It is often said that Watchmen is the most influential comic ever to be released. That comics wouldn’t be where they are without it, for good and for ill. But how did we get here, exactly? More to the point, just what influence did Watchmen provide to the larger world of comics? What, ultimately, is the legacy of Watchmen? Who watched the Watchmen?
[covers by Mike Del Mundo and Dave Gibbons, respectively]
X-Men: Legacy #9’s Double Homage to Alan Moore’s Watchmen
In X-Men: Legacy #9 by Si Spurrier and Tan Eng Huat, there’s an obvious homage to Watchmen #9 and then there’s a rather subtler homage to Watchmen‘s mystery villain, revealed in the 11th hour, quite literally in the frame of Moore’s narrative, to be an erstwhile superhero, Ozymandias, world’s smartest man. Let’s look at the Watchmen #9 homage first.
1. David and Ruth’s Lunar “Date” Echoes the Martian Sequence in Watchmen #9*
*Spurrier’s timing for his homage is a bit precious—but just you wait! By the time you finish this little essay, that will be the first thing you forget about the shambling freakout that is X-Men: Legacy by Si Spurrier.
Nine years ago, in the ninth issue of Si Spurrier’s two-year X-Men: Legacy run, really a Legion solo book*, David Haller and Ruth (Blindfold) Aldine had their first in-person date, on the Moon of all places—and it wasn’t just vaguely reminiscent of one of the most famous scenes from Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1986); Spurrier alludes, by way of Ruth’s own pop-culture musings, to that eerie and heartbreaking scene between Doctor Manhattan and Laurie Juspeczyk (Silk Spectre) on Mars, a last meeting between jaded ex-lovers (though calling the naked man-god a lover gives the lie to their former relationship). It was a loving homage to what is still the superhero genre’s central critical achievement—a position from which, for almost four decades now, it has yet to be dislodged by any subsequent graphic narrative deconstructive of superheroics. Of course, there was a pressing need for that kind of story at the height of the Cold War (which soon turned out to be the twilight of that long era, to everyone’s surprise). Since the early ’90s, however gradually, the most talented storytellers in mainstream comics (Image included) have simply found their moment, their pressing needs and how to articulate them, elsewhere.
*A Legion solo book? Pffft. Marvel couldn’t get away with that. Put X-Men in the title and have those meddling merry mutants appear throughout to meet adequate sales figures for the two years it ran. (Also, anyone familiar with David Haller’s history before this series will notice that he appears more mature here, which is sensible—letting him grow up just a bit—on the other hand, Ruth is a young teen, so even though these two are presented as roughly of the same age and maturity level (albeit with David having a lot of catching up to do), this sudden romance might justifiably cause discomfort for some readers, especially given the 20-year gap between their respective debuts as preteens—not that such glossed-over awkwardness is in any way exceptional for Big 2 comics. As to the rest of the X-Men guest appearances, we’ll get to that, as Xavier’s son taking up his recently deceased father’s dream for mutant/human harmony is the stated remit of Spurrier’s X-Men: Legacy; and yet the title’s more glaring flaws should be addressed first.
Meanwhile, at least with his Legion and other X-verse work, Spurrier then and now has tackled big issues with the bluntest tools in the superhero medium, rolling himself and readers along in what quickly becomes a narrative avalanche that impresses with its density of ideas and references—but falls apart on a closer look. His storytelling style could not be more different from Moore’s formal mastery of narrative and medium. And what his goals as a writer are, I have no idea.
Now it’s not like the issues Watchmen deals with disappeared, yet the ways we feel and think about them has; our problems have also become far more complex, which by the same token means most of our stories actually continue to avoid them! Indeed, writing in the Thatcher/Reagan era, when stark disparities of wealth and quality of life were accelerated exponentially with the collapse of almost all forms social welfare, whether previously guaranteed by the state or, as in the US, the legacy of labor unions (which was already decayed and often fundamentally racist, both structurally and culturally), Alan Moore crafted bold stories that far more politically direct and unapologetic than many of today’s creators of the same demographic are capable of—in a world where the horrifying rapacity of capitalism has simply become “the way things are,” part of the natural order of the world.
