Over the first three chapters of Chaos Theory there are no super villains, much of the conflict is emotional, although a frightening threat eventually manifests, and they’re the best X-23 story to date. Marjorie Liu has from the beginning imbued a sadness and regret in Laura, and everything comes to a head with a suicide attempt in the opening pages. It’s a desperate cry, yet one Laura knows her healing factor will ensure fails. Gambit is no longer the sole member of the supporting cast, as Wolverine drops by with Jubilee in tow. She’s become a vampire somewhere along the way, with the bloodlust that entails, and provides a good contrast to Laura as someone facing up to equally distressing circumstances. “You risk tears if you let yourself be tamed”, quotes Gambit from The Little Prince, in a neat piece of literary allusion.

Sana Takeda contributed art to both previous X-23 collections written by Liu. Her first submission was just a few pages, the second strong, but her delicacy perhaps not the best choice for illustrating the ferocity of sharks (see Daken/X-23: Collision). Here she’s fantastic. The opening chapter drips with sadness, and Takeda supplies the necessary emotion via beautiful drawings of a melancholic Laura, but also hits just the right balance for a conversation between Gambit and Wolverine that could go either way. Additionally there are some lovely views of Paris, a dream city for illustrators. Phil Noto takes over for the reminder of the book, and his art is precise rather than instinctive, every line considered, which hampers some scenes of moving people, and he doesn’t have the same facility for drawing different looking people. However, there are some spectacular looking designs and individual panels.

Having delivered her emotionally driven, cerebral story over the first half of Chaos Theory, Liu’s title story is straightforward superhero action. That may or may not sound as enticing, but a New York slugfest guest starring Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four isn’t the type of story we’ve seen Laura in before, and it works for the opening chapter, after which Liu switches the location and tone with each successive chapter. She writes a smart, old-fashioned Fantastic Four story with a science based mystery, imminent danger, and empathic personality touches, then heads elsewhere. The joy isn’t sustained until the end, which depends too greatly on cosmic forces not entirely explained, so something that needs to be taken on trust and therefore unconvincing. Still, reaching that point has been fun.

Liu’s stewardship of X-23 concludes with Don’t Look Back, which can be found along with this in the second volume of X-23: The Complete Collection.