David Haller doesn’t have the most direct origin in superhero comics. There’s no “Doomed Planet. Desperate Scientists. Last Hope. Kindly Couple.” for him. Instead there’s a terrible childhood, convoluted initial adventures, and a set of powers and personalities that are constantly in flux. That doesn’t make Legion a bad concept, but it makes it a difficult one. This context makes the breezy experience of reading Legion #1 all the more impressive.
Milligan has always had a knack for tackling the weirdest elements of superheroes, especially those related to the X-Men. His X-Statix run is a true all-timer, and he brings similar approaches to Legion. The first issue doesn’t dump exposition across the page, even the recap is as minimal as they come at Marvel. Instead it drops into the story in media res and simply embraces things for how they are. David has a dangerous personality emerging, and he’s seeking help. Even without decades of context, the threat and perceived solution are obvious from the get go, no X-knowledge required. It's an exceedingly smart approach.
Character narration is the only instance in which clarity overtakes story. Multiple characters engage in reader instruction without a clear framing device. It is efficient, but distracts from the pacing on the page, providing either an assumption that everyone is speaking after events have run their course or that this device was simply the easiest option to explain plot. The truth is that it’s largely unnecessary, especially when you consider the odd charm of David engaging with his own personalities. They offer a perfect opportunity to delve into exposition and themes while remaining focused on the visually engaging nature of Legion.
Torres’ thin linework makes an excellent match for that nature. There is a delicacy to everything on the page, and it meets David’s concern that his perception of reality might crumble at any second. Humans seem as easily torn as paper, building visual metaphor on top of psychic trauma. Objects made of lines like razor blades are capable of warping and transforming into nightmare monsters. The effect is startling and will likely leave readers on edge as they wonder what is illusion and what is a deadly misreading of reality in issues to come. Torres' pages combined with Brown’s flat colors make a world ripe for exploitation by a mind more powerful and less stable than almost any in Marvel Comics.
Legion #1 isn’t just a good comic for X-fans or newcomers who enjoy the FX adaptation, it’s a genuinely great starting point. If you know what mutants are and who Professor X is, then you know as much as you need to rifle through these pages. The setup of the story is solid with plenty of directions to travel and a threat that is as unpredictable as the narrator is unreliable. If the rest of the Legion mini-series lives up to the promise of #1, then there’s cause to call for an ongoing. It’s a fine start to a very strange sort of story.
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Wilfredo Torres
Colors by Dan Brown