For 20 issues, Si Spurrier, Tan Eng Huat and a bevy of other artists have built up and torn down, David Haller, not Legion, not the whipping boy for Marvel’s Age of Apocalypse story-line. Over the course of those 20 issues, David has been redefined, not a hero, not a villain, not a lover, not a freedom fighter, not a killer, not a savior but an emotionally and psychically beaten young man, reaching out for a better world and the people who can help him make one. If it weren’t for the pants-pissing psychic aliens, head hugging squids, German psycho-theory and gold skinned embodiment of the jealous id, it would be the most realistic portrayal of the human condition in Marvel’s current line up.
Instead, this week’s #20 is only the best issue of Marvel Now and one of the best issues of any X-Men book of the last two years.
The pivotal idea X-Men Legacy has built itself on is how self-image not only defines how we’re perceived but what the individual sees themselves being capable of. In the book’s early issues, David dismisses the X-Men as the “tights and spandex set,” believing they’re unwilling or unable to help mutants in need if it doesn’t involve a pointless, neverending war. However, David has grown. His relationship with Blindfold and his antagonistic relationship with Abigail Brand have had him looking at the more proactive options to change the world. He can knock out villains before they become a threat, when he takes out Arkus in #9, he can change the way his race is perceived by dealing with international diplomacy in his European sojourn in issues #13 and #14 and he can use himself as the ultimate nuclear deterrent in issues #17 and #18.
What’s important is that David thinks he can do all of this alone. With a wealth of powers and the ability to goad, inspire, blackmail and control people into working with him, David thinks he can assemble an army of like minded individuals but he can’t. He’s selfish and manipulative, driven by his own needs, motives and plans rather than the desires or concerns of others.
What X-Men Legacy #20 does so well is undercut David self-reliance. With the Quartex ravaged by the Shadow Phoenix, David struggles to control his myriad powers and personalities. He desperately reaches out for the powers that can save him but can’t find a partner, can’t find someone, anyone who would be willing to aid him. As he faces down death and irrelevance, he realizes he needs not powers, not allies but friends and partners.
The crowning moment of the issue is David embracing his powers. Bringing together his personalities and powers, he’s no longer a user but a partner. He declares himself “Gestalt,” a German philosophical term meaning an entity, being or organization which is more than the sum of its parts. The use of the term is particularly powerful here because it builds off the potent metaphor of the Quartex which has been established since the series’ beginning.
Since issue #1, David has been forced to deal with his mind, a prison he is both bound in and master of. When David is in the Quartex, he’s either the hunter, searching for the powers and abilities he needs and willing to do anything to have them, or the hunted, chased mercilessly by the beings imprisoned there. Either way, David is the focus, he’s alone and the active agent. Everything else is passive, victim or fighter.
For the last 20 issues, David has treated people little better than he’s treated his personalities. Hes’ been confrontational with everyone, using them as tools and weapons even when he’s pushing for further cooperation between mutants. When David declares “Gestalt,” he’s not only pushing for unity within his own mind but for Xavier’s dream. Finally, David knows he can be stronger and more capable as a partner than as an individual and he’s able to shatter the image of himself as a lone force of change. His self image has changed and his options have changed with them.
It’s interesting to revaluate David’s path to self-actualization over the course of the series looking at the changes he’s made in issue #20. All of David’s trickery, subterfuge and morally murky choices made in the earlier issues appear even more self-centered and dangerous. The power and confidence he displays, falling from the Peak to hunt down the psychic ghost of his father is electric and it’s a portrait of a character willing to do whatever needs done and finally wielding the power to do just that.