Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic-book issue of significance. This week, it’s X-Men: Legacy #15. Written by Simon Spurrier (Gutsville, X-Club) and drawn by Tan Eng Huat (Doom Patrol, Ghost Rider), this issue solidifies the book’s standing as Marvel’s strongest X-title when David Haller reunites with his absent mother. (Warning: major spoilers ahead.)
It’s an amazing time to be an X-fan. Marvel NOW! has reenergized the publisher’s line of mutant titles, creating a stronger sense of cohesion between the books and giving readers a variety of choices depending on what of stories they desire. Wolverine And The X-Men is concentrated fun, with a dark side; All New X-Men focuses on the teenage emotional drama of the five original X-Men; Uncanny X-Men is a sprawling action adventure involving fugitive revolutionary mutants; and X-Men is a traditional superhero book with an all-female cast. (After an entertaining, but slight opening arc, X-Men clicks with this week’s Jubilee-centric #4.) All of these books are captivating in their own way, but none have plumbed the psychological depths of Simon Spurrier and Tan Eng Huat’s X-Men: Legacy, following the late Charles Xavier’s son David “Legion” Haller as he takes a proactive stance on fixing human/mutant relations.
Thanks to Marvel’s accelerated shipping schedule, there have been 15 issues of X-Men: Legacy in the past eight months, and there hasn’t been a misstep since the book’s debut. As David shuts down anti-mutant hate groups and orchestrates bloodless political coups with the help of fellow British mutants, he’s developing a complex relationship with X-Man Blindfold and working to control the alternating superpowered personalities living in his head, making considerable strides for self-improvement as he copes with the death of his father. Things have been looking up for David after he successfully brought down a mutant-hating Middle Eastern dictator, but David is one of those characters like Spider-Man and Daredevil who never seems to catch a break. When life is good for Legion, it’s a strong sign that tragedy is on the horizon. Just as his romance with Blindfold was taking off, he sabotaged it by abusing his power, and when David finally reconnects with his mother in X-Men: Legacy #15 after years apart, he’s dealt another devastating blow.
In an industry where trade-friendly, multi-issue arcs are the norm, Spurrier has been telling shorter stories that have given him the opportunity to cover a lot of ground in less than a year. There are plot threads that have been carried throughout, but each issue is very new-reader friendly, with Spurrier providing necessary exposition in his scripts. A news broadcast at the start of #15 summarizes the events of #14 by checking in with rebel X-leader Cyclops, but this opening is more than just a recap. The first panel shows David’s alternate personality based on his father, banging on the bars of his jail cell in David’s mind. “There is percussion in my brain,” David narrates, and that pounding will be a constant presence throughout the issue, an ominous sound that leads to a catastrophic event. The introduction of Cyclops to the narrative at the start sets up his appearance in this issue’s cliffhanger, and Spurrier uses the opening sequence to establish the character’s current situation for anyone not following the other X-books. Cyclops’ last words in that scene also foreshadow the climax of this issue: “Given the chance, things will always slip back to where they began.” David didn’t have a mother figure before this issue, and he won’t after. (Again, big spoilers coming.)
For the big family reunion, David takes his mother, Israeli ambassador Gabrielle Haller, to Muir Island, the place where he was tied down and experimented on when she abandoned him as a child. The issue is titled “The Place Of Broken Things,” and Muir Island will never stop being the place that shatters David’s psyche. He makes a bad decision having this as the setting for his first conversation with his mother in years, and his bad luck catches up with him once he stops on to that Scottish soil. But before it all falls apart, David actually manages to rebuild his relationship with Gabrielle as they express the feelings they’ve long kept from each other.
David takes his mother on a guilt trip through the Muir Island science facility, showing her places where he suffered acute trauma while telling her that the woman responsible for his suffering was more of a mother to him than Gabrielle ever was. This is his time to lash out over years of neglect, and he doesn’t pull any punches; he never had the opportunity to throw a teenage temper tantrum at his mom, so he’s doing it now. He demands an explanation for her absence, and Gabrielle’s response is a heartbreaking, completely understandable description of how an ordinary human would react to the events of a superhero world.
