At a time when Marvel are embracing so many different media, it’s fitting to look at a character who owes her history to those same kind of efforts. First appearing in the animated series X-Men: Evolution, X-23 was envisioned as a clone of Wolverine, created to be the ultimate weapon. Take a look at the episode that told her origin:
In the comics universe, Laura’s backstory is told in the ‘Innocence Lost’ storyline, written by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost. In the shadow of the Weapon X Project, a group of scientists attempt to create the world’s perfect weapon. Their work is benefited greatly by the arrival of the world’s leading authority on genetics, Sarah Kinney, and she swiftly realises that the genetic sample from Wolverine is severely damaged – the Y chromosome in particular.
The embryo is implanted in a reluctant Sarah’s womb, and she successfully gives birth to the child we will come to know as X-23. The child was brought up to be a weapon, trained in combat at the age most children would be learning to read. Every attempt was made to deprive her of any sense of self. Radiation poisoning was used to prematurely trigger the X-gene, and adamantium was then used carefully.
While all this was going on, the project developed Trigger Scent – a control tool to ensure X-23 went into a sort of berserker rage. They introduced this into a target area, and set her loose; they tested it on people X-23 had come to care about, who had trained her for years in combat skills.
Three years passed, and with their weapon ready the Facility went public. A Presidential candidate was X-23’s first successful victim.
She was the child who killed royalty in Saudi Arabia, godfathers in Las Vegas, and drug lords in Colombia. Dictators in the Congo fell to X-23’s blades, and Japanese assassins were assassinated. Everything changed, though, when one of Kinney’s family was kidnapped; she used Laura to trace her, exposing her to real life for the first time.
Office politics got nasty, then, with one brutal man – Rice – attempting to take over the Facility. Still, X-23 could not kill a child, the first real hint of humanity. Knowing that something was wrong, she revealed Rice’s deception to Kinney, just as Rice prepared to escalate matters by creating a whole army of Xs – X-24 through to 50. These would be deprived even of a mother, grown within an artificial womb. Although Kinney used X-23 to destroy Rice and the project, he got the last laugh; he placed Trigger Scent on Kinney, and she too fell to X-23’s rage. As she died, Kinney named her Laura.
The story continues in ‘Target X’, written by the same team and picking up where ‘Innocence Lost’ left off. In this story, we see X-23’s surviving ‘handler’, the indestructible Kimura.
Conceptually, Kimura was designed to be the Sabretooth to X-23’s Wolverine, the arch-nemesis who would forever try to bring out the animal in Laura. Laura escaped, and headed to the Kinney family she had encountered before. You then had the hilarity of Laura going to school.
When Megan (Kinney’s niece) says her mom is going to kill her, X-23 asks, “What kind of training does your mother have?” Of course, it was all too good to last more than a day or so – the Facility came looking for Laura, using Trigger Scent to set her against any witnesses. Thankfully, Megan had the wisdom to use the shower. Laura fought off Kimura with strategy, and arranged for the Kinneys to leave the country under a false identity by using old Facility resources. That was when she made her choice.
She went after Wolverine.
It turned out Kinney had told Logan everything in a letter, just as she was preparing to get X-23 out of the Facility. He’d arrived too late. No sooner did he try and give X-23 a chance, though, than S.H.I.E.L.D. arrived on the scene. Captain America made a difficult choice, though; he let her go, hoping she’d have a chance at a normal life.
It wasn’t to be. Laura turns up in NYX, a wonderfully dark series in which she struggled to assert her humanity against a new controller – she’d become a prostitute, with a specialist in indulging certain sado-masochistic types. This led to a death, though, and she was only bailed out by the arrival of a handful of other dysfunctional young mutants. Matters came to a head, as they always do, and X-23 and her band of allies went head-to-head with her pimp Zebra Daddy and his gang. The others held their own, but it was X-23 who ruled.
We now turn to the landmark Uncanny X-Men #450. Laura was living in District X, and got pulled into anti-mutant violence; she responded as only she is capable, and the authorities immediately turned to Wolverine as the culprit. Naturally, any encounter had to begin with a fight.
As time passed, X-23 settled into a constant background presence – there were team-ups with Spider-Man, and even a brief stint as Captain Universe! But it was when the Decimation hit that Laura really got integrated with the broader Marvel Universe – Logan called her in to help the students, albeit against Emma Frost’s best wishes.
Whatever Emma may say, X-23 proved herself essential. When the Purifiers attacked the School, it was X-23 who out-maneuvered them, taking their warriors down with extreme prejudice. For the first time, Laura began to actually develop friendships. Most notable was the bond between Laura and the powerful telekinetic Hellion.
