Full Name: Laura Howlett
Occupation: Student at Academy of Tomorrow, former assassin and prostitute
Mutant Abilities: Accelerated healing, heightend senses and reflexes, enhanced strength and endurance, retractable claws in wrists and feet that were coated in adamantium
History: Weapon X-23’s life indirectly began with the failure of Weapon X. After repeated failures to turn the likes of James Howlett and Victor Creed into functioning living weapons, the government shut down the program and buried its secrets as deep as it could. However, these secrets were not buried deep enough because a private entity managed to save some of them. With this data, they continued research on living weapons and X-23 was the result of that research.
Not much is known about the entity that conducted this research. It is only know that it was privately funded and privately maintained by a non-government entity. The primary source of funding and resources came from Shaw Industries, an organization that already has a questionable and secretive history regarding mutant research. However, it is still not known of Shaw Industries was the prime entity. At the very least, it offered funding and facilities. And these were the facilities in which X-23 was born.
Her name, X-23, is actually a designation that is indicative of the progress of the research or lack thereof. Weapon X-23 at its core was an effort to create a clone of James Howlett, the only test subject for Weapon X that showed any function. For years, teams of researchers attempted to create a viable clone that contained the necessary genetic and physiological features of its predecessor. The first 22 tries were failures, often resulting in deformed or unviable beings that either died or couldn’t be weaponized. Then on the 23rd attempt, a breakthrough was made.
This attempt was a result of removing some of the damaged DNA on the original Weapon X, which was mostly on the Y-chromosome. By removing this chromosome, the resulting specimen was female. This female clone had Wolverine’s healing, agility, strength, and enhanced senses. While it was not the perfect duplicate the researchers sought, she was by far the most viable and the decision was made to develop her.
Not much is known about who made these decisions. Weapon X-23 was not born through a surrogate. She was grown in a tank and pulled out as an infant. She was then kept in an incubator where her growth was carefully monitored by an AI she only knew as Queen. She had minimal interaction with any human being. Nobody was allowed to get close to her. The isolation was intended to keep her from forming emotional attachments of any kind.
As soon as she was old enough to walk, she began conditioning. The facility made sure her every waking hour was spent learning how to fight. They brought in experts in every field of hand-to-hand combat from Kung Fu to Ju-Jitsu to Krav Maga. All of this training was overseen by a former Shaolin monk named Shen Yu Fong. Of all those involved with X-23’s creation, he interacted with her the most. He also ended up being her first victim.
Over the years, Fong was X-23’s only source for emotional understanding. He treated her like a pupil and made sure those who trained her never injured her too severely. It was later uncovered that he went to her off-hours to talk to her, educating her in ways that the facility had strictly forbidden. This allowed X-23 to develop some sense of self. But even after her superiors found out about it, they let it continue and eventually used it against her.
At the tender age of 10, she underwent a procedure that bombarded her body with radiation. It nearly killed her, but it helped unlock her X-gene. Her healing and her enhanced senses emerged so quickly that it triggered uncontrollable outbursts of rage, not unlike the berserker rages that the original Weapon X experienced. The facility sent Fong in to calm her down, but she ended up killing him. It was also the first instance where her claws shot out from her wrists. She even had a set in her feet not present in the original Weapon X. When the rage finally stopped, Fong and several subordinates were dead and X-23 became a killer.
This moment hardened her in ways that even her creators never imagined. The death of Shen Yu Fong seemed to destroy whatever innocence or humanity she had left. As a result, the facility felt emboldened enough to put her through the adamantium bonding process. Unlike her predecessor, only her claws were coated with adamantium. These became her primary weapons as she underwent a new round of vigorous training, this time at a military level. By age 13 she had training on par with the best Special Forces units in the world. She became the perfect killer.
Once her creators were satisfied with her training, they began contracting her for assassinations. Being a teenage girl, few were expecting her to be so deadly so her ability to infiltrate made her services extremely effective and extremely lucrative. It is not known how many she killed, but the amount of money she made her creators indicates a death toll on par with her predecessor. Her success led her creators to craft more ambitious plans. However, they didn’t know that X-23 was making plans of her own.
From the moment she first killed Shen Yu Fong, she began plotting to kill her creators. She began gathering intel on everyone at the facility and mapping out escape plans in her head. For years, she never got had an opportunity to act on them. That all changed the fateful day one of her handlers got too rough with her, allowing her to steal his keycard. With that card, X-23 had an opportunity to escape and make her creators pay. It was an opportunity that she took full advantage of.
The details of her escape aren’t know. But what is known is that everybody at the facility ended up dead. Those that tried to contain her died. Those who tried to flee and beg for mercy died. Secret reports from Shaw Industries indicate that the level with which X-23 dealt with her creators was exceptionally brutal, matching and even surpassing Weapon X in terms of sheer violence. She didn’t bother finding out about her creators. She just destroyed everything and killed everyone involved.
With the facility destroyed and her creators dead, X-23 disappeared for a time. Not much is known about what happened to her or where she went. She eventually turned up in the streets of New York City at age 17 as a teenage prostitute. It isn’t known how she ended up in this line of work. She did not work with a pimp or a crime ring. She worked independently, using the money she made to survive.
For a time, this was her only purpose until her paths crossed once again with the original Weapon X. This meeting triggered in her the same rage she felt towards her creators. However, Wolverine convinced her that he did not know about her and was not responsible. This added more emotional confusion that plagued her. As a result, she evaded Wolverine when he attempted to seek her out.
That all changed when she encountered Fantomex in Los Angeles. Using her as bait to get to Wolverine, he beat her up and poisoned her in a way that nullified her healing factor. The attack nearly killed her, but the X-men managed to save her and Wolverine. She eventually woke up and Wolverine convinced her to join him in the fight against Fantomex. In addition, he gave her an official name, Laura Howlett. And with his help, she embraced this identity and enrolled in the Academy of Tomorrow where she seeks to build a new life.
Character Breakdown: Laura’s personality is dark, but simple. She was created to be broken from the moment she was born. Nearly her entire life revolved around dehumanization and de-individualization. She wasn’t meant to feel any emotions or even understand her own sense of self. She was conditioned to be an unfeeling and obedient killer. It has left her with a naturally damaged sense of self, so much so that this damage is likely permanent in some respects. That damage makes her prone to anger, instinct, and complete detachment.
But despite this horrific conditioning, the process of dehumanization and de-individualization was not successful. Despite the atrocities committed by her creators, Laura still retained a sense of self. That sense of self kept her from becoming the unfeeling and obedient killer she was intended to be. It’s what led her to rebel against her creators. Her determined efforts to survive indicate that this sense of self was very fragile and vulnerable. It also explains why she was willing to die rather than risk losing it again, as shown by her desire to have Wolverine kill her.
At her core, Laura is a survivor. She’ll kill when she needs to kill. She’ll fight when she needs to fight. She’ll even prostitute herself if that’s what she needs to do. She sees herself as both a weapon and a person. However, the line between the two is very obscure. Being a teenager, whose identity is still developing, adds to this struggle. Her interactions with Wolverine and her new understanding of family help give a context to her new persona. She is both X-23 and Laura Howlett. And she’s determined not to let one destroy the other.