A barrage of tantalizing still photos paid off with an intense teaser-trailer, which framed the darker-edged story of James Mangold’s Logan perfectly through Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt”. The third film in the Wolverine trilogy is headed to theaters next March, and also signifies the last time Aussie Hugh Jackman will don the adamantium skeleton and claws of the titular hero. In spite of the grim premise, the slow burn of promo shots have revealed some hope for the future buried in the R-rated X-Men flick, Laura Kinney.
The subtext to the bleak, near-future (2024, supposedly) setting implies that Wolverine and Professor X have a vital mandate: they’re charged with safeguarding one of the few remaining young mutants – well-worthy of a cancelled semi-retirement. Their path won’t be easy, though, as it’s beset on all sides by violent, anti-mutant advocates like Donald Pierce and his Reavers. Protecting their young ward, Laura Kinney (a.k.a. X-23), could cost both popular mutants their very lives. So who is Laura, and what makes her so very special?
Daughter of Wolverine?
Created by Craig Kyle, Laura’s first appearance came not in the pages of Marvel comics but on the short-lived animated show, X-Men: Evolution (2000-2004). Introduced during the third season episode “X-23,” Laura Kinney was originally a pseudo-villainous character used by Hydra as a ruthless assassin. In the series, she attacked her genetic duplicate, Wolverine, believing he was responsible for her brutal childhood conditioning. Later, she broke her programing and, had Evolution continued, would have joined up with Professor Charles Xavier’s mutant family. Although the show never dealt with the gory details of her past (it was aimed at kids, after all), the comic books filled in the backstory quite handily.
Laura Kinney was cloned from a damaged sample of Wolverine’s DNA by a top-secret program known as The Facility, which sought to replicate the Weapon X program – responsible for Wolverine, Deadpool, and Sabretooth, among others. The young X-23 was the 23rd attempt to recreate Wolverine from a sample which was missing the male Y-chromosome. Laura’s ‘mother,’ brilliant geneticist Dr. Sarah Kinney, insisted the clone remain genetically female as well, much to her superior, Dr. Zander Rice’s dismay. As revenge for Kinney’s insubordination, the twisted lab head forced her to carry the X-23 to term.
A clone of Wolverine, Laura has nearly identical powers to those of her unwitting genetic donor. She’s capable of hyper-accelerated healing, has amplified senses, and a superhuman immune system. In addition to her adamantium-augmented skeleton (much like her genetic dupe Logan), she wields two (rather than three) claws on each hand, as well as a single spike on each foot. X-23 also possesses superior strength, combat reflexes, and is extensively trained in the martial arts and all manner of weapons of war.
Raised to be a deadly assassin, Dr. Rice exposed Laura to poison at the tender age of 7, which awoke her latent abilities. He also bonded her skeleton and claws to adamantium without the aid of anesthesia (so yeah, real nice guy). Her handler Kimura pushed X-23 mercilessly to become a vicious killer, while The Facility programmed a ‘trigger scent’ into her which induces a murderous rage, just for good measure.
During Laura’s teenage years, her surrogate mother Dr. Kinney hatched a plot to finally depose her murderous Boss, after Rice had X-23 take out their colleague Dr. Martin Sutter and his family. Kinney instructed her ‘daughter’ to eliminate him and destroy the remaining vats containing the clone’s potential ‘siblings.’ Unfortunately, before Dr. Rice expired, he activated Laura’s kill scent, and when she met up with her foster mother, she killed her in a frenzy. Kinney’s final act was to tell X-23 that she loved her and reveal her given name as Laura, in addition to conducting her to safe harbor – the Xavier Institute.
Much of Laura Kinney’s early stories dealt with her murderous past and her attempts to escape it (not an uncommon Marvel theme), as well as embracing herself as she sought to become positive force. In later years, X-23 came into her own under the tutelage of her male genetic twin and father-figure, Wolverine, along with other members of the X-Men. She was also one of the few mutants to retain her abilities after the “House of M”/”Decimation” events, where Scarlet Witch de-powered most of mutant-kind.
