There are so many X-Men out there! You can’t walk round your private island paradise anymore without bumping into twenty mutants. But that raises a question which Shelfdust are going to try and answer! Who is the Best Mutant? We’ll be inviting some of the best writers in comics to argue their case!

By Sean Dillon

The argument for David Haller (also known as Legion, though he’d rather not be) being the best X-Man is rather straightforward: he is the star of the single greatest live action superhero text, Noah Hawley’s Legion. But since this series is about comics rather than television, I should talk about his comic book stories, because David is a very fascinating figure within the X-Men canon. The son of Professor X, causer of the Age of Apocalypse, and generally strange person, David is oftentimes (and, indeed, simultaneously) within the center of the X-Men and pushed to the margins of the narrative.

But to understand why Legion is the best X-Men, we must first understand what it means to be an X-Man. The typical byline for what the X-Men are is a metaphor for the marginalized. Those feared and misunderstood by society who are hunted down by law enforcement, murdered by bigots who can get away with it, and are threatened with dehumanizing laws that justify extermination. Of course, as with any metaphor about a marginalized group created by people outside of that group, it’s extremely flawed.

That isn’t to say that the metaphor can’t work (Jay Edidin’s How To Be A Mutant and Fluid by Dorian Alexander and Robin Tess are both landmark queer visions of X-Men), but by and large the metaphor is used sparingly and without thought. Significant numbers of people of color are seen screaming with the anti-mutant hate mob, and other intersectional aspects of a Mutant identity are often washed away in the name of Mutantness, and there’s a lot of stories where they fuck off to alien planets.

One attempt at trying to create a means of understanding the X-Men within the context of the Marvel Universe comes from Richard Jones, author of Have Them Fight God. According to their Great Houses model of the Marvel Universe, the three main factors within the universe (the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Avengers) are all responding to a simple question: Just what is to be done about the state of the world? In the model, Jones notes that the X-Men’s response to a broken system is “A system is best changed by altering the behavior of its components.” This certainly fits within the framing of a majority of X-Men stories. The metaphor of “an oppressed race of people trying to survive” is one that ultimately desires changing the behavior of others (be it via words, actions, or force). 

Indeed, in many regards, this is the core theme of Si Spurrier and Tan Eng Huat’s run on X-Men: Legacy, as well as Spurrier’s overall work with the character of David Haller, epitomized by the series’ core mantra:

Throughout the run, David attempts to create a better future for his people as well as avoid an oncoming apocalypse. His methodology is often questionable at best, ranging from lobotomizing bigots to forcing children onto a path that they might not even want. At the heart of it all, is the desire to not be constrained by the will of others, be they intentional (such as a pair of psychic eyeballs manipulating things towards apocalypse) or not (such as the shadow the (then) late Charles Xavier left upon David).

In the end though, it’s David’s own will and his own choices which determine what happens next in his life. And so, he grows. He sees the flaws within himself and works to deal with them. Be it his smug superiority, his manipulative streak, or the apocalypse he has unleashed. And through his growth, he is able to help others grow and change and be their best selves as well. Be it a potential mass murderer, a mutant with the ability to take credit for other people’s achievements, or a blind girl who is trapped by destiny.

When faced with that destiny, that story where everyone dies horribly and all that change was for naught, David rejects it. He tells a better story. One with some degree of cost: he can’t be a part of it. He wrote himself out of the narrative, out of the life of Charles Xavier’s son. In the new, better world he has created, David Haller does not exist. Professor X never had a son. But that doesn’t mean he killed himself. He still exists as a story in the heads of those who loved him. He is, at long last, a character within the margins. Someone who never quite fit with what the world expected of him. Rarely the lead, rarely the driving force at the center of the story, yet important nevertheless.

Because, as David himself notes, the things that leave the most amount of impact, the things that last forever, are the things that have ended. You can revisit them, recontextualize them, but they’re over. The best stories know when to step off the stage and let other stories be told. Endings are always rough and never kind to the ongoing story. It’s always sad to say goodbye. And all that’s left behind is a legacy, which is just another word for “burden.” To live up to the past as if it wasn’t flawed and awful. To be controlled by the story of a Professor X who isn’t a jerk.

Why is David Haller the best X-Man? Because he refused to be controlled by the stories of others. Be it the legacy of his father, the mad tyrant god people feared he would become, or the madman many saw him as. David Haller changed the behaviors of so many people, touched so many lives. And, ultimately, understood the fundamental core of desiring to change the behaviors of a system’s components: you can’t force it. You can’t force people to change for the better or they won’t change at all. For at the end of the day, there is one simple truth about people, be they mutant or alien or human.

We rule us.

X-Men: Legacy #24
Writer: Si Spurrier
Artist: Tan Eng Huat
Inker: Craig Yeung
Colorist: José Villarrubia
Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit

Sean Dillon has written for publications including PanelXPanel, and is prolific on their Patreon page, which you can find here. You can also follow Sean on Twitter here!

This post was made possible thanks to the Shelfdust Patreon! To find out more, head to our Patreon page here!