Gabrielle gives David a rundown of the things she does on a daily basis, telling him about her high-stakes work as an ambassador and how she unwinds on a day off. These are the real, dreadful, beautiful, mundane things that she understands, but the superhero world will always be alien to her. “You come from another world,” she tells David. “A world of… of costumes. Power. A world where you’re a hero or a villain, nothing in between. A world where people don’t stay dead. Your father’s world.” (That last sentence is punctuated by the image of Xavier pounding against the bars in David’s head, bringing back that foreboding drumbeat.) That world scared Gabrielle and she knew she couldn’t compete with Xavier, so she left. It was a selfish decision, but Spurrier sells Gabrielle’s remorse in his script, creating a portrait of a woman tortured by her past but refusing to live her life in regret.
When David asks his mother if it ever occurred to her that he might prefer her world to his father’s, the realization crumbles Gabrielle’s resolve and sends her into David’s arms, repeating “My son. I’m sorry.” as he involuntarily pulls her into his mind. X-Men: Legacy is an unabashedly weird book, but its willingness to tell an unconventional superhero story is what makes it great. David’s mindscape is where a lot of that experimentation happens, and artist Tan Eng Huat has done fantastic work creating a psychedelic environment populated by strange, visually captivating figures. This is certainly not Gabrielle’s world, but her knowledge proves valuable when she meets the imprisoned Xavier. To test if he’s truly the ghost or psychic copy of her baby daddy, she asks him what he telepathically said to her when he found out David was his song. When the little gold man can’t answer, Gabrielle asks David to take her out of his mind, but David wants to know what his father said. ‘“Thank you.’ He said, ‘Thank you,’” Gabrielle tells her son, pulling him in for another hug.
Then she gets shot in the head.
All that clanging was building to the “BOOOM” of the bullet hitting Gabrielle, sending David into a fury as he vaporizes his would-be assassins (who work for the dictator David just helped overthrow) and frantically tries to find a healer personality in his head. Too bad Gabrielle doesn’t want to be healed. “No reversible death,” she says as she bleeds out. “My world. My world… not yours.” The contrast of those two worlds is beautifully captured on the page where Gabrielle dies. Using a nine-panel grid, Spurrier and Huat have the top and bottom rows of three panels showing Gabrielle’s death in stark close-up panels that emphasize the impact of each second. In the middle of the page is one large image showing the effect of this event on David’s mind, showing him keeled over as he siphons power from all directions while the flawed copy of his father cackles in the background. Jose Villarrubia colors the mindscape with bright red, pink, green, blue, and orange, further distinguishing it from the drab, cold tones of reality.
Gabrielle’s world is no long an option for David, so he dives headfirst into his father’s by teleporting to the Xavier memorial statue at the Jean Grey Institute, where he tries to work through his feelings with Blindfold’s help. All of David’s fears and anxieties come bubbling to the surface when he sit cross-legged in front of his father’s statues, and as is his wont, he decides to deal with these emotions through aggression, vowing to administer filial justice to Cyclops, the man who killed his father. The cliffhanger shows Cyclops thinking that he hears drums, bringing everything full circle and setting up one hell of a fight next issue.
X-Men: Legacy #15 is a thought-provoking look at the kind of dysfunctional family dynamic superhero comics excel at, exploring the ways a regular civilian would deal with the pressures of a fantastic world and how her decision impacted those closest to her. Mike Del Mundo’s cover for the issue is a brilliant visual representation of the themes within, showing a Polaroid of David at 7 months, levitating his baby toys while strapped to his mother’s chest. His signature explosion of hair covers Gabrielle’s face, cleverly showing how David’s mother was a mystery to him growing up. Del Mundo’s covers for this series should earn him some award recognition next year, and that high level of quality carries from the cover to the very last page. Judging by sales, a lot of people are missing out on X-Men: Legacy, which isn’t just Marvel’s best X-book, but one of the most consistently strong superhero reads each month.