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Marvel’s Legion, explained

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X-Men Legacy Vol. 2 #1
Mike Del Mundo/Marvel

There are dozens of solid story lines and characters that FOX could have spun out of the X-Men franchise for an ongoing TV series. They chose Legion, which airs tomorrow, Feb 8, on FX.

Legion is an odd, but bold choice. At best, he's a tragic, multi-layered former supervillain with incredible powers. At worst, he's yet another figure that demonizes those with mental illness. But either way, Legion is not a very well-known character, particularly if you haven't been keeping up with Marvel comics in the last decade. We're here to help.

David Haller is a mutant — as in X-Men, mutant. While he appears alongside (and against) many of the X-Men in Marvel comics, the FX show will take place in an unconnected universe to the established films. “The US government is in the early days of being aware that something called mutants exists but the public is not,” said FX president John Landgraf during a press tour last year. In other words, don't expect to see the X-Men running around. Legion aims to be more of a stand-alone supernatural character drama than a superhero show.

FX Networks

While the show may be more grounded (and trippy) in its look at schizophrenia and dissociative personality disorder, the comics turned Legion into a traumatic and powerful figure. While many who suffer from multiple personalities struggle with several, David Haller has over a thousand unique personalities swimming through his mind. And most of them are violently dangerous.

Haller's mutant power is the ability to absorb a person's psyche — and gain their powers. And in Marvel comics, just about every other person has superhuman abilities. His powers soon begin birthing their own personalities across time and space, manifesting in the form of literal demons, plant-creatures and dinosaurs. Legion is quickly classified as an Omega-level threat, putting him in the same powerhouse category as Magneto and Professor X — mutants who are a potential threat to the entire world.

Legion was first introduced in the mid-80s in New Mutants #25. David Haller was the surprise long-lost son of Professor Charles Xavier. He was a mutant whose powers first manifested after a terrorist attack, leaving his volatile mind to absorb the nearby personalities of both attackers and victims. He also sports his infamous coif of gravity-defying hair, becoming his most recognizable feature.

Having hundreds of personalities renders Legion unpredictable and erratic. He's particularly weak against other telepaths who can get inside his head for a battle of wills — though any telepath will be quite outnumbered. His biggest super-villain moment in the comics came from traveling back in time and creating the entire Age of Apocalypse event, while more recent comics painted him as a tragic figure trying to do the right thing while struggling with his identity.

But, as a minor X-Men character, Legion’s big stories and quintessential moments are pretty easy to pin down. Here are five stories we recommend, if you want to get a quick handle on how Legion fits into the Marvel universe — and what the folks behind FX’s Legion might pull from. (And, if you act quickly enough, a bunch of these stories are on sale on Comixology right now.)

X-Men Vol. 1 #40
Andy Kubert/Marvel Comics

Legion Quest

Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1 (1963) #320-321, X-Men Vol. 1 (1991) #40-41, Cable Vol. 1 (1993) #20

“Legion Quest” serves as a prologue to the epic Age of Apocalypse event of the mid-90s. Age of Apocalypse is still considered one of Marvel's most successful events, a grand What-If story into a dystopian world, and it all started when Legion tried to take matters into his own hands.

David uses his time-traveling powers (he has a lot of powers) to go back 20 years and try to kill Magneto so his father's dreams of humans and mutants living in peace could be realized. A group of X-Men follow him, and the events that transpire create a dark new reality where the villain Apocalypse reigns supreme. Good going, Legion.

Reading order: Uncanny X-Men #320, X-Men #40, Uncanny X-Men #321, X-Men #41, Cable #20.

Return of Legion

New Mutants Vol. 3 #4
Adam Kubert & Justin Ponsor/Marvel Comics

New Mutants Vol. 3 (2009) #1-5

When New Mutants first debuted in the 80s, the book represented the hot new teenage generation of mutants at Xavier's school (Fun Fact: Fox is developing a New Mutants movie, with filming due to begin this Spring). This modern iteration of the comic reunited the same cast as well-established adults forming their own mutant squad.

Magik (Colossus' demon-troubled sister) returns from Hell to join up with Dani Moonstar, Karma, Magma, Sunspot and new leader Cannonball. They discover that Legion has seemingly returned from his fractured jaunt in time and more dangerous and unpredictable than ever. He battles the New Mutants while his personalities battle for control of his body.

Age of X

Age of X Alpha #1, X-Men Legacy Vol. 1 (2008) #245-247, New Mutants Vol. 3 (2009) #22-24

Like Age of Apocalypse, Age of X is another alternate reality What-If story, this time told over a handful of issues and centered around Legion.

Mutants have all but been eradicated, with the last group holed up in a giant fortress lead by Magneto. Legion is a hero in this version of reality, helping defend the X-Men from total annihilation. But something isn't quite right about this world, and the investigation that follows explores one of Legions' best stories.

X-Men Legacy #6
Mike Del Mundo/Marvel Comics

Reading Order: Age of X Alpha, X-Men Legacy #245, New Mutants #22, X-Men Legacy #246, New Mutants #23, X-Men Legacy #247, New Mutants #24. Skip the two-part Age of X Universe tie-ins. They're terrible.

Lost Legions

X-Men Legacy Vol. 1 (2008) #250-253

If you enjoyed Age of X I would heartily recommend these four issues of fallout from that event. Even when they try to help him, Legion's demons continue to harass and manipulate him and the X-Men. A crew is sent on an Inner Space journey into David's mind, including David himself. He finally gets a satisfying shot at redemption.

X-Men Legacy

X-Men Legacy Vol. 2 (2012) #1-24

Over the last three decades Legion's appearances have ranged from villain-of-the-week to rarely-seen guest star. In a new volume of X-Men Legacy, Legion finally got his own series.

This time other mutants guest-star as Legion sets off on his own to find himself, while still battling with his own mind. If you want to read a modern series that actually stars David Haller as the main character, make it this one.