*Warning: This article contains spoilers for the first two episodes of FX’s Legion*
In 2017, it seems like there is a show based on a comic book on every network and streaming service, from networks like Fox (Gotham, Lucifer) and NBC (Powerless), to premium networks like Cinemax (Outcast). Now FX, which is easily one of the most innovative networks, with critical darlings like Fargo, The Americans, and Atlanta, jumps in the game with Legion, based on a fairly obscure X-Men supporting character. But if you’re expecting yellow spandex or leather costumes, flashy CGI, or time travel bullshit, Noah Hawley has a surprise for you, showing that comic book adaptations can be a place where the rules of storytelling can be straight-up obliterated, as he takes viewers on a journey through the past and present of the powerful mutant, David Haller, a character who doesn’t have the greatest hold on reality, just like the show.
Unlike some TV shows, Legion isn’t into handholding and explaining each and every aspect of its messed up universe. The pilot episode features a dance number, Lenny (played by a not so slightly unhinged Aubrey Plaza) dying a gruesome death, a rush and push of flashbacks, and at the end, some traditional X-Men tropes, with our protagonist David Haller (Dan Stevens) being picked up the mysterious Dr. Bird (Jean Smart) and taught how to control his considerable abilities in a place given the Michael Chabon-esque name of Summerland. The simple image of a wise, kind face with a diverse team of young people around them is like a warm apple pie with a side of ice cream after the confusing, frenetic — yet enticing — imagery of the past hour of pilot. With each blue or red flashback and forward to the past, Hawley makes you question details about David’s past. Does he really have DID? Was he ever in a mental hospital?
And even though Legion doesn’t feature cameos or familiar faces from the deep X-Men back catalogue, the abilities and nature of David Haller are pretty faithful to his comics origins (even if his dad is just an astronomer, and not Professor X — for now). He can take over other mutants’ bodies and use their powers when his psyche dominates theirs, including telepathy and telekinesis, which is what he uses in the first few episodes of Legion. David has dissociative identity disorder, and through three decades of comic book appearances, he has manifested a large variety of personalities that could take up a whole Wiki article in and of themselves.
Other than his first appearances in Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz’s highly underrated New Mutants series, and a star turns in Si Spurrier and Tan Eng Huat’s 2012 reality-bending X-Men Legacy comic, David Haller is probably best known for creating the dystopian Age of Apocalypse reality. David wanted to help Professor X create a utopia where humans and mutants could live together and cooperate, so he decided to go to the past and kill Magneto, but accidentally killed Xavier instead, which led to the darkest of dystopias. Thankfully, Legion isn’t as continuity-obsessed as the X-Men comics and games and shows off David’s great, unstable power set through slow motion shots of him disrupting the world around him, from the day room at a mental hospital to an MRI machine. He’s not your usual mutant kid who can fly or project ice or fire, but instead, can disrupt reality itself.
The fragmented nature of Legion‘s plotting, where an image like David’s dad reading him a story in his childhood bedroom, or a therapy session about David’s mental state after breaking up with his girlfriend is shown, then followed by another one from Summerland or a weird scene with Lenny, reminds me a lot of Bill Sienkiewicz’s art style in New Mutants, where David Haller was first introduced. It’s a jarring departure from Bob McLeod’s clean, smiling teen superheroes, as he uses collages and mixed media to show the terror of a demon bear afflicting the telepath mutant Dani Moonstar, or all the voices that the comic book version of David Haller hears in his head (he gets the name Legion from their great number). This assault of images and voices seems how telepathy would actually feel, and is a recurring sequence in Legion, as even with the help of Dr. Bird and his girlfriend Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller), David keeps drifting to various memories, seeing the creepy face of the Man with Yellow Eyes. Sydney has abilities similar to the popular X-Men Rogue because if she touches someone, she absorbs their powers and memories (this happens with her and David in the pilot, and it’s not pretty).
