Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Enemy Within (And Beyond): All-New Wolverine #18

The following is my review of All-New Wolverine #18, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


There are some stories that just can't be remade in a convincing, compelling fashion. The producers of the now-infamous Ghostbusters remake found this out the hard way. However, it is possible to retell a story in a way that doesn't feel like a new layer of paint on an old car that shouldn't be on the road anymore. Those stories are rare and even then, a retelling of those stories involves a lot of moving parts that need to work together without collapsing into a chaotic mess

The classic Wolverine story, Enemy of the State, may not be nearly as iconic as Ghostbusters, but it captures so much of what makes Wolverine a great character. It effectively jams rusty nails into Wolverine's deepest scars, let's them fester, and builds a story around it. It's a key conflict for Wolverine that gives him much of his depth. He struggles with being a man and a former meat puppet of Weapon X. It's a powerful struggle that his daughter and inheritor of his title, Laura Kinney, has inherited.

As X-23, Laura knows just as much about being a tormented meat puppet as Logan. On top of that, she deals with this on top of being a teenage girl. This makes her uniquely qualified to handle the narrative surrounding Enemy of the State II. Tom Taylor gives her that chance, putting her in a situation where Laura has to confront the meat puppet within her that once made her a living weapon.

He sets high stakes. After apparently killing nearly three dozen innocent people, she finds herself at the top of SHIELD's most wanted list, right up there with cloned Spider-Man villains. She also has to confront old enemies like Kimura, who are intent on reminding her that she's a failed science experiment and not a person. In her mind, she's several layers below a trained pitbull.

These are the moving parts that forge the narrative for Enemy of the State II and All-New Wolverine #18 caps off that narrative with a potent mix of drama, action, plot twists, and exploding bean cans. It's every bit as entertaining as it sounds. Beyond the entertainment value, though, Taylor goes out of his way to capture the most important element of Enemy of the State, which is heart. Those who've seen the Logan movie and wiped away their tears will appreciate what Taylor accomplishes here.


To get to this point, X-23 must overcome some personal demons that have plagued her since her early origin stories in X-23: Innocence Lost. This is perfectly appropriate for the context and grand scheme of the story. Overcoming personal demons for Wolverine is right up there with drinking beer, stabbing Sabretooth, and chasing married women. For X-23, a teenage girl who isn't old enough to drink, it's a much higher priority and one that ensures All-New Wolverine #18 hits with just the right amount of drama.

The biggest demon for X-23 has both a face and a potent weapon. Kimura is to her what Sabretooth is to Logan. She embodies the anchor that keeps her tied to her bloody past. She represents the pain, burdens, and rage that fills her with such dread and anger. Fighting her means much more than just fighting a run-of-the-mill Sentinel. Taylor has this fight involve more than just stabbing though.

The stakes of the battle are already high because Kimura is armed with the trigger scent, the weapon that turns X-23 into the heartless killer who murdered her own mother. It is a burden and a fear that has plagued X-23 since her earliest days in the X-men comics. It's a big part of what drives the narrative throughout Enemy of the State II, having X-23 go on the run and do everything she can to avoid becoming what Kimura wants her to be. This convergence of past fears and present conflicts helps craft a perfectly balanced, deeply satisfying conclusion.

It's also a conclusion that requires X-23 to do things Logan wasn't very good at. He may have been the best at what he did, but coordinating with others was never one of those things and not just because of his propensity to flirt with married women. X-23 shows a greater willingness to work with others, let them in, and share her burdens. It gives a supporting cast like Gabby, Jean Grey, Gambit, Angel, and Tyger Tiger a chance to shine. She's still not the greatest teammate, but compared to Logan, she's a pro.

X-23's supporting cast gives her the resources she needs to overcome the trigger scent and attack Kimura. However, she's still the one who delivers the final blow. Like her predecessor, she makes it very personal and very brutal. Unlike previous battles, though, Kimura can't use the trigger scent as her trump card. She has to face X-23 head on. They have to fight as equals. It makes for a battle that feels organic, brutal, and dramatic.


The added drama also helps ensure the plot twist that emerge in the final conclusion work. As a result, it doesn't feel forced. It doesn't feel like a cop-out. It feels like a genuine, realistic recourse for the narrative. For a story that involves so much running around, stabbing, and snarling, that's a critical ingredient that separates decent stories from savory deserts.

The original Enemy of the State may not be as iconic as other major Wolverine stories like Old Man Logan, if only because it hasn't been the basis for a major movie yet. However, it is an important story that embodies what it means to be Wolverine. All-New X-men #18 and Enemy of the State II embodies that same spirit.

X-23 even goes out of her way to make that clear. She loudly proclaims that she's not just a weapon. She's Laura Kinny. She has a mother, a father, and the title. She is, by every meaningful criteria, Wolverine. Taylor does everything necessary to make this abundantly clear. If anyone has any doubts at this point that Laura is worthy of that title, then they're just being petty.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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