The Facility struck once again, this time capturing X-23’s ally Mercury. X-23 and Hellion worked together to find her. It was a wild ride, and fascinating to see the lengths Laura would go to in order to get her friend back. And yet, the truly dark moment was – unsurprisingly – when, in Limbo, Belasco considered Laura’s soul worthless. In the aftermath of this, there was a single moment when an emotionally confused Surge kissed Hellion; X-23’s reaction was rather telling. The emotions she was feeling were so alien to her, and she was afraid she would lash out.
With the birth of the Messiah Child, Cyclops realized he had to up his game. One of his key weapons was X-23, who he invited to join the X-Force. Essentially, X-23 had become Cyclops’ weapon, a fact that caused no end of friction between Scott and Logan (and, frankly, was a key part of the build-up to Schism). Underneath it all, I think X-23’s becoming part of X-Force was a rejection of her humanity, a regressive stance taken because she was simply finding being human too hard.
Laura was recaptured by the Facility, and was brutally tortured by Kimura. The Facility planned to make Laura their weapon once again, and to begin by having her hunt down the few remaining targets – specifically, Megan Kinney. Agent Morales of H.A.M.M.E.R. played the hero, breaking her out. Laura used the Facility’s own Trigger Scent to send herself – albeit badly injured (minus an arm, at the time) into a killing frenzy.
Agent Morales, to everyone’s surprise, gained the honor of joining Laura’s very short list of friends – a moment, I think, when the humanity began to emerge despite her attempt at denying it. Shortly after, Laura encountered her old friends from the NYX comics, a surprising reunion that stirred up all manner of emotions in her – not least because they had looked for her.
During the events of Second Coming, X-Force’s existence was revealed to the X-Men – including Laura’s friends from the New X-Men, who were bitter and frustrated with her for her secrecy. Matters weren’t helped by Wolverine’s being possessed by a demon at the time; the demon possessing Wolverine made a bid to make Laura his handmaiden.
It turned into a battle on the spiritual plane, and Laura discovered what can only be called her soul.
Reeling from these events, Laura left the X-Men, but found herself in the company of Gambit. Laura learned that Malcolm Colcord, the man behind Weapon X and the Facility, was still hard at work; her quest to bring an end to the Facility’s evil led her to Madripoor, and into a brutal conflict with Daken, Wolverine’s son.
Time passed, and for a brief period Laura gathered a small group around herself – almost a family. Wolverine, Gambit, and the vampiric Jubilee were at the heart of it. There were others though, including the Future Foundation, for whom Laura acted as a babysitter. As the X-Men finally Schismed, Laura closed off her near-relationship with Hellion and chose neither Cyclops nor Logan; instead, she would go to the Avengers Academy. She actually fit in quite well with the old class, helping Mettle deal with the fact he’d recently killed some villains while defending innocents.
The events of AvX left Laura in a difficult position, but the Academy was disbanded during the reign of the Phoenix Five. Laura and Finesse, who had become friends, had set out an (unseen) series of adventures together…
The two rejoined their classmates, and found themselves dealing with the Alchemist’s strategies. Deprived of her healing factor, Laura suffered adamantium poisoning but still kept on fighting. The Alchemist’s plan – hatched, it seems, during the events of AvX – was to depower the world’s metahumans, and essentially be in charge of deciding who had power and who did not.
Laura objected to the idea of anyone choosing for others, and committed to stopping him before she died. Unfortunately, Finesse used Laura’s claws to kill Alchemist. This, which to Laura felt like a betrayal, ended their friendship.
Avengers Academy re-opened, but was swiftly targeted by the insane Arcade. Laura was one of a handful of young heroes kidnapped and sent to Murderworld, where Arcade used Trigger Scent to weaponise her.
Emotionally wounded by the events at Murderworld, Laura went solo – in time to get captured by the Purifiers. She was rescued by the All-New X-Men, and began to bond with young Cyclops (who, Jean Grey observed, ‘fancied’ her). The two have shared a handful of awkward hugs, even though cover-art has been used to drive expectations of far more.
So, why is Laura a ‘new breed of X-Man’? First of all, because, unlike so many other characters, she’s seen consistent development as a character throughout her run. She stands front and centre among the ranks of the young X-Men, a character who Marvel seem unwilling to forget. Look at it: NYX, New X-Men, X-Force, X-23, Avengers Academy, Avengers Arena, All-New X-Men… Laura’s been written constantly, moving from one series to another. And I think she’s joined up with ANXM as part of a strategic play on Marvel’s part.
Right now, the ANXM are in space. Jean Grey is standing trial, and ANXM Cyclops has learned that his dad is alive. We know that Cyclops is going to stay in space. Is it any coincidence that Laura’s joined up with the ANXM at this time, and that she and Cyclops have bonded? I think Laura’s going to stay in space as well.
Incidentally, check out this AMAZING fan-art by Maohwolf, used with permission!