In X-23: INNOCENCE LOST, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost explore the origins of Laura Kinney, also known as X-23, Wolverine’s genetic clone. When Wolverine escapes from the Facility, he kills the scientist Dr. Rice. Hellbent on finishing his father’s work, Zander Rice pursues the Weapon-X project with neurotic zeal. Zander will stop at nothing to perfect the Weapon-X and avenge his father’s death. However, Wolverine’s genetic code is damaged. Only Dr. Sarah Kinney can produce a viable clone: X-23.

X-23 INNOCENCE LOST debuted in 2005, four years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax scare. The threat of terrorism and bioterrorism were and continue to be topics of concern in America and increasingly around the globe. Bioterrorism is terrorism that deploys biological agents to harm specific populations. Also known as “germ warfare,” bioterrorism relies on pathogens to terrorize a society. Anxieties about bioterrorism are reflected in the character X-23, a biological clone that is designed specifically to serve as a weapon. 

 X-23’s tragic origin story situates bioterrorist acts at the site of the cis-female body, depicting violence committed against both X-23 and her mother, Dr. Sarah Kinney. X-23: INNOCENCE LOST scrutinizes the ethics of unchecked biotechnological advancements, especially in the context of the military-industrial complex.

As a clone explicitly designed to be a weapon, X-23 embodies the cultural anxieties about technology projects gone awry. X-23 and Sarah act as stand-ins for society at large, one that is both victim and perpetrator of terrorist acts. X-23: INNOCENCE LOST pinpoints violence against the female reproductive system and cloning as central metaphors for bioterrorism.

X-23: INNOCENCE LOST
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

War of the Clones

Science Fiction often uses cloning as an image of terror. Clones as icons of uncanny horror appear in sci-fi narratives such as BRAVE NEW WORLD and STAR WARS: ATTACK OF THE CLONES. Theorist W.J.T. Mitchell writes about cloning and terror in “Picturing Terror: Derrida’s Autoimmunity.” Mitchell describes the “convergence of terrorism with cloning” as directly related to the “techno-scientific anxieties of our time” (279).

As a scientific innovation, cloning is tied to reproduction and advancements in genetic engineering. However, cloning is also connected to eugenics and horrific projects fabricated to create “superior” beings. What’s more, as Mitchell argues, terrorism clones itself: terror enacted against a social or political body reoccurs within the group as an immunological response. Mitchell engages explicitly the example of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and how the media recapitulates the act by showing footage over and over again. Simultaneously, white extremist attacks within American culture seem to copy themselves exponentially. Thus, extremism is cloned into extremist responses.

X-23: INNOCENCE LOST serves an an example of Mitchell’s observation that cloning and terrorism are tied to anxieties about technological advancements. The comic does not shy away from exposing the horrors of cloning, depicting violent acts done by and against X-23. X-23 is born out of the desire to create a super weapon, not a genetically beneficial human. Like Wolverine, X-23 heals immediately. Her cells literally replicate to cover the wounds she receives in combat, thereby enabling her to charge into chaos repeatedly. 

Why X-23’s Story Matters to Survivors

X-23: INNOCENCE LOST — Cloning Inhumanity

 X-23 never experiences childhood. As a direct result of her status as a clone, X-23 barely experiences humanity. Lead scientist Zander Rice asks, “Do you even feel, Weapon X?” as he viciously performs surgery on her without anesthesia (#002). X-23 is modified to be the perfect weapon, stripped of most of her humanity over the course of the comic.  

X-23: INNOCENCE LOST
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

As Wolverine’s clone sister, X-23 is a disturbing repetition of the terror the Facility inflicted upon Wolverine. She is also a weapon, designed to repeat the very trauma she experiences. Each new violent act merely re-terrorizes X-23’s body and the culture at large. This terrorism plays out over and over first against Sarah, then X-23, then X-23’s assigned victims.  

As a result of the medium, the terror recapitulates itself against the reader. Comics, the sequential art, makes meaning through repeated images in sequence. The images of X-23 brutally killing innocents, doubled by the injustice inflicted by the Facility, is cloned throughout the comic.

X-23: Woman as “Damaged DNA”

X-23: INNOCENCE LOST examines bioethics in many ways. In particular, Kyle and Yost specifically map their treatment of the subject onto women’s bodies. X-23 is the result of 23 attempts to clone Wolverine’s DNA sample. Symbolically, the name X-23 references the 23rd pair of chromosomes, the sex chromosomes that doctors conventionally use to assign sex at birth. Dr. Sarah Kinney doubled the X chromosome to make up for a damaged Y chromosome in the Wolverine sample. Thus, X-23 has “damaged” DNA. Ironically, The Facility and Zander considers X-23 inferior to Wolverine because she is a woman or “Barbie” as Zander calls her.

X-23: INNOCENCE LOST
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

The Facility also sees Sarah Kinney as damaged DNA. Her past is shrouded in painful mystery with narrative allusions to sexual abuse experienced as a child (#001). Zander manipulates this emotional trauma and repeats the violence. Zander forces Sarah to serve as a surrogate mother for X-23. The repeated rapes analogously tie to the violent threat posed by the Facility and Weapon X against society at large. Sadly, the traumatized body (Sarah’s) is directly implicated in the cloning process. 

