X-23 #16 picks up right in the middle of the action of Issue 15, with Valeria Richards possessed by the King of Whirldemons, bent on bringing the rest of his people through a portal in Reed Richards’ lab and onto Earth. By possessing her, he’s holding Valeria hostage, threatening her life in exchanging for her parents doing what he wants. Laura turns the tables on him, however, when she offers herself in exchange for Valeria, then brings him back into his world instead of allowing his people to cross over into hers. Once in the dimension of the Whirldemons, she must fight for her own life, as well as protect the world from the return of the demon king.
This issue is an important turning point for Laura, as Liu continues to slowly guide her away from the weapon she was into the hero she’s becoming. Laura’s narration at the beginning of the comic states, “Life was simpler when I had no choice but to kill. Simpler when I did not realize there was a choice.” However, while not knowing she had a choice may have indeed been “simpler,” that doesn’t mean that Laura shies away from the choices when she has to make them. When she sees a chance to say Valeria, a child, she doesn’t hesitate, even though she knows she may be sacrificing her own life in the process. She also resists the control of the demon king, unwilling to be controlled like she has been in the past. While having a choice may not be the easiest way to live, Laura has realized and accepted that it’s the way she must live, and she’s willing to trade ease for a struggle if it means she’s able to do what’s right. It’s the mark of a true hero, and what makes X-23 so compelling. Against all odds, she’s been able to grow, to discover who she really is, and in that process, become something better than what she was once meant to be.
At the same time, however, it doesn’t go forgotten that X-23 is, technically, still not more than a child. Even with all she’s done and seen, there’s a part of her that’s still very much a little girl, searching for a home and acceptance. Sue Richards’ maternal instincts allow her to pick up on that in a way many other characters cannot, and it makes for a very touching scene between the two of them towards the end of this issue. To Sue, Laura is not a weapon, but a girl without a mother. As Sue says to her, “You must forget how young you really are,” and while Laura has, Sue has not. It’s a good reminder of how young Laura actually is, and how much strength she’s demonstrated to come as far as she has in life.
Phil Noto’s art has consistently been a strong pairing with the quality writing, and this issue is certainly no exception to that. His work is particularly good in the scenes in the realm of the Whirldemons, with Laura’s star-inspired change of form contrasting beautifully against the red, barren landscape. His ability to draw Laura as a teenage girl who looks like a teenage girl is a welcome sight in mainstream comics, and one that helps the character to stand on the merits of her strength above all else.
Sara McDonald started reading comics in the third grade, and now puts her English degree to good use talking about them on the Internet. She currently resides in Western Massachusetts with a roommate, three cats, and an action figure collection and spends the time she isn’t reading comics working for a non-profit. You can visit her blog at Ms. Snarky’s Awesometastic Comics Blog.