By: Marjorie Liu (writer), Ryan Stegman (pencils), Michael Babinski (inks), John Rauch (colors), Cory Petit (letters), Jody Leheup (assistant editor) & Jeanine Schaefer (editor)

The Story: X-23 goes to Madripoor to talk to Daken, who she thinks has some clues about a “new” restart to the Weapon X program.

Importance of art in comics: What a difference really stellar art makes!  I’ve been following X-23 from the beginning and haven’t loved it.  In out internet world where everything has to be an extreme statement of some sort, not “loving something” often is taken to mean that something “sucks”, but that isn’t the case at all.  X-23 has been “okay”.  But, when you have a pull list that never gets below 60 titles and sometimes inches into the 80s, you’re always looking for titles you can drop to try out that sexy-looking new creator-owned title or all those Fear Itself tie-ins.  But, when you put a really stellar artist like Stegman on the title, I suddenly care about the entire X-23 story more than I did before and I might keep getting it after he moves of just to see if I still like it.

What’s Good: When you feel the need to have a separate aside in the review about the art, obviously the art is good.  Stegman’s storytelling is impeccable and that is something that gets overlooked when reviewing comics.  His degree of difficulty is pretty high on a story like this with much of the action being cat-and-mouse stuff going on in the darkness of Madripoor.  It is very easy for those scenes to get away from an artist and have it suddenly be unclear which characters are in a panel or what they are doing.  Stegman even ratchets up the degree of difficulty by doing lots of really tight shots in these panels.  It’s also nice to see Stegman handing material that is a little darker.  Most of his earlier Marvel work had a light-hearted tone to it (Sif, She-Hulks, etc.), so it’s neat to see that he can do something gritty too.  And, of course, it goes without saying that Stegman draws very pretty women (great eyes).  I’m sure we all can tell what kind of scribbles were in his notebooks in high school!

The story is pretty fun too.  It makes a lot of sense that X-23 and Daken would come into conflict as X is continuing her struggle against forces trying to restart the Weapon X program (more on that below) and thinks that Daken knows something about it.  At times, both are in the midst of full-blown identify crises due to their clone/son relationships with Wolverine and are both trying to escape his shadow and become their own person.  Daken is kinda like X’s slightly evil and much older step-brother.  It’ll be fun to watch these two interact as the story unfolds.

What’s Not So Good: Really?  Weapon X?  Again?  I’m really getting sick of every Wolverine-universe having bad guys with a nefarious plan to restart the Weapon X program.  It’s kinda like how I get sick of Cap stories where some evil scientist is trying to recreate the Super Soldier Serum.

I’m also not a big fan of Gambit’s inclusion in this series.  I just don’t like Gambit and tend to downgrade every X-story where he is involved.  That is very much a personal preference issue that goes back a long way to when Gambit debuted in Uncanny #266.  I always thought he was a stupid character and resented how all the little boys enjoyed him.  So, while I’m aware that my dislike of Gambit is very much an old man yelling, “Get off my lawn with your purple knee pads, stick, trench coat and overblown accent,” I’m the one writing this review and I don’t like Gambit.  So there!

Finally, I resent that this story is crossing over with the Daken title because I just don’t think doing crossovers between two low-sales titles is the way to go.  Fact: A title like X-23 just isn’t going to have a long publication run in today’s market.  It’s going to get 12 (maybe 18) issues?  Daken can perhaps hang in there longer, but the truth is that both of these characters are C-list and (IMHO) the best way to build them up is to give them a really strong 10-20 issue run on their own title that is easy to read in back-issues.  Even though this stuff will get collected into a trade paperback, you still want people to be able to easily buy the back issues without finding out that they missed those stray issues of another series that fills in the story.

Conclusion: If you set aside the stupid crossover with Daken (the series, not the character) and the presence of Gambit (who is dumb and just following X around in story), you have a neat story that fits X-23’s character really well combined with awesome art by Ryan Stegman & Michael Babinski.  Well worth checking out!

Grade: B

– Dean Stell

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