If you watched the Legion pilot and didn't have any questions afterwards… well, congratulations; you must be Albert freaking Einstein. The rest of us have plenty of questions, like: What is the Devil With The Yellow Eyes? Is everything happening inside of David's head? And is Sydney Barrett from the Marvel Comics? Fans who have read the series of X-Men comics that showrunner Noah Hawley (Fargo) based his FX show on will be familiar with the protagonist, David Haller, the son of Professor X and a powerful mutant known as Legion. But is Sydney also adapted from a Marvel character, or is she an original creation for the show?
A quick scan of the Marvel Comics online database will reveal that the short answer is: no. There has never been a character named Sydney Barrett until Hawley created her for Legion. But the long answer is probably a bit more complicated than that. Hawley must have had some inspiration for the main female character of his new show, and if so, she could easily be at least partly inspired by a character from the source material.
The clearest inspiration for Sydney is one of the founding members of Pink Floyd, named — you guessed it — Syd Barrett. As Hawley revealed at Legion's Comic-Con panel last year, one of his biggest inspirations for the show's sensibilities was that band's iconic 1973 album The Dark Side Of The Moon. "That album more than anything is really the soundscape of mental illness to some degree," he said. That album was written after Barrett's departure from the group due to his struggles with mental illness and subsequent hospitalization. (There have long been theories that Barrett suffered from schizophrenia.)
Given that we already know of at least one inspiration for the character of Sydney, isn't it possible — even likely — that there are more? She may not be a direct adaptation of any one Marvel comics mutant, but that doesn't mean Hawley wasn't influenced by any of the source material. In fact, Sydney's powers (and name) bring to mind a few tantalizing options. The most obvious comparison between the Legion character and a well-known member of the X-Men is Rogue.
What do we know about Sydney so far? We know that she doesn't like to be touched. She wears long sleeves and gloves to avoid contact with other people's skin. When she does touch someone, she effectively absorbs their power and is able to use it herself — like when she accidentally turned every door in Clockworks into a solid wall, killing Lenny. These are all hallmarks of the character played by Anna Paquin in the X-Men movies — we even see her steal someone's powers through a kiss, just like Sydney. So could Sydney Barrett simply be a code name? Could she turn out to be have been Rogue in disguise all along?
Well, that's unlikely. There are enough differences between Sydney and Rogue that it doesn't seem like the character is a direct adaptation of the popular mutant. Going into more specifics about Sydney's powers in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Hawley said that, "If she touches your skin she trades places with you, her mind goes into your body and the other way around." Those mind-swapping abilities are beyond anything Rogue is capable of. In fact, that sounds more like another lesser-known mutant named Karma.
In the comics, Karma possesses a power called "psychic possession," which allows her own mind to take control of another person's consciousness and then operate their body as though it were an extension of her own. This sounds much more similar to Sydney's ability than Rogue's comparatively simple power-sapping. However, even if Sydney does turn out to be inspired by Karma, hopefully she's not a direct adaptation of her — in the comics, Karma is both Vietnamese and a lesbian, and it would be disappointing to see her portrayed onscreen as straight and white.
Finally, there's one last option we have to consider: that Sydney isn't her own character at all, but rather a manifestation of David's fractured mind. Given David's dissociative identity disorder, it's nearly impossible to determine yet which characters actually exist and which are projections of his own personality. In the comics, each identity within David's mind has its own name and controls a distinct power. One of the very first identities that manifested was a rebellious young girl named Cyndi — which is remarkably similar to Sydney. However, unlike Sydney's mind-swapping powers, Cyndi was a pyrokinetic; so if Sydney ever starts controlling fire… then we'll know for sure that she isn't real and exists solely inside David's mind.
At the end of the day, it's clear that Sydney Barrett isn't based on any one single Marvel Comics character. But as the series continues, it's possible that more and more inspirations will be unveiled that give us clues into the identity of Hawley's mysterious creation.