FX’s “Legion”: An Unexpected Pleasure

Legion, a live-action television series, premiered on FX in last week, February, 2017

Produced by 20th Century Fox Television and Marvel Television, it was originally planned to be set in the same universe as the X-Men film series, but FX CEO John Landgraf revealed that the series is set in a “parallel universe” instead.

Wise move. I intended to avoid the series altogether due to my dislike of the comic version of the character. I am glad to say I didn’t allow my prejudice to prevent me from experiencing an unexpected pleasure.

For those of you who have never seen the character in print, Wikipedia tells us:

Legion (David Charles Haller) is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. He is the mutant son of Professor Charles Xavier and Gabrielle Haller. Legion takes the role of an antihero and has a severe mental illness including a form of dissociative identity disorder formerly known as multiple personality disorder in which each of his alternate personas controls one of his many superpowers. Created by writer Chris Claremont and artist Bill Sienkiewicz, Legion made his debut in New Mutants #25 (March 1985). —Wikipedia>Legion

Personally, until this depiction, I had nothing but absolute loathing for the character. Not going to dress this up. I disliked every story I ever read with Legion in it. I didn’t care for the artwork or the stories Legion appeared in.

Legion had an incredible mutant talent whose extreme ranges included reality-alteration, but was most often depicted as varying degrees of telekinesis, pyrokinesis, or any other mental superpower ability you could imagine, partitioned inside of an individual whose psyche was split into multiple, occasionally, psychotic selves. He is often said to be the most powerful mutant on the planet.

In my heart, I suspect Legion was meant to be a throw-away or one-off character which was supposed to appear once and then die. See: Proteus. Like Proteus, Legion had uncontrollable powers so I figured he was doubly damned. Powerful, but uncontrollable usually meant an untimely death in comics. In the canon comics Marvel Universe, Legion was the son of Charles Xavier. Charles Haller would grow up to have the most powerful mutant mind on the planet, if he could overcome its inherent psychological instability.

Curing him was a re-occurring theme where Xavier, the most powerful psychic being on the planet was unable to help his even more powerful son. Some fans I talked to thought their father/son relationship was one of the compelling reasons to engage the character.  As far as I was concerned, Legion became less interesting with each application. The art was always atrocious, which made the character easier for me to ignore. Except for this piece. This may be part of the only Legion artwork I ever liked.

I don’t pretend to understand why movie writers can’t seem to get the X-men right. It should be so easy. Scary mutant powers, fearful, unreasonably frightened public, insert government agencies with the capacity to stop them. Print money. Lots of it.

Tell interesting short story arcs to develop characters, enrich backstory. Splinter off stories with interesting characters. Make more money.

Develop two dozen separate X-men movies since there have been at least 200 characters associated with the X-men. Hire bulldozers; rake in cash higher and deeper.

Instead the X-franchise has limped its way into history. Slowly and painfully releasing, rebooting, reorganizing, replacing actors, reprising timelines, creating one of the most inconsistent, least effective superhero franchises on the market. The movies make money but finding fans who sing its praises are pretty rare. There was little in the pantheon of the X-movies to recommend them (except the Quicksilver computerized effects). I wanted to like these movies. I figured there would never be a Marvel mutant, on any screen, I would ever enjoy.

Until Legion debuted.

Legion is a cinematographer’s paradise, each shot is visually sumptuous, a feast of light, color, and movement. Legion appears to be a writer’s chance to develop the character into something beyond the mutant cardboard cut-outs depicted by Bryan Singer. Legion/David Haller, is played by Dan Stevens, an impressive young actor who has managed to embrace the complexity of the character, is flexibly representing a willingness to be serious and yet playful as the role demands.

The credits for the series indicates the character’s creators, Chris Claremont, has written two episodes and Bill Sienkiewicz has written one. Stan Lee and Dave Cockrum are listed as having their hands in as well. With such a list of writing luminaries, I can hardly wait to see where this series goes. The first episode of Legion was in the hands of a director who knew their way around a story involving madness, how to film it, how to link the non-linear story together via theme and structure, doing something no X-movie has managed yet: Noah Hawley (writer and director) made me curious. Curious enough to keep watching.

He made me want to know more by weaving this story, this artwork, this film, this vision into what I deem, to be the best mutant story told in the X-franchise, thus far. Looking through IMDB, there appear to be multiple directors, thus I am to assume, each change of direction will likely focus on differing aspects of our main character’s grip on reality.

Legion’s first episode hits it cleanly out of the ball park creating a sense of disconnection, paranoia and isolation all in the first ten minutes. The entry montage alone develops a character better than most of the X-movies have, combined. I don’t want to reveal anything about the show to you, so that’s all you’re gonna get for now. We can talk after the second episode. There are quite a few new characters whose powers and abilities are as yet unexplained including a young woman whose powers seemed similar to Rogue, portrayed by Rachel Keller.

My final verdict: Worthy! If you know me, I generally need to go to a restaurant three times before I rate them and have to watch three episodes before I will commit to a show. I am already hooked. Can the next episodes carry the high standards of the first? I certainly hope so. X-men lovers, you can exhale, I think the mutant story you’ve been waiting for, has arrived.

Why are you still standing there thinking about my words? How impressed was I?

I would watch Legion, in real time, with commercial interruption.

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