Five years after she was introduced, Marvel were confident enough in X-23’s drawing power to launch her into an ongoing solo series. Cloned from Wolverine and conditioned from infancy to be an assassin (see Innocence Lost), Laura remains a conflicted youngster, despite a prolonged period among the X-Men where Wolverine is almost a mentor. To begin The Killing Dream Laura is among the X-Men in Utopia, and over the opening chapter Marjorie Liu’s plot focuses on whether Laura’s conditioning is anything she’s able to overcome, or whether it’s embedded too deeply for that. Assorted X-Men are on hand throughout to offer sympathies and help, although Cyclops apologising for making Laura a member of a team of mutant assassins transmits as especially hollow, which might be the point as Liu drops frequent nice character touches. The story takes place concurrently with Wolverine Goes to Hell, and with her highly attuned senses Laura is the only person able to recognise the Wolverine now hanging around with the X-Men is an imposter.

Will Conrad is the primary artist, the sample art showing a very open and attractive style, but one that’s well over the top in objectifying the lead villain, who’s dressed like a porn star. Given how nice the pages generally look, it’s unfortunate that Conrad can’t complete an entire chapter beyond the first two, the other named artists all chipping in, with David López drawing a fair amount of the final chapters. This is also the first time Liu collaborated with Sana Takeda, with whom she’d go on to create the popular Monstress.

The Killing Dream is a book that splits neatly into two halves of three chapters each, enabling the first half to form part of X-23: The Complete Collection’s opening volume, while the remainder is found in volume two. Liu takes her time to show Laura’s discontent with the X-Men and their set-up, which moves her naturally to leave, but the dramatic problem of her either wandering around in her head or needing someone to talk to is then raised. Liu’s choice is to pair Laura with Gambit, of all the X-Men the nearest in spirit to Wolverine, if still some distance away. Gambit’s not such a loner by inclination, but also someone not very bothered by distinctions of law, or shying away from what he considers needs to be done, which always makes him interesting at the least. Liu manages better than that as he holds up a mirror to Laura, pushing the right buttons and asking the right questions to make her consider what she wants.

Knowledge of who Gambit is feeds into the introduction of the possible villain, Miss Sinister, clone of Mister Sinister, and as such another reflection for Laura. Further echoes follow. Gambit would have nothing to do with Miss Sinister, and warns Laura away, saying she doesn’t know who she is. “She works with men who kill children”, replies Laura, “I know who she is”. It’s a fantastic line of dialogue doubling as some great character establishment.

Both stories are high on character moments, they don’t lose Laura as the focus and they avoid the obvious slash at first sight approach, so provide the best X-23 graphic novel to this point. Laura’s story continues into Daken/X-23: Collision, or if that doesn’t appeal, it can be skipped to little detriment and Laura’s life picked up with Chaos Theory.