Since the first rumors of a Disney merger, social media has been abuzz with what this might mean for our beloved X-Men. Though the Fox films helped to bring superhero movies to the mainstream for the modern age, many longtime X-fans have been interested in seeing something new from the series. With next month's Dark Phoenix more or less closing out the saga and having said goodbye to fan favorite Hugh Jackman in Logan, the property has been a big question mark in terms of what we might expect going forward.
How does one replace Hugh Jackman in the X-Men franchise? What casting choice could possibly honor such an iconic role? Who should be the next Wolverine? Well, we have a suggestion.
Since his first appearances as the scrappy loner of the X-Men in the late ‘70s, Wolverine has grown in popularity to the point of oversaturation in the X-Universe. Once just a single facet of the X-Men jewel, the man known as Logan soon became the most identifiable and popular member of the team, with his likeness appearing on everything from lunchboxes to action figures and beyond. While this was great for Wolverine megafans, it wasn’t always great for X-Men fans who preferred the shared focus of the book, reliant on the subtle interactions among all the characters. By becoming the most prominent X-Man, in some ways Logan became a hindrance to the soap-opera dynamic that required a cast of dozens.
After putting Logan through a series of ringers, informing us that his memories were all implants, delving into his once mysterious origin, giving him a doomed attraction to fellow X-Man Jean Grey, and taking him from New York to Madripoor and back again, Marvel had slowly, finally allowed Logan to cut back on his murderous rages and his apparently endless tragedy to give him a position as a mentor at the Xavier Institute, showing more character growth in only a few months than he had displayed in the last several years of stories. Unfortunately, Logan is a character explicitly designed to be tormented in new and creative ways by writers, and this peaceful take on Logan was not to last. In Death of Wolverine, we saw him meet his temporary end.
Fortunately, that was when Laura Kinney took over as the best Wolverine there ever was or ever will be for thirty-five glorious issues.
The Wolverine clone known as X-23 first appeared in an episode of the animated series X-Men: Evolution co-written by frequent collaborators Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost. On Evolution, most X-Men had been de-aged to their teen years, with Wolverine remaining older and taking on a mentorship role. X-23 was intended to appeal to teen audiences, and the concept around her creation was that she would be a brainwashed assassin, much like Logan, but unlike Logan, she would be forced to carry the memories of her crimes.
X-Men: Evolution ended shortly after X-23’s introduction, but the character proved to be intriguing enough that it was decided Yost would be tasked with bringing her to the comics. In the series that introduced her, we are shown her tragic origins. A woman named Sarah Kinney had created X-23 from a damaged DNA sample and ultimately carried Laura to term herself. The stereotypical inexplicably evil project head Zander Rice allowed the two of them to bond but ultimately saw fit to force X-23 to murder Sarah, having mastered his control of her with a trigger smell that would cause her to fly into a berserker rage similar to those of Wolverine himself. Dying in the snow as X-23 came to her senses, Sarah professed her motherly love for the girl and gave her a name - Laura.
Although the Marvel superheroes became aware of Laura’s existence through a few crossover appearances, she ended up stranded and alone in New York where she incurred more trauma before finally reuniting with Logan and becoming involved with the X-Men. She was present for several missions, and despite Emma Frost’s attempts to get her off the team and Wolverine pleading with Laura to avoid the life he had led, Laura was determined to stick with the only family she had left. Logan did eventually adopt her as his daughter, but he was also killed via being encased in adamantium, leaving Laura to fend for herself once more. In that time, she began a relationship with Angel. In All-New X-Men, Laura displayed an unsettling willingness to put her body in the path of extreme harm and leaned too heavily on her own invulnerability, which troubled her new boyfriend.
Laura chose to take on the role of Wolverine, donning a similar costume to the classic blue and yellow look Logan had become known for in his early appearances. In the All-New Wolverine series, written by Tom Taylor with art first by David Lopez and David Navarrot, colors by Nathan Fairbairn, and letters by Cory Petit. Although the artists changed over the series, with penciling duties shifting to Elizabeth Torque and Leonard Kirk among others, Tom Taylor wrote the entirety of it, save for a backup story in one issue detailing Laura’s origin.
