I was pretty disappointed when Marjorie Liu had to leave “Black Widow” for “X-23,” because I was loving the feel of Daniel Acuna and Liu’s take on Natasha. To make matters worse, I wasn’t wild about “X-23”. I tried the first arc, but had dropped it before we even got to the end. Liu’s writing was strong overall, but inconsistent art that frequently wasn’t to my tastes kept me from coming back, so instead I sulked about missing “Black Widow.” “X-23” #13 is a whole other story, and one that has me saying "Black Widow who?"
In “X-23” #13, Laura and Gambit are in New York looking for a boy that Laura spared back in her assassin days. Gambit’s got a reopening injury and so he gets dropped off with Cecilia Reyes, former X-Man, for some medical treatment and R&R. Laura heads off to look for the boy in question, and ends up pairing up with Spider-Man for some big city superhero work.
This is a damn fine comic book from tip to tail. Liu has a fantastic grasp on these characters' voices from Laura to Spider-Man, and as a wonderful bonus she has a great feel for Gambit as well. In fact, Liu is one of the first writers in a long time that I’ve seen write Gambit in a way that doesn’t come read completely wimpy. That's great, because I’ve always liked Gambit, even if that makes me tragically unhip. Liu is especially good at allowing Laura to be a grouchy teenage version of Wolverine that’s also still very much her own person on her own journey. She also manages to find the lightness and humor in Laura, which is especially critical in a book like this that could easily devolve into brooding boring madness. But we’re a long distance from that here. Here we have a fully developed wonderfully layered female character interacting with a cast of equally varied characters in a way that feels natural and interesting. It’s good stuff.
The quality level that Phil Noto brings to this book can really not be overstated. His work is flat out beautiful. Whether it’s haunting or heroic, personal or epic, he nails every single look, character, emotion, and beat he goes after. Noto tells the story so well you almost don’t need the words, but then you get the words too, which are wonderful. So everyone wins. Noto has an excellent interpretation of these characters, from Laura, who actually looks like a teenager; to Cecilia who actually looks like a grown woman of color; to Gambit who looks…well, less wimpy.
With this issue, “X-23” has thoroughly brought me back on board. I have high hopes for it to be one of my favorite books so long as this dream team is working together in such perfect synch.