Of course, for our limited purpose in this essay, none of this fascinating historicity really matters. After all, Spurrier’s allusion to Watchman #9 is just focused on the danger of the superpowered or super-intelligent* becoming super inhuman—like Doctor Manhattan.
[Watchmen art by Dave Gibbons and John Higgins]
*This term typically doesn’t refer to what most people would think of as practical or mature intelligence; instead, it’s actually a hyper aggrandizement of the worst urges of the classic dork ego, far more so than super-strength or the like: Fantasias of superhuman intelligence are almost always expressions of impatience with other human beings and a desire to become, ultimately, more machinelike/calculating, less human (i.e., diminishing our nature as fundamentally social/cooperative animals). Moore critiques this power fantasy through the figure of Manhattan and Ozymandias. But Spurrier amplifies the attractions of this fantasia although he buries it beneath David’s sentimental overtures to the legacy of Xavier (in his chosen mandate to, essentially, save the world from itself); sure, David fears his mission will turn him into a monster, but even the way he frames his final act in averting this disaster is all about his grandiose ego. The odd mix of punked-out aesthetic and New Age-y sentiments throughout the Spurrier run ultimately feels like some of the more insufferable aspects of ’90s UK rave culture—an unaware arrogance still on display in Legion of X. (Indeed, Spurrier’s style doesn’t really echo Moore’s at all but much more so Morrison’s, albeit weakly, perhaps more in the line of Peter Milligan: quirky and occasionally charming, but not exactly incisive.)
Now, with just a little effortful reading, we can read more into Ruth’s Manhattan reference than what we get on the page, as we’ll get into below, but nothing about the strange comparison is serendipitous, because Spurrier’s version of Legion is a wild mess and, as chaotic manipulator, significantly more reprehensible to his “romantic” interest than Alan Moore’s dry-ice man-god is to the hapless “girl next door” (Laurie). (Unfortunately, none of this bodes well for the current Legion of X title by Spurrier.)
If readers were meant to really compare the two disparate characters, David’s struggles could be seen as almost the inverse of Manhattan’s. First off, David is thoroughly embroiled in a fractured emotional life that would be totally alien to Manhattan—who would, indeed, see “the mutant problem” as yet further reason to wash his hands of Earth, not as a rationalized miracle. For all their differences, however, they could both be framed as wounded narcissists, which might make them hard to love, yet even so, that would also be what actually makes them relatable as human beings.
Doctor Manhattan is a Cold Fish
Of course, Manhattan is an inherently much harder sell in this regard; his problem as a character and person is that he’s little else beyond a static, godlike ego with no real connections to anyone; he doesn’t spark drama of any kind, except insofar as he is feared or used as a weapon. Nobody in Watchmen cares about his abstractions, unless his alienating thoughts cause him to abandon Earth, which is what happens, temporarily at first and then, ultimately, for good. That first time, he returns thanks to the hapless Laurie, not through any sort of clever strategy but simply by exhaustively appealing to whatever sense of humanity he still retains. Whisked away to Mars, without even any air to breathe initially, she is understandably overwhelmed and confused—but her struggle to make sense of what’s happening with Jon almost accidentally results in his low-key/flat affect revelation that humanity might have some worth, after all.
Yet the way Manhattan expresses the wonder, indeed the cosmic uniqueness, of individual human life is strange in its chilliness and flatness of affect; it’s impossible to tell, on a gut level, how sincere he is. Intuition fails when it comes to judging or predicting an entity at Manhattan’s level. The process of his learning to cherish an individual’s existence (say, for example, Laurie’s) is highly abstract and rationalistic, which is odd because much of the language he uses wouldn’t really be alienating at all for most people whose worldview is based more on science than religious dogma: It’s pretty easy to say, yes, in the vastness of the universe, each of us is unique, each moment and each creature on this little isolated speck full of life’s abundance, lost among the countless little specks nearly at the very edge of our own galaxy. And yet Manhattan’s manner of speaking and the time it takes him to really respond to Laurie as a real person right next to him are what’s so alienating and off-putting here.