After nearly a decade (real-world time), Marvel stunned a few diehards in 2015 by announcing that Laura would take on the Wolverine mantle after Secret Wars, which had been vacant since Logan’s death in 2014. While Old Man Logan kept a James Howlett presence alive in the Marvel Universe, Laura ran double duty as All-New Wolverine, while also picking up a tour in the All-New X-Men – which featured the younger, “time-displaced” versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman, and Angel (one of the few people she’s been romantically linked to).
Over the years, Laura also discovered that she has a sizeable if peculiar family tree, including two half-brothers, Daken and Erista, several deceased sisters (such as Zelda), and two known living sisters, Bellona and Gabrielle, among other more obscure or alternate-reality relatives. As her adventures continue to roller-coaster her life, Laura looks after her youngest ‘sibling,’ Gabby, while trying to atone for her past and create a better future for her extended family and all humanity.
At this point, Laura Kinney will be the first member of the Wolverine family tree to make it into FOX’s X-Men universe. The real question is, how will X-23’s presence impact Logan and the Wolverine saga in future.
What Laura Kinney Means for Logan
According to what can be gleaned from the trailer and teasers, Laura is portrayed as very young and almost feral at times, which is appropriate for her early characterization. One of the most significant aspects of her existence in the bleak, near-future of Logan (can we officially call him Old Man Logan now?) is her youth and mutant abilities during a time where mutants appear to be fading out of existence thanks to an unknown cause or causes. As one of the few perhaps recently-‘born’ mutants, Laura signifies a chance to carry on the species, and, if we follow the breadcrumbs left by the promos and possible source material to their logical conclusion, X-23 may represent a savior to mutant-kind in the film. If nothing else, she’s an X-gene-enhanced ray of sunshine in an otherwise murky future.
At this point, it’s unclear how closely Logan will follow Laura Kinney’s origin story, or whether she’ll even be Wolverine’s clone for that matter. Although their genetic relationship is one of her defining early features, nothing is set in stone at this point. Glimpses of claw-on-claw violence in the trailer could indicate some father-daughter ‘bonding.’ However, if she is a chip off the old block, Laura may play a major role in both the upcoming film and the future of FOX’s ‘Singer-verse.’
Of course, there are a few technical difficulties in importing X-23 into other films. For instance, Logan supposedly takes place in the near-future, and Laura appears to be a pre-teen throughout it. The next round of X-Men films, at least following the X-Men: First Class Trilogy, are rumored to be anchored in the 90s, some 30 years in the past. Back then, X-23 wasn’t even be a wink in an incubator’s eye.
Clearly, FOX isn’t averse to fudging with the timeline on occasion (see X-Men: Days of Future Past as just once instance). If they so desire, some device or powerful mutant sends her back in time to stop the whatever tragedy dwindles the mutant populace in Logan. Or perhaps she’ll slip through some temporal-event horizon to join up with the New Mutants or the grittier X-Force (which X-23 ran with at one point).
Aside from a potentially perplexing temporal issue, X-23’s presence may also sound an ominous note in the already dark sequel. As Hugh Jackman’s supposed final round, Logan could mean the end of Wolverine as we know him. Promotional material has already teased his relatively frail condition and fading healing powers. If this is Jackman’s final bow as the Canadian-born samurai-berserker, FOX could take a page from the source material. Rather than casting a new Wolverine – a daunting prospect for sure – they could pass his mantle on to his comic book successor, Laura Kinney.
At this point, all of this is merely speculation. Dafne Keen’s Laura Kinney may have an entirely different backstory in the film or be a one-off future version of X-23. Heck, Hugh Jackman could even decide to stick around for another film or two. If he does depart as planned, though, FOX may also retire Wolverine or replace him with a younger actor. With a pre-established Wolverine-to-X-23 inheritance already in place, though, it will be interesting to see how X-23 impacts Logan and future X-Men films in general. One way or another, Laura Kinney could have a major role to play in both the film and comic book worlds for some time.