What an age to be a comic book fan. We live in an age where both filmmakers want to tell the story (accurately) of our favorite costumed heroes, and the technology is widely available for those stories to be brought to life on any sized screen. Today I bring you Legion, Season 1. I don’t want to say Legion is different, because there is enough variety, in the story telling sense, and I don’t want this to seem like it is the needle in the haystack. I do, however, want to place an emphasis on how the television side of comics has allowed different types of stories to be told, seeing how it doesn’t have to adhere to the 3 act structure of a film. Legion is a good bridge for the jaded cynics who are tired of the same Hollywood trash that pollutes the screen every summer season, and the die hard comic fans who have loved watching their favorite heroes dominate the screen for the last 10 years.
Legion, if you don’t know, is the story of David Haller, the son of Professor X, and his struggle with his incredible psychic power. Since he is the son of Prof. X, it should be noted that this series takes place in the X-Men world, and it focuses on mutants, and the fear/acceptance of them. Rather than the preachy civil rights metaphor of the X-Men films (which doesn’t bother me) the central point of the series is the psychic abilities of David (Legion) and the psychic world, or astral plane. The astral plane is, essentially, a dream world of the subconscious, and it is reached by mental powers rather than the Doctor Strange approach of magic/mysticism. This is the hook, the fun, and the horror of the series, so whatever can be imagined, becomes the haven, or the battleground. It starts off as a Wes Anderson-esque whimsical dramedy, then ascends to a Cronenberg-esque horror. It, quite creatively, covers all the bases: comedy, musical, science fiction, horror, German Expressionist, action, and even romance, all the while having an organic flow, rather than being a jumbled, tonal nightmare. Because of the style of the show, and its use of the subconscious, all these genres find a home without you being taken out by wondering where the change in direction came from.
This is an X-Men story, so, of course, it is an ensemble piece that centers around the titular character. Another X-Men trope is that David falls under the care of a group of mutants who want to help him control/master his power, which is what leads us to our central arc. While the first few X-Men films were largely Wolverine centered, the balance has shifted back to the focus on the mutant teams. While Legion is clearly the lead, the supporting cast is what keeps the story afloat. To quickly sum up, the cast is fun, and they all keep you very finely invested, except Amber Midthunder, who plays Kerry Loudermilk, a person who shares the body with a character named Cary Loudermilk. The idea of 2 beings sharing one body, with the ability to separate is very intriguing, but the performance of Midthunder is unfortunately very weak. Other than that, Dan Stevens (Downtown Abbey) as Legion is a very charismatic lead and plays a convincing schizophrenic who doesn’t ever come off as the Hollywood schizo, like Brad Pitt from 12 Monkeys (even though that performance is amazingly fun). I do have to note the stand out performance of Aubrey Plaza as Lenny/the Shadow King. I am not a fan of Aubrey Plaza, but only because of how she was utilized in the past, over her performances, in general. She chews all the scenery and does the best Tim Burton impression I have ever seen.
The cool thing about using TV as a medium for comic books, is that it allows for risks to be taken on a story telling level. With Hollywood movies, there is a certain expectation for big action, and it always has to be confined to, on average, 2 hours. When you have TV, and on a network like FX (Sons of Anarchy, Archer, It’s Always Sunny…) you have a lot of creative freedom, and an audience who has developed an open mind to more daring shows. While I say The Flash and Daredevil are good shows, Legion gets to stray from the action genre and delves into fantasy. It is visually more Doctor Strange than anything else, but, from a storytelling perspective, it stands completely on its own. We get to stay with our characters and take everything in, and each episode changes the tone up just a bit, so it feels fresh and opens the door for more comic book adaptations to try their hands at something new.
Legion is an excellent series and may have the most comic book look of all series currently on TV. It is a nice contained story about a man wrestling his inner demons (literally) and coming to terms with the lies he has been told his whole life. It is driven by strong performances, a fun take on the genre, and great visuals, for any sized screen. I don’t want to call it a trailblazer, but it is a good template for those who seek to get outside the norm of the mundane comic book blockbusters by remaining true to the source’s roots, while being granted the freedom to have a fun fantasy, drama. It is a great show for fans of the genre and people that like things just a little bit weird. I still say The Punisher is the best Marvel series, but with the second season of Legion on the way, I am willing to have my mind changed.