However, Legion reminded me more of Doom Patrol or Grant Morrison’s Invisibles than anything X-Men-related, even though that comic book has definitely codified the idea of misfits banding together to defend each other from a world that hates and fears them. The feeling of having no idea what’s going in “Chapter One” except that it vaguely has to do with mutants and mental health is one I felt while reading Gerard Way and Nick Derington’s Doom Patrol series, which also had super-colorful visuals. This series features all of reality being in a gyro, an old arcade game possibly deciding the fate of humankind, and an anthropomorphic street named Danny. It’s dependent on the continuity of the Morrison run on Doom Patrol, which had more bonkers concepts, like Dadaist supervillains. Legion treats superpowers in a similar high-concept manner while keeping the costumes and set dressing lo-fi. There is a supporting character named Ptonomy (Jeremie Harris), who has the mutant power of reconstructing people’s memories. He basically creates flashbacks and combined with David’s powers, also concocts a narrative canvas that can be as non-linear as it wants to be, while also giving insight into characters’ deepest feelings and wants. Superpower as a narrative engine is very Grant Morrison thing to do, as seen in his work on Flex Mentallo (who began life as a Doom Patrol supporting character), and his use of the solar source of Superman’s powers in All-Star Superman.
Morrison’s Invisibles is basically about a ragtag team of rebels trying to keep a creepy Gnostic force from taking over the world in various ways — like government, pop culture, and religion. It’s a series that’s filled with 90s-era conspiracy but remains evergreen because it’s all about accepting the truth of reality beyond your five senses (like The Matrix, which very much ripped it off). The scenes with men in black helmets and flak jackets chasing down Mrs. Bird and her charges definitely reminded me of King Mob, Jack Frost, and the rest of the Invisible College getting hunted down by the Invisible Church. Invisibles is a comic that thrills with inventive action sequences but also challenges readers to think differently about both its and their world. For example, Invisibles #12 retells one of those guns a-blazing battle scenes from the POV of a henchman that the main characters kill. It deconstructs the “faceless henchman” trope, giving one of them a human face, and kind of makes you guilty for enjoying the heroes’ badass gunplay. This similar tension happens in Legion, with Mrs. Bird having the goal of making David “whole” by using similar methods to the Division, like holding him in a MRI machine where he can’t talk or move. She is kind and maternal, but I definitely think she’s hiding something. There is no clear hero or villain, just like in real life, although the worlds of Legion and The Invisibles are more stylistically engaging than (most) everyday reality.
Even though it’s technically based on X-Men/New Mutants comics, Legion really feels like something from the mindscape of “weird” mad-genius comics creators Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, and their latter-day British disciples Kieron Gillen, Si Spurrier, and Al Ewing. These are the writers that remind you that comics is an infinite medium, one that is only dependent on the imaginations of its scripter, artist, and colorist, and can tell long-form epic stories that will break your heart with both their own characters and corporate ones, like Superman, James Bond, or freaking Galactus.
Noah Hawley does likewise with Legion and the X-Men mythos, penetrating beyond the nostalgia for beloved characters, the over-complicated continuity, and over-dependence on expensive, explosive CGI to tell a simple, yet complex story about a young man with abilities that are more blessing than a curse. The soul of Legion is the bond between David and his girlfriend Sydney Barrett, as Stevens and Keller share a searing chemistry (a “romance of the mind”), even though they have only kissed once, and she also helps him feel “normal,” like when he is running in the fields with his sister or looking at the stars with his astronomer father. This relationship, along with David’s with his sister Amy (who may or may not be his only connection to the “real world”) keeps the story of Legion grounded in universal feelings, even when it questions its audience’s perception of reality (or just who the hell Lenny is. My theory is that she is David’s unfiltered id, but that will likely change as the series progresses).
Noah Hawley’s Legion is an intriguing show, not only because it has inventive visuals with all kinds of gorgeous wipes and transitions between scenes, but also because it challenges your idea of the show’s premise every step of the way. Lead actor Dan Stevens is fair game along the way, with his slightly askew view of reality. It’s not another overstuffed good guy vs. bad guys continuity porn superhero TV show but will remind you of comic books like Invisibles, Doom Patrol, or Bill Sienkiewicz’s run on New Mutants, ones that opened your mind to the fact that reality is not as it seems.
