I will give you one spoiler, non-plot-related, for this week’s X-23 #8.
Laura Kinney likes spicy food.
That detail is at the heart of why I am loving Marjorie M. Liu’s X-23.
Laura Kinney, aka X-23, has a checkered past. The important parts are as follows: Laura was raised under conditions of hideous physical, mental, and emotional abuse. She was forced to commit murders as a child. After her escape she made a living as a specialized prostitute. She eventually found herself with the X-Men, where she was used as a weapon on a secret murder team. Laura has, with the start of this title, left the X-Men. She wants to spend some time without anyone telling her who she is, and what she should be.
The checkered past I refer to up above is not in reference to her origin story — which is only really marginally more confusing or dramatic than that of many characters — but to how her writers have handled these facts. She has been written as a nearly mute killing machine. She has been written as an awkward teenage girl with a crush. She has been written as nearly animalistic. She has been written as an irrecoverable victim. And she has been written as a young woman surviving, searching for her true self. It’s that last version I like. It’s what Liu delivers.
Dealing with an abusive backstory is a tricky thing. As a reader I object to a character being reduced to nothing more than the sum of their abuse. I also object to completely ignoring it. Both of those paths have been taken in the past. Liu gives us, instead, a young woman fully aware of her problems yet determined to find a way to make a life that works.
Liu’s Kinney is seeking self-knowledge. She wants to understand herself, all the parts of her. The space and peace for that self-knowledge have never been available to Laura before. She is tired of being the reflection of others’ expectations — tired of being a weapon, a child, a victim, a burden, a student, a time bomb. She knows she is all of those things, certainly, but knows that’s not the end. There is more to Laura Kinney than the sum of her damage.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Gambit at some point in this review. I’ve made my views on Gambit fairly clear in the past, so I’ll simply say —
— I kinda like the guy, here. It’s because he’s not being romantic. Remy, you may recall, made his first — highly effective — appearance as a sort of older brother to Storm. (Who had been turned into a child. If you don’t know how or why, don’t ask.) This was always a good role for Remy. His smarm is less evident when he’s not trying to get into someone’s pants. And he truly does understand, deeply, what it is to be used as a weapon. Gambit knows what it is to be conditioned and controlled and forced to kill. And both he and Laura prefer to solve their introspection issues through useful action instead of moping around. It’s a good fit.
In the first eight issues of X-23 we have seen pirates, shark-punching, Daken, Miss Sinister, Madripoor, and clones. Through all of this Laura is struggling to make decisions in an attempt to prove to herself that she can be good, be ethical, be a whole person who does good in the world, on her own. This is a highly compelling narrative. Laura is heroic not in spite of but because of her past.
Oh, so where does the spicy food come into it? I’ll let you read this week’s issue yourself. It’s the kind of character detail I love, integrating the past into the present and making both richer.
Thank you, Ms. Liu, for taking up Laura Kinney’s story. I appreciate it.
Email: sigrid @ fantasticfangirls.org