Liu Leads "X-23" to Self Discovery

Sometimes, the bravest and best thing you can do for yourself is quit, and the title character of Marvel Comics' "X-23" is a perfect example of this. Laura Kinney wasn't really born so much as she was created in a clandestine government program whose goal was to create a killing machine as dangerous as the Weapon X program's Wolverine. Cloning seemed like the easiest route to achieve this goal, however the genetic material available made only a female clone viable. And so, X-23 was born.

X-23's masters wanted a weapon, not a person, and in order to achieve this goal, they began subjecting her to appalling physical and emotional abuse starting at the age of seven. Once she became a teenager, the program arranged for an incident to occur which ended with X-23 killing the doctor who served as her surrogate mother. This traumatic experience awoke Laura's emotions and gave her the strength to "quit" the program and escape her government tormentors. After spending time living on the street, X-23 sought out and eventually joined the X-Men.

She served the X-Men with distinction, but recently has come to realize she had fallen back into old patterns. While the X-Men treated her very well, she had basically traded one military style organization for another. Recently, a demonically possessed Wolverine reached out to X-23 through her dreams in an attempt to turn her into his chief enforcer. X-23 was able to resist his allure, but the experience caused her to realize that she needed to quit the X-Men and head off on a voyage of self discovery.

In December's "X-23" #4, writer Marjorie Liu and artist Will Conrad kick off their protagonist's journey. CBR News spoke with with Liu about the story and her plans for the series as we head into the new year.

CBR News: Marjorie, It seems to me that when X-23 joined the X-Men, she basically accepted that she was what everyone told her she was when she was growing up: a killer. She essentially joined the team as a way of putting her violent skill set and powers to work for a good cause. Now, in the first arc of her solo series, it seems like she made the decision to stop being what everyone says she is and figure out who actually she is?

Marjorie Liu: Yes, I think that's correct. I'd like to add, too, that when she joined the X-Men, she was lost - she had no family, no "pack structure" to depend on - and she had come from a very structured environment. She was psychologically attached to a military organization. It was how she was raised. That's not something you free yourself from with any ease.

But she began to break that conditioning because she joined the X-Men. Not so much because they treated her well, but because she saw that other people were treated well. She witnessed interpersonal interactions that weren't forced or structured, she saw that individual expression was something to be valued, that thinking for one's self was expected - and so on.

It's her turn now to be own her person, to find out who she can be, as opposed to who everyone thinks she is.

Laura made the decision to be her own person in "X-23" #3, a choice that allowed her to awaken from a dangerous dream. When she did wake up, there was a mysterious brand on her palm. Is there anything you can say about that? Will we learn more about it shortly or is this going to be a long term type of mystery?

It's going to be a long term mystery. For now, it serves as a reminder to X-23 that she owns her life.

Now that Laura has made her decision on how to look at her past and how to handle her future, we're wondering how much anger X-23 harbors over what was done to her. Do you think she's properly dealt with that anger? Or is that one of the things we'll see over this course of this title?

No, I don't think she's dealt with that anger. I'm not sure it has occurred to her yet to be angry. But that's coming.

In issue #3, Laura made her departure from the X-Men and their home base of Utopia. When she leaves, it appears the only person she stops to look in on is Hellion. Why is that? How much does Julian meant to her?

In some ways, he's the closest thing she has to a first love. Not the typical first love, but maybe her first crush. As seen in Issue #3, the scientists who raised X-23 tried to break her by giving her things to love - and then making her kill them. They actively tried to destroyed her ability to feel empathy, but in reality, all they managed to do was make her associate love with death, love with destruction. Any love X-23 has ever felt, she has been forced to destroy. So falling in love is a frightening thing to her. Or maybe "frightening" is the wrong word. It's more something she avoids. Not even consciously. Because deep in her psyche, very deep, love is associated with bad things.

When X-23 does develop feelings for others, she doesn't know it's love. It's a fascination, an obsession. It's going to be a long time before she's able to have a healthy relationship with anyone, let alone a boy.

Laura may have left Utopia, but it looks like at least one X-Man is still going to be playing a role in her life in the months ahead. What made you feel Gambit was a good fit for her title?

I've always loved Gambit as a character, but I wouldn't have brought him into the book unless I thought he had something to offer "X-23." We've got two characters who are orphans and who are both coping with abilities and instincts that they don't entirely understand. X-23 is a child soldier. Raised to fight, kill and to not feel anything when she kills. She's been raised to have one purpose, and was totally dehumanized as a result. She's finally learning how to be her own person, but it's a slow process because everything that doesn't have to do with fighting and killing is out of her comfort zone.

None of that happened to Gambit, but he's got his own demons. He's done horrible things in his life that he's had to atone for. He knows what it's like to make the wrong decision and then pay for it. He takes responsibility for his life, and even though his choices don't always turn out for the best, he owns them, accepts them. He's his own man. He doesn't let people tell him what to do.

That independence and ability to choose his own fate, to make a life for himself, is something that he can teach X-23. He's a good role model for her. He won't preach. He won't judge. Because he's been there, he's done bad things. But he also knows that your life doesn't have to be defined by those actions.

How would you describe the initial dynamic between Laura and Gambit? Is she happy to run into him now that she's left the X-Men?

I think she's wary when they cross paths. He is one of the X-Men, and she's trying to be free of them. But Gambit, in small ways and large, is going to show her that he's not there to give her orders. He's just there. For her. And that's a big difference. Very few people have ever just been present for her, in case she needs them, with no strings attached.

And let's not forget, too, that Laura,while a loner in her heart, is not accustomed to being entirely alone.

In terms of plot and themes what is this next story arc of "X-23" about?

It's about making choices, continuing with this idea that no matter what you're programmed to be, if the will is strong enough, you can choose to become someone else. You are the captain of your ship, master of your destiny.

It looks like the antagonist for the next story is Miss Sinister. What is it that makes Claudine Renko a good foil for X-23?

Everything. They're both clones. Both forced into this life they find themselves in. The difference comes down to the choices they've made.

What else can readers expect from the upcoming storyline?

Most of the story will unfold in just one location, somewhere deep in the American Southwest. It's going to have a - I want to say a fairytale feel - but that's not quite right. When I think of Miss Sinister in this story, though, she's definitely the Dark Queen of her realm.

How many parts is this second arc of "X-23" and what comes after it? Are you able to hint or tease any of your plans for Laura in the new year?

The second arc is three issues long, but the thing about these stories is that they're all going to bleed into one another. You can read them as standalone arcs, but if you stick with the book, you'll find that all the stories belong together and serve to build upon and expand X-23's mythology. As for plans in the new year: Pirates, Madripoor and Daken!

Any final thoughts you would like to share about "X-23?"

I'd like to thank readers for being so supportive of this opening run. It means a lot.

Finally some of your "X-23" readers might not realize that you're also a prose novelist. Is there any other upcoming work, comic related or otherwise that fans of your comics should be on the look out for?

My latest paranormal romantic thriller was just released from HarperCollins. "In the Dark of Dreams" is part of my Dirk & Steele series, but it's a standalone about a girl who meets a boy on a beach, only, he's not human. He's a merboy, born from the sea. Their meeting creates a psychic bond that allows them to speak to each other in dreams, and that tenuous contact keeps them both alive as they experience tremendous hardships in their respective lives. When they do finally meet again, years later, it's under terrible circumstances: betrayal, exile, dark magic, pirates, sea monsters.

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