(Orphans of X Part 6)
Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Juann Cabal
Colors: Nolan Woodard
Cover: Dan Mora & Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Published: January 31, 2017
For anyone who was worried that Marvel Legacy would disrupt what Tom Taylor has been working one in the All-New Wolverine book, can probably stop (for the moment) after the conclusion of the Orphans of X arc. Apart from a brief tie-in to the Civil War II event, Laura (and Gabby) have been able to work unimpeded in their own corner of the Marvel universe and Taylor has been able to develop their motivations and principals without having to bend toward some larger corporate approved event. This doesn’t imply that every issue or arc is great, the couple issues before Legacy where Gabby turned into a giant space bug were maybe some of the worst, but overall Wolverine and the Honey Badger are absolutely headed in the right direction. Issue #29 was (in my opinion) one of these down issues, and as a weaker part of this arc, raised some concerns about wether the story would honor recent developments for Laura and Gabby. The conclusion seemed to bend towards conflict and further death, which they have tried to avoid if/when possible. Any fears though, were almost immediately assuaged in the opening couple of pages when Laura says, “We need to own what we’ve been a party to.” This sets the tone for the whole issue, which is one of empathy and understanding instead of further violence and pain. After reviving Daken, Old Man Logan, Lady Deathstrike, and Sabretooth, by cutting the Murumasa bullets out of their heads, the group moves deeper into the facility and captures a member of the orphans. This person explains how the group communicates over email and that the source of their frustration came from the reaction to what occurred on Roosevelt Island. This was an event where Laura, Gabby, Daken, Deadpool, Old Man Logan, and others stopped the spread of an alien virus by touching those affected and transferring their healing abilities. It was a very public event for which Laura and everyone involved received a lot of favorable media attention and the world called them heroes. But while they were lauded publicly, the praise only deepened the pain felt by the those who experienced loss from the very same hands that provided relief to those on Roosevelt Island. Where the world sees a group of heroes held up as a shining example, the members of the orphans are only reminded of what they have lost. But is either right, and is the story ever that simple?
Laura’s plan is to confront the orphans on their terms, and find resolution (whatever that looks like) through dialogue and common ground. To this end she ask Sabretooth and Lady Deathstrike to beat it, as forgiveness for them might be harder to come by (and it’s just not really their story). Laura again dons the Murumasa armor and seeks out the orphans (they are looking for them after previously being alerted to their presence) who immediately fire on her. Laura then proceeds to do what none of them expected and maybe didn’t want, she apologizes. She calls out one of their leaders (Amber) and apologizes for killing her father, for carrying out the actions that caused her so much pain. As she does this Laura is removing the armor piece by piece and making herself vulnerable (both physically and metaphorically). She then call out Henry Sutter, the son of the scientist who cloned, controlled, and made her kill. Laura apologizes to Henry for killing his father and mother, for taking them away from him, while under the control of Zander Rice. Henry doesn’t want an apology, he doesn’t want Laura or Daken or any of them to be anything other than the things he believes them to be. He wants them to be remorseless killers instead of people who have also been hurt, used, and forgotten. Henry screams at Laura about her not getting to have the moral high ground while he shoots her in the stomach, but still she asks for his empathy and understanding. Laura’s motivation throughout this whole series, has been to redefine what she thinks of herself. From the first issue there was the opportunity to be something other than what they made her, and this moment is (maybe) the final synthesis of that process. Where she proves to herself, and secondarily to everyone else, what type of person she is. She does not claim to be innocent, but she will not suffer guilt or shame because of what the people who took power from her made her do, she will not let those people define who she is. As she lies on the ground bleeding, she’s not claiming to be innocent, but she’s asking to be understood as a flawed and hurt individual who seeks justice, same as they do. Gabby, Daken, and Old Man Logan reveal themselves in the crowd of people as proof that they are not the killers they believe them to be. Laura pulls on an Orphans of X mask and asks Henry, Amber, and all of them if they can be join their ranks, as people who have suffered because of the weapon X program and want justice.
A comic book in 2018 that deals heavily with issues of power, trauma, loss, and guilt requires a very deft touch, and Tom Taylor (in my opinion) delivers the necessary nuance and compassion that is required to write this story in a moment when all of these issues are swirling in the culture. Anyone who reads this comic in the future will read it in their own cultural context and the meaning may be different for them. But reading it in 2018 as people are forced to reconsider their relationship with power, their ethics, and their personal responsibility as a person on planet earth, this book is participating in that discussion. Laura is asking a group of people to reconsider their tightly held beliefs and replace anger with empathy. In the final pages the Orphans of X return the body of Laura’s cloned mother so that she can finally, properly say goodbye. It is an extremely touching and human moment for Laura who has for much of her life been treated as and felt like something other.
This review has focused mostly on the plot and themes of this issue, but the art can absolutely not be ignored. Juann Cabal and Nolan Woodard did a fantastic job backing up the writing with some very powerful visuals. The pages were Laura confronts Henry Sutter are colored largely in black, red, white, and grey and use contrast to create some very powerful imagery. The way the blood from Laura’s wounds runs down her arms and legs forming pools as she stumbles forward, and Henry’s face contorts with anger and grief, perfectly capture the emotion playing out in that room. This issue incorporates a variety of layouts (a very cool 4 x 4 layout on one page) and a intersting use of white space (particularly in the panel where Gabby, Daken, and Old Man Logan reveal themselves among the crowd of orphans). Just as Tom Taylor has been given room to make this book into something really special and worth reading (even when shipping twice a month), Cabal and Woodard need the time and freedom to continue experimenting with artistic storytelling, because they have been doing some good work lately.
(Subjective) Score out of 10: 8