It’s been a long time coming, but Laura Kinney (better known as X-23) is finally getting her cinematic debut in the latest X-Men movie Logan, which hits theaters this Friday. Many are excited to see Hugh Jackman in his (supposedly) final performance as Wolverine, but I’m absolutely pumped to see what they do with his younger female clone.
If you don’t already know X-23, or need a quick refresher before seeing the movie, consider this your crash course on the girl who’s the best there is at what she does.
Laura Kinney—better known as X-23— first appeared not in a comic book, but on the animated series X-Men: Evolution. Created by Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost, X-23 is introduced as HYDRA’s attempt at replicating the “Weapon X” project. It took twenty-three trials to produce a viable product, hence the codename “X-23.”
She only ever appeared in two episodes of X-Men: Evolution, but X-23 apparently made enough of an impact there to convince Joe Quesada (Marvel’s editor-in-chief at the time) to bring her into the Marvel Universe proper, with his 2003 limited series NYX.
Making her debut in issue #3 of that series, Laura is introduced as a wayward prostitute who specialized in delivering sadomasichism with her claws. Given how young Laura was meant to be at the time, it’s really not a great look, or particularly empowering, is it? That’s comics for you! Regardless, Laura appeared throughout the rest of NYX as a supporting character, with her background left mysterious and unclear.
Thankfully, Kyle & Yost returned to X-23 with their 2005 limited series of the same name, giving her Earth-616 counterpart an official origin. It’s more or less the same idea this time around, albeit with a few changes. HYDRA isn’t involved in X-23’s creation, for example, and her relationship to the scientist who created her is greatly expanded upon.
As we learn in the series, Laura was born to a geneticist named Sarah Kinney, who spearheaded the X-23 project at an unnamed facility. Forced to carry the child to term as punishment for insubordination, Sarah easily grows fond of her daughter, despite the rigorous training and experimentation she underwent to become a ruthless weapon.
Upon growing into childhood, Laura’s mutant healing factor was triggered by intense radiation, while her claws (two on each hand, rather than Wolverine’s three) were extracted and coated with Adamantium. She was also introduced to a chemical compound dubbed the “trigger scent,” which sends X-23 into a blind, feral rage upon catching a whiff of the stuff. With these attributes, X-23 became a highly sought-after assassin.
After many successful missions, an attempt to flee the facility with Sarah ends in tragedy when a triggered X-23 kills her mother in cold blood. Fortunately, X-23 comes down from her heightened state in enough time for Sarah to give the girl a proper name before dying: Laura.
Following Sarah’s death, Laura flees to San Francisco to meet her aunt Debbie and cousin Megan, the latter of whom she becomes fast friends with. Unfortunately, the family reunion doesn’t last very long. Kimura—Laura’s cruel handler at the facility— tracks her down, threatening to kill them both if she doesn’t turn herself in. Though she’s able to help Debbie and Megan escape, Laura is forced to run yet again.
During a brief meeting with Wolverine at the Xavier School, Laura is taken into SHIELD custody by Captain America for questioning. With Daredevil’s help, Cap is convinced to let the girl go, allowing Laura to atone for her past sins on her own terms. Taking to the streets of New York City, Laura’s origin finally comes full circle to when we meet her in NYX.
Since then, Laura has served as a member of the X-Men (appearing in the Uncanny, New, and All-New titles) as well as X-Force, and was even briefly enrolled as a student at Avengers Academy. Most recently, Laura became the all-new Wolverine, in tribute to the man who was effectively her father after his death in 2014.
As mentioned above, Laura makes her live-action debut in Logan, played there by English-Spanish actress Dafne Keen. While I can’t guarantee Laura’s cinematic interpretation will reflect either of the origin stories outlined above, you can assume that the broader themes —X-23 being the product of an attempt to clone Wolverine— will factor into her character. Laura’s cinematic future beyond Logan is unclear, but The Powers That Be apparently have plans for her in upcoming projects, and that’s very exciting.
