Making an artistically exquisite masterpiece of a superhero show has almost reached ‘cinematic porn’ levels of mythicism. No matter the creative talent, the critically minded wonder, is it even possible within the medium? (For porn, the answer is of course: Boogie Nights, so yes.)
*Spoiler-Free Review For the Episode, but I do mention Legion Comic Book History, which you may not want to know yet if you’re only watching the show!*
With actual comics, it’s not particularly hard for fans to turn to the naysayers, and say “Nevermind the bollocks, here’s Sandman.” In comic book movies, you can always reference the Nolan verse Dark Knight. For comic book TV… where do you turn?
FX’s Legion attempts to fill this void, behind the creative vision of Noah Hawley, the first true television auteur to take on a project within the Marvel Universe.
Hawley wrote, directed, and produced Legion episode 1, and it is unsurprisingly not his concern to explain Legion, aka David Haller’s, connection to the Marvel Universe at large. Hawley and the creative team place far more emphasis on visually stunning displays of Legion’s past, blending past, future, present into one collage of unreality (Days of Future Imperfect Past Tense?) Legion shows incredible restraint before finally referencing, mutants, powers, and then finally letting it all climax in the show’s final scenes.
This distance from the Marvel Universe, and in particular Fox’s X-Men franchise (Bryan Singer is credited as an executive producer on the series), is unquestionably freeing. Hawley is free to explore the potential of omega-level mutant power manifesting as true mental illness without that kindly old Star Trek captain showing up in the middle to say: “Don’t worry, you’re not crazy, you’re just a mutant.”
Speaking of the old man, David Haller’s comic book appearances are inevitably tied to the fact that he’s the son of Professor Xavier, and so far there’s no indication that will play into FX Legion.
For me, this relationship is endlessly fascinating, and has led to some wonderful comic book moments. From Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz’s Legion origins in New Mutants to Simon Spurrier and Mike Del Mundo’s excellent ongoing Marvel NOW! X-Men Legacy Legion solo series, David Haller’s status as son of the leader of the X-Men makes for compelling analysis.
The challenge here is that this status almost always leads to a focus on Professor X rather than David Haller (the Spurrior and Del Mundo run excepted). Sure, Legion is the catalyst generating Marvel’s Age of Apocalypse, but it’s only because he seeks a change in reality for his father.
In ignoring this comic book baggage (at least initially), Hawley and team free themselves to portray David Haller as an individual, finding himself, and seeking to come to terms with his powers, or the voices in his head, without the aid of the world’s greatest telepathic father.
As it stands, Legion is quite unlike anything we’ve seen in superhero TV to date. It’s psychedelic, gloriously weird, darkly funny, and confusing as all get out. Only one episode in I hesitate to heap the superlatives, but it’s a bit like if someone handed Twin Peaks era David Lynch writing duties for Uncanny X-Men.
Nothing on TV this side of Young Pope promo trailers has brought me as much unmitigated joy as the dance sequence set in the middle of Legion, and even after an hour and a half debut, I’m tremendously excited to see where the series goes next.
3 More Things I Like
1) Congrats to Hawley and team for taking an apparent Rogue analogue (she doesn’t like to be touched and is deathly afraid of physical contact) and exploring her powerset as one of the most exciting moments in the debut.
2) I wasn’t expecting Legion’s romantic comedy bonafides, but the towel handhold and reflection kiss are absolutely adorable. Speaking of, I thought Dan Stevens and Rachel Keller were outstanding in this opener.
3) If you’d like to check out the comic book history of Legion, I recommend Comic Book Herald’s complete Legion (David Haller) reading order!