Since X-23 was introduced as a character, she's been like the Eli Manning of comics. She doesn't have the stats of her predecessor (Wolverine/Peyton Manning), but she's found a way to earn respectability in the X-books unlike others (Daken, I'm looking at you're tattooed covered ass and not in a sexual way). She's had to escape the burden of being a Wolverine knock-off, which she's actually able to do quite nicely since she's a teenage girl and carries herself with a Carrie-esque type persona that really does set her apart. She could have easily been some random plot-thread on X-men Evolution that Craig Kyle and Chris Yost threw together while on the crapper. She's since had her story expanded with two origin series and a stint in X-Force. Now Marjorie Liu is doing the equivalent of Eli Manning's superbowl run in 2007 with her new series.
The first three issues were awesome. There's little way around that. However, they were somewhat limited. They were tied into the ongoing Wolverine Goes to Hell arc that's been going on in Wolverine's solo title. While it's nice to see a little extra continuity, the whole Hellverine story as it's come to be called has somewhat fizzled in the same way Vanilla Ice fizzled from the rap world. X-23's involvement lasted for three issues and that was just enough. Her getting caught up in Wolverine's shit felt like being stuck in line at airport security and having to get felt up by some undertrained TSA agents who may or may not be listed sex offenders. It did have purpose though.
By the end X-23 made a decision that she was going to leave the X-men despite Cyclops, Emma Frost, and Storm thinking she should stay and have some structure in her life (I seem to remember that being a policy of shitty public schools where they label kids drug dealers for bringing bottles of aspirin to class). Now X-23 is off on a journey of self-discovery. It's not quite like the spirit quest of a good LSD trip while running naked through the forest, but for a character that's in a transition period it opens plenty of possibilities.
X-23 #4 begins in a way many porno movies begin. An attractive teenage girl is walking down a long stretch of road looking to hitch a ride. It's not clear on how the hell she got from San Francisco out to the desert. If this is where her journey of self-discovery is taking her she could probably use a GPS or at least a compass. She does get picked up though, but not by some overly muscled douche-bag who has had six shots of viagra like in those porno movies I mentioned earlier. Laura just gets picked up by some random trucker who looks sort of like the guy who hauls fertilizer at Home Depot. It's probably the highlight of his life, picking up a pretty teenage girl. He doesn't do anything too creepy, but even he can see that X-23 is running. And when some random trucker can see you're journey isn't going anywhere, you're treading dangerously close to the shores of shits creek without your paddles.
This oh so wise trucker drives Laura to a diner (which if I recall is also a premise of certain porno movies) where she stops off for a bite. Along the way she passes a troubled girl hanging out with a guy who you can tell is modeled after every douche-bag jock from 80s teen movies. The girl's name is Alice and she's clearly troubled. Being a former prostitute herself from her NYX days, Laura offers to help her. She sees the signs and figures out said douche-bag is Alice's pimp. Already bearing a black eye, she tells Laura to stay out of it. Since Laura hasn't quite developed a Wolverine-like sense of duty, she listens. It's the kind of response that can only end in a certain level of disaster.
As the Zen masters often say to their pupils, the journey of self-discovery requires one to fall on their ass a few times. Or maybe that's what bumper stickers at a Grateful Dead concert say. Either way, Laura ends up learning this lesson because when she leaves the diner she ends up getting followed. Again, it's another plot often found in porno movies. I'm starting to see a trend here. If this is how Marvel gets their ideas then I may be inclined to respect Joe Quesada more.
The guy who followed her turns out to be Alice's pimp. He's in the process of giving Alice what pimps refer to as 'discipline lessons.' This involves beating the living shit out of Alice until she's dead. That doesn't go over well with X-23 for obvious reasons. So when the pimp isn't satisfied with killing one pretty girl, he sets his sights on Laura. She doesn't hesitate to embrace her inner Wolverine and take him out. Even though she's supposed to be on a new path, it's entirely forgivable that she rid the world of a guy who looks at women the same way Michael Vick looks at dogs.
Laura is left feeling pretty rotten. She smelled danger like Wolverine would usually do with Alice. Unlike Wolverine though, she wasn't proactive enough to save her. So Alice ended up dead. It's a nice way of showing that Laura really isn't at the same maturity level as the rest of the X-men. Sure, she took part in X-Force. But she's still a teenage girl. She's not going to make the right decisions experienced heroes can usually make. This time it cost her and she's got yet another burden to bear as if she didn't already have enough.
So it should be painfully clear at this point that X-23 seriously needs some guidance. Otherwise the douche bags of the world will keep robbing us of nice girls in need of a little love. This is where Gambit comes in. In the last issue of X-23, he was the one who dissented from Storm, Emma, and Cyclops. He believed Laura needed to leave. As a guy who ran away himself (from more than just his home) he does have insight. Granted, Gambit has been a bit of a douche lately in the comics. He still hasn't made up for the shit he did with Apocalypse and he hasn't even attempted to redeem himself since. Now he has a chance with Laura and for once he's portrayed as more than a chronic douche-bag.
