With Legion Season 2 looming, it seemed like a good idea to take a look at the title mutant’s history in the comics. So just who is Legion? Or specifically, who is David Haller?
Or maybe who are Legion? Maybe we can give him the power of easily understood verb tense.
David Haller is a complicated guy or 250. He’s a mutant with multiple personalities. Many, many multiple personalities, each possessing a different power. And not all of the personalities are his – he can also absorb the psionic essences of people who die in proximity to them, and then they, as distinct mental architecture in his mind, are assigned a different power.
Legion is the second most powerful mutant in the Marvel Universe behind Franklin Richards, but at the scale we’re talking, trying to figure out who is more or less powerful is like two grains of sand on Bikini Atoll trying to figure out which atomic bomb that hit them was bigger.
At one point or another, David has:
– rewritten all of reality.
– Destroyed a horde of Elder Gods with the wave of a hand.
– Rewritten all of reality again.
– Reset the rewritten reality back to normal.
– Destroyed an invading army of Nimrod sentinels with the wave of a hand.
– Rewritten all of reality a third time.
– Escaped the end of a universe to wander Limbo.
– And finally, you have probably guessed by now that he rewrote reality a fourth time.
Despite all this, despite the fact that his overarching power is that he is a black hole stretching the very concept of the X-Men to an unrecognizable point, he’s actually been in a ton of really good X-Men comics. If the show is going to match what’s been printed, they’re going to have to work pretty hard.
David Haller was created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz in New Mutants volume 1 #26, which retconned work that Claremont did with Dave Cockrum back in Uncanny X-Men #161. He’s the child of Gabrielle Haller, a Holocaust survivor sent into a catatonic stupor by the horrors of that ordeal and Charles Xavier, a world-class scumbag who routinely puts minors in harm’s way in the name of his ideals. When she realized she was pregnant, Gabrielle thought about what kind of father Charles would make, and she wisely decided that it would be safer to be an Israeli diplomat in the 1970s than to allow Charles any contact with his son. So she didn’t tell him. He found out anyway, though.
The man who raised Legion with his mother was killed shielding David from a terrorist attack on the Israeli embassy in Paris, a trauma that kickstarted David’s psychic powers and caused him to kill all of the terrorists in the embassy at the time. He absorbed one of their psyches into himself, Jemail Karami, and then became catatonic. After nine years in what was for all intents and purposes a coma, Gabrielle went to Moira MacTaggart for help, and the Professor found out he had a son when David’s catatonic form started absorbing the minds of all the people on Muir Island. The New Mutants eventually fought inside his mind alongside Professor X to give Jemail control over the other personalities – Jemail gained empathy through the use of Legion’s telepathy, while the other two personalities were sadists or nihilists.
David is, as a character, defined by his mental illness. There are three main phases to Legion since his creation: the original story discussed above; his existence as a plot device for about five years real time; and the story of him learning to manage his condition. He remained an occasional character in New Mutants for a couple of years before the power of being an X-universe macguffin kicked in, and then he got possessed by the Shadow King.
The Muir Island Saga is a minor X-crossover that marked the transition of the X-line from a tight, continuity-focused set of comics to the sprawling ‘90s mess that they became with the introduction of the Blue and Gold teams (and X-Force), marked the exact spot where Chris Claremont walked off the X-Men books he had been writing for a decade and a half, and it was a bit of a placeholder story that was originally supposed to be something dramatically different, but Uncanny X-Men #280 was also one of the first comics I bought with my own money, so I still think highly of it. The Shadow King took over Legion’s mind, controlled everyone on the island and caused X-Factor and the X-Men to reunite and co-mingle. It set the tone for this era of Legion stories in that he was a plot device more than an actual character.
The same is true for “Legion Quest” and the Age of Apocalypse. David got better and decided that Magneto was the true impediment to his father’s good intentions (reminder: he brought a woman out of a coma to have sex with her), so he used his powers to travel back in time and kill Mags. Except he missed, killed Xavier instead, and created a splinter timeline where Apocalypse was in charge and everything was very bad. Then he got caught in a timeloop undoing the Age of Apocalypse and disappeared.
He returned in a story that paralleled his original appearance: the reformed New Mutants, tasked with “cleaning up mutant messes” around the world, hunt down the being behind a mysterious murder and discover that it was one of Legion’s bad personalities. After a fight (and a sneaky deal with Illyana Rasputin), he is brought back to the X-Men’s floating sovereign island in San Francisco, where he is treated by a genius ex-Nazi hunter, a guy who is really into robots, and the woman who came up with the “cure” for being a mutant in Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men.
He then popped up briefly in X-Men: Second Coming, the closeout crossover to the Messiah era of the X-Men (which was awesome) before being the catalyst behind Age of X. David had been capturing and cataloguing his personalities and their abilities with the help of the assorted science people on Utopia (the X-Men’s island). Unfortunately, one of those personalities really doesn’t like this, so she completely rewrites reality. In the new world, mutants have been hunted to near extinction. The only ones left live in a fortress, where all of the telekinetics (one of whom is Force Warrior Legion) reinforce a telekinetic wall every night after a regular battle with the human forces laying siege to their home. We learn that it was created by a rebellious personality, one he confronts and reabsorbs, but in a critical shift from previous Legion stories, one he learns and grows from. That growth continues after he restores the normal reality, and has to confront another handful of personalities impacting the real world.
He works with his father and Dr. Nemesis to continue to conquer his demons until Avengers vs. X-Men, when the Professor is killed, an event that shakes David to his core. He then spends the rest of X-Men Legacy (volume 2) working to regain control, to find his place in the world in the shadow of a father who was the mutant equivalent of rich white Ghandi, and to process his feelings for Blindfold, a precognitive mutant who saw herself becoming David’s nemesis in the future. I’m not giving anything away about that book beyond this: its beauty is in its unexpectedness. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Legion is a tough character with a history that doesn’t lend itself to adaptation, which is why so many people were surprised to see him as a TV star. But season one was so good that there’s no reason to doubt. Really, the show is dedicated to giving us Legion in all of his unfiltered weirdness, as a continuity-refracting prism, and it’s a beautiful thing.