His emotionally flat, rationalistic approach to accepting the “miraculous” lacks the eloquence and poignancy of countless secular arguments for the worthiness of individual human life, to say nothing of animal life, various kinds of autonomy, mutual aid, emotional connection, appreciating every moment and so on. And frankly, since Laurie’s own meaningfulness to him at least seems to matter much less to him than the fact of her continued existence as a particular person among billions of other unique persons, Doctor Manhattan is still missing the mark. Skirting actual diagnoses, we can say Manhattan’s stance is a nihilist rationalism that ultimately can’t come to terms with existence; he simply vanishes into the physical unknown (the universe beyond humanity’s ken, not transcendence [until Geoff Johns, unfortunately]).
Each uniquely embroiled in his own inner problems, Manhattan and Legion are otherwise almost total opposites.
2. David’s Actions Against the Ozymandias-like Aarkus Echo – Ozymandias
Spurrier’s second allusion to Watchmen in X-Men: Legacy #9 is less straightforward. At first, it would seem that the author’s somewhat random pull of Aarkus, an interdimensional being out of Marvel’s Golden Age, is quite a bit like Ozymandias: Holed up alone in his remote fortress (located on the Moon rather than Antarctica), the brilliant but isolated, and possibly crazed, supernal being is cooking up ways to save Earth from itself, which, according to David’s fear-inducing monologue to Ruth, will certainly include wiping out mutantkind – imminently.
Instead of Ozymandias’ command of the world’s flow of information through the juxtaposition of myriad television screens, each showing a different feed simultaneously, Aarkus reads a bunch of books in order to understand all of Earth’s major problems. It’s a cute riff on Moore’s critique of Ozymandias, “world’s smartest man” – because of course, his method of analysis and prediction through continually consuming simultaneous flows of information is as idiotic as trying to understand and remedy the world’s many crises based on book-learning in complete isolation, on the Moon.
But Spurrier goes one better than a mere cute riff here. For David, too, has his Ozymandias moment in this issue, and if I had been Ruth, this would certainly have been an irreversible dealbreaker. But the author was adamant on having these two stick to each other, despite the fact that here David pumps horrific images into Ruth’s mind: of her fellow mutants annihilated by Aarkus as if it’s already happened, when in truth, it’s a vision from one of David’s more twisted personas (tied up with his tortured relationship to his father).
After lamely apologizing and revealing that this genocide hadn’t happened yet, David proceeds to trick the already doubly devastated Ruth a second time. He wants her approval in going after Aarkus sneakily, infiltrating his base while he sleeps and mind-wiping him. He describes this scheme until Ruth, freaked out all over again, tells him to stop, that she’ll not give him the permission he seeks. But Ruth is wrong; David’s seeking her approval – and in fact, motivated simply by the hope that she would approve, he’s already mind-wiped the alien being.
Presented with Aarkus’ comatose form, she withdraws and insists she be sent back home. He does so, leaving her at the Jean Grey School gates with her new alien burden and, no doubt, a bizarre story for her fellow mutants. In other words, David performed his own little preemptive strike at a perceived threat in a very small-scale echo of Ozymandias’ sacrifice of half the population of New York City to avert a Cold War turned thermonuclear holocaust. What should distress readers in both cases is that neither hero has verifiable evidence that the respective disasters they envisioned were truly about to occur.
[X-Men: Legacy art by Tan Eng Huat, Craig Yeung and Jose Villarrubia]
In David’s own arc during the Spurrier run, this does mark a turn for him in recognizing that pursuing his father’s dream on his own could turn him not just into a monster but one that could very well end the world to boot.
Does Spurrier follow through with these various but connected themes with anything like the clarity Moore achieves in Watchmen? Maybe that’s an unfair comparison, but it’s one that he invites by way of his homage in X-Men: Legacy #9.
