The untold truth of X-23

Wolverine fans were electrified when the first Logan trailer officially dropped. Powered by Johnny Cash's version of the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt," the clip presented a noticeably older Logan who's taking care of a deteriorating Professor X in a world with few mutants left—one of whom seems to be the young girl that Xavier is encouraging Logan to take under his wing. Casual fans of the X-Men movies were immediately curious: who, exactly, is this young lady? Turns out she's Laura Kinney, better known as X-23, a character who's been around the X-Men comics for over a decade (and in the cartoons even longer).

We got a taste of Laura's rage in the second trailer, which only piqued filmgoers' further—so in the name of clearing up a little of the mystery, we've gone through the Marvel history (comic) books to uncover all the stuff you need to get up to speed. Even after all those years of fighting evil in a world that fears and hates her, there's still quite a bit that X-fans may not know about X-23.

She started as a cartoon character

Despite being very different characters from very different companies, X-23 actually has something in common with the Batman villain Harley Quinn—specifically, each character was introduced via cartoons before making the jump to official comics and, eventually, live-action movies based on those comics. In X-23's case, she was introduced in the later seasons of the X-Men: Evolution series, a cartoon that made the controversial decision to feature most of the famous X-Men as teenagers rather than their grown selves, with the notable exception of a toned-down Wolverine who serves as teacher and role model.

As a character, X-23 made a generally positive impression and was later featured in NYX, a limited series that focused on homeless teenage mutants. This generally grim series established a traumatic past in which she had to survive on the streets, and even the most modern interpretations of her character are presented as struggling with some of the trauma she experienced during this time. Interestingly, her film adaptation seems to bring the character full circle. In the cartoon, she was meant to connect to younger audiences in a way that they could not relate to the grim and gruff Logan; now, the Logan movie seems poised to use her to help audiences connect with the beloved Jackman incarnation of the character for what's likely the final time.

She's a clone of Wolverine

Sometimes, comic book characters are downright difficult to explain. For instance, asking someone to explain the Cyclops family tree will likely result in a semester's worth of lectures, visual aids, and countless red strings connecting people across different timelines and dimensions. X-23, however, is exactly what she looks like: a female Wolverine. In fact, she was literally cloned from a genetic sample of Wolverine taken during his Weapon X days.

So, why is she a…well…she? The lab that created her only had one sample, and that sample was damaged. After 23 attempts, the lab was able to create a female genetic twin of Wolverine based on his DNA. This resulted in her having her own highly-efficient healing factor and her own bone claws (though only two on each hand rather than three). The lab also coated her claws with adamantium—though only her claws rather than her entire skeleton, due to her timely escape. Finally, she also has the shady past of being trained as a living weapon, making the description of "girl Wolverine" more accurate than ever. It's worth noting that in the X-Men film universe, the genetic sample that creates X-23 almost certainly came about from Logan escaping in X-Men: Apocalypse (audiences see some of his blood being collected in a post-credits stinger for the movie), implying that her existence in these films may have occurred as part of the various changes to the past created by the Days of Future Past movie.

This grizzled killer was originally inspired by Pinocchio

At a glance, X-23 is a very dark character. Her background includes prostitution, murder, and self-mutilation. However, the original idea of the character by creator and X-Men: Evolution scribe Craig Kyle has said he envisioned her as the X-Men's version of Pinocchio. This was tied into what he described as a deliberate creative decision to make "a left" with her character design at any juncture where Wolverine "went right," including the arc of her character development. Specifically, Wolverine is a character that is quite literally rooted in his exceptionalism—a troubled loner who often feels he's separate from the rest of the world due to his amazing powers and the berserker rages that keep him from integrating with society.

The Wolverine that audiences know and love has made peace with this idea—that he's permanently a man apart from the world, even when he's part of a team. Kyle envisioned X-23 as having the more traditional Pinocchio character arc in that she slowly but steadily becomes a "real girl." As he said, she's "a samurai sword trying to become a real little girl," a powerful contrast to Wolverine, a man who has spent his life honing himself as a weapon.

She was forced to kill her mother surrogate

Part of being a Wolverine clone is, unfortunately, carrying all of the baggage that such a concept sounds like it would entail. This includes a traumatic past of killing people, including those closest to her. A component of X-23's tragic origin is, ironically, that she has not experienced Wolverine's history of mind wipes and memory implants. According to Kyle, this is by design—a kind of narrative experiment to explore whether she can still attain actualization and integrate with humanity when she can remember those she has murdered with crystal clarity.

One of these victims is, unfortunately, the woman who served as her mother surrogate. One of the scientists that helped to create, raise, and train X-23 was Doctor Sarah Kinney, who also birthed the clone. Kinney is eventually betrayed by a rival scientist and helps X-23 kill the backstabbing rival and destroy pods that would have yielded future Wolverine clones. Unfortunately, the late rival scientist, Dr. Zander Rice, had programmed X-23 to go into a blind, murderous rage when she detected a special scent. He made sure Kinney was covered in the scent, causing X-23 to murder her before they could escape the facility together.

