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December 22, 2012

‘X-Men Legacy': Simon Spurrier’s task is Legion

Posted in: Comics

Ask writer Simon Spurrier and he’ll give you a litany of reasons why David Haller, the unstable mutant son of Professor Charles Xavier, is the perfect character to anchor “X-Men Legacy.”

“He literally couldn’t be a more exciting and fascinating proposition,” Spurrier said. “He’s the son of one of the – if not the – most recognizable mutants in the Marvel canon. He’s riddled with interesting insecurities and familial neuroses; he’s got enough power tucked-away in that brain of his to squish the universe like a lorry-diving rabbit and — the writer’s dream come true — he’s about as flawed, unreliable and tortured as it’s possible to be.”

In the wake of his father’s tragic death, the character who once killed gods and reshaped the face of the universe is at the center of the “X-Men Legacy” narrative Spurrier is shaping with Eisner Award-winning artist Tan Eng Huat. Hero Complex caught up with the writer to discuss his long-term plans for Legion and “Legacy.”

HC: You’ve shifted the focus of “X-Men Legacy” from Rogue to Legion. Why?

SS: We knew all along that one of the biggest stumbling blocks we’d face for the new series was a question along the lines of “Legion? His own book? Why? Who cares?” Which is a weird thing for people to ask when you look at what David Haller is rather than how he’s been used in the past…. Historically David’s been used as little more than a walking, talking, big-haired plot point. You can understand why too: he’s just so bloody convenient in narrative terms. You need a ticking time bomb to provide jeopardy for your characters? You need a super-powered liability who can Deus-ex-machina-up some snazzy powers to fit your plot like a glove? Hey, what about that Legion guy? You don’t even need to give him much of a fully realized character, because – jackpot! – he’s crazy! He’s got multiple personality disorder. You can make it up as you go.

X-Men Legacy #6

X-Men Legacy #6. (Marvel Comics)

Why hasn’t the character been explored much deeper than that?  My best guess is that – until recently – Marvel simply wasn’t quite the right environment to be telling the sorts of stories David suits best: the bizarre, the psychological, the trippy, the thematically heavy, the supremely sarcastic, the narratively dense, the thoughtful, the weird. I think for a long time there’s been a tendency for readers to assume the phrase “Marvel book” automatically implies “superheroes doing superhero stuff,” particularly when it comes to the better-known titles. Even today there’s a minority who shiver in indignation and disbelief at the thought of an “X-Men Legacy” which doesn’t constantly feature a team of people in leotards punching stuff. But the great news is that now, right across the board, Marvel’s making brave leaps towards broadening its own paradigm. I’ve no idea if it’s predominantly creator-led, editor-led, market-led, zeitgeist-led or what, but I’ll applaud it until my hands bleed. People keep telling me the new “X-Men Legacy” feels like “Marvel-meets-Vertigo,” and as a frothing fan of both I take that as high praise indeed. But mostly I just love that the industry is in a place where that can even be A Thing.

HC: When you first got the project, how did you define what this book was/would be about and what obstacles did you face in creating the story?

SS: I’d mostly defined the tone before I even knew I’d got the gig, to be honest. When my editor came to me with the news – “Legacy’s” getting relaunched, the main character will be Legion – I knew I’d be pitching for the gig against other people, so there didn’t seem much point trying to do something conventional or safe. I’ve always been kind of agnostic about spandex comics – I love most of it, I hate some – so I guess I kind of approached the invitation to pitch for “Legacy” as a creative exercise: how do you try and satisfy the people who obsess over their costumed swashbuckling explodo fun at the same time as trying to draw in people with weirder genre tastes?… I just rode the process by the seat of my pants and never realistically expected my weirdo pitch would be the one they picked…. All I’ll say is that it’s been wonderful to see all the readers of the old “Legacy” title sampling – and in their droves enjoying – something new and different; and it’s been wonderful to hear from so many people trying spandex comics or X-comics for the first time.