Spurrier’s Legion Has Always Been a Hot Mess
Looking only at the two titles under discussion, we can see Manhattan and Legion’s respective fates moving in opposite directions, however much they both involve self-imposed exile (which in David’s case I will argue is a kind of suicide—by clear implication rather than the strict letter of the text; so if you’re going to quibble about that fragment left behind in Ruth’s mind*, that’s missing the point, and allowing Spurrier off the hook for not in the least acknowledging the tragic connotations of what David says at the end of his existence, this being just one of myriad problems with his Legion run**.
*David inserts a fragment of himself into Ruth’s mind without at all asking for consent. He assumed this young woman would be happy with this piece of a man she hardly knows—and Spurrier assumes exactly the same, which is the last frigging page of his X-Men: Legacy run (which may also reference Manhattan’s farewell to Earth/Ozymandias at the end of Watchmen, to no meaningful effect, because Manhattan, much to Alan Moore’s dismay, was correct: Endings are anathema to Big 2 comics).
Inside Ruth’s head, on issue #24’s penultimate page, David says, “I’m in your head. Always.” On the last, Ruth walks down a hallway among her peers, declaring, “I rule me.” Really? Who exactly is ruling who here? Throughout the run, that line was David’s mantra, not Ruth’s—until she is occupied, without consent.
(Oddly enough, in Way of X #3, Spurrier depicted David attempting to help along a budding romance between Mercury and Loa by allowing their psyches to mingle in a way their bodies could not, due to their powers, but that too-sudden closeness, the dropping away of all barriers to another’s mind, backfired grotesquely. It was ineptly handled on the author’s part, characteristically muddled, and yet contrary in message to the resolution in Legacy. Odd.)
**Another glaring problem is that the most prominent feature here is his villain’s profuse use of racist language to illustrate that racism is dumb, while having his very minor Asian villains early in the run speak English in a way that only merely perpetuates racialized stereotyping; Spurrier’s immature attempt at humor here seems to happily encourage just the sort of parochial/xenophobic idiocy that’s long been a staple of White-dominated pop culture.
If anything, it is specifically Spurrier who took the character out of the ignorant Claremontian mold (as “autistic” and/or “schizophrenic”) to depict what seems much closer to a classic narcissistic disorder, which resonates with David’s suicidal language at the end of the series (“I refuse to submit to a universe where I cannot rule myself”; “This is never being born”; “I was too bloody good for this place anyway”).
(As to Legion’s eventual return, this occurred four years later, sort of ex nihilo, in the 2018 Legion Mini-Series by Peter Milligan and Lee M. Ferguson, with no explanation of how this was supposed to work following X-Men: Legacy—which was maybe for the best.)
In no way does David Haller represent a coherent depiction of dissociative identity disorder (DID), which in any case, wouldn’t have been familiar to just about anyone in the early 2010s. This is rare condition that pop culture is suddenly talking about via comic-book characters crossing over into television, like Legion, Doom Patrol, and Moon Knight. Unfortunately, if we’re merely looking at these fantastical corporate properties, we’re only going to be more ignorant about the disorders they supposedly represent.
For any readers interested in real-world DID, which as a diagnosable disorder afflicts a tiny percentage of the world population, you can compare how vastly different it is from the comic-book version of Legion: Dissociative Identity Disorder – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov). The fact that no one who’s written David has really tackled the traumatic reality of suffering this disorder shows the persistence of our ignorance around this extremely rare condition. (In the 2017-2109 Legion tv show, he’s diagnosed as schizophrenic, which is unrelated to DID, and frankly, that was a very wise decision, as was the depiction of David’s ongoing treatment, which was in starkly pointed contrast to the X-Men cinema trope of simply prescribing drugs to mentally ill telepaths.)
That Marvel has “officially” diagnosed Legion with DID (Legion (David Haller) In Comics Powers, Enemies, History | Marvel) is just embarrassing.
Certainly, those who suffer from DID don’t typically go on manipulative, quixotic quests to save the world from itself in a twisted desire to win parental recognition, bystanders be damned.
