Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s X-Men: Legacy #8. Written by Simon Spurrier (Gutsville, X-Club) and drawn by Tan Eng Huat (Doom Patrol, Ghost Rider), this issue shows why the adventures of David Haller have become some of the most sophisticated, oddball, and hilarious stories in superhero comics.
When the first round of Marvel Now! titles was announced, one book didn’t seem to fit with the rest: a revived X-Men: Legacy spotlighting Professor Charles Xavier’s son David Haller, a.k.a. Legion. Was anyone clamoring for an ongoing series starring the big-haired omega-level mutant whose major purpose until now has been setting up X-events like “Age Of Apocalypse” and “Age Of X”? Writer Simon Spurrier and artist Tan Eng Huat are both known for work that’s more off-kilter than the usual superhero fare, so X-Men: Legacy was bound to be a bit strange, but no one could have predicted the type of dense, aggressively weird tale these two would create.
David’s mutant powers manifest as acute dissociative identity disorder; each different personality has a unique superpower that David can tap into if he’s of sound mind, but recent events haven’t been too easy on him. The mental prison that he had been building with Merzah The Mystic to keep all these characters in check was destroyed when David’s father was killed in Avengers Vs. X-Men, sending out a psychic shockwave that also sparked the creation of a new figure in David’s head: Charles Xavier. The action switches between David searching for new mutants in the real world and struggling for control in his mind (The Qortex Complex), two tracks that are tied together by narration that’s projected over loudspeakers inside David’s head. The loudspeakers are a great way of depicting David’s vulnerability inside his own mind, revealing his innermost thoughts to the psychic prisoners hunting down their jailer.
Making great use of this book’s title, David has taken on his father’s mission of creating a peaceful world for both mutants and humans, taking proactive strides where the X-Men have been largely reactive. The first arc established Haller’s new place in the Marvel Universe while laying the groundwork for his romance with X-student Blindfold, whose mutant-hating brother has become the book’s second antagonist after David himself. After taking out a group of religious fundamentalists to impress his new crush last issue, David takes Blindfold on an astral date to the Psychosphere, where he introduces her to Santi Sardina, a new mutant who has the power to take credit for things he didn’t do. In a clever touch, the issue’s credits page has everyone’s name crossed out with “Santi Sardina” written on top, showing the sense of humor that has become an essential part of the book’s appeal.
The issue opens by introducing Santi, an outcast at school whose mutant power manifests when he witnesses a stick-up on the street. When Marvel Comics misfit Captain Ultra appears to save the day, Santi is showered with praise, a wave that doesn’t stop as he tries to go through his everyday routine without getting constant positive recognition. Spying on Santi through the Psychosphere, David realizes that he can help the boy and all of mutantkind by nudging Santi toward a life of politics, a path that will have him as student president by the end of the year, elected official in three, governor by 28, and president of the United States by 35. David’s idea is certainly proactive, but it’s also manipulating the boy to do something he probably doesn’t want to do. Blindfold would rather have the boy pursue the artistic talent that he’s been cultivating through doodles and graffiti, even though he won’t know if the recognition he receives is genuine.
As David prepares to make Santi sign up for the debate club, a malevolent force comes after him and Blindfold in the Psychosphere, overpowering David and forcing him to turn to the last personality he wants to go to for help: his father. Abandoned by the rest of the characters in his head, David’s only option is to give control to his father, who takes a bite of his son’s neck and starts to fuse their minds together. As Charles-David dispels the beast from the Psychosphere, he gives the ominous message: “The boy’s not yours to kill.” Charles promises that all will become clear as he breaks his connection with David, which is good, because there are a lot of questions after the fight.
The red beast with electric hair appears just as David is about to exert his control over another person without his permission, something that his father was staunchly opposed to. It’s possible that this demonic entity is the darkest side of David’s personality given form (the electric hair seems to be hinting at that), while the best aspects have become the psychic personification of his father. That would explain why Charles-David tells the villain, “I know you like the back of my head.” Charles makes sure that David stays on the right path, and after the encounter in his mind, David has a change of heart over what to do with Santi.
Repeating the mantra “I rule me,” three words he used for strength at the start of the series, David realizes that he doesn’t have the right to use others for his own agenda if it means taking away their self-control. Rather than pushing Santi to the debate club, David plants a suggestion in his mind that will allow him to produce the art he wants and get legitimate recognition: Do it all anonymously. When a streaming video site reviews some of Santi’s street art, David sends Blindfold a message telling her to check out the clip, which has an apology from BIGHAIR356 in the comments. It’s an adorable, light-hearted ending to an issue that goes to some very heavy places, bringing the story back to a more grounded, personal level after the intense superhero action. There’s also a nice bit of meta-commentary with the video describing Santi’s art as “a medley of raw work about dispossession, guilt, and pop-infused ambition,” a phrase that could very well describe what Spurrier is doing on this title.
Since taking a three-issue break following #3, the art team of penciller Tan Eng Huat, inker Craig Yeung, and colorist Jose Villarrubia has become noticeably sharper. Yeung’s inks have gotten less thick, with delicate crosshatching that adds dimension to Huat’s work. Huat deserves major kudos for his David character design, outfitting him in orange sweatpants that make him look like he’s just escaped from prison and a high-collared vest with no shirt underneath, adding some sex appeal while drawing attention to his head. Rather than drawing David’s hair as a straight vertical tower, Huat makes it more of a cresting wave, emphasizing the mercurial nature of his mental state. One final visual touch that helps reflect the power inside David’s head is his bushy eyebrows; there’s so much activity inside his mind that it’s forcing the hair on his head to grow uncontrollably. The art team brings an appropriately manic energy to the issue’s climactic fight sequence, with Villarrubia turning to the psychedelic color palette he utilized to beautiful effect in Promethea. There’s so much personality in the artwork, and it’s a perfect fit for a book about one of the Marvel’s most unusual characters.
Mike Del Mundo has done spectacular work creating engaging covers for this series, drawing readers in with striking images that embody the themes within. He’s having a lot of fun depicting David’s power set, turning his oversized hair into a jail cell for #5, drowning him in different speech balloons for #6, and providing a cross-section of his head for next month’s #9. His cover for #8 is ingenious, showing David sitting for a portrait (likely painted by himself) with the tip of the paintbrush standing in for his huge mass of hair. There’s fresh orange paint dripping down the brush, the same shade that is being used to detail David’s face on the canvas. The different personalities in David’s head are like hues of paint; his identity is directly dependent on which color has dominance in his mind, and the chaotic brush strokes in the portrait capture that instability.
Like DC’s Dial H, X-Men: Legacy is using the superhero genre to explore identity, responsibility, and personal relationships through a character who is not the typical hero but is trying his best to become one. David Haller may not be the first choice to headline a new ongoing series at the start of a bold publishing initiative, but Spurrier and his art team have made him an incredibly captivating figure. X-Men: Legacy began as the outcast of Marvel Now!, but its distinct voice, dynamic artwork, and intriguing concept have made it one of the publisher’s strongest titles.