Star Wars

Review: First Impressions of Legion

I just finished the first extended episode of Legion on FX and I’m very impressed!  You always reserve a sense of caution when any of your comic book favorites are being translated into a live action medium.  You can’t expect a direct reading of source material, there is always a measure of interpretation and a desire from the studio for updating the printed canon.  That said it is apparent that the production team had a great sense of respect and love for the original work by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz.  A little bit about those original comics, Legion debuted as a character in New Mutants (#25 March 1985).  I always saw New Mutants as the “college radio” member of the X-Men comics line, willing to take a few more risks than the “Top 40” Uncanny X-Men flagship title.  Given more creative freedom allowed for some really exciting stories to be explored, including the Legion plotline.  Bryan Singer and Lauren Donner head up the television production, both being no strangers to the X-Men universe.  Singer has been the custodian of our favorite mutants movie series since the debut of X-Men in 2000.  Most fans have embraced the franchise, along with Blade, it ushered in the Marvel Age of Movies and paved the way for the current cinematic juggernaut that is Marvel Studios.

If you don’t want to take my word for how great the series is already shaping up to be, listen to one of the people responsible for the creation of Legion, graphic artist Bill Sienkiewicz.

“Chris Claremont And I connected this [morning] and we’re both thrilled and proud as punch. We’re aware the FX series isn’t synched to comic book canon, but it definitely captures the energy and exploration and mind -bending fun we tried to bring to what we did…without our editor, Annie Nocenti, we’d never have had a chance.”

I don’t think you can have a better endorsement than one from the original creators.  It’s nice to see FX embrace this edgy character and not shy away from what a lot of networks would find risky subject matter.  The same way Guardians of the Galaxy  was a surprise hit, not only because the characters were not household names and the director was, as of yet, untried for work on a blockbuster…but it was unexpected and pushed what was already being accepted as a superhero movie.   Legion is already sizing up to be an out of left field hit, excellent cast, top notch production values, and a fresh path not yet explored in the superhero live action universe.  To be successful, you have to do something different and Legion is really doing something different!  Legion has actually always been a bit of a pariah it seems as far as subject matter is concerned, breaking the mold of what qualifies as a “superhero”, in fact even more of an anti-hero than Wolverine.  In the 90’s Legion was to be a co-starring character in a revamped X-Factor comic, as a full fledged member of the  team.   The writer assigned to the book, Peter David, was not comfortable with this.  David is quoted as saying,

“I don’t mind building a story around [Legion], but working him into a group – you’re really asking for a bit much from the reader. Believing that a group of people will come together to form a team is enough of a suspension of disbelief… ‘Oh, by the way, one of them is so nuts he shouldn’t be setting foot off Muir Island’… that’s asking the reader to bend so far he will break.”

Editor Bob Harras ultimately came to the same conclusion that Legion should not be used in the series.  Sort of odd that in a book that deals with genetically advanced mutants, aliens, and supervillains plotting world conquest Mr. David felt it was too much of a stretch to include an individual who has mental illness as a member of a superhero team 😉  That said, who knows what might have changed for Legion…maybe we wouldn’t have the FX series now if he was included in the book then.

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The series has a great 60’s aesthetic, but in sort of a timeless way.  There are some shot choices and cinematography that remind me of Clockwork Orange, which itself was a journey seen through the eyes of a mentally ill character.  The warmly lit sets, bright color palette, and playful retro wardrobe all add a sort of surreal backdrop to what is ultimately a grotesque world you are not 100% sure is a fabrication or real.  Without spoiling canon or the new series, the ambiguity of what you are watching lets the viewer share the unbalance the character himself is going through.  Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey) does a phenomenal job of portraying a person on the brink of madness while still remaining likeable and inviting.  You want him to work through his demons (real or imagined) so you can follow him deeper into his rabbit hole.  The whole cast is exceptional, Bill Sienkiewicz shared this about the team, the fans, and his feelings about seeing his creation come to life,

“I cannot begin to thank the execs, cast and crew: Noah Hawley, Lauren Shuler Donner, Jeph Loeb, Bryan Singer, Derrick Hoffman, and so many others.
The perfect cast: Dan Stevens, Mackenzie Gray,Rachel Keller, Katie Aselton, Aubrey Plaza, Bill Irwin, Jeremie Harris, Jean Smart, David Selby, David Ferry …
And personally for me, thanks so much to all the readers and fans of the New Mutants comic book series.  Without you, your belief and your support, I don’t think we’d be here having this wonderful moment.”

I can’t wait to see how this series shakes out and what direction the story takes us.  Right now it is wide open as to where they go, and that in itself very exciting!  I’m glad to have a new series to keep me interested in TV, so much better that it is comic favorite.

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Bill had one last thing to say to everyone,

“Thanks SO much to everyone for the wonderful response to FX’s LEGION. It’s obviously a labor of love for everyone involved.   I’ll definitely be tuning in every week. Hope you will too.”

No problem Bill, we’re right there with you!



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