As Marvel Comics’ cinematic universe continues to fly to more otherworldly places, where every obscure and miniscule character in their oeuvre is if not already on the big or small screen, rumored to be coming soon to a theater, television, or streaming app near you. A lot of what gets lost in this bold new era or CGI, leather biking pants and hammy dialog is the essence of the characters they’re portraying. This is because the true essence of the characters lie in-between the flimsy, 22 page pulp rags that spawned them: comic books.
But we’re past all that, aren’t we? The comics vs the films? It’s an old argument, one that the diehards lost the moment Robert Downy Jr’s Tony Stark was nuked by shrapnel and shipped off to a terrorist death-camp and forced to make weapons for militants in a made up Arabic country, only to emerge from there as Iron Man. While the X-Men and Blade and Spider-Man were already kicking super villain asses nearly a decade before him, it was IRON MAN’s wit and intelligence and humor, along with Downy Jr.’s star-power, that propelled the MCU into the stratosphere. And it doesn’t look to be slowing down. Thus, all us woefully out-of-touch hardcore superhero comics fans can do is sit and wait for every avatar from our formally geeks-only past creeps onto the screen. We can only pray that the studios get them right. With FX’s LEGION though, it seems our prayers are answered.
LEGION is Fox TV sub-channel FX’s televised excursion into the X-Men brand, a property they’ve owned the rights to via Marvel since the late ’90s. While there have been some interesting moments in the now ten (10!) X-related films, none of them except maybe X2 has fully sated ravenous X-Men fans. Enter Legion, aka David Haller, a mutant (and son of X-Men leader Charles Xavier) whose mental powers have caused him to be exhibit signs of schizophrenia. Helmed by acclaimed and quirky director Noah Hawley (FARGO TV series), Legion explodes off the screen. Words like “mind-bending” and “super-weird” have been thrown around by critics and fans alike, and although there doesn’t seem to be many other characters from the X-Verse popping up in the show, the true nature of the character is upheld through the chaotic, sharply edited, bizarre and non-linear storytelling. As Haller delves deeper into dark psychosis, it’s only a matter of time before the Pixie’s “There Goes My Mind” shows up somewhere in the series, as the audience (and the characters) parse out what is and isn’t real.
But therein lies the problem: while the show is fantastic and truly bizarre, even comic book-y in a purest way, reading actual comics with Legion in them will probably leave the reader underwhelmed. Truly Legion is a character kind of mired in the minutiae of the bang! kapow! aspects X-Men, more action based and rarely set up as the dadaist abstract that he’s portrayed to be on the screen. But don’t worry! We have the solution! Here then, are five current (well, recent-ish) comic books you can read RIGHT NOW if you like the strange meta storytelling of FX’s LEGION.
5. THE VISION by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta (Marvel)
So this book recently got canceled, but it’s still absolute fire, still leaving other books on the stands in cinders. It features the Vision, a synthezoid/android/artificial intelligence and a member of the Avengers who decides he wants to live a normal life. So what’s an nth level android who can control his own density do when he wants to raise a family? He creates one. From scratch. No, like, he builds them in a lab. And yes, that all goes horribly, delightfully wrong. How’s it like Legion? The darker moments of VISION manage to have such a beautiful, sweeping scope, similar to the darker moments of LEGION. The book manages to delve into the subconscious of the characters despite them being essentially robots.
4. Mind MGMT by Matt Kindt (Dark Horse)
OK, so maybe a lot of these won’t be ongoing anymore. But like, they’re pretty recent, I swear! And besides, there’s other Matt Kindt books coming out right now like Dept.H and ETHER that are also great. But MM gets the nod here because it’s such a wild excursion into the mental realm of espionage. You’ve got the secret, evil corporation and government agencies that plague LEGION plus the mysterious, LOST-like nature of the storytelling.
3. SECRET AVENGERS by Ales Kot and Michael Walsh (Marvel)
Sigh. OK, also not currently coming out monthly, BUT also semi-recent, SECRET AVENGERS is Ales Kot loosed on the world. It shares LEGION’s penchant for throwing pretty much anything at its audience, obscure references beyond its own story, and absolutely messed up meta storytelling. It’s a superhero comic book but it abandons nearly all narrative tropes of the genre once the book picks up around the second arc or so. Definitely look for the trades if those aspects of LEGION appeal to you. Oh, and Deadpool is in it for what it’s worth.
2. BITCH PLANET by Kelly Sue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro (Image)
OK, yes! Finally, this is a book that is still coming out. But…it’s sometimes on haitus. Listen, comics is a labor of love, and they’re not as easy to churn out as the layperson may think. And with stories like BITCH PLANET it’s best not to rush. In BP, there’s an edict that comes down that says women need to know their place or get shipped to a prison world in outer space- the titular, colloquially named Bitch Planet. DeConnick pulls no punches and, combined with De Landro’s gritty artwork, we are left with our mouths agape and the paranoia of living in a near future society where marginalized people are further marginalized along gender, sexuality and even racial lines. It’s scary and intimate and real in the way LEGION purports to being. Buy at all costs.
1. DOOM PATROL by Gerard Way and Nick Derington (DC Comics)
And of course, Grant Morrison and Richard Case’s initial revitalization of Doom Patrol from the late ’80s and early ’90s, much of which Way (yes, the dude from My Chemical Romance; don’t hold that against him!) and Derington expertly mine to make this one of the weirdest, most “wait—what just happened” comic books on the stands. Everything happening in LEGION– weird time jumps, chaotic editing, lack of expository detail, psychic breakdowns, otherworldly creatures entering our world, secret societies, an “is this really happening” vibe– it’s all happening in Doom Patrol, a comic about a bunch of odd, leftover super-heroes whose outsider status pre-dates X-Men. This is not only the best representation of the general feel of LEGION, but one of the best comics on the stands!
So there you have it! Happy reading and stay off that vapor.