After seventeen years of X-Men movies and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, this weekend we finally get to see another clawed mutant on the big screen – X-23. Logan, Jackman’s final outing in the X-Men universe, sees an older Logan in a nearly mutant-free world, teaming up with Charles Xavier (Sir Patrick Stewart) to help a new mutant who is suspiciously similar to Wolverine himself. The film combines elements of the Old Man Logan comic series with the character of X-23 (Dafne Keen), and based on the hugely positive critical response, it’s looking like a smash hit for Jackman’s final ride.
While a lot of the attention around the film focuses on Wolverine himself, for obvious reasons, fans are just as excited to see X-23 finally make her live-action debut. Many are speculating that X-23 could be poised to take Logan’s place in the X-Men universe (just as she did in the comics), and even director James Mangold is predicting future appearances of this incredible character. But who is X-23, really? Since her first appearance in 2004, we’ve seen X-23 aka Laura Kinney grow up and take on the Wolverine mantle, and now we’re breaking down her tragic backstory ahead of Logan‘s release this weekend.
X-23’s origin was explained in the 2004 mini-series X-23: Innocence Lost, which takes Laura Kinney from conception to independence, with a whopping helping of tragedy along the way.
Laura, unlike most of the other mutants, was created in a lab – built to be a mutant with the same powers as Wolverine. The ominously-named ‘Facility’ is where she was first conceived, a lab where attempts were being made to clone Wolverine/Weapon X from a recovered sample of his DNA. These attempts failed, however, as the sample was incomplete. It was the work of brilliant geneticist Sarah Kinney that finally made the project a success, when she combined her own DNA with that of the sample to create a genetic replica with near-identical powers to the original Wolverine. This ‘clone’ became labelled X-23, although her mother, Sarah, secretly named her Laura.
X-23 was trained from birth to be an assassin, abused and exposed to a ‘trigger scent’ that would cause her to lose all control and give in to a brutal and violent rage. The organization used this trigger scent to have her kill her sensei, as well as to pimp her out as a sought-after eleven year old super-assassin.
Eventually, her mother realized that she needed to free Laura and when she learns that the Facility has created more clones, intending to train them the same way, she decides that she has to take them out too. X-23 manages to destroy the facility and the clones, but as she escapes she discovers one more surprise that the people who created her have in store: they have put her trigger scent on her mother. Sarah dies in Laura’s arms, killed by her own daughter, before X-23 escapes.
Target X: The Goth Years
With a childhood like that, it is no wonder that X-23’s teen years were somewhat tumultuous. In NYX, where X-23 first appeared, she is a teen prostitute, specializing in using her claws on clients who enjoy it. More of her early teen years are explored in the Target X miniseries, however, a story that picks up where Innocence Lost left off. After the tragic loss of her mother, Laura has gained her freedom, but is still being hunted down by the people who made her as well as her ‘handler’, Kimura. Kimura, an enhanced human and incredibly sadistic woman, doesn’t just want to bring X-23 in – she also delights in hurting her as much as possible. On the run, Laura finds her mother’s relatives – an aunt (Debbie) and cousin (Megan) – and moves in with them.
Here, Laura tries to build a normal life (if one with some very goth fashion choices!), but she struggles to cope with this new world. Talking about her training in school gets her suspended, and she cannot find a way to fit in with teens her own age. Before she can truly settle in, however, Kimura tracks her down. After watching Kimura nearly kill Debbie and Megan, and nearly killing them herself when her trigger scent is used, Laura realizes that she cannot have a normal life.
She leaves to try and hunt down Logan, heartbroken at his role in her creation, determined to kill him and then commit suicide herself. After an epic battle between these two mutants, Logan is able to talk Laura down, explaining that her mother sent him a letter explaining everything, and offering to help her find out what she can become. Their conversation is interrupted by SHIELD, who want to discover who she is, and X-23 is taken in by Captain America for questioning. When she explains everything that has happened in her life, Steve Rogers debates turning her over to SHIELD, but ends up deciding that she should return to Logan and take him up on his offer of mentorship.
In the years since X-23 came to Logan, a lot has changed. She spent several years still fairly lost, struggling to cope with who she is and forge a relationship with Wolverine (who she still reacts violently to, at times). Her relationship with her genetic ‘father’ deepens into an incredibly intense (platonic) love, and Wolverine becomes one of the few people that she really lets past her emotional walls.
She enrolled at Xavier’s school, and although she already knew how to control her abilities, it was here that she learned how to control herself, and heal from her horrific childhood. She had been in various X-Men teams, a member of X-Force, and even appeared in Avengers Academy before returning to her X-Men roots. After the death of Wolverine, X-23 was heartbroken, and took up his mantle to honor the man who was like a father to her.
How Does This Fit Into Logan?
How much of this complex backstory are we likely to see in Logan? While it is highly unlikely that we will see X-23’s background explained in detail, the basic elements of her story are still present. She is a genetic replica of Wolverine, and we can assume that she was created under similar circumstances with a tragic backstory and an abusive upbringing. The details of how she will find Logan will be different, of course (and there is no chance that Captain America will be picking her up for questioning!).
The most important element of the comic X-23 that we are going to see, however, is her intense relationship with Logan himself. Logan is a very character-driven film, where relationships are in the spotlight, and Logan as a father figure to his young clone is going to be a key part of the dynamic. It’s likely that X-23’s story will take a backseat to Logan’s, though, as Wolverine says goodbye to this cinematic universe. There is going to be plenty of time in the future to fully explore Laura Kinney’s backstory on the big screen, and we’re hoping that she could get an origins movie of her own – a female-fronted spin off that continues to grow the R-rated side of the X-Men universe.