Legion isn’t like other superheros — sure, Batman may wrestle with childhood angst and a phobia of bats, but the superpowered son of Professor X will battle mental illness in a way most super heroes never have to.
At New York Comic Con this year, fans saw the first proper debut of FX and Marvel Studio’s latest superhero TV show, Legion. The live-action X-Men story created by Fargo’s Noah Hawley electrified critics with its dazzling style and hipster sensibilities — recently casting Flight of the Conchords’s Jemaine Clement. However, the show’s promise to tackle mental illness is one of the most interesting parts of the upcoming series.
Legion takes its name from its eponymous hero (played by Dan Stevens) who is locked up in a mental institute, convinced he is insane. The show is ambiguous about the exact nature of Legion’s mental state, implying that his instability is actually just a result of his extremely powerful mutant abilities. Either way, his powers are so incredible that he has the attention of the government. Legion’s best friend Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza) and potential love interest Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller) are fellow patients in the facility.
Actually, Syd Barrett — a reference to Pink Floyd’s lead singer — is a good place to start, because aside from stylistic similarities to Wes Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, and the British Mod scene, the show will attempt to stylize mental illness much the same way the British rock band did on albums like The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon. Hawley even cites the latter when describing his psychedelic superhero show.
Joining Hawley at the NYCC panel was Marvel Television head Jeph Loeb who was quick to mention how eager he was to begin negotiations with Fox to bridge Legion to his Marvel shows like Agents of SHIELD. X-Men film director Bryan Singer has already expressed interest in uniting the show to his films, and the fact that Marvel TV also wants in spells good things for Legion as a hot superhero property.
In the comics, Legion is Professor Xavier’s son whose power comes from his multiple personality disorder, each with its own unique power. Unfortunately, Legion’s multiple personality leaves him very mentally unstable. No word yet on whether or not we will even see Professor X make an appearance in Legion.
Thanks to shows like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, superhero television has become a great conduit to explore contemporary issues, something Loeb mentions specifically in regards to Legion. “[T]he X-Men have never been more relevant than they are right now[,]” Loeb told audiences at the Legion panel. As the comic book standard bearers for “otherness,” Loeb is certainly right about the X-Men’s social importance, and Legion could become another important superhero work that highlights very important, real-world issues like mental health.