The one major problem with FX’s Legion is that its airtime seems so fleeting. Although the current season still has a few episodes left before it wraps, we’ll soon be facing months and months of a Legion-less existence. How will we get our fix?
Big superhero blockbusters are always enjoyable, but even the most ambitious Marvel or DC movie can’t cram a whole season’s worth of reality-warping mind tricks into two and a half hours. Turning to other TV shows won’t do it, either, since there’s nothing else like Legion on the small screen at the moment. While series like Gifted offer some fun mutant action, their approaches to narrative are too straightforward to provide the thrill of true weirdness. Instead, let’s go back to where it all began: comic books. There’s no substitute for comics when it comes to pure, unfiltered, meta-narrative strangeness. Here are seven titles that will mess you right up, Legion-style.
THE NEW MUTANTS #25-27 (CHRIS CLAREMONT/BILL SIENKIEWICZ)
David Haller made his official debut in these issues of Marvel’s The New Mutants, a 1980s X-Men spinoff. The story itself is Peak Claremont—long-lost offspring! Mind control! Love triangles/parallelograms/dodecahedrons!—but honestly, the story’s not the main focus here. All you really need to know is that he has multiple personalities, each of which controls an aspect of his powers. The art, however, is A+ stuff.
Sienkiewicz’s unsettling linework, gorgeous painted covers, and expressively elongated bodies (imagine if a Modigliani portrait came to life and moved into a studio apartment in gritty 80s New York) combine to create an aesthetic that destabilizes the reader, thereby compelling them to share in David’s instability.
X-MEN: LEGACY VOLUME 2 (SIMON SPURRIER/VARIOUS ARTISTS)
There are actually several X-Men: Legacy series, so make sure you pick up the right one; this is the Marvel NOW! title, which ran from 2012-2014. Spurrier’s take on David Haller moves away from Claremontian drama to focus on issues surrounding mental illness in a refreshingly perceptive way. As per the character’s introduction in New Mutants, David wields formidable power, but only when one of his multiple personalities takes over his mind. The comic deals with his struggle to balance the many voices confusing his sense of identity, as well as his attempts to master his powers without losing himself.
If this sounds familiar, it may be because X-Men: Legacy partially inspired the season one plot of Legion; Spurrier is listed under “Special Thanks To” in the end credits of every episode. All that mental health realness? Thank Spurrier’s David Haller.
STRAY TOASTERS (BILL SIENKIEWICZ)
As Monty Python might say, “And now for something completely different.” Published by Marvel’s now defunct Epic Comics imprint for creator-owned work, Stray Toasters (1988) is hard to describe, but here goes. There’s a serial killer on the loose who replaces people’s inner squishy parts with machinery and has a toaster for a head. On his trail is criminal psychologist/supernatural dabbler Egon Rustemagik (yes, really), recently released from a mental institution. Could Todd, a young boy with a strange connection to the toaster-headed killer, help him unravel this case? Or….not?
It’s a supremely weird comic that makes very little sense—Sienkiewicz doesn’t write his own comics often, and it shows—but it’s also a chance to see what a conceptual master can do when he’s off the leash: the mix of artistic media and styles, the deliberately transgressed panel borders, the late 80s indie sensibility. Sit back and let it wash over you as you keep wondering WTF is happening. Legion fans will know that feeling well.
DOOM PATROL (GRANT MORRISON/RICHARD CASE)
Several comics critic friends of mine once described Legion as “Morrisonian.” After revisiting Morrison and Case’s run on DC’s Doom Patrol, I see what they meant. The comic shares so many key themes with the FX show, especially the first season. A bunch of weirdos bound together by their inability to function in conventional human society? Check. A protagonist whose powers are inextricable from mental illness and trauma? Check. Meta-narrative digressions that turn out to be instrumental to the story? Check. A whole lot of inexplicable characters and causal logic that you just kind of have to accept in order to keep the story going? All the checks.
This blend of superhero adventure and forays into the truly bizarre is what makes Doom Patrol so enjoyable, and could be just the thing to satisfy your Legion-induced cravings.
THE INVISIBLES (GRANT MORRISON/VARIOUS ARTISTS)
Kicking things up about a billion notches, The Invisibles is a masterclass in Legion-esque weirdness. Over 59 issues, Grant Morrison explores the true purpose of the core assumptions underpinning superhero narratives, and tries to determine what comics could become if those assumptions were subverted or dismantled. Do those endless good vs. evil battles accomplish anything, or is their strict moral duality imposed upon them (and us) by something much darker? Is The Invisibles‘ story the actual story, or are we reading the delusions of a sad sack trying to stave off his looming midlife crisis? And, come to think of it, since all works of fiction are made up anyway, is the act of investing in this comic an act of self-delusion?
Add to that some proper body horror and journeys in and out of various characters’ minds, and—okay, it’s still not quite the same as Legion, but conceptually, it comes pretty dang close.
OMEGA THE UNKNOWN (JONATHAN LETHEM/FAREL DALRYMPLE)
An acclaimed novelist plus an acclaimed indie artist on an obscure Marvel superhero. Who would have guessed the end result would be so brain-tickling? The ten-issue miniseries revives the titular hero, Omega the Unknown, with a prestige fiction feel, and in the process veers into the heart of “what the heck is going on” territory.
Lethem and Dalrymple’s Omega the Unknown is light on dialogue, which gives the unique visuals more time to shine but also holds back explanations, opting instead to force the reader to find their own narrative connections. In the process, the comic asks us to consider how we create and extract meaning from the stories we consume.
ENIGMA (PETER MILLIGAN/DUNCAN FEGREDO)
Can we separate ourselves from the narratives that shape us, and what would we do if we could? Milligan and Fegredo’s Enigma revolves around a young man whose life is beginning to resemble that of his favorite superhero, complete with themed archenemies and a backstory so secret that even he didn’t know about it. Fegredo’s scratchy, almost aggressively inky lines emphasize the blurred boundaries between reality and fiction at a visceral level, while Milligan’s interest in seeing how many times a story can be folded in on itself brings the reader face to face with some uncomfortable questions.
Questions like: where does the construction of narrative end and my reality begin? Have I ever been able to construct my own life, or is something I don’t understand doing it for me? Am I better off not knowing?
Enigma only lasts for eight issues, but the spine chills should carry you through at least a few Legion-less weeks. That is, if any of these comics, or indeed this article, are real….
Got any Legion-esque comics that didn’t make the list? Tell us below!
Images: Marvel, DC
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