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A brutal and bloody Western of a superhero movie, Logan introduced us to 12-year-old star Dafne Keen as Laura, a.k.a. Marvel's X-23. A female clone of Logan who'd been created as a living weapon, Laura's story moved viewers, and Dafne Keen's incredible action sequences left us longing for more. Surprisingly enough though, some newly unveiled concept art has revealed that X-23 was almost very different. Rather than a child, the character was originally envisioned as a teenager!
Check out Some of the X-23 Concept Art!
As you can see, the original concept art envisioned X-23 as a teenager rather than a child, and gave her a distinctly gothic style. James Mangold wasn't impressed, though; he's highly critical of the teenage superhero design.
“I wanted to avoid the standard trap, which has been done successfully elsewhere, of that very attractive 19 year old actress in a hot uniform. We’ve seen that. I wanted something more interesting.”
He's got a point. Even X-23's creator, Craig Kyle, was irritated at how the character was aged in the comics; he originally pictured her as a 13-year-old whose mutation had been triggered early, and who would therefore be trapped in a child's body for a long time. Much to his frustration, though, when the character transitioned into the comics, "she was 22 and had a boob job". It's pretty clear Craig Kyle and James Mangold were on the same page with this character.
That said, what's impressive about some of this concept art is how comic-book-accurate it is. The concept artists, the award-winning Aaron Sims Creative, clearly looked back to her first gritty appearances in the comics, during the much-loved NYX series. As Steffen Reichstadt told ComicBook.com:
"Definitely going for a more edgy feel with the costuming. Punk runaway was the feeling that we were initially asked to portray."
You definitely get that vibe!
James Mangold's Argument
I have to admit, as a superhero fan, I can definitely see the beauty of these designs. At the same time, though, I think James Mangold had a point.
“I felt that if we got into the teenage years of X-23, it would feel like a CW show. And the X-Men movies have done a lot of young characters with adults playing these parts. I wanted to confront Logan with what he was most frightened of, which was the idea of being a dad. A real dad, not to an unruly teenager, but to a child.”
This, I suspect, was the argument that clinched it. There's a beautiful father-daughter relationship between Laura and Logan, one that only comes to its logical conclusion as Hugh Jackman's iconic character breathes his last. The scenes with #DafneKeen are absolutely electric, and the dynamic between Wolverine and his 'child' is simply inspired. Although Mangold admits he got some pushback from the higher-ups at Fox, they eventually bowed to his wishes.
There are two ironies to this. The first is that Mangold actually created a version of X-23 who's closer to Craig Kyle's original idea than the one we saw in the comic. As far back as 2014, Kyle and Mangold sat down for lunch and discussed the character; Kyle explained his original designs, right down to the strategic placement of her claws, and some of his comments actually made their way into the final film. Reflecting on how the character's developed in the comics, Kyle observes:
"I am so grateful for how he brought her to screen. He has a chance to do what I couldn't."
The second irony, though, is that there's going to be one clear difference between the film version of X-23 and Craig Kyle's original idea. He'd imagined X-23 as a character who aged slowly due to the artificial triggering of her healing factor. In a comic, you can actually make something like that work; you can keep the character designs on-model so very easily, meaning the character doesn't age. In contrast, Dafne Keen is a 12-year-old, and she's going to grow a lot as Fox decide where next to use the character of X-23. Ironically, by the time X-23 returns to the big screen she will be a teenager!
All in all, as gorgeous as some of this concept art may be, I think James Mangold made the right call. He adhered closely to Craig Kyle's original design, and he clearly faced a lot of criticism inside Fox for his approach. But the results speak for themselves; Dafne Keen's X-23 is a tremendous character, played by a skilled young actress who truly deserves to be the breakout star of Logan.