I was a huge fan of Chris Claremont’s 1980’s run on Uncanny X-Men. I’m not sure how well the comics have aged, because I have a hard time looking at them without my nostalgia lenses on. When I sold most of my comic book collection in the early 1990s, I couldn’t bear to part with most of the Claremont issues (although I did sell a few books that were particularly highly-valued—over-valued, really. I bought a Fender guitar with the money, a Bullet. Anyway). I even kept a bunch of Marvel’s concurrent reprint series, Classic X-Men (also stylized as X-Men Classic). I’ve still got a handful of the issues that Mike Mignola did covers for—he was (and is) one of my favorite stylists.
Anyway, the image of Storm above is Mignola’s cover for X-Men Classic #69, March, 1992. The issue reprints Uncanny X-Men #165—script by Claremont, natch, with art by Paul Smith and Bob Wiacek and colors by Lynn Varley. Here’s the page that Mignola took his cover queue from:
I had no interest in watching the Legion television show.
Bill Sienkiewicz is my favorite comic book artist of all time.
I like Sienkiewicz so much I can spell his last name correctly without looking it up. I like Sienkiewicz so much that he was the first artist I featured when I first started this silly Sunday Comics thing last year.
Sienkiewicz, along with Chris Claremont, created the character of David Haller (“Legion,” Professor X’s son). David first appeared in the last page of The New Mutants #25, Marvel Comics, March, 1985. (The issue is about the underrated duo Cloak & Dagger).
The New Mutants was/is my favorite childhood comic book. (By which I mean: Sienkiewicz’s run on The New Mutants was/is my favorite childhood comic book).
Here’s David’s début:
The next three issues of The New Mutants (27-29) tell the Legion story line.
I recall liking the Legion story of The New Mutants, although it never stood out as strongly as The Demon Bear Saga, or the issues where Magneto took over The New Mutants’ leadership. But that isn’t why I had no interest in watching the Legion television show.
I had no interest in watching the Legion television show because every single Marvel television show that I’ve seen so far has been boring, or garbage, or boring garbage. And don’t even get me started on the execrable X-Men films, which have squandered so many good storylines. (Although I thought Deadpool was great, which sort of counts as an X-Men film, and I do have an interest in seeing Logan).
Anyway, after a few critics and authors I admire tweeted that Legion was, like, actually really good/excellent/thrilling/etc., I looked up the show, and saw that the showrunner and creator is Noah Hawley. That’s the dude who did FX’s Fargo, another TV show I was also wary of which also turned out to be excellent.
So, over the past four nights, I’ve watched the first four episodes of Legion. (I’ll watch the fifth tonight).
The show is fantastic.
It’s the first “superhero” show I’ve seen that succeeds not just in its script, casting, and themes, but aesthetically as well. Hawley smuggles in references to the original New Mutants run in a way that doesn’t feel like fanservice—but the other reference points here go past comic books and into film: Legion openly steals from Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Alfonso Cuaron, and Wes Anderson. (I mean this as a compliment). Hell, there’s something Pynchonesque about the show too, in its themes of paranoia, its treatment of the concept of reality, its streak of dark but somehow zany humor, and its subversive sexiness.
The casting for Legion is pretty great too. The guy who played the guy who died in the car crash on Downton Abbey so he could leave that show and get better shows does an admirable job as David. The temptation would be to play David as batshit crazy, but the portrayal is measured, often archly comical, and ultimately sympathetic. (Shit, I just looked that guy’s name up—I saw him on a web episode of High Maintenance as a stay-at-home dad who enjoyed wearing women’s clothes and thought he was great, but also thought, Damn, hope Matthew Crawley can get some higher-profile gigs—anyway, that dude, Dan Stevens, is in that new Disney live action Beauty and the Beast film with Hermione Hogwarts, so I guess he’s doing fine).
Where was I? Oh, casting—yeah, there are solid performances here. Aubrey Plaza plays a dead junkie who may or may not be a ghost in David’s head. Jean Smart (aka my least favorite Designing Woman) plays the not-Moira MacTaggart/not-Prof. X character Melanie Bird. Smart was smart in the second season of Hawley’s other FX show, Fargo, which also featured Rachel Keller, who is basically the second lead on Legion as Sydney Barrett (not subtle, I know), David’s untouchable girlfriend. And the show basically had me when Bill Irwin showed up. Like I said, it’s great stuff.
