X-Men Legacy #24: Legion’s Swan Song
24 issues ago, no one cared that much about Legion.
24 issues later, we're sad to see David Haller go, but also kind of all right with it, because that's how this volume of X-Men Legacy was designed to work. Also, we're mildly insulted when people call him Legion, ever since David compared it to referring to an epileptic hero as "Spasmo."
Here's Mike Del Mundo's cover of X-Men Legacy #24, which is meaningful on a few levels.
One one level, that ridiculous up-do that has been one constant about Haller is being shorn, signifying a big 'that's all, folks' as well as a major character shift, and it's being done by Ruth "Blindfold" Aldine, who has been destined to destroy David throughout this series. Then you think about him being shorn bald, like another famous shiny-pate guy – David's legendary father, Charles Xavier. There's even a hint of Xavier-ness in David's face, as well there should be, because, y'know, son. That whole messed up father/son relationship – wherein the father is considered the martyred saint of mutantkind despite the fact that he locked his son in a hospital coma because he was too complicated to deal with – is always a broken thing at the core of David Haller. "'Legacy' is just another word for 'burden,'" he tells us in this issue, as he struggles to come to terms with himself since he's in need of an emergency psychological breakthrough so he can stop himself from murdering the world.
The prophecy that Blindfold had early on is coming true. David was a man searching for his true identity in the midst of being a guy with the mutant power to spawn hundreds of identities within his own brain, each with its own amazing super power, and every time he thought he had it figured out, some stray facet of himself would unravel it and destabilize him again. Possibly a hint of what it must feel like to have a mental illness you're aware of but cannot control, which can often feel like your world is ending – and in this case, the actual world is ending for David, and it's his fault. His powers are spiraling out of control, transforming him into this monstrous "world worm" that's devouring the psyches of mutants everywhere, and only Blindfold is able to fight back.
X-Men Legacy has also been a love story as much as an identity story. Slowly, over the course of this series, the nervous, twitchy precognitive girl Ruth has become enamored of the nervously twitchy but-really-trying-to-hide-it David, and vice versa. They've found as much solace with each other as they possibly could, given the world-ending circumstances surrounding them, forming a unique bond that's as much psychic as it is real, and the end of the last issue found them freezing time around them long enough to consummate their relationship on the astral plane in a last beautiful moment of happiness together before the end times hit. Putting forth a theme reminiscent of writer Simon Spurrier's work on Six-Gun Gorilla, where he told us that just because something is over doesn't mean it never mattered, David tells us that "the things that stay with you forever are the things that come to an end."
X-Men Legacy #24 brings those end times. As we've seen several times throughout this series, the story takes place almost entirely inside of David's mind, as he struggles against the forces within trying to check himself before he wrecks everyone else. It's an internal monologue we're privy to as he tries to rationalize his own feelings, emotions, legacy, burdens, mistakes, and personalities in a desperate bid to control himself now that the dark nihilism that took the form of his "sainted" father has merged with him and taken over. He takes stock of his polluted life, lamenting his circumstances, wondering what might have happened if he had "better fucking parents" among other things, but also realizing that ultimately he's responsible for the choices he makes and the actions he takes. It's not until his world worm form is crushing the life out of Ruth on the outside that she is able to hear the strange psychic resonance she's been periodically sensing, and she realizes it's a message intended for David. It's Charles Xavier, telling his shattered, broken boy that he's proud of him.
That's the catalyst he needs, the balm for his cracked core that allows him to believe in himself, which is what he needed to wrest control back, to merge with the last separate part of himself to become whole, and to set about his full reality-manipulating power to set things right, and decide what constitutes right. Where do you draw the line in rewriting history when you're not arrogant enough to think you know what's best? Rather than play that guessing game about who lives and who dies, David decides to erase himself from existence instead. Complete with a fourth-wall breaking aside to the reader to let us know that we shouldn't be sad about it. Thus, he cracks reality and takes himself out of it, save for within Ruth's mind.
Under normal circumstances, this would bring up a whole host of continuity-related questions – does this mean his mother is alive again? Does this mean Dark Beast, Nate Grey, Sugar Man, and that one X-Force Nightcrawler running around the 616 blink out of existence because David never accidentally created the Age of Apocalypse? How much of himself is left behind in Ruth's memory, and is it just a reminiscence or a full-on 'I live here now and no one but you remembers me' thing? and so on – but when you're done reading X-Men Legacy #24, you don't care about any of that, because you've just read the ending of a story you liked about a character you liked from a writer you like and an artist in Tan Eng Huat who just went balls out, and you know it's going to stay with you for a while. "Lives still matter whether they happened or not," David notes at one point, and that's something we as comic fans should take to heart. Comics should be allowed to have more endings.
This final issue reads like a triumph and a heroic sacrifice, as David declares "I refuse to submit to a universe where I cannot rule myself" before eliminating any trace of his existence so as not to threaten the world ever again, and then leaving himself behind in Ruth's mind, putting the truth to his romantic declaration to her from several issues prior:
Now the world has forgotten what made them different – he lives in her head, and that makes them the same person, and it'll be pretty damn hard to separate them. There's a cynical part of me that wants to imply that whole thing is creepy, but Ruth takes comfort in it (it's possible, again, that it's just a memory – as my friend Carla Hoffman of The Fifth Color says, 'psychics are so confusing') and draws strength from it and goddammit, we don't have to take the piss out of every romantic notion, do we?
Spurrier's gracious afterword at the end of the issue says "no one will ever be able to corrupt what David did today: taking control of his own story at any cost." Again, my cynical brain isn't quite so sure about this. David really wanted to live, which differentiates him somewhat from those who actively want to die, but there's clearly a way to read this that suggests that suicide is a viable option for those who suffer from various forms of mental or physical illness, who may often feel as though they're destroying the lives of those around them just as David was as the world-worm. Obviously, Spurrier isn't advocating for a self-induced Apocalypse culling, for pete's sake, and would probably be annoyed reading this paragraph at all, but maybe there's something to be said about de-stigmatizing suicide, as it's also taking control of your own story at any cost. Maybe it's understandable, if you've really reached a point where you're incapable of anything but pain and misery in this life once all other options have failed. But all other options for help and change seriously have to fail first, because that choice is really going to hurt a lot of people who love you, although it's certainly not as selfish as those assholes who decide to take a bunch of people with them when they do it.
Anyway, that's just spitballing while opening a huge can of worms that I'm now going to shut, because the point of X-Men Legacy #24 is about love, sacrifice, acceptance, allowing a comic book story to come to an end, and giving a mistreated, ignored, difficult, problematic character enough tender loving care to make his swan song a glorious one to hear.
It's good reading, and highly recommended. So long, David Haller.