X-Men Legacy #2

X-Men Legacy #2. (Marvel Comics)

HC: Legion suffers from multiple personality disorder. Did you do any research into that condition and how it affects the people who suffer from it before you sat down to write?

SS: A bunch of research, sure, but less than you might think because, here’s the thing: the way MPD is treated in fiction is usually a million miles from the real thing. In fact, depictions of people with “Split Personality Syndrome” have become so embedded in the mass mind that people are far more familiar with the wacky fictional version than with the genuine — and genuinely awful — condition. So, first thing: You have to tread carefully with this stuff. Second thing: The way David’s particular problem has been treated in the past has been, shall we say, inconsistent. Is he schizophrenic? Is he autistic? Are the various voices in his head manifestations of himself, or dissociative personalities, or people’s spirits he’s psychically sucked into his mind? About the only two things you can say about the way David’s condition has been depicted in the past are that 1) it doesn’t conform to any recognizable form of genuine MPD I’ve ever read about, and 2) it threatens to become, well, kinda hokey. “He’s got split personalities” – to me that smacks of a “pick a problem, any problem” approach to character-design from decades gone by. If you’re not careful it becomes not only a gimmick but a laughable gimmick.

HC: So, how did that impact the way you chose to tell that aspect of the story?

SS: We’ve taken a slightly sneaky approach. We started out by saying: blank slate. Sure, this is the character “Legion” you’ve heard of before, but this is the defining version, so don’t be too upset if it doesn’t perfectly tally with what you thought you knew about the guy. Secondly, we’re being careful not to describe David as a sufferer of MPD, but instead to define, rationalize and make relevant what’s important about him — that there exists within his mind a horde of fractured psyches, each representing a particular super-power, each trying to take control of his body. A little further down the line no doubt we’ll be going into the origins and foundations of his condition, but for now, it’s far more about this poor kid dealing with the realities of his situation. His own brain is quite literally his own worst enemy. So the real trick was to find a way to make his inner struggles just as exciting and relevant as his external adventures, and to make the two streams juxtapose and strike sparks off one another in clever ways. Our solution was the “Qortex Complex,” a conceptual prison which David has generated within his own subconscious to try and keep all the vicious egos and monstrous personalities under lockdown. As we’ve already learned, he’s not been entirely successful.

X-Men Legacy #1

X-Men Legacy #1. (Marvel Comics)

HC: How will he interact with the other characters in the Marvel Universe?

SS: In increasingly grand fashion. I have in mind a very clearly defined sort of existential pace-slash-arc for how David sits within his world. To introduce something as new and different and strange as this title we knew we’d need to give him space to breathe, so the first few episodes are very focused. As the first arc progresses we slowly bring in more and more recognizable faces, which is a process that will climax in a grandsplodo way when we come to Episode 6. The second arc opens with a very unexpected change of pace – a gulp of air, in pacing terms – before the simmer starts to boil over… Maybe the more important question is, how will the Marvel Universe react to him?

HC: Any team-ups or cameos that you can hint at, and are there characters that you’d like to see make an appearance in the series?

SS: It’s probably not spoiling too much to reveal that the character Blindfold is going to be playing a big part in my plans for David. In many ways she’s as conflicted and weird and broken as he is, so it makes sense to bring them together. The exact nature of how the two characters interact will form a lot of the meat of future issues, and I’m pretty proud about a particular piece of the narrative detritus standing between them. It’s the sort of will-they/won’t-they thing that could only work in a Universe seething with super-powered beings, where the future is a semi-readable book. Their futures appear to be intertwined, though not in the way they’d think. We’re going to be getting a fully realized look at who Blindfold is, and how she came to be the way she is, in Episode 5. Beyond that, we have some pretty startling plans for Arc 2, which is going to throw readers a massive curveball. The question people keep asking me, sooner or later, you’d expect David to wind up confronting the Cyclops, right? The man who murdered his father. And that might not go the way you’d expect either.

– Jevon Phillips

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