Probably my favorite thing about the show so far though is that it doesn’t seem particularly interested in being anyone’s franchise. It stays true to the paranoid spirit of mid-eighties Claremont X-Men, and seamlessly combines plot and aesthetics in a way that a show about a telepathic and telekinetic mutant would have to to succeed. It’s also dark without being self-serious or self-important. (So many superhero films and shows fail utterly here).
Anyway, I’ve loved the first few episodes, and even if the showrunners fuck it all up, hey, it’s just TV, right?
—(Quietly) 1 It’s been a prevalent notion 2. Fallen sparks 3. Fragments of vessels broken at the Creation 4. And someday, somehow, before the end, a gathering back to home. A messenger from the Kingdom, arriving at the last moment 5. But I tell you there is no such message, no such home 6—only the millions of last moments… no more. Our history is an aggregate of last moments 7.
From pages 82-83 of Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 novel Gravity’s Rainbow.
1 A stage direction. These are the final lines in a one-act play, a small (cosmically-large) tragicomedy featuring two…nerve cells. Rollo Groast of the White Visitation prefaces a page earlier:
It is part…of an old and clandestine drama for which the human body serves only as a set of very allusive, often cryptic, programme notes—it’s as if the body we can measure is a scrap of this programme found outside in the street, near a magnificent stone theater we cannot enter.
In this little play (its rough setting echoes GR’s own martial satire), a younger cell asks a senior cell if she’s ever been to the “Outer Level” and is somewhat shocked when she tells him that “sooner or later everyone out here has to go Epidermal. No exceptions.”
Is this the first episode of Gravity’s Rainbow staged as a play? I think so.
2 The “prevalent notion” the younger cell subscribes to is characterized in the four sentences that follow, and then rejected in the fifth, the sentence that pivots with “But.” A satire of religious hope, perhaps?—the notion of salvation, redemption, an organizing principle to arrive and tidy all the chaos?
3 The preterite. But also/and—
4 The notations on broken vessels and sparks seem to allude to the Kabbalah of Isaac Luria (1534-1572). I will not attempt a bad paraphrase of Lurianic Kabbalah here, but a basic big picture—sparks—souls, fragments of a one-soul—looking to be rectified. Pynchon, inking heavy his preterite-and-elect theme.
5 The deus ex machina in the last act, the game-winning Hail Mary pass, the Messiah, smiling and terrible…
Cf. the opening of Gravity’s Rainbow. From the sixth paragraph:
“You didn’t really believe you’d be saved. Come, we all know who we are by now. No one was ever going to take the trouble to save you, old fellow. . . .”
These are the first lines of dialog in the novel. (If they can be called dialog).
7 The “our” here is biological—one cell to another business—but is there more to human history? Are we more than just our cells? Are there sparks for these vessels?
The narrator here seems to superimpose an answer into the senior cell’s line here: History is simply an imposition, a psychological trick, a way to organize chaos via narrative.
Will Postwar be nothing but ‘events,’ newly created one moment to the next? No links? Is it the end of history?
This miniature cellular drama comes after the introduction to a minor character in Gravity’s Rainbow I’ve always found intriguing: Gavin Trefoil.
Trefoil, an agent (?!) of The White Visitation, has powers:
Lately, as if all tuned in to the same aethereal Xth Programme, new varieties of freak have been showing up at “The White Visitation,” all hours of the day and night, silent, staring, expecting to be taken care of, carrying machines of black metal and glass gingerbread, off on waxy trances, hyperkinetically waiting only the right trigger-question to start blithering 200 words a minute about their special, terrible endowments. An assault. What are we to make of Gavin Trefoil, for whose gift there’s not even a name yet? (Rollo Groast wants to call it autochromatism.) Gavin, the youngest here, only 17, can somehow metabolize at will one of his amino acids, tyrosine. This will produce melanin, which is the brown-black pigment responsible for human skin color. Gavin can also inhibit this metabolizing by—it appears—varying the level of his blood phenylalanine. So he can change his color from most ghastly albino up through a smooth spectrum to very deep, purplish, black. If he concentrates he can keep this up, at any level, for weeks. Usually he is distracted, or forgets, and gradually drifts back to his rest state, a pale freckled redhead’s complexion.
I suppose I could riff all day on the symbolic/historic implications of Trefoil’s powers: His gradations of color disrupt the binary (black-white, off-on, zero-one) that a Pavlovian like Pointsman insists upon (Trefoil’s super(?!)power falls in line with Roger Mexico’s gradations between 0 and 1).
