The X-Men line has long been about found family. Character bonds among mutants isn’t friendly bonds, they’re familial bonds – you can’t tell me the Cyclops/Wolverine rivalry isn’t brotherly. In X-23 #4 though, there’s no metaphor. This is a story about Logans versus Frosts, and neither parent is involved.
In this issue, Mariko Tamaki, Juann Cabal, Nolan Woodard and Cory Petit tell a story about the length one would go for family. From the solicitations, a lot of fans assumed this would be a story about the Stepford Cuckoos going bad. In execution though, there’s so much more here.
Laura Kinney is desperate to save her sister Gabby. The Cuckoos have the device that can transfer Esme’s mind into Gabby’s body, and the story picks up as the machine has turned on. And Laura is too late, as feedback from the machine burns her to a crisp. But it has another side effect- the late Sophie Frost’s mind has found its way into Laura’s body…
Not a lot actually happens in this issue, but a lot happens in this issue. As far as plot goes, this issue only takes place over a very short period of time (at most, an hour, maybe two). However, Tamaki makes this a story all about two sets of sisters, and does a lot with that.
We can see very quickly WHY the Cuckoos are doing what they’re doing. Their actions are selfish and harmful, but they’re not EVIL. It’s an important distinction that Tamaki makes in her script wonderfully.
Laura is given a lot of the same motivations, but her actions are selfless. She’s literally fried down to the bone in her attempt to save Gabby. She’s in an extreme amount of pain afterwards, but that won’t stop her from saving her sister.
Cabal and Woodard are a great team. Cabal has slowly being proving himself as a powerhouse, but this issue is proof. He fills the Cuckoos’ mindscape with little injokes and callbacks to the past. He even imitates several other artists styles in several panels to evoke their past.
His version of Laura is fantastic too. She’s fierce, she’s determined and she’s ANGRY. It works best as she’s regenerating from a nearly skeletal state, but she still climbs to her feet with an angry grimace. It’s the best sequence of the issue, and a testament of Cabal’s strength as an artist.
Woodard’s color art matches the tone so well. In the Cuckoo’s mindscape, he colors the scene as if the only light source is a TV. He gives Laura’s burnt skin the paleness of burnt and raw tissue. It looks so great.
Petit’s makes some great choices to add to the immediacy of the story. His placement of balloons, and the size of the text makes everything seem like it happens quickly, and that there’s a lot of noise.
I did not want to like this series at first, and I regret that. This is a great addition to the X-Men canon, and it might be my favorite new Marvel book.
X-23 #4 is available now from Marvel Comics.