A Cataclysmic Event: ‘No Man’s Land’ is The Double-Edged Sword of The Batman Mythos
Just like the story of the fictional Gotham City, No Man’s Land has always felt cut off from the rest of the Batman fandom…
Over 20 Years After Gotham Endured its Most Insufferable Time
Hush, Knightfall, The Killing Joke, Year One, The Long Halloween, and The Dark Knight Returns. Whenever anyone gets into a topic regarding Batman’s history of comics the same titles always get thrown around with unmistakable reasoning. All of these stories are phenomenal chapters of the dark knight’s legacy that fundamentally influenced and reforged the character of Bruce Wayne along with his world of allies and rogues time and time again. They changed the way in which audiences view not only Batman’s mythology but how other comic books unfold overarching plots focusing on both their lineup of complex interpretable heroes and villains.
Batman’s overwhelmingly large critically acclaimed catalog will forever be deemed as must-reads and well-known tales to those who have never even cracked open a comic book, however, there is one anomaly that is well-deserving of a place on the grand pedestal. It oddly never gets the acknowledgment it should have within the conversations of the Batman fandom, but it is still critically important to the caped crusader’s ever-expanding modern mythos.
It is truly ironic that Batman: No Man’s Land is arguably one of the most impactful pieces of media the world’s greatest detective has ever been featured in when accounting for his own history of storytelling. The saga always appears as the comic series that not many people seem to have even partially read, yet its creative influence on comic book culture still lurks from the turn of the century. Just like the story of the fictional Gotham City in the source material comic book, No Man’s Land has always felt cut off from the rest of the Batman fandom despite its neverending appeal to DC’s mainstay creators who forged the modern image of the billionaire who built their house.
With a sparse amount of collected releases and little to no spotlight from its parent company or fandom, Batman: No Man’s Land is arguably one of the most underappreciated stories of Gotham City, yet one of the most impactful.
No Man’s Land is a massive crossover event written by ten different writers through DC’s lineup of late 90s Bat-family comics. This included Detective Comics, Batman, Azreal, Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman, and a few miscellaneous issues from other DC characters. The eighty issue run started in 1998 and ended in the year 2000, however, the series has since been published as seven individual books under the Batman banner being Cataclysm, Road to No Man’s Land Volumes One and Two, and of course No Man’s Land Volumes One through Four.
Without spoilers, the story of Batman: No Man’s Land is focused on a massive self-centered crime war taking place on an isolated Gotham City after the dark knight’s home is struck by multiple natural disasters that cut the central island off from the mainland. Cataclysm is the first chapter in the No Man’s Land saga that depicts the destruction of Gotham by earthquakes. It is arguably the one part of the series that readers can skip as the story is easy to understand without any deep background knowledge of the situation.
The followup chapter Road to No Man’s Land is the real beginning of the consequential aftermath showing how the city fell into chaos as all of Arkham Asylum and Blackgate Prison’s inmates are left free of regulation. Bruce Wayne pleads the government for help but is initially denied any resources as the United States declares Gotham as the first-ever location in the USA to be exempted from their protected territory, leaving the Bat empty-handed and forced to adapt to a new breed of crime-fighting to save his home. While the government threw in the towel on the most crime-infested city in the world, The Gotham City Police Department lead by Commissioner James Gordon attempts to defend its remaining turf as they begin to embrace the unstoppable crisis.
No Man’s Land is the climax, falling action, and resolution of the story arc. It depicts a numerical day count to show how Gotham’s situation has not improved one bit despite the number of months that have passed since the gangs began carving up territory. As the counter slowly rises each issue, the situation further unfolds and resolves through a miracle uncommunicative collaborative effort between the GCPD, abandoned civilians, and the Bat-family.
If this all sounds familiar to you, it likely should. No Man’s Land was the core inspiration for the highest regarded Batman media outside of the comic books- stories that many fans judge the defender of Gotham by today. Batman Arkham City, Gotham, The New 52, and The Dark Knight Rises all borrow several plot elements and character setups from the introduction and rising action volumes of the comic series.
