Wolverine is coming back after four years. And we’re told the stakes have never been higher. The character has never been stronger, more tortured, cooler. But we shouldn’t be so distracted by his glowing claws that we forget we’ve already seen a better Wolverine when Laura Kinney donned the mask in ALL-NEW WOLVERINE. An improved Wolverine that looked at both Logan’s and Laura’s histories to thread a path forwards; not just a recapitulation of the character’s greatest hits.
“You’re the best there is at what you do. But that doesn’t mean you have to do it.”
In the first issue of ALL-NEW WOLVERINE, drawn by David Lopez, an enemy shoots Laura in the head. While healing, she flashes back to an earlier mission with the X-Force. There Logan talks to her while she heals from a grievous wound. Laura thinks she failed because she didn’t kill the drug runner who shot her. She wants to immediately go after him. Logan urges her to sit and heal.
Then he says that there was no failure. He explains that they were created to be weapons. That killing comes easily for them. But what’s hard and what’s right is fighting it. Fighting the hate and the rage that was beaten into them.
This scene is a mission statement for the series, setting up what kind of Wolverine she’ll be.
She’ll be a Wolverine that heals much more than kills. A Wolverine that uses the pain and abuse she endured to empathize with those around her. A Wolverine that’s not alone because she didn’t kill, alienate or estranged those she cared for and who care for her.
But is such a Wolverine still…Wolverine?
What makes Wolverine tick?
Of course, one of the early appeals of Logan was that he was a rough loner who did what needed to be one. And usually, what he needs to do is to stab telepathic women in the guts. But at the same time, popular wisdom tells us that he works so much better on a team. Not only because his anarchic nature created drama when it clashed with Cyclops leadership.
At first, yes, he was just a short, angry Canadian mutant who challenged Cyclops at every turn. But then, especially after John Byrne replaced Cockrum as the penciler, his character developed. The Canadian military wanted him back. So it set on him his former colleagues from Alpha Flight. We learn he speaks Japanese. It becomes apparent that he lived a storied life. And that we as readers aren’t privy to everything he went through.
The way he conducts himself in battle becomes infused with character as well. He has the most limited power set: a healing factor and claws. But time and again he manages to succeed where his more powerful teammates failed. For example, using cunning, willpower, and savagery, he frees his colleagues from the Hellfire Club. And while he does some of his best work alone, he’s not above teamwork. The “Fastball Special,” a maneuver where Colossus throws Wolverine at an enemy, makes a great case for this.
Even beyond the field of battle, he’s got a place with the X-Men. He has lessons to teach his younger colleagues. He can help them work out their feelings of inadequacy, of remorse, of melancholy. Logan’s experience and history make him protective of the younger mutants, but in a way that respects their independence and need to rebel, to find themselves. As Wolverine, when he kills he does it to spare some else’s innocence. This makes him a surrogate stoic uncle or grandpa. Which is why he eventually ended up running his own academy for younger mutants, while Cyclops was off being all geopolitical.
So there’s more to him other than being angry and killing people.
Why fix what ain’t broken?
There’s a tension between his two dimensions; between Logan as a disrespectful rage-filled killer and Logan as a mentor and paternal figure. This tension is not easily solved and diminishes both qualities in him. This could be a productive tension. But only if writers manage to keep both sides in check. Yet there are stories that keep piling more and more outrageous sins on his back; more and more lives on his consciousness. At the same time, he becomes an increasingly imposing figure of moral authority. As the two sides drift further apart, they risk snapping the character in two.
The most elegant way to solve it is what we’ve seen in 2017’s LOGAN. A reckoning so grave that he can’t just go back to teaching classes and giving pep-talks to teenage mutants. But that acknowledges he’s exhausted as a character. He has so much backstory that he can’t help being ossified. His body calloused from all the scars, with no more room to grow. His development already final, all the attempts to make him more interesting by finding something exotic in his unexplored past become ridiculous.
Killing him off for good isn’t the only way to go, of course. But even his mentorship role can become limited. There’s a rigid masculinity to his methods. He helps people work through their issues by drinking with them, having a fight with them or showing tough love. Logan’s Wolverine can work wonders in short burst, in one-off aside issues or small stories. He recognizes there’s something wrong in using teenagers as soldiers, which is why he leaves Utopia, the mutant island-state. But when it actually comes to heading a school, he lacks the emotional arsenal to do much more than be grumpy all the time.
The Dark Wolverine
There’s also the possibility that providing emotional support isn’t essential to the Wolverine archetype. This is something that Daniel Way, Marjorie Liu, Rob Williams and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s explored in their takes on Daken, Logan’s son.
