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Controlling the Legion: Examining the ins and outs of 'Way of X' #2

Comic Books

Controlling the Legion: Examining the ins and outs of ‘Way of X’ #2

The second issue often raises more questions than actual answers.

SPOILER WARNING! This analysis of Way of X #2 contains major spoilers!

Full of symbolism and metaphor, much of what we read and see in Way of X #2 is not necessarily what writer Si Spurrier and his art team of Bob Quinn and Java Tartaglia really want us to understand. In order to connect the story in this issue to the overarching themes first introduced in issue #1, one has to follow the clues given.

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This isn’t always easy to do, especially when Spurrier throws in purposeful misdirection. The big reveal at the end of issue #1 led us to believe that the mysterious Patchwork Man, the villain hiding in the shadows of Krakoa and preying on mutants’ nightmares, was none other than Legion, Xavier’s incredibly powerful, mentally troubled son. But Legion denies this on the very first page. The end of this issue seemingly reveals the true identity of the Patchwork Man and his apparent mission on Krakoa. Well, unless Spurrier is misdirecting us with that big reveal, too.

Another purposeful misdirection, or maybe an unfulfilled expectation, comes in the form of this issue’s protagonist. All signs point to Nightcrawler as the main character of Way of X, and I concluded in my previous article that this series would primarily focus on Kurt’s struggles with his faith in light of the cultural revolution on Krakoa. Although Kurt is our point of view character throughout this issue, and his existential struggles do play an important part, the story is much more about David Haller (Legion) than Kurt Wagner. Thus, Spurrier returns to a character he knows very well, the focus of his X-Men: Legacy series and obviously one of his favorite mutants to write.

Controlling the Legion: Examining the ins and outs of 'Way of X' #2

From start to finish, David/Legion drives the action and controls the plot.

In the very first scene, he uses his vast psychic powers to render Nightcrawler helpless, forcing his way into Kurt’s mind. There, he removes a poisonous coin, one of the first major symbols, representing something sinister and foreign that had been placed in Kurt’s subconscious. By the end of the issue, Kurt has an idea about who poisoned his mind and for what purpose.

And speaking of symbolism, Kurt’s mind is depicted as a pirate ship manned by different versions of himself, beleaguered by a storm, a sea monster, and cannon fire. It’s nice to see Spurrier reference Nightcrawler’s fondness for swashbucklers. On the metaphoric level, however, the meaning is quite obvious: as covered in the last issue, Kurt’s religious faith, his very foundation, is under attack, and he now finds himself desperately trying to save the sinking ship of his psyche. We should note that Legion removes the poisonous coin from the figurehead of Kurt’s ship. This poison was apparently guiding Kurt’s course, and Legion suggests that Kurt’s conflicted state might not entirely be his own fault. 

Back outside Kurt’s mind, David continues to control the narrative, sending Nightcrawler on a mission to find David’s body, which is about to cause a world-ending incident. David has placed the coordinates in Kurt’s mind, he tells Kurt to fetch backup on Krakoa and he even gives Kurt a time limit. When Kurt becomes momentarily distracted while hurriedly collecting his team, David forcefully intervenes, setting Kurt back on task. In all of this, David seems to be completely in control of everything going on. And yet, this too is misdirection, as we discover that David is actually not at all in control, not even of his own mind. The Orchis organization has somehow acquired David’s disembodied brain and banished the dominant “David” personality out of it, allowing his other, less controllable personalities to run free.

You see, David Haller, Legion, has always been a very complicated character with an incredibly intriguing power set. He basically has any super-power you can think of; but each super-power belongs to a different personality. Thus, his psyche has broken into a near infinite number of multiple personalities, some morally good, some morally grey, but many others evil or insane. This aspect of David has almost always defined his character in any story he has appeared. But, not many writers have the empathy required to write a character with this kind of mental illness with the complexity that such an issue deserves. Fortunately, Spurrier does an excellent job. Empathy is exactly what Spurrier gives David, while Quinn carefully depicts every varied emotion with authentic facial expressions and body language.

Controlling the Legion: Examining the ins and outs of 'Way of X' #2

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

In his very first line of dialogue, David tells Kurt not to call him “Legion.” Later, as the action rises towards its climax, David has a quiet moment of reflection as he talks to himself, regretting how he seems to be, “[a]lways defined by the sickness, not the strength. Always bloody ‘Legion’ instead of ‘David.’” Although he has seemingly been controlling every situation in this issue so far, he has actually been searching, even hoping, for a way to control his disease, so that he can finally simply be himself.