While it did not introduce many new characters the crossover did see the debut of the third Batgirl Cassandra Cain, a new relationship between Harvey Dent and Reena Montoya that would ooze into the first volume of Gotham Central, and most importantly character development for those introduced in the DC Animated Universe that were transitioning into the comics at the time such as the Joker’s sidekick lover Harley Quinn and Lex Luthor’s bodyguard Mercy Graves.
From a cast perspective, No Man’s Land further evolved Batman lore by extensively developing the relationships between specific rivalries and allies- Batman and Gordon most noticeably establish a more so friendly relationship rather than a “just coworkers” status. The core story itself is where the original comics thrive the most due to how it created a manipulative groundwork for other future narratives in the Batman franchise, but it also indisputably began establishing the character interactions we find in the mythos’ modern comics. Perhaps it might have even arguably developed Gotham City into its own character as the location itself draws a deeper persona amidst the chaos at hand during its most desperate hours.
Batman: No Man’s Land turned 20 recently and the only piece of media DC published that somewhat celebrated the original comics was the final season of FOX’s crime drama prequel series Gotham– a setup that was more than likely coincidental as the show’s story had always been building up to becoming a “no man’s land” warzone atmosphere. Gotham seasons four and five adapted several aspects from the books, but as expected the show mostly stuck to its own original plot despite heavily featuring numerous callbacks and references to the source material.
Typically DC usually puts out a new collected edition for an important comic book’s anniversary- if not maybe even a social media post at the very least- but No Man’s Land received surprisingly no recognition at all last year. As mentioned before, the latest release of this series was last published as seven separate volumes in 2011. There is currently no box-set or omnibus available for a reader’s convenience but the older publications are still in print and can be obtained at local comic book shops, online stores that sell graphic novels, or even digitally on DC Universe’s streaming service.
The No Man’s Land saga of the Batman mythos is like a double-edged sword. It is a fan-favorite for some, but an undiscovered gem for the vast majority. It passed by in a long string of storylines, yet its significance still has sunk deep into Bruce Wayne’s world no matter the form it is being adapted into. To the creators behind the scenes who continue to construct new features in the dark knight’s eighty-year legacy, it is a crucial precursor for the work that proceeded it despite the low impact it may have had on those who consumed it. The staggering length and price may push audiences away, but for those interested who have the means of seeing it through, it is well worth reading through the story of a dark island that inspired visionaries like Christopher Nolan and Bruno Heller’s interpretations of Batman’s home turf.
Will No Man’s Land ever resurface in a new compact collected edition? As said for all pieces of unpopular yet desired Batman media, “the world may seem dark…”
‘Read Only Memories’ Comic is Well Worth Reading
Based on the hit game of the same name.
Gritty detective stories set in the future have been a source of great creativity in a variety of media forms since the days of Blade Runner. Read Only Memories, the new title from IDW, is no exception to that. It takes classic tropes of both genres and mixes them with a new style.
Santa Cruz, California. 2067. Lexi Rivers is a private investigator who takes on a case from a newly sapient robot. She’s tough but not in that ubiquitous “badass” way female characters are often slotted into.
From moment one, she is interesting and engaging. Lexi starts by posing as a reporter to interrogate a target. Initially, her goal is to determine if the woman is faithful to her partner or not. It’s a classic detective case.
In many ways, Lexi’s a classic detective. She takes rough, morally questionable jobs to make ends meet. Lexi has feelings for a woman who’s probably too good for her. She sneaks favors from friends to make something out of nothing.
Lexi is a detective through and through.
After leaving one case behind, she encounters Hedy, a robot in search of its missing loved one. The story then deftly carries the reader through different locations and people. This is how the story introduces you to the futuristic world and defines Lexi’s life with as little exposition as possible.
Sina Grace, the writer, is extremely effective at doing just that.
Fortunately, a running internal monologue is a huge part of the detective genre. It gives the storyteller a means to get out important information and key details without seeming out of place. Realistically, Read Only Memories has a lot of details to pick up on in the early going.