While most days Logan sulks around searching for more beer, waiting for someone to mess up so he can fix the problem using his claws, Daken has a plan. Daken has ambitions and appetites. Daken is sexy. He’s a more dynamic character. One that’s very entertaining to watch while he executes his elaborate plots. But his appeal is very different than the appeal of Logan, even at his most lonesome and feral.
Most of his storylines make the same point. They revolve around him being not just different from his father, but rather his negation. To keep Daken related to the Wolverine archetype, he does everything his father would not. He pursues power. Daken earns people’s friendship just to use them. He actively wants to harness the research of the Weapon X program; the program which gave Wolverine his adamantium skeleton. He conquers Madripoor. All to finally leave a mark on Logan.
But there’s no room for growth in that. If everything still revolves around Logan as Wolverine, then Daken cannot leave his mark on that identity. A Dark Wolverine is just a reflection, a shadow. And as soon the mask slips off we see that Daken is not any kind of Wolverine. Despite the claws and healing factor and traumatic past. This becomes even more apparent when he finally meets Laura Kinney.
First created in X-MEN: EVOLUTION by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, X-23 is as much a female version of Logan as there can be. Barring alternative universes that is. Attempting to replicate the Weapons X program, the ominous Facility tried to clone him. They produced Laura Kinney, thinking she was just a clone. She was trained from birth to be an emotionless assassin, then rented to the highest bidder.
When Joe Quesada brought her into comics, he added some problematic complications such as self-harm and child sex-work. Afterward, she was somewhat revamped by her original creators over multiple mini-series and series. She got a more developed backstory. They introduce Kimura, her arch-nemesis. They show that the Facility still has ways to control her, even after she escaped them. Eventually, she gets to the X-Men and trains alongside the younger mutants in NEW X-MEN. Until Cyclops puts her on the resurrected X-FORCE, against Logan’s wishes.
Still, after half a decade in comics, we’ve rarely been privy to her interiority. On the outside, she displayed little growth. She remained a taciturn presence that mostly wanted to be ordered around and doesn’t shy from killing people.
“There is a light inside of me”
This changed during Marjorie Liu’s run on X-23. The first-person narration let us understand her moral dilemmas and worries, her guilt and search for self-worth. She reflects over her nature as a clone, as a killer, as a loner. She feels, as Logan felt once, that being around people will only make them suffer eventually. And that she’ll be a danger for them.
At the start of the series, a demonic Wolverine hunts her. He taunts her saying she doesn’t have a soul. He wants her to submit to him. To let herself be defined by her past and her sins. By the childhood the Facility stole from her, by the people she killed and those she could still kill. But Laura discovers enough self-worth and dignity to dispel the demon’s poisoned tongue.
So she starts globetrotting to find herself. Early on Laura’s joined by Gambit, with whom she has various thematically appropriate and character building adventures. Throughout the series, she develops relationships with different characters such as Gambit, Jubilee, Jessan Hoan, and the Fantastic Four. Laura grows to understand, as she tells to Daken, that caring about others is a strength. A much less dangerous strength than just acquiring power.
Enter the All-New Wolverine
With ALL-NEW WOLVERINE, Tom Taylor proves once again that one of his great talents is zeroing in on what makes a character tick. He’s very comfortable balancing new developments with mining the history of a character. All in order to emphasize who a character is and what they mean to those around them.
Almost every story-arc revolves around imagining, in a way, how Logan’s life and that of those around him would have turned out were he always Wolverine, the superhero. Were he a superhero with friends and teammates, and not a loner, a wounded animal choking on his own rage and pain.
In the first arc, we’re introduced to four clones of Laura’s. The unnamed X23_3PAR dies at the beginning of the first issue. Zelda dies during the storyline. Kimura captures Bellona at the end. Gabby is the only one that has a happy ending. Happy endings don’t come lightly for Wolverines. It doesn’t mean they’re not possible.
Gabby is Laura’s very own mini-X-23. A clone trained from birth to be an assassin. Except Gabby has her sisters. And together they find Wolverine. Laura’s Wolverine. They help each other, they fight and escape their creators. Gabby never has to grow isolated, to shut herself down, to depend only on her own power in a cold world. She won’t have to go through what Logan and Laura went through. Eventually, she even gets a pet wolverine.
The Civil War
During the second superhero Civil War, Gabby and Laura confront the older Logan from an alternate timeline. This ends up being a repudiation of all toxicity associated with the character. Old man Logan steps right into his mode of “doing what no one else is morally capable of.” Which in this case is killing Gabby for what the alternative version of her did.
They defeat him, of course. The defeat comes not as much from their fight, but from the way Laura dresses him down. The old man has rage and death all over him. But that doesn’t make him Wolverine. Wolverine was loved, Wolverine is missed. The old man, with his tough love and tough choices, only managed to get everyone around him killed.