Why Clarity on Mental Health in Fiction Matters
Diagnosing fictional characters is always dicey, but if there’s anything about David that’s relatably human it’s that he suffered intense parental neglect, with one parent being a supreme narcissist, and that has indeed resulted, perfectly understandably, in a wounded narcissist. However, in our current culture, consumers are more interested in fantastical limit cases of neurodivergence than garden-variety narcissism. So labeling Legion a narcissist here, I’ll bet nobody else will run with this. And why should they? Readers nowadays want protagonists who are either more aware of their social privileges or actually do struggle with some form of marginalization. One of the early results in Big 2 comics of this cultural shift, Spurrier’s X-Men: Legacy recasts a character who’d previously been more of a cipher* as a personality suffering fundamentally (i.e., beneath a fantasticated caricature or façade) from a relatable, everyday problem endemic to the US (and modern, capitalist cultures of the West more generally)—while masking this mundanity in the “spectacle” of what we now call DID (while getting that disorder almost totally wrong).
*Again, David’s seemingly permanent status as a cipher was for most writers all too easy to maintain when for the first 20 years of his publication history, our cultural awareness of mental health was practically nil. Until very recently, labeling someone “autistic,” fictional or otherwise, was typically an excuse for neglect, abandonment or simply dismissive indifference. However, I’d like to argue that for a writer to actually deal with this, with a realistically autistic protagonist, would be much more meaningful than reading stories that ignorantly purport to be about one kind of disorder but only really represent another that goes unnamed or unrecognized. In other words, most readers want greater clarity about their heroes, not more confusion and ignorance.
If a writer is going to deal with mental health issues, they need to do so with clarity and not leave readers guessing as to their intentions or level of awareness or ignorance on the particular subject. We shouldn’t be left questioning whether we should diagnose a character ourselves; again, that’s always dicey—the author needs to present this material with care and intelligence if they’re going to handle it at all. With X-Men: Legacy, Spurrier simply did not do this, and he’s still not doing it with Legion of X (which is just chockfull of broad/vague gestures at fostering a culture of care and mutual aid and yet it’s clearly Vita Ayala who’s been leading in this area with much greater understanding and focus over in New Mutants, if only at the level of close friendships).
The Dry as Dust Tragedy of the Naked Man-God
In Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan sort of learns better, via his own highly abstract reasoning process in solitude, and returns to Earth to save humankind from itself—which, through further rationalizations, leads him to accept fellow superhero Ozymandias’ plan to destroy most of New York City to avert World War III. The ease with which the godly Manhattan solves this particular Trolley Problem is chilling, and that’s Moore’s point: Manhattan’s humanity is his inhumanity, the kind of modus vivendi we see in practice from those who run the world. That this paradox remains unbearable to Manhattan isn’t unique to him either: Practically by virtue of their positions of power, the wealthy and powerful often wish themselves far away from the mess of their own kind, in some far-off place “less complicated,” never mind the unpleasant reality that their very inability or indifference in effectively wielding the resources at their command is central to what’s wrong with our society.
Power fantasies are almost always subtended by howls of despair, a learned helplessness when it comes to just dealing with the world as it is; once the consolation of these fanciful dreams of power begin to fade, reality returns, no less discordant, cacophonous and difficult to understand—perhaps more so. Of course, fantasy, or rather the whole toolkit of fantasticated storytelling (its tropes and metaphors), can help us to see and feel the world more clearly, in a way that’s empowering to the individual without just being escapist. However, Manhattan as a type in the literature of the fantastic never inspires a reengagement with the world, unless taken as a cautionary tale. (At least he is ultimately happy for Laurie in finding human comfort with Daniel, even though there is surely a trace of condescension in the man-god’s parting smile, before he turns away from the overly “complicated” Earth, to fly off into deep space, to a distant galaxy, where he may well have followed through on his passing suggestion that he could recreate humanity on another world. Why? We could ask the same of, say, those in Silicon Valley who want to evolve sentience out of artificial life merely because it’s a thing that’s possible; plus, such a bizarre method for realizing a power fantasy could simply be a way of sustaining lonely but pampered egos who believe they’ve found their highest calling. This doesn’t seem much different from Manhattan’s far-off vanity project.)
