David Haller has had a few good years.
In Marvel Comics, David is the son of Charles Xavier, with mutant abilities tied to his dissociative identity disorder, where each persona comes with their own superpower -- hence his mutant alias, Legion. He’s never shared a fraction of his father’s fame, though, and spent the best part of 30 years firmly on the D-list, occasionally being wheeled out as a world-threatening plot device.
Between 2012 and 2014, however, David was given a starring role in his own comic, X-Men Legacy, which turned the character’s obscurity into a virtue. As well as being one of the best X-books of the past 10 years, Legacy inspired last year’s Legion, a critically acclaimed TV show that focused on Haller’s mental health.
Which is how we end up here in 2018 with Legion #1, the second book ever to star David and the first with his name (or at least, his alias) in the title.
So which of these legacies -- pun completely intended -- is this new comic hewing closest to?
Visually, Legion #1 is a departure from pretty much everything that’s come before. The show delivered some of the most spectacular visuals ever seen on TV as it explored David’s psyche. And in the comics… well, we’re talking about a character co-created by Bill Sienkiewicz, with psionic powers that are a perfect fit for his trademark abstract expressionism.
Legion’s Wilfredo Torres has a beautifully clean art style, emphasized by Dan Brown’s block pastels -- about as far away as you can get Sienkiewicz’s explosive scribbles. It gives the book a nice solid foundation, though it remains to be seen whether Torres can go as weird as the character’s powers sometimes require.
Story-wise, writer Peter Milligan seems to be taking his main inspiration from the TV show. The setup of Legion #1 ignores, or potentially even undoes, the ending of X-Men Legacy -- which, without spoiling anything, caps off David’s story beautifully. It may be a necessity in order to bring the character back, but if you’re a fan of that series, don’t expect to see its threads picked up here.
Milligan seems most interested in the mental health aspect of the character, with the issue split between two perspectives: David himself, and Dr Hannah Jones. In this first issue, the latter is actually the more interesting character -- a psychotherapist who starts to experience supernatural phenomena she tries to explain away as hallucinations, until they begin to do her physical harm.
These phenomena are courtesy of Lord Trauma, one of David’s "alters" who looks set to fill the villain role in this story. Trauma’s abilities are a bit ill-defined -- possibly electricity-based, possibly psychic, and at one point he possesses a computer monitor and causes it to grow arms and legs. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, except it somewhat betrays the concept of David’s personalities having a single superpower each.
Trauma is also presented as a totally separate character. He might have sprang fully formed from the head of David, but he’s now loose in the world. This leaves David as the least interesting player in his own comic. He’s saddled with a lot of narration, and not much to actually do in this issue.
It seems that, even with his first self-titled comic, David Haller is in danger of being shuffled into the background or becoming a plot device, all over again. Torres has David down perfectly -- in his physical form, if not his powers. The rest of this miniseries depends on Milligan managing to find a solid identity for a character whose defining feature is that he doesn’t have just one.