Even as this story works well on its own as a character study, Spurrier does more, using the present state of David’s mind as a metaphor for the problems facing the emerging Krakoan culture. Here he returns to the sociological question, arising out of Dunbar’s number, first brought up in Way of X #1: how does the Krakoan society remain peaceful and unified after it has grown larger than a certain number of direct relationships? Inside David’s fractured mind, this problem has been extrapolated to what Dr. Nemesis calls, “Anomie. The ‘derangement of the infinite.’”

Entering Legion’s mind, Nightcrawler and Pixie find a chaotic world filled with a near infinite number of super-powered characters brutally attacking, killing and even eating one another. Without the dominant “David,” Legion’s other personalities have no unifying factor or common purpose to keep them all in check. What Nemesis worries might happen to Krakoa, as related in issue #1, has already occurred within Legion’s mindscape: infinite personalities lacking collective meaning or shared ideas have devolved into complete social and moral collapse.

Quinn’s art style really lends itself to these scenes within the mindscape. In Legion’s mind, he utilizes almost no straight lines in depicting a world falling apart, its buildings tilted, bent and hanging at impossible angles, some even cut into pieces, reminiscent of the Bizarro World Frank Quitely drew in All-Star Superman #7 and#8. Quinn exaggerates everything in Legion’s mind a bit more, including the physicality of his internal personalities, highlighting the grotesque nature of this decaying astral world and the immorality of its inhabitants. 

Eventually, Nightcrawler, Pixie and Dr. Nemesis realize the symbolic connection between the state of Legion’s mind and the new society on Krakoa. And they suddenly understand that Orchis has been using David’s mind as a model for the cultural and sociological evolution of Krakoa, trying to figure out how to bring about Krakoa’s collapse.

Controlling the Legion: Examining the ins and outs of 'Way of X' #2

Courtesy of DC (L) and Marvel (R).

Orchis has achieved success in Legion’s mind by introducing a so-called, “invasive exotic,” to speed up the social and moral decay. The creative team meaningfully uses the imagery of the Nimrod first seen in the far future of Powers of X for this destructive, foreign agent. Its purpose is to destroy any unity the multiple personalities may attain, continually spouting out the slogan, “Me before we.” One wonders if Spurrier intends any veiled criticism of the individualistic evolution of Western society with this depiction of social collapse.

When the destruction of Orchis’ “invasive exotic” in Legion’s brain doesn’t stop the decay of his psyche, our heroes realize that the ultimate sacrifice must be made. Here at the climax of this issue, Spurrier finally returns to Kurt’s struggles with his faith. Kurt insists on being the one to kill this last piece of David’s life, even though it goes against his belief in the sanctity of life. It is presented as an act of murder, justified only in the knowledge that The Five can bring David back from the dead. One of the most central themes of Way of X #1 was Kurt’s inability to reconcile this aspect of Krakoa’s emerging culture, this cheapening of death, with his Catholic faith. For Kurt, every life is sacred and every unnecessary killing a sin.

However, this judgement, that killing David in this moment is morally evil, akin to murder, doesn’t hold up too well. David has already said that his uncontrolled, decaying psyche will soon let out an energy burst that will destroy the earth. Thus, killing David is saving the world; which feels like the right thing to do, considering David can be resurrected, whereas the whole world cannot. Furthermore, Kurt realizes that this act of murder could actually bring about the solution David has been searching for. With the beautiful, empathetic words, “You are not your flaws,” Kurt explains that killing David’s disembodied brain and the evil personalities that now control it may just give him the fresh start he needs in resurrection. Kurt whispers his conclusion, “Perhaps there are sins worth sinning.”

This line reminds me of the life of the Christian theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Another German, Bonhoeffer wrote in his book on ethics, “What is worse than doing evil, is being evil.” Using the example of a liar, he argues that an immoral act (a lie) from a good person can be better than a moral act (the truth) from an evil person. And Bonhoeffer should know. He lived during the Nazi’s Third Reich and worked within the German military intelligence agency, the Abwehr, as a secret agent for the resistance against Hitler. In this role, he supposedly knew about various plots to assassinate Hitler. One can assume that at least this Christian theologian would agree with Kurt’s assessment, that in certain circumstances, some sins are worth sinning.