It’s a big world filled with numerous moving parts. Thankfully, the story gives you what you need to understand. You’re not confused by what’s going on because some of it’s familiar from other stories. Read Only Memories successfully takes those familiar parts and does something interesting with them.
Realistically, it can be hard to set the tone of a futuristic detective story without feeling derivative. Stefano Simeone, the artist, has chosen a style that conveys the futuristic vibe well.
Quite smartly, Stefano uses a color palette that sets it apart from the standard detective genre but creates a futuristic feel. Mostly, it’s wonderful shades of pink, blue, and purple. The look is unique and fantastic.
Read Only Memories: What’s Next
Remember, this is only the first issue. In the end, it leaves you in that classic detective story moment. You realize that the simple case is a lot more complicated. Issue two should build nicely from there.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that issue one isn’t burdened by gratuitous or unnecessary violence. Lexi does get her clock cleaned by a gang member who doesn’t like her sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. But that’s it.
Yet another classic detective moment.
There will certainly be more action in future issues but this is a smart way to start. It puts the focus on the narrative and not the violence. If it starts with an action-packed issue, then that is what readers will expect throughout the series.
Reading along as Lexi unravels the mystery presented by Hedy will be amazing. Truthfully, the true test of this story will be in its resolution. Preferably, the journey should be enjoyable but a mystery’s conclusion has to be satisfactory to be worth it.
The rest of the series will be more than worth the read if issue one of Read Only Memories is any indication.
Comics Editor Allison O’Toole Talks Kickstarter for Wayward Kindred
If you enjoyed the Wayward Sisters anthology from TO Comix Press, they have a Kickstarter for its spiritual successor, Wayward Kindred. After holding an open call for submissions earlier this year, Wayward Kindred is pressing forward with its goal to tell a wide range of stories about monsters and families. Previews of the anthology include a cursed skeleton uncle, half-vampire teens, siblings transformed into wolves by their aunt, and sentient insects teaching their language to a human child. It looks like a fascinating mix of different stories and art styles funneled through the captivating vision of monsters.
After editing the award-winning Wayward Sisters, Allison O’Toole is back to edit Wayward Kindred. A freelance comics editor, she’s worked on a growing list of comics, including Jason Loo’s The Pitiful Human-Lizard, Sam Beck’s Verse, and other TO Comix Press publications like volumes of The Toronto Comics Anthology. With a few days left to raise funds, O’Toole was able to speak with Goomba Stomp via email about the Kickstarter for Wayward Kindred and her work in editing comics.
GS: How would you describe your role as a comics editor? Is it a lot of project management and big picture development with some oversight over language?
Allison O’Toole: That does cover a lot of it! The editor has her hands on every stage of the comic, from the pitch all the way to the lettering, so you’re doing the expected editing tasks at each stage—requesting changes for clarity and storytelling, that sort of thing. But you’re also building schedules and chasing after people to get things in on time. Depending on the publisher, you may also be helping out with other administrative tasks and promotion.
Could you talk about your path to becoming a comics editor? What drew you to editing comics versus other career paths with them? (Like writing, drawing, lettering, etc.)
I started out in comics review, and moved into editing when I realized that it combined my creative impulses with my administrative experience. I love to collaborate with creators and to help them create the best comic they can, so editing seemed like the best fit for my interests and skillset!
How did you end up working with TO Comix Press?
When the publisher, Steven Andrews, was looking for assistant editors for Volume 3 of the Toronto Comics Anthology, I was actively looking for more work experience in editing! Part of the mandate at TO Comix Press is to support creators who are early in their careers, so I was able to come on and learn a lot from that experience, so after assistant editing two anthologies, Steven let me lead my own project: Wayward Sisters. It went well, so now we’re working on that project’s spiritual sequel.
Did the idea for Wayward Kindred come directly from Wayward Sisters, like the name suggests? Or did it originate somewhere else, followed by the realization that it could fit with Wayward Sisters?
I love monsters, so it was inevitable that I’d want to do more anthologies about them. I definitely want to suggest a connection between the two books, but they’re very different! The concept for this one came specifically from reading Nagabe’s gorgeous manga, The Girl from the Other Side, which I was reading while working on Sisters, so I decided that it would make a good follow up, rather than doing a traditional sequel.