In All-New Wolverine, Laura witnesses a clone of herself meet a brutal death, and soon thereafter three X-23 clones arrive to ask for her help in taking vengeance on the scientists and shady government officials that had experimented on and tortured them. All of them are intended to die soon, and a clone named Zelda does indeed pass on in #5. Another clone, known as Bellona, goes on to a life as an assassin. She works for Laura’s mortal enemy. Meanwhile, the third clone, Gabby, joined up with Laura as her sidekick and adopted sister.
Utilizing her connections with the greater Marvel Universe and teaming up with characters like Doctor Strange and later the Wasp after attempting to steal Ant-Man armor, Laura met her match in her clones as she tried in vain to get them to obey her and stop killing those that had wronged them. This displayed a great deal of character growth on the behalf of Laura, who had once been a violent revenge killer herself. Meanwhile, Gabby, the comparatively innocent one among the crew, helped keep Laura grounded throughout the series with her optimism and humor. Throughout their adventures together, Gabby charms many of the characters they meet and develops a strong, immediate friendship with Deadpool when they bond over their visible scars.
Orphans of X and Old Woman Laura
Laura, Gabby, and their half-brother Daken become targeted by a massive group of particularly ruthless people calling themselves the Orphans of X. The premise was that all of them had lost family members or loved ones as collateral damage in the X-Men’s many fights. The children of Wolverine were particularly sought after in this group as many of them had been responsible for a series of murders and assassinations, despite being under mind control when the events occurred. Laura herself struggled with guilt over believing herself to have killed an entire town of people until it was revealed that she had, in fact, attempted to die by suicide to avoid doing such a thing while a clone had committed the actual crime over her unconscious body.
When taken by the Orphans of X, despite their cruelty in using a duplicate of her deceased mother to manipulate her, Laura disarmed herself and refused to fight them. She offered her assistance in tracking down those actually responsible, insisting that the crimes she was accused of were not her responsibility as she had been merely a pawn in the game of others. Reaching a sure fight and refusing to go through with it by offering peace and protection to people who wished to hurt her was an incredible moment of catharsis, not just for Laura, but for Logan, who was so seldom given the same opportunity to heal or make amends. Even after one of them shoots her point blank, Laura tells them that she is also an “orphan of X,” so to speak, and gains the sympathy of the group.
When it was announced Logan would be returning to Marvel continuity with the Hunt For Wolverine story, it became clear that All-New Wolverine would have to wrap. To conclude this story, the team gave us Old Woman Laura. In contrast to the grisly dystopian nightmare of Old Man Logan, future Laura lived in a women-run Utopia. Kamala Khan is president, and Gabby has settled down with a family. Discovering that her healing factor is faltering, Laura chooses to complete one last mission — she intends to kill Doom and free the country of Latveria from his tyranny. For this, she summons Gabby, Maria Hill, Carol Danvers, Kate Bishop, and Janet Van Dyne. Surprisingly, they complete their mission, but when Laura declares that she is dying and that they must leave her behind, Gabby refuses. Subverting the endless tragedy and torment of Logan’s many lives and deaths over the years, Gabby helps Laura to her feet, insists that they will find a way to restore her to health, promises that she will never leave her, and declares that heroic endings are overplayed and unnecessary. Not only did Laura learn lessons Logan was never able to, but in providing Gabby the support and stability that Logan was unable to give her, she saved her own life by creating a support system that would go to the ends of the Earth for her. In the end, the best thing about All-New Wolverine was that it allowed Laura to rewrite a sad story and made it into a better one.
The Best Wolverine
With the film Logan, audiences were introduced to a scrappy young girl played by newcomer Dafne Keen based on X-23. Also named Laura Kinney, with a similar background story, this character was a stand-out in a highly well-received film, and it has been reported that an X-23 solo film is in the works. In the comics, Laura’s future looks likewise promising. Appearing most recently alongside Gabby in both X-Men: Red and the X-23 series written by Mariko Tamaki, she is just as active in the X-Universe as she ever was.
Wolverine is one of the most popular comic book characters ever created, and Logan is indeed the best there is at what he does. On the other hand, Laura has the freedom of not being one of the most profitable and recognizable characters ever to appear in superhero comics, and as such writers have had a bit more creative freedom with her. Allowed to grow past her trauma in ways that Logan perhaps never will be, X-23’s relationships with other heroes of the Marvel universe, her strict moral sense, and, most importantly, her overriding willingness to forgive and lay down her sword made her one of the best takes on Wolverine X-Men fans had seen in years.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.