X-23: INNOCENCE LOST
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Over the course of X-23: INNOCENCE LOST Sarah repeatedly acknowledges her inability to stop the Facility’s abuse of X-23. She also accepts her role in the abuse, declaring “I was just like them” (#004). As Sarah and X-23 go from victim to abuser, they duplicate the terror inflicted upon.

Mitchell describes this cycle of cloning terrorism in the political landscape. At first, the group clones the terror through repeated images or narratives of the initial attack. Eventually, the trauma repeats within the group in the form of other violent acts. The Facility clones the damage done to and by Wolverine by repeating the violence against Sarah and X-23.

Wolverine and X-23: Genetically Similar, Radically Different

Pinocchio and Cyborg Manifestos

Donna Haraway, the author of “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” and many other works connecting feminism to technological narratives, has explored the myth of the cyborg as a postmodern feminist figure.

Haraway postulates two possibilities for the cyborg. First, she argues that the cyborg world could be the last step in the violent patriarchal control of women’s bodies and society in the name of war and terror. It is no stretch to see how this side of Haraway’s metaphor plays out in X-23: INNOCENCE LOST. X-23, mutant human-modified by technology, is a cyborg of sorts. The Facility wields her body in the name of war and violence, and ultimately her body is the victim of the patriarchal attack on the culture at large.

However, Haraway presents the second possibility. The cyborg could be an empowering figure, one that liberates bodies and identities from the oppressive boundaries of modern culture. The cyborg could signal a queer socialist feminist reconfiguration of society at large.

X-23: INNOCENCE LOST
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

The subtle running motif of Pinocchio in the comic is a surprisingly innocent gesture that bears unpacking (#001 and #002). Pinocchio, the story of the marionette who wants to become a real boy, traces the transition from a tool into a living human. Sarah’s final narration asserts that X-23 is “a child, not a weapon” (#006).

Like Pinocchio, X-23 is a cyborg figure, machine, and human hybrid. Pinocchio escapes his would-be abusers and saves his own creator. X-23 is sadly not as lucky. Her only escape from the Facility’s war machine is to destroy everything in her path. Haraway’s myth of the cyborg implies a loss of blood relationships and the breakdown of barriers between divisive categories such as human/animal/machine, or man/woman.

The Origins of X-23: Objectification, Rape, and Redemption

Innocence Lost?

If X-23: INNOCENCE LOST has any hopeful message, it comes through reading the comic with a cyborgian lens. As hybrid cyborg creation, X-23 always already breaks the boundaries that society creates to organize and oppress others. Haraway asserts that any cyborg future will undoubtedly require destroying and building new systems of organization. X-23’s ultimate destruction of her boundaries is the first step in breaking away from the terrorism of which she was a tool.  

Contemporary anxieties tend to fixate on terrorism and the prevalence of extremist violence. Bioterrorism, as well as the loss of autonomy, are of particular concern. Binary logic that distinguishes man and woman, human and machine, human and animal, and culture and nature support white patriarchal hegemony and place the woman’s body in the crosshairs. X-23: INNOCENCE LOST captures the horror inflicted on women’s bodies. Moreover, it uses X-23 and Sarah Kinney’s bodies as metaphors for bioterrorism as it plays out in the collective imagination and anxieties of contemporary society.

X-23: INNOCENCE LOST
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

X-23: INNOCENCE LOST is not a direct answer to Haraway’s premise. X-23 as the cyborg clone stands in as the threat of the patriarchal war machine as well as the symbol of radical feminist liberation. With the loss of innocence may come newfound knowledge and ability to reconfigure society as a whole.

2 Comments

  1. D. E. Wyatt

    D. E. Wyatt

    December 3, 2017 at 9:36 am

    @yost @MrCraigKyle Fascinating read, though they did reiterate the “23rd clone” rather than “23rd FEMA… https://t.co/3KXyGoIUbS

    Reply

  2. D. E. Wyatt

    December 3, 2017 at 12:29 am

    “In particular, Kyle and Yost specifically map their treatment of the subject onto women’s bodies. X-23 is the result of 23 attempts to clone Wolverine’s DNA sample. Symbolically, the name X-23 references the 23rd pair of chromosomes, the sex chromosomes that doctors conventionally use to assign sex at birth.”

    This is factually incorrect.

    X-23 is specifically the 23rd attempt at a FEMALE clone. There were numerous attempts to create a male before Sarah Kinney began the (unauthorized) attempts to create the female. Close scrutiny of Sarah’s computer terminal when it appears reveal readouts for “X Chromosome Trial 1” and “17” before the 23rd attempt is successful. This is also the meaning of her name; it has nothing to do with the number of chromosomes, but specifically identifies her as the 23rd female cloning attempt. Thus why her unborn “sisters” Rice attempts to create are designated X-24 through X-50.

    This is all independently confirmed by X-23 creator Craig Kyle himself.

    Reply

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