Wednesday, 25 December 2013

NMU #26: "Legion"

(Sins of the father)


Sigh.  OK.  I don't want this post to turn into another browbeating just after I took UXM to task for its problematic attitudes towards Native American characters, and after I've spent so much time slapping John Byrne around for the way he writes women.  For all that it's helped drag this blog out of the mire of bitchy summarising, there's a danger in approaching literally every issue from the perspective of finding ways it fails to live up to the attitudes of a progressive almost thirty years after publication.

So, with apologies to anyone in the audience who wants this topic to be covered in more detail (and really, I'm not sufficiently informed for that in any case), I'll just mention in passing that one does not become autistic following a trauma (no matter what Jenny McCarthy is telling people on television this week) and treating an autistic teenager as a puzzle to be solved - as someone in a dream who must be woken - strikes me as a very bad thing to do.

The autistic child in question is David Haller, known to all X-heads as Legion, a character with no small cultural cache in our world of merry mutants.  He's been revealed as Xavier's child, he kicked off the Age of Apocalypse by accidentally murdering his own father in the past, and has sustained his own title for almost two years (now sadly coming to an end) in the form of Si Spurrier's delightful X-Men: Legacy.  This degree of later work makes it difficult to view this issue, in which Legion first appears but not under that name, on its own terms.  There can hardly be anyone interested in this blog who doesn't already know David Haller suffers from multiple personalities, each one with their own power set.  What, then, are we to make of the book in which the first strands of this long-revealed mystery are woven together?

One option might be to bypass that mystery entirely, at least for the moment, and note a larger theme playing in the background here, that of the methods and mechanisms of looking after others.  We have in this issue David Haller, who has been denied all contact with his father by his mother, ostensibly because she feared what he might do with his psychic power. We've got Rahne Sinclair, an orphan raised by a lunatic Bible-thumper and struggling to believe her foster mother Moira MacTaggert can possibly love her.  And over in subplot corner, we've got Manuel de la Rocha, whose closest equivalent to parental authority is currently Emma Frost, who just put mental blocks in his mind to stop him accessing his mutant abilities (admittedly in response to him essentially gearing up to rape her, so there ain't much in the way of sympathy headed in his direction).  What all three share is an idea of the difficulties in raising children when the mutant question intrudes on proceedings.  Craig sees Rahne as nothing but a creature to point at as an example of demon-spawn. As a member of the Hellfire Club, Emma Frost has no interest in De La Rocha beyond the power-play advantages she might gain from his horrifically invasive abilities.

Even the ostensibly heroic Xavier is riven by fears that his use of his powers may cause harm, and that his insistence he is doing the right thing is a claim also made by those he opposes.  Really, though, this isn't about psychic powers.  Reverend Craig has managed to do a supremely unpleasant number on Rahne entirely without supernatural abilities, and the Nazis who left so indelible a mark on Magneto (seen here suffering nightmares so extreme they induce sleep-flying, though at least he has Lee Forrester to look after him) were similarly unremarkable in their genetic make-up.  Every parent has super powers as far as their children are concerned.  Every adult oppressor is an unassailable villain to the children they hurt.

If we make the decision to ignore the naming of whatever post-traumatic response David is undergoing as "autism", then this story can be framed as one about how we might approach helping children who have suffered damage - and perhaps caused it; Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander are now in a coma and labs seem to explode every few hours on Muir Isle - without defining those children in terms of that damage.  In some sense Charles' self-diagnosed failure to avoid "taking advantage" of Gabrielle is symptomatic of another problem, the tendency to see a person as separate from their defining experiences.  The traumas of our pasts are not cankers to be removed.  They inform us too deeply for that. The aim should be to process and make peace with our demons.  If Charles had seen Gabrielle as a beautiful young woman who had survived the Holocaust, rather than a pretty puzzle box he could reward himself with once a solution presented itself, things might have gone very differently.

(It might also be helpful if he could actually listen to Gabrielle's viewpoint regarding their affair, rather than simply declaring it a mistake brought about by his own weakness.  There were two people in that tango, Charles. Blaming yourself entirely is just one more form of self-obsession.)

Whether Charles has learned his lesson is unclear. Perhaps he has not, and his eagerness to delve into the new puzzle of the comatose teenager is what has left him unable to draw the obvious conclusions about Gabrielle's strange attitude towards him. On the other hand, one has to admit the mystery itself is pretty interesting: why would an Israeli boy build a psionic wall around an Arab inside his own head?  That's a potential minefield from an allegorical perspective.  I can't remember if later issues follow through on that, but it's an intriguing premise.

And at the end of the day, all this issue needed was an intriguing premise (although it turns out it also has both the first appearance of Legion and Jamie Madrox's debut in the X-books (thanks to wwk5d for the correction)). It's up to later issues to deliver on the promise.  For now a young boy giggles insanely as his hands burn, rooms explode, and people collapse insensible to the floor, and the grainy image of an Arabian boy screams in silence as he floats from room to room.  Long might the shadow of Legion be (it's the hair), but that should be enough for anyone to be going on with.


This story takes place over two days.  We could place it directly after the events of UXM #193, but Xavier seems noticeably less fragile than he was in that issue, so we'll move events forwards a week.


Saturday 22nd to Sunday 23rd December, 1984


X+6Y+295 to X+6Y+296.

Contemporary Events

Dom Mintoff resigns as Prime Minister of Malta amongst political turmoil and violence.

Standout Line

"Self will visit you from time to time, if you like... so you will not be lonely." - Warlock

There's just something so cute about Warlock trying to make sure the Blackbird is happy doing its job.  I do hope he isn't too distressed when it inevitably explodes in a few issues' time.


  1. "although it turns out it also has both the first appearance of Legion and Jamie Madrox's debut in the X-books"

    Nope. Jamie Madrox first appeared during the Claremont/Byrne era, right before and during the Proteus storyline.

  2. Oh yes! Foolish of me to forget, and more foolish still to forget to check. Appreciate the correction.