Fitting for the plot’s developments, “X-23” #4 shows our story momentarily through another side’s eyes.
Written by Mariko Tamaki
Illustrated by Juann Cabal
Colored by Nolan Woodard
Lettered by Cory Petit
• It’s a sisters-vs.-sisters showdown as Laura must battle through the Cuckoos’ powerful mind projections to rescue Gabby — but why did the Cuckoos kidnap Gabby in the first place?
• And will Gabby be able to resist their psychic shackles, or will she turn against Laura too?
As the story shifts in “X-23” and its ‘Two Birthdays and Three Funerals’ arc, Mariko Tamaki adjusts her own focus accordingly. The Stepford Cuckoos’ plans were unveiled in the previous issue, but they haven’t had much to distinguish from one another, mostly being an antagonistic collective.
With “X-23” #4, Tamaki shifts gears altogether, allowing the struggles of the eponymous character, Laura Kinney, to take a backseat as a way to separate out some of the Cuckoos and create a bit more of a struggle in their hive mind dynamic. The apparent dissolution into a more even conflict more in favor of X-23 herself is provided through the slow relative expansion of the Stepford Cuckoos’ characterizations, from the reborn, arrogant, hostile Esme to the ostracized, conflicted Mindee (also known as Irma), though Celeste and Phoebe remain relatively indistinguishable for the time being and seem to be written as mere pawns or underlings.
With part of the villain plot already fulfilled, some of the Cuckoos are delving deeper into evil. Their initial goal of resurrecting their sisters was technically benevolent in nature, but the means that they were hoping to use in order to achieve said goal dropped deep into immorality. Now, with that goal at least partly complete, they seem on the verge of becoming a serious threat to the world, coupling a Wolverine’s powers with their own psychic link and abilities. Esme’s growing feelings (to call them delusions may be too much) of grandeur are troublesome, but not too difficult beyond the norm for a villain of an arc at this stage. However, her summary dismissal of Mindee is worrying, as it shows that she is unwilling to accept any kind of weakness, even though the Cuckoos are essentially a hive mind on some level. Her tendency toward self-harm to test out her new abilities also shows a trend toward believing herself invincible, something again not too unusual for this type of villain, but also indicative of her mental state.
Unlike her sisters, Mindee Cuckoo is presented as a sole voice of reason, worried for the well-being of her sisters and annoyed about being ordered around by them like their errand girl. This distinction from the pack helps to garner some sympathy for her, and shows that by breaking away from the general “Four-in-One,” she can start to become a character of her own in this arc.
In spite of the dark nature of the story itself, Tamaki leaves plenty of room for comedy in short bursts, not in the least being a The Brady Bunch parody introduction to the Stepford Cuckoos. The shift is so abrupt, so surprising, that it’s very hard not to laugh out loud at Tamaki’s audacity to delve into something so ridiculous, yet so perfect.
That isn’t to say that Laura is completely absent. Her brief moments in “X-23” #4 are memorable in their infrequency, from a psychic “attack” to the time healing up from the explosion at the start. In fact, by keeping concentration away from her, Tamaki allows her to be seen as an antagonistic force in her own right, one off in the distance that intends to break in on the Stepford Cuckoos’ plans.
Continuing from his work in “All-New Wolverine” and the earlier issues in “X-23,” Juann Cabal does an excellent job on the artistry in “X-23” #4. The faces are smooth, intricate, and beautifully put together for the living, with the dessicated deceased all the more disturbing from how sunken in her face is shown. Of particular note is the use way in which the horrendous injuries Laura sustains are portrayed, with flesh and muscle stripped away to show nothing but a skeleton on some parts of the body, burned or torn away flesh on others, and in some cases, even broken bones tearing through skin and cloth. The beauty of the faces and facial structure on the living and the unharmed makes the view of the less ideally portrayed figures all the more disturbing.Continued below
Cabal’s use of perspective is not unlike that of a television show or a feature film. In particular, we have the images of Laura rising from her injuries. There is no focus on her face after the initial injury is shown, with her assessment of her own healing as she limps along being the only way we can see any of it. On the other hand, the emergence of Esme is portrayed as extremely unnerving, with her glare seeming like it wouldn’t be out of place in a Stanley Kubrick film, the light from below giving a “things that go bump in the night” vibe.
Much like Cabal, Nolan Woodard continues his work from “All-New Wolverine,” his use of a dark color palette fitting well to the story. The bright blue eyes of the Cuckoos are rather unnatural, playing against the deep shadows around them. Meanwhile, X-23’s injuries are also given a slightly brighter look with the fresh blood and exposed bone, contrasting against her classic black-and-grey outfit. The most striking colors do happen in a similar bright blue to the Cuckoos, almost putting the entire thing into a negative filter when merged with the expert lettering of Cory Petit.
In all, these colors, merged with the letters, help to jump readers to attention in spite of the slow nature of Laura Kinney’s part of the story, keeping her half interesting even as she stays back and recovers.
Final Verdict: 7.0– Concentrating on the Stepford Cuckoos’ side of the story, “X-23” #4 keeps reader attention and interest through a different lens.