Sunday, May 22, 2011

X-23 #10 - Making Teen Angst Awesome

After reading the Daken vs. X-23 arc, Collision, I felt like those guys in old pornos who smoke a cigarette after a three-way with a couple of bikini models. Marjorie Liu and Daniel Way did a great job. They told a story about two Wolverine offsprings who are very different and have a great many reasons to chop each others' heads off. It wasn't just a bloody mix of blood-soaked torture porn (although X-23 did get cut up with a table saw). There was some genuine character development in between the blood, the fighting, and the getting blown up by a bomb. Yes, that really happened. It was a story that left X-23 and Daken in an uncertain state. Daken went back to being an egotistical douche while X-23 left Madripoor with more questions than answers.

Now Daniel Way is back do doing his thing and Marjorie Liu is back to doing hers with X-23. At the end of Collision, X-23 had accomplished what she set out to do after she met Sinister's boobalicious counterpart. She found Malcolm Concord, beat the shit out of Daken along the way, and blew up his Weapon X offshoot which actually didn't have much to do with Weapon X (long story). Fighting Daken affected her and not just because Daken's ego was tougher than adamantium. He got her thinking about how they were very much alike. They both inherited Wolverine's legacy, albeit through different ways. Yet Daken turned out one way. X-23 turned out another. That begged the question what's preventing X-23 from becoming Daken and vice versa? Daken has to wrestle with that issue while trying not to be as big a douche while X-23 deals with that in her own way. X-23 #10 picks up on this issue and it starts about as well as you would expect for a messed up teenage girl.

Marjorie Liu has never shied away from the dark side of being a teenage girl. Yeah, X-23 is messed up for being a clone of Wolverine, but anyone who has ever been to high school or had the misfortune of dating a girl who would jam glass shards into her ears for attention knows that just being a teenage girl is fucked up enough. There's a school of thought in the field of anthropology. Some believe that teenage girls and teenage boys is where people are at their most evil and vulnerable. For X-23, this holds true because this comic begins with her doing what my old therapist would call 'lashing out.' It basically involves self-mutilation. Except with X-23, she does it while looking badass.

Once she's done channeling her inner emo, she joins Gambit. He tries to pretend like she isn't some fucked up clone of Wolverine who grew up in a lab. He offers to celebrate her birthday with a cupcake. Laura is about as thrilled a Dr. Phil at a Scientology convention. He tries to instill in her a sense of mystery and wonder that so enamors teenage girls, often over dreams of American Idol. Laura has a very low tolerance for that kind of bullshit after facing Daken. When Gambit sees the blood on her arms, he cuts the act. But unlike the many other messed up girls that Gambit has dealt with, X-23 doesn't stick around. She runs off.

For X-23, cutting herself wasn't enough. She decides to continue her loathing on a bridge. She loathes for so long that the sun starts to set. It shows a passage of time that usually is harder to follow in a comic than a lecture on quantum mechanics by a shuddering retard with Turrets Syndrome. I don't want to make too big a deal of it, but it's one of those little things in a comic that a lot of writers overlook. So kudos for Marjorie Liu for actually taking time to add a sense of pacing.

Also kudos for having X-23 lash out at Gambit when he finally catches up with her, presumably after seducing a few French hookers along the way. What's strange about that is X-23's eyes flash red, which happens in the presence of the trigger scent. Whatever the case, Gambit gets a nasty paper-cut. Not saying he deserves it, but given his history I can't imagine too many readers batting an eye.

X-23 is understandably concerned and freaked out. Even though Gambit doesn't hold it against her (I'm sure he's had girlfriends do way worse to him), it does bother him too. He manages to get Laura back to the hotel, but she's still clearly messed up. Her little emo phase isn't going away that easily. So before tucking her in, he makes a phone call. He could just be calling up more French hookers, but when he's with a messed up teenage girl with a stabbing impulse then certain priorities take precedent.

Another day passes. X-23 and Gambit don't do much. They hang out in the hotel room. Gambit tries reading to her, which seems inappropriate for a teenage girl. The only reading most teenage girls care about involves Cosmo or some magazine with Justine Bieber on the cover, but X-23 is a special case. Something slightly less horrifying would be more appropriate. Despite Gambit's sincerity (a word most would never use in the same paragraph with the guy), X-23 waits for him to fall asleep and tries to run out on him. It seems like a dick move, but having just accidentally stabbed the guy it's not entirely without merit. But when she tries to leave, she's confronted with a familiar face. Remember that phone call he made? Turns out he basically tattled on X-23. He brought Logan, her de-facto father, into the picture.

He didn't come alone either. Since Wolverine can't resist being around messed up teenage girls, he brings Jubilee along with him. Since X-23, like 90 percent of all teenagers, have a tendency to overreact she ends up attacking her. This appears to happen after the Wolverine and Jubilee mini-series, which was fairly awesome by the way. So Jubilee is a vampire and X-23 is a messed up clone of Wolverine. I'm not sure if I'm reading the subtext correctly, but I smell a sitcom! I'm sure Fox is already working on a pilot.

After some initial unpleasantness with Jubilee, Wolverine takes X-23 up onto the roof where they have a little chat. Now keep in mind, this is the first time X-23 has talked to Wolverine since the Hellverine arc. That recently ended so now he's in a less demonic mindset. It turns into a very nice moment. In the early issues of the X-23 series, Wolverine revealed that he officially adopted X-23. So now they're legally family even if biologically, she's a clone. It finally established more of a family relationship between these two characters because technically, that's what they are. It took Marvel a damn long time to really explore that, but Marjorie Liu finally got around to it and this scene does a damn good job of showing them as family.

