Marvel Comics History: Legion


One of the biggest pieces of news to come out this week was that Marvel is teaming up with Fox to work together on not one but two separate television series based on the X-Men comics. Keep in mind that when Marvel sold the rights to the X-Men and related properties, this was for movies only. So an agreement to put them on the small screen was a little more complicated.

The agreement gives Marvel networks to put their shows on and gives Fox some creative power. It’s a nearly ideal scenario that could lead to much bigger things. The two proposed shows are Hellfire, based on the villain group the Hellfire Club, and Legion, which will center around that particular character and his complex story.

Fans of the X-men films and even the previous animated series probably have no idea who Legion is or how he fits into the Marvel Universe. However, the truth is that he is easily one of the most intense and fascinating characters created by Marvel writer Chris Claremont. His story, and how it is translated to television, will be fascinating to watch.

The character of Legion was born David Haller — David Charles Haller to be specific, and that is important. You see, Haller was a powerful mutant and the son of X-Men leader Charles Xavier, otherwise known as Professor X.

Before we get into his backstory, let’s talk about Legion’s publication history. His first appearance was in New Mutants #25 back in 1985. However, it wasn’t until 1991 that Legion’s character was fully fleshed out, as we got not only more of his history, but Claremont really started layering the oddities and struggles of his character.

Xavier met Haller’s mother, Gabrielle Haller, when she was a patient in an asylum in Israel where Xavier was working. They had an affair, and Haller became pregnant, but Xavier left Israel not knowing that he was to be a father.

It should come as no surprise that Haller was born with tremendous latent mutant abilities. However, it was the trauma that brought them to the surface that turned him into the tortured soul he became. When Haller was a child, he was the sole survivor of a terrorist attack that left his psyche fractured to the point that his psionic mutant powers manifested themselves. His first official act with those powers was to destroy the minds of his attackers completely.

In the process of all this, Haller actually absorbed the consciousnesses of all his victims that he had connected with, including the leader of the terrorists. This was a man named Jemail Karami, and his role in Haller’s life was significant.

In the comics, Haller’s mind is portrayed as a twisted dreamscape based loosely on an Alice in Wonderland version of Paris, and it contains all these splintered personalities fighting for position within his mind, with Karami trying to be something of a referee to all of them. Each individual personality controls (or is controlled by) a different mutant power. When Legion chooses to use one of his specific psionic powers, he runs the risk of allowing that particular personality to take over his consciousness for a period of time. Depending on the personality, this can be very dangerous for Haller as well as those around him.

The full extent of Legion’s personality and his powers have never been fully fleshed out. He is at minimum an Omega Level mutant, but assuming he is someday able to consolidate these personalities and use them in conjunction with each other, he could set the upper standard for mutants even higher.

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While digging back into the issues, I counted more than 50 different personalities, each with a singular power that always manifested at an intense level. Still, it’s the cast of characters inside Legion’s head that makes him so interesting. On one hand, we have Sally, the obese woman with powers that mimic the Hulk in nearly every way. On the othe, there is the adventurer Jack Wayne, who happens to be a powerful telekinetic.

Those who haven’t read the comics need to understand that these personalities are often at odds and actually do battle inside of Legion’s mind to become the dominant personality. This is where the altered reality Paris comes in. And Karami is there for all of it, trying to keep the peace inside Haller’s head.

The upward limits of Legion’s power has never been fully explored. He can kill with a touch, travel through time at will, create wormholes and warp reality on a cosmic scale. More than once in the comics, those who spent some time in that twisted noodle of his reported that the number of personalities in his head continues to increase with no end in sight.

Legion is portrayed at times as reclusive and schizophrenic, while other times the writers show him as being autistic, all a result of the literal war going on in his head. He has bounced between hero, villain and antihero over his publication history, at times looking to destroy the X-Men and the universe and other times just battling to maintain control of his own mind.

Now let us fast-forward to a specific part of Legion’s publication history that will be of particular importance in the TV show. Legion was a part of the “Age of Apocalypse” story arc.The Earth within the main Marvel Universe is Earth-616, but the Age of Apocalypse event took place on Earth-295, a reality that was actually created by Legion. Yes, he’s that powerful.

In this continuity, Legion hoped that by going back in time and killing Magneto, he could help his father’s dream of peace between humans and mutants to become a reality. So he went back to a time before he was born, but was unable to kill Magneto. In fact, as Xavier attempted to protect Magneto from his son, Xavier himself was killed.

This shift in reality and the accompanying battle is what drew Apocalypse to the fight, and in essence was responsible for the ensuing war between mutants and non-mutants. This could be his “in” between the TV world of the X-Men and the film world, a way to tie the two together much like Marvel has done with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

So what will the Legion television series look like? Since it will air on FX, we can expect much more adult themes and content. This is the network after all that gives us American Horror Story and all its twisted goodness. Legion should have a very surreal feel to it, with lots of flashbacks to the trauma of Haller’s youth, and the scenes of the internal battles within his mind should be epic.

That said, just how much of a hero Haller will be and how much of the story arc will simply focus on his drive to center himself mentally remains to be seen. Legion could certainly become an unwitting hero depending on which personality takes control, and the overall premise provides a limitless number of one-off scenarios for unique villains and stories.

The writers and producers also have an opportunity to write in the relationship between Haller and Xavier. Once their history is fleshed out in relation to one another, Haller becomes very protective of his father (hence the “Age of Apocalypse” story arc), and in turn, later in the comics, Xavier goes to great lengths to try and help Legion control his powers.

Additionally, the multitude of characters Legion interacts with would be fascinating to see on screen. In particular, the mutant Magik and her combination of mutant teleportation and powerful mystical abilities would make sense. As a character, she could certainly be a trusted companion to Legion on his journey toward sanity and open up that supernatural aspect to all this that has become so popular in television.

All in all, using Legion is a great choice. It’s doubtful the producers delve as deep into his character as the comics did, and don’t be shocked if they retcon his origin story as it pertains to how his mutant powers manifested. As a character, he is so interesting that fans will love him. He’s powerful enough that it will draw in more hardcore comic book fans, but because his power is linked to his mental state, it promises some truly twisted fun. There’s no date yet, but the pilot has been ordered, so I won’t be at all shocked if we see Legion in the fall of 2016.

Next: More on the Two Fox X-Men TV Shows

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