Be that as it may, the creative team presents Kurt’s decision to end the last remaining part of David’s life as the symbolic death of Kurt’s religious faith. As he readies to pull the trigger, Kurt starts to utter a prayer for forgiveness, but gives up in the middle and instead says, “Nevermind.” On the next page, another data page of Kurt’s “religious” writings, he refers to this as the act which broke his “thoughtless conditioning,” but which also allowed something new to arise. Quinn and Tartaglia wonderfully capture the symbolism of Nightcrawler’s decisive act in a panel of red silhouettes against a black background.

Way of X

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

What follows, David’s resurrection, includes more religious symbolism and references than found anywhere else in this issue. The scene is narrated by Kurt’s “religious” writings (and I must praise the work of letterer Clayton Cowles both here and throughout this issue) under the title, “The Prodigal Sun,” a reference to Jesus’ famous parable about the wayward son who returns to a forgiving father (see Luke 15:11–32). But, this reference doesn’t quite fit the situation presented. The narrative depicts David’s rebirth not as the repentant return of a lost son, but as the powerful coming of a central religious figure. David mysteriously inspires The Five to immediately start his resurrection process. His rebirth attracts a reverent congregation of Krakoa’s mutants.

And when Prof. X, David’s own father and Krakoa’s god-figure, refuses to use Cerebro to put David’s mind, his soul, into the resurrected body, David does it himself. Symbolically, David is reborn as a messiah-figure; after all, the son of Krakoa’s god-figure has just raised himself from the dead. But, this symbolism also feels a bit off, as Kurt states in his writings, “David is no god. No anointed messiah come to save us.” I’m just not sure what Spurrier is trying to tell us with this religious symbolism. Is David a wayward son coming back to his father or a messiah sent to bring salvation to Krakoa? Neither seems to fit the character or the situation completely. Hopefully, future issues will explore this symbolism more thoroughly and bring more clarity to the religious overtones of this scene.

After his resurrection is complete, David basically blows off both Prof. X and Magneto, publicly saying that he doesn’t trust either of them. Instead he embraces Kurt, the one he does trust, and turns to the issue that seems to be Spurrier’s main theme in the Way of X series. Spurrier always said that Way of X would be about more than just religion. After analyzing the first two issues, it appears this series will focus on the development of the Krakoan culture and society as a whole. And just as Dr. Nemesis did in issue #1, Legion looks to Kurt to help find or create the collective meaning, the shared ideas, the unifying factor which will prevent the collapse of the new mutant society. David suggests starting with the three laws of Krakoa, first established in House of X #6.

In this closing scene, Kurt connects the symbolic poisonous coin that David extracted from his subconscious with the “invasive exotic” that Orchis placed in David’s mind. He surmises that Orchis may have already introduced their foreign agent into Krakoan culture in the form of the Patchwork Man. This threat, a foreign agent attempting to destroy the unity of Krakoa’s mutants, calls back to Moira’s truth, as first revealed in Powers of X #2, “Apart, we always lose.” Prof. X, Magneto and Moira’s goal in establishing Krakoa was to bring every mutant together in unity, hopefully ensuring their ultimate survival and victory. Therefore, what could be a bigger threat than Orchis’ “invasive exotic” and its motto, “Me before we.” 

Controlling the Legion: Examining the ins and outs of 'Way of X' #2

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Which leads to this issue’s big cliffhanger: David reveals the Patchwork Man to be none other than Onslaught. Because, well, why not? Marvel as a whole seems to be relishing in ’90s nostalgia at the moment. But, Onslaught does also serve a very symbolic role, if this villain is indeed Orchis’ foreign agent and not another misdirection on Spurrier’s part. The evil psionic entity, created from the darkest parts of Krakoa’s founding fathers and god-figures, working as the nightmare in the shadows that drives the new mutant society to its eventual collapse; what a great symbolic representation of Charles’ and Erik’s tragic flaws leading to their own ruin.

But I haven’t even begun to completely process what this reveal potentially means.

How long has Onslaught been present in Krakoan’s minds?

Which parts of Krakoa’s emerging culture are truly the will of mutants and which are the poisonous influence of Onslaught?

How did Orchis gain control of Onslaught in the first place? Or are they in control?

Were Nightcrawler’s doubts about his faith just the work of the poisonous coin in his head?

As with any good cliffhanger, this big reveal raises more questions than it answers. So, we’ll have to wait for the next issues to hopefully bring more resolution.

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