Even though X-23 is a clone, she's still a teenage girl. She isn't sure of who or what she is. Daken showed her what she could have become. Now she's cutting herself and she has a list of names from Malcolm Concord that she probably will have to kill at some point. Wolverine's been down that same road. It messed him up too, but he was a fucking adult when he went through Weapon X. X-23 didn't go through that whole memory-wipe shit. She remembers all the grizzly details of what happened to her and that really fucks her up. Logan actually offers her the kind of advice you might expect a father to offer a depressed teenage girl. When Wolverine starts showing good parenting skills, you know the world done gone totally fucked up. But it's the awesome kind of fucked up.

After their chat, Wolverine sends X-23 and Jubilee out for a stroll. Now I don't quite understand this logic. X-23 tried to give Jubilee the angry Twilight fan treatment with her claws. So why have them in close proximity to one another? Why have them in the same zip code? If he wants them to get along, there are smarter ways to do it. Perhaps his parenting skills aren't as good as he showed in the previous scene, but I suppose it's a work-in-progress.

While they go off on to see the sights in Paris, Wolverine and Gambit have a little chat of their own. They talk (and argue) about X-23 and Jubilee. Her time in X-Force comes up. Jubilee's new inclination to suck people dry and not in the kind of way that would make her a famous porn star comes up. Gambit believes that he's sheltering Jubilee, but not X-23. He actually makes a good point. Just because X-23 is a trained killer doesn't mean she's as vulnerable.

This becomes apparent in a pretty overt way when X-23 and Jubilee are casually walking along in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Being two pretty teenage girls in a major European city, it's only a matter of time before some Euro-douche comes by to harass them. Normally this is when X-23 tears into them like Homer Simpson with a box of fresh donuts. Jubilee saves her the trouble, flashing her fangs and making the men think twice about asking her for downtown French kiss.

But it doesn't stop there. Even after the Euro-douches run away with their dicks partially shriveled, X-23 draws her claws. At first it looks like she's going to attack Jubilee. Then she does something unexpected. She cuts herself on her neck to draw more blood. In front of a young vampire still learning the ways of bloodsucking, that's like running naked into to a den of Grizzly's with your body covered in raw meat and trying to strangle one of the cubs. The end result is that Jubilee is the one who attacks. Is X-23 trying to make a point? Or is this a more creative way of her cutting herself? It's not clear because this is the fucking cliff-hanger that we're left with. As frustrating as cliff-hangers are, this one is still pretty damn awesome.

It's an intense way to end an issue full of so much teen angst. After the bloody mess left from the X-23 vs Daken brawl, this is a significant change of pace but a fitting way to follow up the story. X-23 was left pretty messed up by her encounter with Daken. Since she's not the same callous douche that he is, it's only natural that she would be pretty messed up about it. Marjorie Liu takes on some pretty serious (and painfully realistic) teen angst here. X-23 cut herself in ways that real people actually do. Except she has a healing factor. She can't cut herself enough to do the harm she probably wants. Meeting up with Wolverine and having some heated exchanges with Jubilee show even more tension. While she and Daken were rivals, X-23 and Jubilee have a lot in common. They're both struggling with a killer inside them. Jubilee adapting while X-23 isn't sure how. In the end, X-23 shows that Jubilee hasn't adapted as well as she may think. It sews the seeds for some interesting conflict between the two in the next issue.

For the most part, every issue of X-23 has been top notch. If there have been any flaws, it's been in the pacing at times. There have been issues where the progression of events doesn't always feel even. In this issue there is absolutely none of that. This issue spun perfectly from the events of Collision and X-23's problems are definitely understandable in the context of the issues that came before this one. The characterization of X-23 was solid and raw. Marjorie Liu went back to focusing on the confused teenager aspect whereas the last arc focused more on her life as a former living weapon. It's done in a way that's so gritty and real, that it's truly unique in the scope of other X-books. Along with solid dialog, great art, and a fantastic finish you can't say too many bad things about this. There wasn't nearly as much action as there was in the previous issue, but Gambit did get stabbed and the emo moments still left the right impact. So unless you're too cheap to rent a Michael Bay movie, you won't have much to complain about.

Marjorie Liu demonstrated her firm handle on X-23 with this issue. She's given the character a kind of depth that hasn't been shown before. She's really left her mark on X-23 and she's done it without making her gut six dozen heavily armed Weapon X soldiers. She's shown the more realistic elements of being a messed up teenage girl and she's used it to craft a very interesting story. Now that Jubilee is involved, there is so much potential. X-23 #10 was one of the most intense issues to date. If you're an X-23 fan or a general X-men fan who is looking for something more grounded than killer robots and aliens, this book is for you! That's why I give it a perfect 5 out of 5. Being a teenage girl is tough. This comic demonstrates why in so many awesome ways. Nuff said!


  1. Sending two teenage girls who don't like each other in Paris seems like really bad parenting on Wolverine's part … or possibly very brilliant parenting.

    The scene where X-23 cuts herself so Jubilee can drink her seems a little too subtly lesbian-erotic for my tastes.

  2. I could do a whole post on Wolverine's questionable parenting skills. Let's face it, he's not known for thinking things through. But I agree with the subtle lesbian undertones between X-23 and Jubilee. I have absolutely no problem with it. I didn't mention it because I think the final page of the book spoke for itself. Thanks for the comment!