Something occurred to me after I read this volume. Laura “Wolverine” Kinney hasn’t killed anyone over the course of “All-New Wolverine.” Stabbed and knocked out a bunch of people, yes, but she hasn’t been directly responsible for any of the actual deaths that have happened in this run. A Wolverine series where the title character doesn’t murder any bad guys? I never thought I’d see the day, let alone witness the series in question be any good.
That’s exactly what we’ve had in “All-New Wolverine” (mostly) and this volume is another worthy entry. It starts off with Laura finding out that her brother, after a fashion, Daken has been kidnapped. The trail leads her back to the facility where she was born and raised to be a killer, and to someone she never thought she’d see again. It’s all part of the plan from a group known as the Orphans of X, people who have all lost someone to a “Wolverine” and the violence that follows in their wake.
Several years back, Jason Aaron did a story during his run called “Wolverine’s Revenge.” It was the culmination of a storyline he was doing where a group called The Red Right Hand sent Logan’s soul to Hell, had his demon-possessed body fight the X-Men, and set him up to kill a bunch of his own bastard children without realizing it. When he finally confronted them, they all committed suicide rather than give him the satisfaction of vengeance.
History tells me that I liked that story, even if my memory recalls it being pretty damn grim. “Orphans of X” is a lot more palatable as it jettisons that story’s darkness and works towards something a lot more hopeful. While the Orphans initially come off as your garden-variety group of bad guys, complete with really goofy facemasks, their motives are quite understandable. The main reason they come off as villains here is because their actions are directed towards the sympathetic and heroic title character.
Now, the vast majority of this volume involves the kind of action and adventure you’d expect from a “Wolverine” comic. It’s all executed pretty well too, from Daken’s violent escape from captivity to Laura’s reconnection with her family, and the entire cast taking off to Japan to find a legendary smith. There are parts where things threaten to get more dark than they should, but writer Tom Taylor handles the narrative with a light touch throughout. Usually through Gabby, whose comic sensibilities continue to work well within the series. Especially when Daken winds up giving her a proper codename.
Where this volume rises above convention is in its climax. After Laura realizes who she’s actually fighting here, she comes to the conclusion that violence won’t solve anything. She’s going to have to talk to them and plead her case that she and her family are more than the killers that the Orphans think they are. I… was not expecting to ever see a scene like this in a “Wolverine” comic. It’s a testament to how well Taylor has written Laura over the course of his run that it feels completely believable that she’d try to negotiate with people who’ve been trying to kill her, as well as the man’s writing skills in regards to how well-reasoned her argument is.
Some may argue that it’s too hopeful and that the mega-happy ending is too easily achieved. I think that’s tempered by the bit of message manipulating Laura does in order to make sure her argument is heard and accepted. This includes gathering contact info on the Orphans for potential blackmail later, and sending away two of the indefensible mutants who were taken captive because their presence doesn’t fit the narrative she’s trying to sell. Much as I’d like to believe that Laura would be able to convince these people through the rightness of her message, it feels more realistic that she’d have to edit out the parts of it that don’t fit in order to get it across.
Helping everything in that regard is the art from Juann Cabal. This is the first I’ve seen of this artist and he’s pretty phenomenal. There’s an impressive level of detail to his characters that enhances their expressiveness, particularly with characters who get to run the emotional gamut in this volume like Gabby and Daken. Cabal aso has an incredible amount of style to his work as well. The opening issue features Laura going back to the facility where she was “raised” and we see her memory come alive in the walls and floors of the building as familiar scenes from the “X-23” miniseries are re-enacted. There are also a couple points where he breaks out 12-panel grids in ways that’re just amazing to look at and absorb how the information on the page is being presented to the reader in a clear and informative fashion (including how one of the panels is used to cover Daken’s junk). Along with all this, the man can also stage some really impressive fight scenes, especially the one where Laura and company take on The Hand.
There are some continuity niggles -- I must’ve missed the storyline where Daken stopped being one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen -- but “Orphans of X” is still a fantastic story. Probably the best of Taylor’s run so far. I’ve kind of resigned myself to expecting that the best I’ll see in superhero comics from the Big Two is a worthwhile execution of familiar tropes or having a long-term plan come together in a satisfying way. This volume of “All-New Wolverine” shows that sometimes you can get something new by putting a different character in a familiar role. I wish Laura Kinney would stay Wolverine forever after a story like this, but some things are just too good to last.