Posted on Wednesday, April 19, 2017
by Paul in x-axis
Despite the title, this really has very little to do with the original “Enemy of the State” storyline by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. There’s the very loose general idea of Wolverine being used as a weapon… but in this six-issue storyline, that phase lasts for less than an issue. After all, the schtick of Laura as a brainwashed human weapon has been done. It’s her origin story.
Laura’s back story is not what you’d call subtle. It is relentlessly grim. You may have seen it recently being used in the Logan film, which is, shall we say, on the melancholy side as superhero movies go.
But compared to the original, movie Laura’s story is noticeably cheered up. She’s still institutionalised, but some of the staff are at least shown trying to give the children birthday parties and the like. She’s been created as a weapon but never successfully used as one. She’s killed, but apparently only the baddies who were holding her prisoner. All the stuff about the trigger scent is completely absent. Plus, by positioning her alongside an ageing Logan on his last ride, she essentially becomes the optimistic symbol of the next generation.
And all of this is for the best, because the original stories are one-dimensional. Softening them is no bad thing. Particularly in the last couple of years, and since taking over the Wolverine title, Laura has drifted from her original, flat-affect persona and been given an older sister role with Gabby, a cheerful younger clone of herself who helps to bring out other sides in Laura. “Enemy of the State II” feels like a story designed to reconcile this take on Laura with the original, but mainly in order to emphasise the distance and draw a line under that part of the character.
The story involves somebody harassing Laura with the trigger scent from old X-23 stories, which can be used to drive her into an uncontrollable killing frenzy. After apparently wiping out a small town, Laura hands herself over to SHIELD but quickly does a runner so that she and Gabby can track down the culprits in Madripoor. That turns out to be Kimura, the handler who probably qualifies as Laura’s personal arch-enemy, who has Bellona in pay (as well as Roughhouse, for some reason), and is planning a takeover of Madripoor with Laura as a weapon. But when Laura actually gets sent on a mission, Gabby and Gambit show up to drag her away before anything too bad can happen, and then Jean Grey helps cure Laura in time for her to beat Kimura and win the day. There’s a whole subplot about child smuggling in there too, but that’s basically a device to keep other characters occupied while Laura is running around with Kimura.
Nik Virella, who draws most of the arc, is pretty impressive. She gets the still-waters side of Laura well, and she does some great storytelling for the set pieces like Laura fighting her way out of a plane in flight. I’d be happy to see more of her work. The final issue is a bit more scrappy, but that might be because there are so many characters wandering around. Djibril Morisette-Phan, who covers parts 3 and 5, is rougher around the edges, and gives everyone a slightly harsher look, but it still gets the job done.
The general thrust of the story is sound. In 2017, many writers would just have taken the view that stuff like the trigger scent hasn’t been mentioned in a good few years and could be allowed to fade into obscurity. It’s rather welcome to see Taylor go out of his way to close it off, but then he’s got an angle on it, which is to emphasise Laura’s growth and give her the satisfaction of definitively overcoming her tormentors. But some of the details aren’t quite as successful.
Fair enough, Kimura is a completely one-note character. That’s not a problem. She’s there as the personification of the otherwise-absent Facility, to give Laura somebody to beat. She’s the symbol of everything Laura is meant to be transcending here, so depth is the last thing she needs. But Bellona’s role is a bit more obscure; perhaps she’s meant to be the Laura who failed to transcend and surrendered to her destiny, but she’s still independent-minded enough for that not to work, and the story never really gives her very much to do that plays into the main plot.
There’s a plain effort to make sure that Laura never actually kills anyone in this arc, presumably to avoid saddling her with anything more to atone for, in the story which is supposed to mark her finally transcending her origin. It’s fudged reasonably well with the small town (it turns out that Laura didn’t actually kill them in a red mist, because she took herself out when she saw the gas coming), but feels a bit contrived when it gets to Tyger Tiger’s guards. And there’s a weird overload of extra characters, particularly in the last couple of issues, which feels like it’s reaching for the epic scale of Millar’s “Enemy of the State” – Jean is required by the plot, but does this story really need Gambit and Nick Fury?
Then there’s the deprogramming issue. I go back and forth on whether this works. It’s intended to get rid of the trigger scent once and for all by establishing that it no longer has any effect. But I’m not sure about the way it’s done. The basic idea of Gabby putting herself forward as the guinea pig in order to try and break through to Laura is good; but at one issue it feels rushed, perhaps because Jean shows up just for the purpose. And it’s never really clear why somebody couldn’t have done this years ago – you can rationalise it as saying that Laura needed to get so far on her own before Jean could help her over the line, or that Gabby is the game-changer, but either way it could have been played up more successfully.
My reservations here, I think, are that I want this to be a small-scale character story and Tom Taylor wants it to be an epic, and that results in it spiralling a little bit out of control at times. But there’s still plenty of good stuff in here, and this remains one of the most consistently enjoyable X-books.