David Haller is a complicated dude. Or…complicated dudes.
The omega-level mutant, currently featured on FX’s Legion, has a long history in the comics that is tied closely to the history of the X-Men, and shares their penchant for broken continuity. So where exactly did David Haller come from in the comics?
Let’s take a look…
Origin: New Mutants volume 1 #26-28.
In Sienkiewicz and writer Chris Claremont’s often groundbreaking style, we get the story of young David. He gets caught in a terrorist attack, and is the only survivor. In the process, his powers emerge and he absorbs the mind of the terrorist who commits the crime. From there, his mind splinters, and each personality is assigned a power. This story shows his origin, and shows the New Mutants (the first class of students at Xavier’s school after the X-Men) meeting him, fighting him and linking up with him.
Muir Island Saga: Uncanny X-Men #278-280; X-Factor #69 & 70
Legion Quest: Uncanny X-Men #319-321; Cable #20; X-Men vol. 2 #40 & 41
Age of Apocalypse: X-Men Alpha; X-Men Omega
None of these is foundational to understanding who David is, but they are important to his overall plot. The Muir Island Saga is actually important to the background of the television show, as well: it’s the first time Legion and the Shadow King butt heads.
The Muir Island Saga is the culmination of years of buildup in X-Men comics. It has the Shadow King nibbling away at the minds of Moira MacTaggart, David, Polaris, and Jamie Madrox (the inhabitants of Muir Island, a science lab/generic Scottish island). When Amahl Farouk finally gains control of David’s mind, he uses David’s powers to poison the entire world, making people more angry and violent and hateful, like leaded gasoline. The X-Men and the original X-Factor eventually confront the Shadow King, and Professor X, in some baller astral conquistador armor, takes him down and destroys him “forever.” It’s comics forever, but whatever.
The Age of Apocalypse is one of the ballsiest comics events of all time. It starts with “Legion Quest:” David awakens from his catatonia following the Muir Island Saga and decides he really wants to help his dad. So he goes back in time to kill Magneto before Magneto can turn evil. It goes…poorly. Instead of killing Magneto, Charles jumps in front of David’s psychic knife and sacrifices himself, wiping David from the timeline and paving the way for Apocalypse to come to power millenia before he was supposed to. Apocalypse turns America into a real dump, and the rest of the story, while excellent, only barely involves David at the end. Short version: there’s a time loop, Bishop, and David wipes himself from existence.
Return: New Mutants vol. 3 #1-4
Zeb Wells’ run of New Mutants was a delight. This tale brought David back to reality and reunited much of the original New Mutants cast on a book that was as much about legacy as it was chasing down David’s multiple personalities. After his resurrection and some requisite battling, David was brought to the X-Men’s new San Francisco-adjacent lair, Utopia, where he worked with the team of X-science bros cataloguing and harnessing his many personalities.
X-Men: Second Coming, while not strictly necessary to Legion’s tale, should absolutely be read because it is dope. It’s the last great X-Men crossover: huge, widescreen action with years worth of story payoffs, and while Legion gets precisely zero character development, he does parachute in for a total badass moment or two. Really, you should read the big X-Men books from Messiah CompleX to Second Coming. Not for Legion, he has nothing to do with it until the end. Just because they’re great.
What if David had been important to Age of Apocalypse instead of a plot device: Age of X
Age of X, a crossover between New Mutants and X-Men Legacy,was basically “What if David’s character development was important to the plot of Age of Apocalypse, instead of just being a breathing macguffin?” Age of X was, like its forebear often was, impossibly bleak and gorgeous to look at, but this new story was emotionally resonant from every aspect. Mike Carey is the most underrated X-Men writer of all time, and very quietly maybe the third best. Here he created an alternate world, filled it with fascinating X-analogues, made all of them feel real, and then brought it all down in a way that made David the emotional core. Carey followed this up in the pages of X-Men Legacy in another great, but less essential story.
Simon Spurrier and Tan Eng Huat’s X-Men: Legacymight be the most important comic to the tone of the TV show. It was also the weirdest, sweetest X-Men comic of all time. When they relaunched X-Men Legacy following Avengers vs. X-Men, they had Legion deal with human problems. He struggled to work through his illness. He fell in love with someone – Blindfold, the precog from Joss Whedon’s run. And he worked through his issues with his father, who was appearing to him as an all-powerful gold-coated version of himself, bursting out of David’s brain to try and murder him. Totally normal, right? It was funny, weird, beautiful, and ultimately heartbreaking. And it was so good.