Could you walk us through the process behind developing an anthology like Wayward Kindred?
Well, to keep it short, once you’ve got an idea, coming up with a budget is the next step—that dictates how many stories and creators you can take on. Then you make a timeline. Even for short comics, we try to allow 2-3 weeks for each stage of the process, so you can build back from your target launch date (for us, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May). You then can open up for submissions, decide on the line up that would make the strongest book, and get started! Some folks like to do crowdfunding at the beginning of the process, but we like to get that in once we have some gorgeous art to show off. Once the art is all in and edited, you send the proof to the printer, and then fulfill the Kickstarter!
You can learn more about the TO Comix Press method for running anthologies in the articles at our website.
Did you end up pairing unattached writers and artists for Wayward Kindred, like the submissions page said would happen if you received pitches from incomplete creative teams? If so, how did you approach matching artists to writers?
We always accept unpaired pitches at TO Comix Press! It’s part of helping creators with fewer print credits find a place to get published. We go through all of the artist submissions and try to decide which portfolios would bring out the best in the pitched story. Often that means looking for similar stories in the artist’s portfolio, but this is a sense that comes from experience looking and reading many, many comics. Reading comics is the best way to get started in making them!
What have you enjoyed most about editing Wayward Kindred?
It’s always so exciting to see stories come together, especially after months of working with creators. We’re getting letters in now, and I can imagine how the readers are going to feel when they have the stories in front of them, and that’s always a thrill for me.
TO Comix Press has previously held Kickstarter campaigns for other publishing projects. How do you approach crowdfunding for a publication?
We’ve got an article about this on the TO Comix website as well! We’ve found that Twitter is always a major source of income for our Kickstarters, so we do everything we can to get folks talking about the campaign on Twitter.
What draws you to monsters as characters and a source of storytelling?
I’m interested in monsters’ versatility as metaphor. They can stand in for any taboo you can think of, for any kind of outcast figure, for any kind of cultural anxiety—there are so many rich opportunities for storytelling!
Do you have any favorite monsters? Like werewolves, dragons, etc.?
Werewolves are my favourite, I just think they’re very cool. For more specific monster stories, I love Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, an early example of a sympathetic monster. I enjoy scary monsters, but I love a sad monster the most—that’s probably part of why I love werewolves, too.
Editing a series has fewer moving parts than an anthology, so I like that. In an anthology, you’re editing many more pages, and wrangling many more creators, which can get a bit chaotic. A series is nice because you have a smaller team (on AFTERLIFT, it’s a team of only 4!), so it’s easier to keep track of. Then again, a series usually has a more rigid release schedule, which adds pressure, so they both have their pros and cons.
Do you have advice for anyone interested in editing comics?
If you want to edit, I’d say the same thing I say to any creators getting their start: networking is key! If you can’t meet people in person, then join Facebook groups, or forums online, find other folks who are hoping to learn as they go alongside you, and your careers can also grow together.
If you’re looking to edit and you don’t have a portfolio with comics experience (or editorial experience in a different medium), publishing reviews on a blog is a great way to show folks that you know and understand comics. You can also show that you can keep things on a schedule if you publish reviews on a regular basis. I got my early editorial experience editing at pop culture websites, which wasn’t exactly the same as editing comics, but got me started on scheduling and keeping on top of writers.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about Wayward Kindred?
I’m so excited about this anthology, and I hope that the readers love it as much as we do!
Thanks again for taking the time to chat. Good luck with Wayward Kindred and your other projects!
Wayward Kindred recently met its Kickstarter goal, but there are a few days left to raise more funds and pre-order a copy. The anthology is available to backers for a minimum of $15 as a digital download. Higher reward tiers include a physical copy and prints.
TO Comix Press advocates for transparency, and they have shared reports explaining how funds were used for a selection of their previous publications: Wayward Sisters, Shout Out, Yonge At Heart, and Toronto Comics: Volume 3.
Wayward Kindred is scheduled for release in May 2020.
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