She is able to defeat Wolverine

When it comes to Wolverines, the honest truth is that X-23 really does make Logan look like yesterday's model. The comics feature numerous instances of her beating Wolverine in combat, and she's one of the only X-Men that is able to hurt (albeit briefly) an angry Hulk during the World War Hulk event. Part of her combat ability comes down to simple maneuverability: as mentioned previously, X-23 only has adamantium covering her claws, and not her entire skeleton. Logan, by contrast, has the metal covering every inch of his bones, and while this does make him very tough in a fight, the coating adds 100 pounds. At the end of the day, X-23 is always going to be faster than Logan because she carries less baggage. At least physical baggage, anyway—when it comes to emotional and psychological damage, they're definitely in the same weight class.

She was a prostitute before she was a hero

New fans of X-23 are probably most familiar with the sight of her in the bright Wolverine costume, and they're likely to be shocked to discover that a prominent part of this superhero's origin includes working as a prostitute who helped service some very specific customer fetishes…clients described as being "sadomasochistic." Her tendency to mutilate herself also started around this time, highly implying that this was part of how she processed what her different clients did to her. The prostitution story has its own version of a happy ending when X-23, inspired by working with fellow mutants, ends up killing her pimp in order to save the lives of her new friends.

To be perfectly frank, the whole thing is gross and makes little sense for her character. Given what readers know of her age, X-23 would have been around 15 or so and working as a child prostitute in her NYX comics debut. While she would be a self-hating vagabond around this time, it's difficult to imagine a protagonist who will later cut out the Hulk's eyes allowing herself to be tortured by various child predators on the streets of New York.

She has been a cosmic force

One of the brighter aspects of X-23's background is that she once served as a major universal power. Captain Universe is one of the more obscure Marvel characters, and an identity that's been used by various people over the years. Each of them was powered by Uni-Power, a mysterious alien energy whose origin is millions of years in the past and comes from another dimension.

At one point, the Uni-Power required some assistance to raid an A.I.M. Base. This was essentially an act of self-preservation, as Captain Universe wanted to destroy any of the research and information the organization had gathered about Uni-Power. In order to facilitate this attack, the Uni-Power merged with X-23, making her the latest Captain Universe (albeit briefly). Uni-Power mixed with X-23's special healing factor, giving them the edge they needed to accomplish the mission. Ultimately, this adventure was a small footnote in X-23's already-storied career, but it's notable that a character typified by her youth and what her senses tell her about the physical world was once the vessel for an ageless energy force that extends far beyond anything she'd ever known.

She's a (self) cutter

One of X-23's sadder characteristics is that she regularly cuts herself with her own claws—a habit that she's engaged in as far back as her first comic book appearance. Her body doesn't experience any lasting harm from this, of course, as her healing factor patches her up; however, it serves as a powerful testimony to the psychological trauma that she's endured over the years. As mentioned earlier, she doesn't have the questionable benefit of Logan's memory wipes and memory implants, meaning she's tormented by memories of what she's done as well as what's been done to her.

This willingness to harm herself has continued pretty consistently throughout her career. Even in her latest adventures, she throws herself into dangerous situations with a zeal that leaves teammates wondering about her state of mind. This is prominently featured in All-New X-Men stories in which she willingly enters hails of bullets and walls of fire. After she's beaten to a bloody pulp, a distraught Angel mutters, "Laura, this is what dead looks like."

Mysterious healing factor

The way Wolverine's healing factor works is generally well-established: he can soak up a high level of damage from almost any weapon and, given enough time, regenerate back to health. This has event created some comic moments at times, such as when his Ultimate X-Men incarnation revealed that his body saw tattoos as damage and would quickly heal over them. As a clone of Wolverine, it seems like X-23 would have a very similar healing factor. However, there's one big mystery that upsets our understanding of how it works.

It all comes down to her bad habit of cutting herself. The scars from her self-inflicted wounds seem to stay on her body for a much longer time than they should, which has led some fans to speculate that it has to do with her state of mind—that if she wants to hurt herself, her body responds by not immediately healing her. While this makes sense in a "comic book logic" kind of way, it seems like a major departure from Wolverine's healing factor. His power has healed him while he was unconscious and nearly dead on any number of occasions, meaning that no conscious desire plays into it. X-23 may still have many mysteries left to unravel, and though her healing factor may have some quirks, it also has some unexpected benefits.

Better healing factor than Wolverine

Aside from X-23's ability to self-mutilate, her healing factor has another quirk—it's stronger than Wolverine's. Her skeleton isn't laced with adamantium, which means her body can't withstand as much outright damage—it's possible for her to be crushed by things that Wolverine's strengthened bones would protect him from. At the same time, though, she doesn't suffer from adamantium poisoning.

As Wolverine has discovered during times when his healing factor is weakened or lost, the presence of adamantium throughout his entire body means his body is being constantly poisoned. Without any medical or powered intervention, this poisoning is enough to kill Wolverine. Normally, though, it just makes it so his healing factor, while still very impressive, isn't able to operate at 100 percent. Conversely, when all of the adamantium was removed from his body, Wolverine was able to heal faster than ever, which is exactly the state X-23 is in all the time. This enhanced healing factor helps her recover from the truly grueling battles she constantly throws herself into.