Leaving the past behind
Closing the door on Weapon X
Ever since his first appearance, there was a hint of Wolverine’s involvement with a shady government program. In THE UNCANNY X-MEN #205, Chris Claremont and Barry Windsor-Smith show how this involvement can haunt him still. In that story, Lady Deathstrike attacks Wolverine feeling that he stole her father’s work on adamantium and ruined him. Later, BWS develops further the Weapon X program, and Larry Hamma and Marc Silvestri showed how the program just wouldn’t stay in the past. It was too easy for writers to poke at the Weapon X concept to create conflict, villains, and anti-heroes. Instead of moving things forward, Wolverine was just shackled with an ever-expanding past.
Which is why I think Taylor nipping in the bud Laura’s version of the Weapon X is such a confident decision. Kimura and the scented fluid with which she controlled Laura was a veritable Sword of Damocles. Whatever character growth she underwent could be easily washed away. One drop of that green liquid and all of Laura friends and lovers could be slain by her hand. She managed to end their threat by being a really good Wolverine.
First, through an act of stoicism as bad-ass as anything Logan ever did. Kimura wanted to use the scent to make Laura decimate a whole town. Instead of letting herself be controlled yet again, Laura stabbed herself in the head falling unconscious. Then she overcomes the control for good, through the help of the friends she made over the years.
Orphans of X
The Orphans of X storyline, drawn by Juan Cabal, takes a similar approach to Wolverine’s past crimes. Logan is often confronted by people he hurt in the past. People who now are seeking revenge. Wolverine will have to defend himself and hurt them or kill them. This creates a cycle of violence. One that’s made all too easy for writers to tap into.
To fix this, Taylor introduces the Orphans of X. Yet another group of people wanting revenge on Logan. Or Sabertooth. Also on Daken. And every other Weapon X or Wolverine adjacent character. But when they finally target Laura, she breaks the cycle of violence. She lets herself be vulnerable and proves that she’s not an animal or a weapon anymore. That she’s as much an Orphan of X as they are. And more than that, she’ll use her skills to make amends and bring justice to the victims.
What comes next?
Just closing off doors to the past wouldn’t be enough if he didn’t present any new avenues. Taylor is keenly aware of this. While this isn’t the series’ main project, it’s not something that remained ignored.
From thrillers to the cosmic
Finding justice for the Orphans of X is potentially fertile terrain for stories. Its yield remains only hinted at in a one-issue follow-up to the main story arc. Other writers can step in and show how Laura makes amends.
There are other kinds of stories as well. In the “Immune” story arc, Laura and other Wolverine adjacent characters fight against an alien virus. They don’t smash or cut it. How could they? Instead, they use their healing powers to take on themselves the sickness from those infected. In the “Hive” story, Laura and Gabby fight the Brood alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy. These are all fun and engaging stories that show how Laura’s kind of Wolverine can function.
Old Woman Laura
But the story that shows the most interest in Laura’s future as Wolverine is the last arc: Old Woman Laura, drawn by Ramon Rosanas. Hardly the post-apocalyptic wasteland of OLD MAN LOGAN, the world here is a near utopia. Gabby picked up the Wolverine cowl, and Laura oversees Madripoor. It’s shown that this state of the world didn’t come lightly. And that most of the problems came because of Doctor Doom.
Coincidently, Doom holds prisoner a few of the world’s superpowered beings. Among whom is Bellona, the last of Laura’s clones. Since Laura suffers from a degenerative disease, now seems to be the last moment when she can attempt a rescue. Although hoping for a glorious last hurrah, the friends and allies she made along the way don’t let her go at it alone. Which means that she’ll not get the noble death. Because noble deaths are overrated. She deserves to spend some time in the utopia she helped build, instead of melting into the sunset like the hero from a western.
While less than half in length as the original OLD MAN LOGAN, this storyline contains a plethora of hints for the adventures Laura has yet to have had, the relationships she has not yet formed, and the events that might shape her in the future.
Tom Taylor’s Wolverine veers much more into superheroics than other takes on the character. Still, the run makes the case that it’s for the best. That doesn’t mean that the darker aspects of the archetype will be lost. Just that they can be addressed in a more healthy manner.
One of the few aspects I’m a bit uncomfortable with is that Taylor resolves so many plotlines without, as far as I know, the input of the creators who originally introduced them. I think they need to be resolved and that he does a really good job at it. But we have to acknowledge the substantial contributions other writers and artists brought to the table, setting things up for Taylor to do his thing.
That said, ALL-NEW WOLVERINE wasn’t just a very good Laura Kinney series. It was a very good Wolverine series. One that hopefully will impact and shape further Logan comics as well.