SOME COMIC-BOOK CHARACTERS have an immediate impact on the larger pop-culture landscape: Captain America was the perfect hero for World War II in America, as was Spider-Man for the free-swinging 1960s. Not so for Legion. The Marvel character may be the namesake and central character of the new FX show launching tonight, but it took nearly three decades for the world to finally be ready for the most powerful—and most interesting—member of the extended X-Men family.
Legion, aka David Charles Haller, first debuted in 1985 in the pages of New Mutants #25. Unusually, his first appearance came not in the story itself, but in the form of a one-page pin-up by artist Bill Sienkiewicz; an actual in-story appearance wouldn’t happen until the following issue. Nonetheless, the expository notes on that pin-up—ostensibly written by Professor Xavier’s friend and confidant, Moira McTaggart—told readers all they needed to know about the character: Haller is the son Professor X never knew he had.
The young man has “immensely strong psi-powers,” but remains in a catatonically withdrawn state; Moira describes him as “the strongest telepath on the planet.” Across the next three issues of New Mutants, readers learned that Haller was the only survivor of a terrorist attack in Israel, which had both activated his mutant powers while also pushing him into catatonia. Moreover, the incident had triggered Haller’s dissociative identity disorder, which combined with his mutant powers to allow him absorb other people’s personalities into his own mind.
As you might imagine, David Haller—or Daniel, Cyndi, Jack Wayne, Jemail Karami, or any other of his alternate selves—was, to put it mildly, a troubled kid. So troubled, in fact, that some of his personalities actively tried to murder others (and even Professor Xavier). While that psychological coup was eventually quelled, leaving Haller in better control of his multiple selves, worse was in store for him. In 1989, he was possessed by a dead psychic called the Shadow King, who attempted to use Haller’s powers to take over the rest of the world. By the time the story concluded in 1991, Haller was once again left in a catatonic state, this time one so severe that even Charles Xavier couldn’t reach him with his own telepathic abilities.