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Jun 4

Legion: “Trauma”

Posted on Monday, June 4, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

Given the success of the Legion TV series (which I’ve never actually seen), it’s unsurprising that Marvel would figure that a Legion mini made sense.  Except of course that the Legion TV show is on FX, as part of the X-Men rights package, to which Marvel’s attitude in recent years has been… whatever the opposite of corporate synergy is.  That.

X-Men: Legacy ended with Legion more or less wiping himself from history, which is not an ideal starting point.  Legion deals with that little problem by ignoring it entirely.  On the other hand, there’s nothing to stop you plugging it into history as a flashback story if you want, so let’s run with that.

Peter Milligan’s superhero work can be patchy, even if it’s usually at least interesting.  But he’s a natural choice for something like this.  It’s not just that Legion isn’t really a superhero book; Milligan’s done literalised versions of madness before in Shade the Changing Man, and that was one of the high points of his career.  Artist Wilfredo Torres wouldn’t have been out of place in the later years of that series, either.  The ghost of Shade hangs rather heavily over this, especially when you get taxi seats turning into octopuses and such like.

Not that David is acting as a Shade stand-in here; it’s more a question of general vibe.  But it’s also the case that this he’s more of the backdrop to this story than its protagonist.  The story opens with him careering around Pennsylvania, on the run from a rogue personality called “Lord Trauma”, who is pretty much what it says on the tin.  Some later issues tell us that Trauma has grown from a traumatic event back during the Muir Island Saga, which is an odd choice – after all, Legion’s origin story literally involves his mind being shattered by a traumatic childhood event, while his plot role in the Shadow King arc is not so well remembered.

But in another sense, we’re going back to the New Mutants era approach where the alternate personalities are not meant to be rounded personas in their own right, but rather embodiments of sides of David’s personality.  Trauma is actually trying to consume and destroy other alternate personalities, but the story makes a point of suggesting that he isn’t trying in any coherent way to take over David’s’ mind; he’s simply an embodiment of David’s urge to self-annihilation.

Since Trauma is both a problem for himself and a danger to those around him, David enthusiastically recruits celebrity psychologist Hannah Jones.  Hannah is an east end girl from a council estate who has risen to the top.  The general set-up is that she’s very good at what she does, but still might ultimately driven more by her own status issues, and the professional triumph of beating a good challenge.  She doesn’t seem to be cynical or exploitative towards her clients, but nor is she driven by altruism alone. So while she initially doesn’t want to go within a mile of helping David, the possible effects on her reputation of curing him tip the balance.

The bulk of the series is then Hannah going inside David’s mind to try to rally the alternate personalities, while the rather naive David protects her body from Trauma in the real world.  There’s a lot of literal renditions of personality traits here – literal paranoia storms and so forth – but most of the alters we see are pointedly one dimensional.  The obvious exception is Tami, who bills herself as “a nightclub singer and occasional good-time girl”, yet is pretty clearly rendered as Legion’s much stabler, if utterly defeatist, female counterpart.

Hannah’s entirely sensible plan is to try to rally the remaining Legion personalities to work together, in the hope that this will get David’s mind under control.  By this point, it’s fairly clear that Hannah has taken over David’s role as the series protagonist, since David is mostly reduced to holding Trauma at bay so that she can get on with it.  And the final issue cements that, as it’s mainly Hannah being confronted with a symbolic traumatic event from her own past, which – well, naturally – leads her to confront her own motivations for being in this story at all.  This is all set up perfectly well, since there’s no actual mystery about Hannah’s motivations – she tells us perfectly clearly in issue #2 why she decides to help David, she just doesn’t attach so much weight to it at the time.

Is it a Legion story?  In as much as he’s essential to the plot, sure.  But it’s mainly a Hannah Jones story, and that’s something that only really comes to the fore in the second half.  And it’s a fairly roundabout way of making a pretty straightforward point: Hannah will get real happiness from coming to terms with upsetting events in her past, not by ignoring them and becoming rich and famous, even if she starts the story thinking otherwise.

But I did enjoy it more on a second reading, for the largely-understated quirkiness of the thing if nothing else.  In X-Men terms it’s a footnote, but there’s some definite charm here.

Bring on the comments

  1. Paul C says:

    It is probably for the best that the Legion TV show is nothing like the comics currently. It’s overseen by Noah Hawley who did the recent excellent Fargo TV series. Legion is mostly style over substance, but the style is just incredible. You don’t really know what you are going to get on any given week. Here is a scene that will make absolutely no sense to you but is just wonderful:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cylS9TJMRhc

  2. Thom H. says:

    If only the comics could capture the grandeur of the show. I could watch that dance battle a hundred times and not get tired of it.

    Also, the show has more substance than it’s given credit for, but still probably not as much as it thinks it does.

  3. Karl Hiller says:

    Usually it annoys me when comic characters are drawn to look more like their film/TV counterparts, but for Legion I wouldn’t have minded some change, any change. That hair looks terrible drawn by anyone other than Sienkiewicz. Seems more likely to repel fans of the TV show than to draw them in.

  4. Si says:

    Yeah, Legion’s hair is the biggest hint that he was never meant to be a major recurring character, and certainly not the protagonist. But it’s a major visual for that character, I don’t think it could be gotten rid of at this point.

    Ideally he’d be drawn as if he’s upside-down, so his hair isn’t stiff bristles so much as his head’s 180 degrees off from everyone else. Because meta. It certainly shouldn’t be a kind of overgrown coif or some kind of Marge Simpson thing.

  5. Moo says:

    David’s definitely having a bad hair life. Oh, well. At least he has hair.

  6. Paul says:

    “Yeah, Legion’s hair is the biggest hint that he was never meant to be a major recurring character, and certainly not the protagonist.”

    I doubt Claremont introduced Charles Xavier’s son without having some longer-term idea of what to do with him; the family link wasn’t essential to the original New Mutants arc. Then again, in practice Legion kind of drifted for years after his introduction. As for the character design, we ARE talking about Bill Sienkiewicz, the artist who created Warlock in the same run…

  7. Thom H. says:

    More artists seemed to “get” Warlock’s look than Legion’s giant hair, I think.

    It helps that Warlock can look like basically anything, but Legion’s hair needs to look something like hair.

    Coincidentally, Dan Stevens sports the high hair for the first time in the latest episode of the show.

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