She likes her X-Men young

One of the odder plot developments in recent X-Men years started with Cyclops. He always got the rap as the boring X-Man…the one who plays it straight and keeps everyone else in line. However, when he's possessed by the Phoenix Force, he ends up trying to take over the world, and even kills Professor Xavier when his mentor tries to stop him. When the Phoenix Force is taken care of and Cyclops returns to normal, the world still wants him to answer for what he's done; instead, Cyclops devotes himself to being the face of militant mutant resistance to human oppression.

This makes global attitudes towards mutants even worse, and Beast concocts a rather desperate solution: he brings the original five X-Men from the past (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel, Ice Man, and Beast) to the present to try to sway the adult Cyclops back to the light side. It doesn't work, and some timey-wimey things lead to the younger X-Men being stuck in the present day. Along the way, X-23 actually falls in love with the young Angel. They are uniquely matched, as they both feel they don't fully belong in the modern world. Additionally, Angel has his own repressed dark side…the one that comes out to play when his adult counterpart is eventually turned into Archangel by Apocalypse. However, Angel's soft heart can't always tolerate the killer instinct and joy with which X-23 throws herself into the most dangerous battles.

She takes over as Wolverine

Even in the world of comics, nothing lasts forever. Wolverine has been an unkillable force since the late 19th century, experiencing a prolonged life and endurance based on his extraordinary healing factor. Eventually, however, an extra-dimensional virus took away Wolverine's healing factor, leaving him truly vulnerable for the first time—and the target of a bounty. He eventually found and defeated the man who placed the bounty: Dr. Cornelius, the chief founder of the Weapon X program that took the man named Logan and turned him into the weapon known as Wolverine. In a bit of fatal irony, he ended up being covered in some adamantium while trying to save Cornelius' next batch of unwilling experiments, and suffocated while the liquid metal hardened in his lungs.

X-23, understandably heartbroken over the loss of her mentor and genetic twin, has decided to honor Logan by formally adopting both his X-Men costume and his name. Now she travels with the young band of time displaced X-Men and fulfills the same essential role the original Wolverine did: she's the tough, no-nonsense killer of the team, able and willing to do what others cannot. In this way, she carries Logan's torch, becoming the best she is at what she does—just as Logan used to be.

She's got a long shelf life

Speaking of her healing factor, one of the interesting side effects is that she should live an unnaturally long time. After spending years teasing Wolverine's origin, Marvel finally revealed that the character was born in the late 19th century, meaning he's pushing 100 when he first debuts as a member of the X-Men. His healing factor, however, keeps him at his physical prime, and while he isn't immortal (the comic that the Logan movie seems loosely based on, Old Man Logan, features an older, graying, and decayed Logan), he leads an extraordinarily long life. Presumably, X-23's healing factor will grant her a similarly long life, making the use of the character in the Logan movie a wise decision. If she's a hit with audiences, she may go on to star in future X-Men movies, even if they continue the recent trend of each one jumping a decade or more into the future. And, like her comics counterpart, she may even take over Wolverine's role.

She's had a lot of weird code names

Over the years, Wolverine has had a number of different aliases. In fact, he's primarily known by an alias: the character was born as James Howlett, with "Logan" being a name he assumed before his brain was later scrambled. "Wolverine" is his X-Men name, but he's also gone by names as varied as "Weapon X," "Patch," and even "Death." The character of X-23 is much younger, both in terms of the narrative and in terms of her character being introduced decades after Wolverine, but she's already managed to amass her own menagerie of weird codenames.

For instance, this normally down-to-earth hero was once powered by the cosmic force known as Uni-Power, and once it bonded with her, she got a cool new outfit and a correspondingly badass name: Captain Universe. In a possible future, she goes by the short-and-simple codename "Talon." At other times, she's gone by "Laura X," which is a pretty simple combination of her real name (Laura Kinney) and her normal codename, X-23. Most recently, after the comic book death of Logan, she took over as Wolverine. Narratively, this array of nicknames signals that, much like Wolverine before her, she'll inhabit many identities and roles within her elongated lifespan.

There are other clones

One of the weirder revelations about Wolverine's own backstory concerns his codename, Weapon X. As it turns out, the "X" is actually the Roman numeral for "10," and the program had a number of other experimental mutant subjects that have shown up over the years, including Deadpool and X-23. Many fans wondered whether there might be other experiments running around—or if any were clones of X-23, given that she's a clone herself.

The first hint that there might be other Laura Kinneys came courtesy of a weird offhand comment from a version of Deadpool who might be from X-23's future. She was being her characteristically grim and serious self, which prompted him to tell her that he personally thought X-29 was much funnier. Some thought he was only having some fun at her expense, while others thought it could mean more experimental subjects lurking out there somewhere. As it turns out, the second group was right on the money: X-23 eventually encountered some clones of herself called the Sisters, rescuing them from their lab captors and getting embroiled in a complicated saga that unfolded in the pages of All-New Wolverine throughout 2016. Only time will tell if X-23's cinematic self will end up tackling clone foes as often as she has in the comics.