Is there anything more American than superheroes? Can the Super Bowl or a humongous cheeseburger make a bald eagle weep like Superman flying through the sky with Lois Lane? Probably. But there is something American Dream™-y about a person being ostracized for being different (has been the victim of tragedy, was “chosen” by some higher power, is simply unlucky) yet still maintaining a valorous heart and dedicating their life to defending the defenseless from evil. As you may have guessed, the overwhelming majority of popular superheroes are American nationals — or have “become” Americans, such as extraterrestrials Superman and Thor — which is why I’m beginning this review with a lamentation: Wolverine is easily the most popular Canadian superhero of all time (with the possible exception of the famously inconsistent Deadpool, who literally has no memory and occasionally calls himself Canadian). But the newest series, All-New Wolverine, sadly features a new Wolverine who is not Canadian, and is by default assumed to be American.
Laura Kinney, formerly known in the MU (Marvel Universe) as X-23, is a clone of the original Wolverine, Logan. In spite of the incredible regenerative ability he possessed, Logan was killed in the previous Wolverine series, the aptly-titled Death of Wolverine. Now X-23/Laura must don the mantle of Wolverine and find out why everyone is trying to kill her. She encounters women cloned from her, whose physical resemblances to Wolverine (as she is called now) range from logically uncanny — they are clones, after all — to waitaminute-this-one-has-white-hair-and-is-a-foot-taller-than-Wolverine.
Using what little knowledge of comic conventions that I possess (I grew up on manga, never bought a comic book), I’ve discerned that cloning is a Big Thing. Apparently when Logan died, some serious effort was expended by other Mutants (people with supernatural abilities) to make sure his whole body was destroyed so that forces of evil wouldn’t be able to resurrect him as a clone. Of course, Laura had been cloned prior to Logan’s death and was raised by him. I’m not really sure why Logan’s clone is female, but probably for the same reason that Laura’s clones don’t all look just like her. Wait — if Laura is Logan’s clone, and Logan is Very Canadian (born in Cold Lake, Alberta, served in the Canadian Army), is Laura also Canadian? Is All-New Wolverine CanCon? Ponder that, and now for real issues.
All-New Wolverine is one part of “All-New, All-Different Marvel,” a slogan/brand under which over 60 series have been relaunched, many with certain modifications to the title heroes. Notably, Thor and Captain America are no longer white males (if you want to see reader’s reactions, look no further than the comments section). Passionate debates play out in the comments section of any and every article about these new series, largely boiling down to three camps: 1) those who are thrilled by the diversification (shift away from straight white males) of the heroes, 2) those who celebrate wider representation in the heroes but do not necessarily agree with Marvel’s approach (often advocating that Marvel should create new characters instead of modifying existing ones), and 3) those who identify this shift as political correctness taken much too far and strictly oppose it. Of course, Laura/X-23 has been a character in the MU for 12 years now, though she is only now taking over the character of Wolverine. This debate is referenced within the comic, where the axe-wielding doctor/sorcerer Dr. Strange tells Wolverine, “You are the right person to replace Logan,” and Wolverine quips, “I know there are people who disapprove… Guys on the Internet mainly.”
So Wolverine is now a woman. Within the comic, this has fairly little effect on interactions between characters — there are no “you’ll never beat me, you just a wom-oof!” moments — Wolverine is still Wolverine, pouncing and slashing through baddies and immediately bouncing back from mortal wounds. What is different, then? Well, that part has me scratching my head, too: the production staff of All-New Wolverine is entirely male with the exception of one of the two editors. It does merit mentioning that there are female comic artists at Marvel, and not all of them work on series with female protagonists. So this is not necessarily a bad thing; as long as there are women making comics and women represented in comics, do those two need to overlap? Unlike many female superheroes, Wolverine isn’t blatantly sexualized, either. Yes, her costume is skin-tight, but so was the original Wolverine’s. There are no plunging necklines, tactical high heels, nor use of sex appeal to incapacitate baddies. Like I wrote earlier, I don’t know comics very well, and there are a number of panels (particularly in the first two issues) where women are portrayed in fairly compromising physical positions — crouching like an animal, buttocks in the air, legs slightly spread, chests thrust forward — but I don’t know how much of this is a part of the Wolverine style and how much of it is catering to the Male Gaze. At the very least, it’s less egregious than most manga out there.
So it doesn’t appear to me that All-New Wolverine is really all that different from the older Wolverine comics, but I’m also not convinced that this is necessarily a bad thing. Isn’t that the whole point of this diversification of heroes? To show that non-male, non-white characters can kick just as much ass as white dudes?