We may never know the reasons why Marvel decided to cancel the X-23 ongoing series, leaving them with no self-titled leading lady – at least until the recently announced Captain Marvel series debuts. Until such time, we shall just have to be content with the knowledge that X-23 was given the opportunity to wrap up her series succintly.
But how exactly do you conclude such a unique series? After all, there aren’t many words to describe a journey that lasted almost two years, yet seems to have accessed and encountered a lifetime of experiences. Perhaps that is why, in the finalé #21, writer Marjorie Liu chooses not to use any words at all in the whole issue. It is a bold move, but placing her trust wholeheartedly in artist Phil Noto is not a reckless gamble, for the man has often proven his ability to tell a story using a single panel, let alone a full issue.
Join us as we review #21 as well as wax lyrical about the series as a whole.
The issue begins almost as a tribute to the opening sequence of #1, with X-23 aka Laura Kinney dreaming of a being among pack of wolves. She wakes up, remembers that she is on a journey away from the X-Men, post-Schism, and continues on her solo road trip towards the Avengers Academy. Stopping to give a hitchhiker a lift, she doesn’t realise that this detour will force her to resolve her own internal schism – the war between her killer instinct and the humanity she’s discovered recently – a little sooner than she anticipated.
The story Marjorie is trying to tell is a simple one on the onset, but by choosing not to have any dialogue, narration or even sound-effects, she clearly wants the art to do all the storytelling for her. Fortunately, she has been blessed to work with some incredible artists throughout the series, including Will Conrad (now drawing X-Men), Ryan Stegman (now drawing Scarlet Spider) and Sana Takeda (last seen on Venom: Circle of Four). The artist of #21, Phil Noto, is no stranger to X-23, having done the art for an earlier arc, Chaos Theory (#13-16). In #21, he once again brings his A-game, and every panel, every stroke says so much.
In this masterclass of comic book storytelling, Marjorie and Phil show how pace is dictated by panels, how a face speaks the experience of a lifetime, how a posture describes volumes about a personality. By the second page alone, we are reminded once again that Laura Kinney is still a child, but one that is no stranger to isolation. Yet, while it is not fear that we see in her eyes, we do sense a deep longing for something that is clearly beyond her immediate reach – perhaps another clue to the burgeoning humanity she has begun to express.
Despite having been around for almost a decade, after being created by Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, X-23 has never had the kind of character growth she’s had in the past two years. Indeed, it took Marjorie’s alternative perspective and sensitivity to evolve Laura beyond what her creators envisioned of her – that of a teenage killing machine. In X-23 #21, it could be said that Laura is finally on the cusp of adulthood, of no longer being tied down by the fear of her animal nature, but at peace with who she is and the knowledge that she is stronger than she is.
X-23’s adventures continue in the pages of Avengers Academy, written by another great writer, Christos Gage. I am confident that he will build on the wonderful characterisation of Laura thus far, and that she will remain an integral character in the Marvel Universe for many more years to come.