“I Rule Me” : Thoughts on X-Men Legacy

Okay, let’s start by getting all the background information out of the way.  X-Men Legacy is a long running X-book that began as the second volume of adjectiveless X-Men (this was the book that sold millions of copies of its first issue back in 1991 when everyone thought that collecting comics would be big money).  The book’s been through multiple rebrandings in its twenty year history, first becoming New X-Men during Grant Morrison’s run in 2001, then reverting back to X-Men before settling on X-Men Legacy in 2008.  In 2012 the book relaunched as a solo series centering on the character David Haller (codename Legion, and Charles Xavier’s estranged son), which ended back in March 2014.

I started catching up on the Legion volume of Legacy a few months back, and from the start of it I’ve been taken with this version of the series.  Most of Legacy‘s run has been as a team based book with a focus on secondary or tertiary X-Men teams (except for a few brief runs where the focus was on Charles Xavier in particular while he tried to deal with various fallings out he had with other members of the X-Men following the Mutant Decimation).  Aside from the Morrison run, this book’s never been one of my favorites, but the Legion volume was a whole different ballgame for me.

The cover of each issue is everything I want in a comic book cover. They all have this wonderful surreal quality that reflect David’s state of mind while still tying in thematically to the plot of each issue. Cover of X-Men Legacy Vol. 2 #8 by Mike Del Mundo. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

The premise of the most recent volume of Legacy is pretty straightforward: David Haller has been learning how to control his multiple personalities (he has dissociative identity disorder) with the help of a mystical hermit when he receives the news of Xavier’s recent death (he was killed at the conclusion of Avengers vs. X-Men by a Phoenix-possessed Cyclops).  This news throws David’s budding control out of whack and he ends up going on a trek around the world trying to figure out what he’s supposed to do in his father’s shadow.  Along the way he meets and falls in love with Ruth Aldine, a precognitive telepath who’s studying at Wolverine’s mutant school and the person destined to become David’s nemesis.  At the same time all this is going on, David’s also busy dealing with a rogue personality that’s taken the form of Xavier within his mindscape.

Overall it’s a very tightly plotted series, and the story that the writer Simon Spurrier wanted to tell fits nicely into twenty-four issues.  I suspect the tight plotting was intentional, because solo X-books have a history of not lasting very long (with the exception of Wolverine’s solo series, which is on something like its fifth volume currently and has been running since the ’80s, most solo X-titles end within two years of starting).  Of course, whether intentional or not, the bonus of such a short self-contained series (current events in the larger continuity get referenced occasionally, but this series has literally no impact on other X-books) is that it’s easy to pick up and read through without worrying about other stuff that’s happening (or to just ignore it if it’s not your thing).  As far as ongoing comics go, this series is about as low-commitment as you can get without only reading miniseries.

But setting aside the meta reasons for reading this series, there are good plot and character reasons too.  David Haller’s a difficult character to work with, and most of his appearances in X-Men history have been as a kind of anti-villain (I think we’re always meant to sympathize with David, but the combination of his mental illness and his extreme powers make him very dangerous).  Turning him not only into a hero, but also the protagonist of his own book is an ambitious undertaking for a superhero comic.  There are problems with how you represent a real mental illness in the context of a superhero world (unfortunately I just don’t know enough about the experience of DID to speak to how well Spurrier deals with this issue, though I can thankfully say that he makes no mention of David being autistic, an early description that Chris Claremont gave him when he was introduced, and an entirely inaccurate one for the kind of illness that David typically exhibits) as well as character issues to consider (David’s been insane and dangerous for most of his history with the X-Men, so he doesn’t have a natural supporting cast to flesh out the book).  The approach that Spurrier uses to deal with these issues is to represent David’s illness metaphorically as a prison mindscape where he houses all of his extra personalities, pulling on their powers according to the needs of the physical situation and his own self confidence; the threat of David losing his focus and ceding full control of his body over to another personality is a constant concern.

And it’s that issue of control that binds all the threads of David’s story together.  At the same time that he’s trying muster his mental resources to accomplish his goals, David’s also on a one person crusade to try to help the mutant race, often using trickery and coercion to get others to help him.  Being unable to trust his own mind to help him out, David also has a distinct distrust of others helping him too, and much of the run deals with the various ways that David’s personal mantra, “I rule me,” backfires on him as he drifts further into isolation from people who would be willing to help him if he’d just ask for it.  Even the one positive relationship he maintains with his girlfriend Ruth is a fraught one, where he often fails to tell her all the details of his plans and even tricks her into assisting him in ways that she’s not comfortable with (up to this point Ruth has never been more than an odd background character among the X-Men, but Spurrier fleshes her out in ways that make me hope she gets more active roles in future stories); the way that she never backs away from calling David out on his trust issues is refreshing, because it brings a depth to the romance beyond the inexorable attraction that these two feel toward each other because of fate (and there is a lot of talk about fate in this book; it’s kind of necessary when one of your central characters is a precog).

All in all, Spurrier’s run on X-Men Legacy is the best treatment of the character Legion that I’ve seen.  It’s a short run, and the entire narrative is easily contained without having to know much about what’s going on in the larger Marvel Universe.  If you have any interest in dipping into a nonstandard superhero book, this is a good run to look at.

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