Gambit helps her bury Alice and offers her a ride. They get away from the desert and to a wooded area. Honestly, I don't know how long it takes to go from desert to a place with trees. Either Gambit's motorcycle is rigged with ET style mojo or they're following a map from the Twilight zone. Whatever the scene, Gambit does a few quick card tricks with Laura that aren't quite as interesting as Chris Angel, but they do tell a story. Since he uses cards for damn near everything it makes sense he would use them to dig a little deeper into Laura's psyche because it's painfully clear even she doesn't know herself that well. He surmises that she's afraid despite being capable of killing a man without a second of hesitation or an ounce of remorse. She's afraid of imprisonment and there's a very uncontrolled element to her personality. It's no Dr. Phil, but it is an interesting take from a guy who has never taken a normal approach to damn near anything.
Laura seems sure of herself while being uncertain. It's as baffling as it sounds. Unless you have Dr.Phil's qualifications, you'll probably be scratching your head. But I get the sense that's what Marjorie Liu is aiming for. Laura is a work-in-progress as most teenagers are. Although one could argue that she's still pretty balanced compared to your typical teenage girl.
They hit the road again, on their way to Flagstaff. Apparently Arizona is a great place to find yourself so long as you're not a Mexican. Laura and Gambit end up getting treated like Mexicans though because they run into a police barricade. They don't get searched for drugs or smuggling migrants across the boarder, but Laura does get quite a shock when she sees Alice alive and well. And by alive and well I mean in the creepy sense of those two girls at the end of the hall in the Shining.
In her current state Laura would be inclined to stick around and get some answers. Remy on the other hand is experienced enough to understand that when a dead girl shows up like this it's usually better to run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. Alice throws a nasty trick into the mix though. She brings up Laura's mother, who for all those who know the history of X-23 was killed by X-23 herself. That's enough to draw Laura in like free lines of cocaine at Robert Downy Jr.'s birthday party.
Now it's not entirely clear what happens after this. Remy seems to follow 'Alice' on his motorcycle and all the cop cars follow them as well. There's no mention of what these cop cars are even for or even if they're real. It's also not clear how they get to a new setting so fast. It's confused, like there's a missing page or something. I had to go back and forth a few times and make sure I hadn't smoked too much weed (or not enough). However it happened Laura and Gambit end up in some old west style Ghost town. 'Alice' goes onto explain that she's the real Alice, whatever that means. The guy Laura thought was her pimp wasn't her pimp. She was her handler (as if that's all that different from a pimp?). Her job was to lure Laura out to this place that looks like a set from a John Wayne movie. She failed the first time. She succeeded this time.
Now that Alice has Laura where she wants her, Laura wants answers. When someone mentions her mother it's a big deal and not in a yo-mamma's-so-fat-joke kind of way. She gets her answers pretty damn quickly and it's not pretty (but it is sexy as hell). Remember the end of the last issue? The one where Miss Sinister made a brief appearance? Well Marjorie Liu wasn't fucking with the readers. As it turns out it's Miss Sinister who wanted to lure Laura in. And she did it while wearing a sexy cowgirls uniform that looks like it was purchased for a strip club. She claims to have answers in addition to a great rack. This is where the book ends and for most male readers, it ends on a hell of a high note! When in doubt, a good ending is always made awesome when boobs are included.
So I think it's safe to say that Laura's personal journey is off to a rocky start. Who would have thought that hitch-hiking through the desert would lead to so much trouble? Oh wait, I forgot that horror movies as well as porno movies start out that way. It's a fitting environment for X-23 in a ways because she's drawn to trouble and trouble is drawn to her. Marjorie Liu does another fine job of taking X-23 through this trouble in a way that's believable and compelling for a teenage girl with a long list of issues. Gambit's inclusion is also nicely done. It helps tie this book into the greater realm of X-books and gives Gambit something to do other than mess things up with Rogue. Bringing Miss Sinister into the picture at the end was a great way to build up the next conflict. You just can't go wrong with adding boobs to Sinister.
While Marjorie Liu has been pitching a shutout with this series thus far, this issue did have some flaws. The whole pacing and scene transitions were somewhat sloppy. There was a poor sense of time flow. It went from the desert to the woods to the desert again. It's confusing not to mention distracting. It's like blacking out through few episodes of Lost. It's difficult to catch up and you still end up confused when you do. While this was the only issue among solid art, character development, dialogue, and everything else. It is still a pretty significant issue that's hard to ignore.
I still love this series. Marjorie Liu is making a strong case for her being THE visionary for X-23. She's made X-23 so compelling and a real joy to follow. She's also setting the stage for a new plot involving Miss Sinister and that definitely earns her a spot near the top of Mount Awesome. When scoring this issue I can't give it a perfect score due to the whole pacing thing. However, I can't give it too low a score either because Liu does plenty to make this book engaging. So for X-23 #4 I give it a 4 out of 5. It's an awesome book that should leave X-23 fans squealing like pre-teen girls at a Justin Biebier concert. There's so much potential for this title and so long as Marjorie Liu continues to utilize it, X-23 will remain at the top of my pull list. Nuff said!