X-23 (2005), written by Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost and drawn by Billy Tan
X-23: Target X (2006 — 2007), written by Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost and drawn by Mike Choi
While neither of the above titles feature Laura’s first official appearance in the Marvel Universe, they’re the best place to start. Serving as a two-part origin story written by her X-Men: Evolution creators Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost, they give you the necessary foundation for understanding Laura as a character, and elements introduced in them are still relevant in her most recent stories today.
X-23 and X-23: Target X are both collected in X-23: The Complete Collection Vol. 1, along with additional materials not mentioned here.
X-23 (2010 — 2012), written by Marjorie Liu and drawn by various artists
Laura’s first ongoing series, written by Marjorie Liu, develops her character further. Now a student of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and former member of X-Force, she’s less broken and alone than she used to be, but there are still demons she’s yet to overcome. Featuring team-ups with Gambit, Jubilee, and evil brother/nephew Daken (a personal favorite of mine), those names should be enough incentive for you to check this run out.
If you’re a fan of Liu’s creator-owned work Monstress, Sana Takeda (her collaborator on that title) provides the art for a number of issues here, too!
The first three issues of X-23 are collected in X-23: The Complete Collection Vol. 1, while the rest of this run and additional materials not mentioned here are collected in X-23: The Complete Collection Vol. 2.
All-New Wolverine (2015 — present), written by Tom Taylor and drawn by various artists
Logan is like HYDRA: cover him in adamantium, and two Wolverines will show up in his place. One of them was Old Man Logan, transplanted from his dystopian future into the present-day Marvel Universe after the events of Secret Wars.
The other one? Laura Kinney, the all-new Wolverine! Its inaugural arc puts Laura in an Orphan Black-esque conspiracy where she meets a bevy of new clones based on herself, while the recently-concluded Enemy of the State II (the spiritual successor to a similarly-titled Wolverine story from the Oughts) serves as a culmination of plot threads introduced all the way back in her first limited series.
There’s also a Squirrel Girl team-up. It’s obviously incredible.
X-Force (2008), written by Craig Kyle & Christopher Yost and drawn by various artists
This particular run of X-Force featuring Laura, Logan, and others ties into quite a few events (Messiah Complex, Messiah War, Necrosha, and Second Coming), so it may not be the most accessible for newer readers who’ve never encountered them or don’t enjoy interruptions by sprawling, multi-book crossovers.
That said, issues #17 — #20 continue the Weapon X story introduced in her origin, so those may be of some interest to you.
X-Force is collected in: X-Force: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 and X-Force: The Complete Collection Vol. 2, while some excerpts of this run are featured in X-Force/Cable: Messiah War, X-Necrosha, and X-Men: Second Coming.
Death of Wolverine: The Logan Legacy (2014), written by various writers and various artists
A character like Wolverine isn’t going to have a muted departure, so his death spawned its own dedicated limited series and three spinoffs; The Logan Legacy was one of them. This comic is primarily an anthology of stories about characters with some connection to Logan reacting to the news of his death: Laura (obviously), Daken (his evil son), Lady Deathstrike (a frequent adversary), Sabretooth (his half-brother), and Mystique (it’s complicated).
Issue #2 is Laura’s centric installment, but you may want to skim the entire series to prepare yourself for the next item on this list.
Death of Wolverine: The Logan Legacy is collected in a single trade paperback.
Wolverines (2015), written by Charles Soule & Ray Fawkes and drawn by various artists
The Logan Legacy was essentially a prelude to this twenty-issue series, which sees the aforementioned characters teaming up with a gaggle of new characters created by Weapon X to find Logan’s remains — and possibly a way of reviving him.
Wolverines isn’t the most essential read on the list, but the plot chugs along at a brisk clip thanks to its weekly release schedule, and the conclusion sticks the landing. Much like the Logan Legacy, the variety of artists here also makes it worth checking out.