All the same, whatever Manhattan’s privileged position, which to most people would appear a life of ease, however strange, there are certainly elements of his thinking that in another context might be symptomatic of suicidal ideation, e.g., humanity would be better off not existing, the world would be better off without me and so on; Manhattan ultimately hares off from a difficult situation, but most of us don’t have that option. Even his own inability to maintain relationships doesn’t seem to matter much to him since he can create other realities elsewhere, able to abruptly remove himself from anything unpleasant, across distances impossible to conceive, not so different from the world’s wealthiest, who can jet here and there in a manner inconceivable to the eight billion other people on this planet.
This tragic line of thinking is painfully relevant to Spurrier’s Legion in that it just isn’t for Manhattan—who is in his very presentation monadic. The idea of the monad comes from the ancient Pythagoreans, denoting the prime cosmic substance, i.e. the pan-creator or cosmic totality, but since Leibniz it’s morphed into simply referring to an indivisible unit, a solitary, impervious particle in a universe made up of such particles. The Pythagorean symbol for this concept was the circled dot, almost exactly like the hydrogen symbol on Manhattan’s sleek, hairless head, symbol of his indivisibility and imperviousness, whatever his ability to ghost through and reshape matter; he is always no more or less than what he is, a man who forgot humanity.
Again, this just isn’t David’s own tragedy.
David Is Not a Monad
But it’s the caution taken from Moore’s critique of the inhuman man-god that Ruth voices on the Moon, the pair safely cocooned in David’s little bubble of air—though no less potentially disconcerting than what Laurie experiences when Manhattan teleports her to Mars without thinking of her need to breathe air (because that’s no longer among Manhattan’s own personal concerns). Quite a first (in-person) date*! Yet the notion that David was really likely to become anything like the naked man-god is hard to fathom—if for no other reason than his central conflict is explicitly his mental health issues, which, again, no writer has really been able to clarify yet, even if we see glimpses here and there, almost by chance, as if writers are relying more on intuition than a thoughtful application of research (which you kind of need to do if you’re dealing with a rare personality disorder).
*How Blindfold isn’t disgusted by David manipulating their encounters into what he calls “dates” when David’s motivations are all about getting her to validate his aggressive power fantasies just deflates the irony of her codename—Spurrier and Legion treat her as alternately gullible or reactive, leading her along until what is, as noted above, a gross violation of her privacy and autonomy.
Manhattan’s emotional state couldn’t be more different, though it would be very unwise to try to diagnose such a fantastical character with a real-world disorder. Regardless, the only overlap the two characters have may be their godlike powers potentially alienating them from humanity (including mutants)—which seems to stand in for the narcissism that clearly defines their isolated personalities, each in his own way. Certainly, David’s situation is more relatable and understandable: the wounded narcissism of the child neglected by narcissistic parents*.
*In X-Men: Legacy #15, his mother, Gabrielle Haller, is a grim depiction of narcissist who’s been as married to her work (Israeli national security) as Xavier ever was—grimly lacking in humor and self-care and yet clearly insufferably smug and driven by self-importance, all very briefly before she takes a bullet meant for her son—who beneficently undoes her death in the series finale, as he deletes himself from reality, retroactively. (If you got a headache from trying to work out how David’s ontological suicide—or whatever you choose to call it—don’t worry: It really doesn’t make any sense, though the story seems to argue that David can make it all work out because he’s just that godlike—“I was too bloody good for this place anyway.”)
In-universe, Ruth makes her passing Watchmen reference where the specific referent (Manhattan) isn’t meaningful beyond exactly what she says (i.e., don’t forget your humanity). Does Spurrier intend us to read more into it, though? Regardless of authorial intent, a closer comparison between the two characters only highlights their lack of meaningful similarity.
