'Legion' Is An Original Riff On A Marvel Antihero

Chris Large/FX

There's no question that superheroes are de rigueur these days; but so far, the more high-brow cable and premium networks have seemed hesitant to cash in on the phenomenon so prevalent in Hollywood blockbusters and Netflix and The CW. But with its comic book series Legion, FX is finally bringing the superhero craze to cable… but don't expect the capes, tights, or gee-whiz spirit you've come to expect from other shows like Supergirl or Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. In fact, the FX series looks so different and unfamiliar that some casual fans might be wondering if it's actually inspired by any real source material at all, or if it's just an original riff on the popular superhero trend. But in fact, Legion is based on a Marvel comics character with a long and complicated history on the page.

The series, created by Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley, is inspired by the Marvel anti-hero David Haller… also known as Legion. The character debuted in 1985 in an issue of the X-Men series New Mutants, and throughout his tenure he has also appeared in issues of Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, and X-Men: Legacy. In the Marvel comics, David is the son of Charles Xavier — aka mutant leader Professor X — who unknowingly fathered him after having an affair with a Holocaust survivor named Gabrielle Haller while working at an Israeli psychiatric facility where she was a patient.

David suffers from dissociative identity disorder, with each one of his dozens of personalities controlling a different superpower like telepathy, pyrokinesis, and super-strength — but also weirder powers like turning people into salt or burping acidic gas. (If David's disorder sounds familiar, that's because it's the same disorder suffered by Kevin — aka The Horde — in the recent M. Night Shyamalan movie Split.) While David isn't strictly-speaking a villain, his unstable psyche does frequently bring him into conflict with the X-Men.

But while Legion's protagonist does indeed spring from the pages of Marvel comics, it doesn't appear that the show itself is based off of any one particular comic book series. Rather, Hawley simply used the character of David Haller as inspiration to craft his own original plot. "Aside from David, the characters on the FX series are all new inventions, and Hawley wanted to use the source material as a springboard to tell his own story, as he did with Fargo," TVLine reported in January. "I’m a fan of all the comics and all the storylines in them," Hawley told the site, "but I thought there was a story that'd be great to tell using them as a template."

In fact, Legion is so much its own thing that Hawley's version of David Haller might not even be Professor X's son anymore. …Or maybe he is? Hawley is playing coy on that point. "He could be," he told Hitfix last June. "It's a different story, but I'm not ruling that out." And while Hawley's decision to essentially discard decades of the character's preexisting mythology may rile some hardcore Marvel fans, the showrunner believes that the decision will be crucial to his show's success — not just because "it's a standalone kind of thing," which means viewers don't have to come pre-loaded with knowledge of all the X-Men comics and films, but also because "the power of making something unpredictable is really an important thing to preserve."

Hawley is of the opinion that, when adapting beloved source material, "You're bound to offend somebody, no matter what you do," referencing X-Men: The Last Stand's bungled adaptation of the fan-favorite Dark Phoenix Saga storyline. "So instead, I'm taking this character and set-up, and just playing with it." Hopefully, the end result will end up pleasing to both Marvel comics fans and casual viewers alike. We'll find out when Legion premieres on FX this Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 10:00 p.m. ET.