wolverine trained since birth to kill, X-23 could quickly have become a cliché. Created for an episode of the X-Men Evolution animated series, her comic debut was in the NYX series that featured some very dynamic teenaged characters. Her origin was only revealed in a later miniseries and from there, she was part of the X-Men books; most recently with X-Force before getting her own appropriately named X-23 series. The X-23 Vol. 3: Don’t Look Back TPB collected the last issues in her solo sojourn. Marjorie M. Liu has consistently done a great job writing Laura Kinney as X-23 and this final chapter is no different. Based shortly after the events that split Wolverine and Cyclops into different camps, X-23 has been faced with a choice: follow the man who’s helped her come to terms with who and what she is or follow the man trying to prevent kids like her from fighting in battles beyond their experience. What better to do while mulling over such a life impacting choice than babysit Valerie and Franklin Richards. Because those two never get up to trouble and I’m sure Sue Storm and Mr. Fantastic will be very understanding if their children vanish through an inter-dimensional portal while she’s watching them. No pressure!
It’s interesting to see how Laura interacts with the kids. Already more brilliant than most of us could ever hope to be, they are still very much children with innocent hopes and dreams. They’ve seen their fair share of excitement, it’s true, but compared to Laura’s childhood, they’re relatively free of anguish, internal struggle and the self-loathing that comes with being bred as a killer. It’s a really fascinating scenario to put them all in and makes for a great read. Following that adventure are two single issues that finish off the series and really tie everything together. One includes Jubilee taking X-23 out on a Girl’s Night. The theme certainly seems to be putting this character that has never really had a normal life in stereotypically “normal” situations. It’s a technique that could easily backfire and become a cheap trick to show how “weird” someone is but through these normal circumstances Laura is able to learn more about who she truly is and what she really wants to do with her life, instead of who she’s been bred to be. Liu has done justice to X-23 in this series—a character I’m sure some still considered to be a cheap clone of Wolverine—and brought it to an end that felt natural and still full of possibility for Laura.
Sana Takeda beautifully illustrates the FF story arc and Phil Noto steps in for the last two issues. Takeda’s art is more Manga style than I usually prefer but feels like a throwback to X-23’s first appearance in comics so it works for the character. Phil Noto is an artistic virtuoso whose characters manifest as lavishly beautiful versions of themselves, without sacrificing what makes them unique or recognizable. Many other artists struggle with portraying characters in this way and end up recreating the same handsome person over and over instead of taking simplicity to greatness like Noto can. Kalman Andrasofszky’s covers for this series are spectacular, with unique compositions and interactions in every one. Overall, this is a great TPB but it needs the first two so readers can really understand the choices and struggle X-23 faces in this collection.