Perhaps the most exciting comic-book-inspired TV series of the year, Legion promises to be a superhero show with a difference. Showrunner Noah Hawley (of Fargo fame) has focused on creating a unique, intense experience, in which we dive into the confused and broken mind of David Haller (Dan Stevens). The boundaries between reality and insanity will be tested as never before!
But who is David Haller? What comics inspired this new series? It's time for us to explore the comic book history of Legion!
We first met David Haller — a.k.a. Legion — back in 1985, in the pages of New Mutants. He was introduced as a mysteriously powerful mutant, the son of Gabriel Haller, an old flame of Charles Xavier's. Only as the story continued did we learn the truth; Xavier was actually his father! While he was very young, David was a victim of a terrorist attack; his mutant powers flared to life, and he experienced the pain and death through telepathy. Worse still, he absorbed the psyche of terrorist leader Jemail Karami into his own mind.
David's mind splintered into multiple personalities, with each identity controlling a different psionic power. The personalities would spend years warring for control of David's mind, and his trauma wouldn't be helped by a period when he was possessed by the astral entity known as the Shadow King.
The 1990s - A Major Era for Legion
In the early 1990s, Marvel toyed with the idea of moving Legion into the mainstream; there was even discussion about making him a part of Peter David's first X-Factor run. David wasn't in favor of the idea, telling Fictioneer Books:
"I don't mind building a story around [Legion], but working him into a group - you're really asking for a bit much from the reader. Believing that a group of people will come together to form a team is enough of a suspension of disbelief... 'Oh, by the way, one of them is so nuts he shouldn't be setting foot off Muir Island'... that's asking the reader to bend so far he will break."
As a result, Legion didn't recover from a post-Shadow-King coma until 1994's "Legion Quest". In that arc, he awoke with his mind seemingly intact, and with a burning desire to earn his father's love. Legion used his phenomenal power to travel back in time in an attempt to kill Magneto, his father's nemesis, before the mutant race could be splintered by the conflict between Xavier and Magneto. It went badly wrong — he unwittingly killed his father instead!
This was the catalyst for one of the best-loved #XMen arcs of all time, "Age of Apocalypse", in which readers experienced a shattered dystopia ruled by the madman Apocalypse. Ultimately, the X-Men of that reality managed to send their own agent back in time, who stopped Legion and restored the timeline.
The Return of Legion
Legion stayed out of the spotlight for over a decade, with there even being hints that he changed the timeline so as to ensure he'd never been born. That was until 2009's New Mutants series, which opened with the team rediscovering the tortured mutant. His powers had taken on an even more disturbing aspect, with Legion now able to literally absorb others into himself!
This time round, though, #Marvel was playing the long game. Legion was taken to the X-Men's base, the island Utopia, for treatment; there, Professor Xavier worked hard to integrate his son's personalities. It was hardly plain sailing — at one point Legion created yet another alternate reality, dubbed "Age of X" — but Xavier ultimately saw real success, and Legion became part of the main cast in Mike Carey's X-Men: Legacy.
Most recently, in the aftermath of 2012's "Avengers vs. X-Men" event, Simon Spurrier launched a new series of X-Men: Legacy, this time starring Legion. Spurrier's narrative was tremendous, diving deep into Legion's broken psyche, and giving the character the mission to somehow serve his now-deceased father's dream. Spurrier balanced the insanity out with a beautiful relationship, with Legion finding love in the precognitive mutant Blindfold; still, the series ended in tragedy, with Legion choosing to erase himself from reality altogether. He left one last psychic echo of his self with the girl he loved, and then finally found peace.
A Unique Character
As you can see, Legion is a unique character — which is why the TV series has so much promise. Noah Hawley seems to have been inspired by Simon Spurrier's run, and he intends to give us a series like no other. As he observes:
“I always feel like the structure of a story should reflect the content of the story. If the story, as in this case, is about a guy who is either schizophrenic or he has these abilities, i.e., he doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not real, then the audience should have the same experience.”
So it is that Legion will dive deep into the troubled mind of David Haller! It's pretty incredible to imagine that a character who was once turned down for a team book has now become the star of his own series!
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Only time will tell how much inspiration Legion will draw from the comics. I have no doubt that Noah Hawley will give us a unique take on the central character, one that embraces Dissociative Identity Disorder in a way nothing (not even Split) has done before. In so doing, he'll also prove that there's a lot more to comic books than just superheroes...
Are you excited for 'Legion'?
(Poll Image Credit: FX)