When it comes to teenage superheroes, there’s a certain set of assumptions that tend to limit their story. They have to be awkward. They have to be inept. They have to be whiny, goofy, and immature to the point where they’ll fight guidance counselors as hard as any super-villain. In some respects, Peter Parker is responsible for creating this template and it seems every character is trying to copy him. The problem is such efforts leads to one too many Clone Sagas and time travelers.
It’s because of these flawed assumptions surrounding teenage superheroes that X-23 is such a remarkable success story. She spits in the face of those assumptions that doom many teenage superheroes trying too hard to be another Peter Parker. Yes, she is a teenage girl. No, she is not inept, immature, or whiny. In many respects, she’s more mature than some adults. Then again, in a world with Deadpool and Tony Stark, that may not be saying much.
X-23’s ability to function as a well-rounded character is just part of what makes her story so compelling. Since taking the mantle of Wolverine, she keeps proving in every possible way that she’s worthy of this title. Tom Taylor even spent the first few issues of All-New Wolverine having her fight a secret organization that was trying to make living weapons. It may as well have been X-23’s graduation ceremony. Now, All-New Wolverine Annual #1 acts as X-23’s graduation party of sorts.
Like any aspiring hero, there are certain types of conflicts that X-23 must face before she can belong in the same conversations as her predecessor. These conflicts are like initiation rituals at a club. She already passed the ritual that involves getting cloned. All-New Wolverine Annual #1 throws another at her in the form of a classic body-swapping story.
It’s not a new idea. Body-swapping stories are the subject of countless superhero stories, sitcoms, and Saturday morning cartoons. Logan, during his illustriously violent life, endured this situation in a few memorable stories, most notably in the pages of Ultimate Spider-Man. These stories aren’t as common as clones or time travels, but these days that may actually work to their advantage.
In this case, X-23 swaps bodies with Spider-Gwen, another teenage superhero looking to graduate into higher ranks as well. Taylor’s approach to the story is very similar to the one told in Ultimate Spider-Man. There’s no elaborate setup. Both characters wake up in different bodies with no clue how it happened. This leads to some confusing, but funny moments.
Cars are damaged. Drum sets are broken. Rock concerts are cut short. It’s laughably chaotic. That’s to be expected of teenage characters who aren’t body-swapped, let alone swapped with someone in an alternate universe. Once the hilarity wears off though, there are a lot of questions that need answering. This is where the slapstick humor of body-swapping undermines the actual story.
Naturally, X-23 and Spider-Gwen have to find each other and team up to fix this. Even when alternate universes are involved, that’s surprisingly easy. It leads to some more standard body-swapping antics. They have to explain to one another how their powers work. They have to adjust their tactics in a fight. It makes for some clumsy action and David Lopez’s artwork here does a nice job of depicting that. The problem comes when the source of these body-swapping antics is revealed.
These answers to the burning questions that kick-started the story end up being overly bland. The forces behind this mind-swapping, multi-verse hopping conflict aren’t exactly rubbing elbows with Dr. Doom, Thanos, and Mephisto. In fact, the main culprit in this case ends up having such a weak stomach that X-23 and Spider-Gwen don’t really have to defeat her. What happens is basically an elaborate misunderstanding combined with misplaced emotions.
While this keeps the tone of the story light-hearted, it makes the impact of the overall story feel somewhat inane. Throughout All-New Wolverine, X-23 regularly deals with forces trying to shoot, stab, eat, or clone her. Along the way, there are various elements, such as the addition of her clone-sister Gabby, to balance the tone with a sense of heart and melodrama. In this case, however, there’s nothing to really balance.
Gabby and her pet wolverine don’t get to play a role. Spider-Gwen doesn’t get to do much other than get caught in the crossfire. X-23 doesn’t even get overly mad at being body-swapped. That’s somewhat appropriate, given how often she gets shot and attacked in this series. Being body-swapped may actually be a reprieve of sorts, but the story behind it is too flat to have an impact.
There’s still value in the story overall. All-New Wolverine Annual #1 is a fun, light-hearted narrative that gives X-23 a chance to interact with another aspiring teenage superhero who lives in the shadow of another. Given how Logan crossed over with pretty much every team in the Marvel universe at some point, along with more than his share of alternate versions, it’s safe to say that X-23 continues that tradition here.
The story still lacks in some key components, but it still has all the overplayed features we would expect of a body-swapping story. Two characters swap bodies, they fumble around hilariously, and they come together to fix this mess. It’s a simple formula and All-New Wolverine Annual #1 sticks to it for the most part. It doesn’t try to overachieve beyond its worth. It doesn’t lower the bar either. Overall, this issue acts as another step in X-23’s evolution as the new Wolverine. So long as she can avoid Clone Sagas and avoid falling in love with redheads, it’s safe to say she’s on the right track.