Review: X-23 #20 by Marjorie Liu and Phil Noto

X-23 #20
Written by Marjorie Liu
Art by Phil Noto

X-23 #20 is bittersweet for me. I’ve not reviewed every issue of the series. Unlike the other Nexus writers, I find it difficult to truly judge and review a title month by month, especially with how decompressed story arcs are the past decade. I prefer to check-in and look under the hood every few arcs; if the book is on your pull list, you’re reading it and judging for yourself, if it’s not, well, I don’t think my opinions truly convince you or your wallet (although I know you all listen, and I do value your e-mails and comments and discussions).

I reviewed the the first issue of X-23. I checked in with #13, nearly a year later. And now as I choose to share my thoughts on the book, I can’t deny it’s because it’s ending. X-23 is a unique character to me, which is an odd thing to say about a flat out clone. She was interesting as a bit player in New X-Men and X-Force, and she certainly stood on her own in her prior minis, but it took Marjorie Liu to truly Laura Kinney something independent of the X-Franchise. To quote myself nearly a year ago:

“Liu was able to really bring the vulnerability of the character into play and find more avenues to relatability, and she did it by building off and working with everything that had come before.

It’s a testament to her writing ability she was able to do this. And not only did she make Laura a stronger, independent character, she extended this to her supporting cast – no small feat, considering her supporting cast has it’s own storied history in the X-Universe.”

Liu took X-23 and made sure to pay homage not only to her own past (as seen in NYX), but to her progenator Wolverine’s, as well. She found a new father figure in Wolverine’s on-again-off-again buddy Gambit. She bonded with Jubilee, one of Wolverine’s most iconic sidekicks, and a cross Laura already bore as far as the fans were concerned. Liu made sure that while Laura was on her own journey of self-discovery, we never forgot where X-23 came from, what she did as a New Mutant or on X-Force, and she made sure we never forgot this was still the X-Men universe, throwing in characters like Cecilia Reyes and using them to great effect.

Issue #20 is an epilogue to Lio’s run and Laura’s journey. Bittersweet because I wish this book would go for a few more years, but it’s not the end. Laura is going to start the next chapter of her life at the Avenger’s Academy. Marjorie Liu is going to start the next chapter of her Marvel career tackling the X-Men as a team, in their own book. So while the final panel of this issue (though not the last issue!) gives me a meloncholy twinge, I’m pleased with where the character and writer are going. How are these two ladies closing out this chapter of their lives?

With style and depth, of course.

This issue opens up with something that hits home right away as a longtime reader of the X-Men: A football game. There are many a quiet issue of X-Men I have in my longbins where they’re just playing football, or baseball, or shopping, and while the comic book melodrama is happening in between, the mutants come across as quiet people with their own lives and troubles. Intentional or not, I always consider these moments staples of the X-Men titles.

And so Laura, Jubilee, Gambit, and Iceman bond, all the while the weight of the current X-Men status quo is weighing down on them: in Schism, the team has split. Wolverine and Cyclops are at odds. Laura hasn’t committed to a side yet.

As Jubilee and Laura spend time together to sort it out, Laura’s past comes back to haunt her in the form of a pimp and sex trafficking ring she used to be involved with.

At the end of it all comes an offer she can’t refuse. It’s already been mentioned by Marvel, but here it happens in the book: X-23 gets her Avengers offer.

As X-23 #1 opened, the issue has a lazy, methodical gait to it, and there isn’t much action. But this is the winding down period, and it’s paced perfectly, especially on the heels of the entire run. As usual, Liu’s character moments are crisp and brief, but executed flawlessly and directly with no line or silence wasted.

Longtime X-23 collaborator Phil Noto is, for me, one of the definitive X-23 artists. His clean line and distinct linework has always been a perfect visual fit for Liu’s scripting and architecture. The boldly defined yet sketchy illustrative work is gorgeous. I’ve always been a fan of his figures and clothing rendering, as well as his faces. He doesn’t disappoint here.

Noto colors his own work, and as usual he goes for a bright, varied palette, which has always set X-23 aside from feeling gritty and dirty like you’d expect a Wolverine clone from X-Force to be. The rendering is subtle and clean, and suits Liu’s tone.

The book has always had a vulnerable tint to it, even in quiet scenes, and I largely believe it’s because Liu and Noto are very much on the same page when it comes to working on this book. It’s always felt like a true collaboration, not just Writer With an Artist for sake of sales.

X-23 isn’t over yet, and I will break from form and comment on the final issues of the series before following Laura to Avenger’s Academy and Liu to X-Men. I said before Liu had a hell of a lot to prove when X-23 debuted, and she’s certainly earned it. X-23 herself had the deck stacked against her as a female clone of a popular character, and she’s lucky to have had Liu, as are we.

If you haven’t been reading it, well, now isn’t the time to jump on, but I encourage you to pick up back issues or trades. You’ve been missing out on Marvel’s best solo series and creative teams in recent years. And perhaps you still have time to appreciate the finale the book is headed to, if you catch up.

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