Thursday, October 12, 2017

Shaping A Sibling Rivalry: All-New Wolverine #25

The following is my review of All-New Wolverine #25, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


In many superhero comics, sibling rivalries are right up there with love triangles in terms of shallow plots that bring out the worst in certain characters. It's one thing for families to bicker. That's the premise of almost every sitcom, Simpsons rip-off, and Fantastic Four comic. Rivalries, however, often act like open scars that never truly scab over. They come to define certain characters, so much so that it that it undermines their ability to evolve on their own.

X-23 and Daken have a major advantage, in some respects, because much of their development occurs independently of one another. The story of Laura Kinney and Daken Akihiro unfolds in vastly different circumstances and go in very different directions. Whereas Laura eventually ascends to take on her father's mantel, Daken falls to the wayside for a while. Even after the Death of Wolverine, his story essentially stagnates while Laura's accelerates.

That's what makes the premise behind All-New Wolverine #25 so risky, yet so intriguing. Tom Taylor is taking a chance on tying Daken's story with Laura's once more. While they had clashed in the past during Marjorie Liu's run on X-23, these two characters don't ever establish a functional relationship. They don't forge a bitter rivalry either, but the tension is there. It has the potential to either expose their worst traits or forge new ones. The difference between the two is as thin as a simple swipe of the claws.


Taylor puts both characters on a collision course, of sorts, and it's one that doesn't just involve more slashing and stabbing. It builds on the events of the previous arc, which first see Laura and Daken reunite under dire, yet amicable circumstances. They never get a chance to catch up, fight each other, or address any of the past instances where they try to kill each other. A lot is left up in the air, but All-New Wolverine #25 offers new opportunities for Laura and Daken to connect. Doing it in a series that also includes a pet wolverine named Jonathan is just a nice bonus.

Taylor keeps the continuity of the series tight, having the events in this issue play off those of previous issues. Recent events don't play too big a part in the chaos that unfolds, though. After those connections are made, the fighting begins and it's not a fair fight, even for Daken. While he's a long way from deserving the same sympathy as Laura, the battle he faces sets a specific tone, one that feels unique to Wolverine's overly burdened offspring.

Part of being tied to Wolverine in any capacity involves attracting the kinds of enemies that require more than an adamantium claw to the face. His violent, illustrious life is full of super-powered samurai, killer robots, undead ninjas, and married women he can't stop attracting. With the exception of married women, Laura and Daken attract those same dangers. However, the specifics of that danger are only teased in All-New Wolverine #25, but not in the same overtly ominous ways that just promise more stabbing.

This is where the Orphans of X come in, which is both the title of the arc and the name of the danger. They establish early on that they know how to hurt both Daken and Laura. Daken is somewhat easy to hurt, given his crass attitude and utter apathy for regular heroics. It's Laura who requires a more elaborate approach. Having recently fought Brood armies and spent time in the stomach of Fing Fang Foom, her threshold for pain is much higher.

They still find a way to test it by taking Laura back to her roots. That means returning to the pages of X-23: Innocence Lost, the tragic origins that have come to define Laura since her arrival to the X-men comics. Despite all her abilities, including those that allow her to survive the stomach of Fing Fang Foom without permanent physiological scarring, the details of her tortured origins still haunt her.

More than any other threat she faces throughout her relatively brief history, it's one of the few things that really hurt her. The fact that the Orphans of X use that against her shows that they've done their homework on her. The use of a few flashbacks, which evoke just the right impact thanks to Juann Cabal's art, help belabor just how much these memories hurt Laura. They're so troubling that she risks upsetting both Gabby and her pet wolverine by striking out on her own. Given Gabby's capacity for frustrating Laura and looking adorable while doing it, that's a not a trivial risk.

It's not initially clear how much that risk pays off because, even though Laura's recourse is directly tied to what happens with Daken, the narrative stalls somewhat once it ventures into that the bloodier parts of her past. While belaboring a painful past is an important ingredient in any Wolverine story, it can be overdone. Instead of learning why the Orphans of X think it's wise to torment two characters with a history of poor anger management, much of the story unfolds as a mystery with too few clues to follow.

There's still plenty of melodrama, which is true to the spirit that Taylor has established with All-New Wolverine. There's never a sense that either Laura or Daken are just angry, vengeful brutes who are just eager to stab something. All-New Wolverine #25 establishes deep, personal stakes. However, it doesn't do much to establish who is making such risky bets against them.

The ending sets the stage for a lot more melodrama and heartache. The connections that will eventually require Laura and Daken to team up again are there. Given the high standards that Taylor has set with All-New Wolverine, though, the impact of the conflict isn't felt yet. Too much of it relies on old scars that Laura has been carrying with her since her days as an extra in the X-men Evolution cartoon. While those scars are sure to deepen, the Orphans of X will need to hit much harder to leave a lasting impact on Laura and Daken.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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