If Manhattan is a chilly, godlike monad, David is much more a “nomad”—not necessarily literally (although that too in X-Men: Legacy); this playful but meaningful pun helps us invert and subvert Leibniz’s concept of the modern rationalist (Enlightenment) subject. This clever philosophical punning is from one of the most engaging (and headiest) works of 20th century philosophy/theory, Mille plateaux (1980; trans. into English as A Thousand Plateaus, 1987) by philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychologist Félix Guattari, both emerging out of the post-Marxist left in Europe in the mid to late 1960s. For our purposes here, though, we can simply say that David’s nomadic mode of life is evidenced early on by being a vessel for myriad personas and then in the Spurrier run by his relationships, however rocky, with his parents and other mutants. Now, to be clear, Deleuze and Guattari’s identification of both modes of being is morally neutral, even if they advocated for allowing more “nomadism” into everyday life in the West.
All this is to say that while Manhattan is an isolate personality who acts unilaterally, Spurrier’s David couldn’t be more different: He’s defined by his relationships even as we see him struggling to establish them for the first time in X-Men: Legacy. (Of course, it’s almost all for naught when he erases himself.) Indeed, throughout the X-Men universe, there’s an endless horizontality to how our merry mutants interact; fans delight in imagining all the permutations and bare degrees of separation between all these characters, whereas the formally contained cosmos of Watchmen is much more, well, monadic—we have one set of “heroes,” and the story astutely deconstructs their supposed heroism but also goes further in deconstructing their internal relationships with heavy doses of cynicism that are harder to stomach. Coldly self-enclosed, the Watchmen mythos does not lend itself to the kind of ever-broadening fandom as the X-Men.
While it seems Spurrier decided the best way to insert David into that ever-evolving interpersonal dynamic was by having him take up his recently deceased father’s dream of establishing mutant/human harmony. And in the wake of Xavier’s brutal murder by a Phoenix-possessed Scott Summers in AvX, this probably did seem to make a lot of sense. But were there perhaps more sensible options? In the AvX aftermath, Legion’s comeback was maybe going to inevitably be tied up with his father’s legacy, and of course, the title X-Men: Legacy was a shoo-in, since its first iteration was from its inception an Xavier-focused book (although it shifted focus toward the end of Mike Carey’s long run, which was throughout the real highlight of a dark time for the franchise).
Potential Still Untapped
David’s struggle in the Spurrier run is essentially “cure yourself before you use your powers to help humanity (including mutantkind).” However true a sentiment, this is a homily of our own time—i.e., it’s rather alien to much of late 20th century Western culture, including Moore and Watchmen*. This simply isn’t something that gets explored, much less articulated, even if readers can read through the works of ages and find instances where this moralizing could have been put to good use.
*Watchmen isn’t just a product of its century, it’s a paradoxically modernist-postmodernist work, postmodern in its serious political messaging through a “low” culture medium and its tropes and figures but modernist in the authorial and artistic control exercised over this material; it certainly lacks the ludic nature of postmodernism—it’s modernist in attitude and form, or narrative control. Watchmen’s own potential was pretty much exhausted the first time round, resulting in a “perfect” graphic novel; directly mining this vein decades later, DC is only stupidly undermining the story’s original impact and its legacy.
If I were suddenly tasked with writing a Legion book, rather than looking to the regular X-Men mythos, more likely sources of inspiration for me would be classic psi-talent stories like Stephen King’s Firestarter, Roald Dahl’s Matilda, or even John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids or, most idiosyncratic, And Chaos Died by Joanna Russ. These are all excellent novels, however imperfect in their way, that explore matters resonant to David Haller, far more so than Watchmen or even the current Krakoa narrative.
Spurrier has matured as a writer since 2014, but his storytelling continues to take a maximalist approach that throws too much at the wall in the apparent hopes that something will stick. Not unusual for Big 2 comics, this method doesn’t lend itself well to highlighting individual character development with much nuance, especially in the industry’s current marketplace, dominated by extremely short-term planning and the churn of ruthlessly swift creative turnover. His style doesn’t seem amenable to a focused expansion on themes explored by his formative influences (Moore, Morrison, Milligan, etc.); there’s often just room enough for brief homage, gestures that glance off tropes experienced readers will already be familiar with, treats that are easy to swallow, almost effortless to produce and quickly forgettable.