“X-23” #21, the final issue in this ongoing series by Marjorie Liu and Phil Noto, is entirely without words. It would be a bizarre choice for some books and characters, but is a fitting and bold choice for the character of Laura and her book “X-23.”
Readers know by now that Laura has landed with “Avengers Academy” on the West Coast, rather than with either of the X-Men teams. I’m not sure I understand or care for the choice, but it’s nice to see her with a home instead of totally benched. This issue details her road trip of sorts as she heads west. Told without a single word — or even sound effect — the book is a visual tour de force.
Phil Noto masterfully handles the visuals on every level from a basic storytelling aspect to the nuance and depth of Laura’s thoughts and moods. The final result feels somehow both effortless and herculean. Noto continues to excel at finding Laura’s soul and bringing it through clearly to the reader, which is critical with a character as guarded and laconic as Laura. There are a few places where the gutters ask a little much of the reader, but all things considered, the storytelling is phenomenally clear. Noto also shines as an example of how to deal with female characters and nudity in a practical and non-titillating way, as much of the book has Laura nude or in states of undress and without feeling exploitative.
It’s an interesting thing to think about what a writer brings to the table in comics when there are no words. It’s to Liu’s credit that she can plot this story, work with Noto on how it should read and feel and what it needs to deliver, then step back and just let him do it. The final product is a testament to both of them — a true collaboration of artists trusting one another and absolutely succeeding.
It’s a shame to lose this comic as since Liu and Noto teamed up, it’s been a very smart, cool, and beautiful comic. At least fans of the character can be glad she has moved over to “Avengers Academy,” rather than disappearing into character obscurity. Knowing Liu is on “Astonishing X-Men” gives me hope we’ll be seeing Laura in those pages in the future as well.