But what really interests me here is Trefoil’s mutant powers and The White Visitation as a sort of potential comic book—I mean what I want to say here is that Pynchon points ahead to the 1975 “reboot” of Uncanny X-Men, and even The New Mutants: Post-global preterite underground weirdos with strange powers. Psychics and witches and protagonists that splinter into nothingness, after going through multiple reboots—(Plechazunga, the Pig-Hero, Rocketman, etc.). (Hell, the Pynchon X-Men team could even have Grigori the Octopus).
The closest X-Men comparison for Gavin Trefoil is probably the shapeshifter baddie X-Men antagonist Mystique, whose powers are obviously more pronounced than Trefoil’s. And there’s also Nightcrawler—maybe my favorite of Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men—or maybe I mean Excalibur. And also blueskinned Beast.
Late in the novel, Our Hero Tyrone Slothrop will help form the superish heroish team the Floundering Four (along with Myrtle Miraculous, zoot-suited Maximillian, and mechanical man Marcel). The Floundering Four will set out to battle the Paternal Peril. (Make of that what you will).
On Trefoil the Blueskin, here’s Steven Weisenburger (A Gravity’s Rainbow Companion):
Last month, I kinda sorta reviewed the trailer for Moonrise Kingdom, the new film from Wes Anderson. Moonrise Kingdom has all the hallmarks of an Anderson joint: an idealistically romantic protagonist who strives to fit the world to his skewed view of it; an overtly hermetic setting (crammed like a Russian nesting doll with even more hermetic settings); a fetish for staginess; a fetish for once useful objects that are now obsolete; the usual cast of characters; etc.
Anyway, one commenter on that post suggested that Anderson adapt V.C. Andrews’s lurid gothic incest romance Flowers in the Attic—and I couldn’t agree more. Andrews’s story grotesquely enshrines the hermetic world of forbidden love that Anderson repeatedly engages in (see the incestuous, or at least Oedipally-displaced romances of The Royal Tennenbaums and Rushmore). The Flowers suggestion (and another comment suggesting a DeLillo adaptation) got me to thinking about other stories I’d love to see Anderson take on.
(Those who hate to see a silly, ridiculous, fanboyish, and entirely hypothetical post should exit anon).
While Anderson has authored most of his own scripts (with cowriters like Owen Wilson or Roman Coppola), he showed he could do fine work with people’s stories on Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox. I’d love to see him do something with Shel Silverstein or Edward Gorey as well, perhaps as a series of animated shorts of some kind. Like Dahl, Silverstein and Gorey deftly explore the dark undercurrent of childhood in a way that’s simultaneously charming and meaningful.
I’d probably be happy with any Wes Anderson superhero movie, but I’d love to see him do a big screen live action version of The New Mutants, a title that ran in the 1980s that focused on teens who were basically X-Men junior. Anderson would be right at home in Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and the types of missions these teenagers took on were not nearly as intense as the X-Men’s, allowing for a smaller, more emotional film, than, say, Bryan Singer’s bombastic nonsense. Bill Murray for Professor X?
While I’m on big-budget franchise type characters: James Bond. A Bond film would give Anderson plenty of opportunity to play with design and style, as well as humor; Anderson also showed a sense for old-fashioned adventure and action in The Life Aquatic. Owen Wilson as Bond? (As a side note, I should point out that in general I’d love to see the Bond franchise branch out to a series of stylized one-offs, featuring different actors playing Bond, and helmed by different directors like Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino).
How about Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (not Huck Finn, people)? Maybe as a mini-series on HBO?
Anderson has always been deeply entrenched in J.D. Salinger territory, and although he arguably already did so in Tennenbaums, a film that somehow organizes the lives of the Glass family would be pretty cool.
Harold Brodkey’s overlooked masterpiece First Love and Other Sorrows may be a collection of short stories, but they share a common theme that resonates with Anderson’s aesthetic. Brodkey’s decaying families (which all seem to share a misplaced sense of privilege) would be fertile ground for Anderson (and their midcentury settings would make for some snappy outfits).
Also: Heller’s Catch-22.
Maybe Anderson could highlight some of the humor in Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero. (Okay, maybe not, but I’d love to see what he’d do with that milieu. And speaking of that milieu—).
I’d love to see the failure that would be Anderson’s take on Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (suggestion: use Jim Henson-style puppets).
And: A Nabokov biopic, preferably one that focuses on his lepidoptery. Could Bill Murray play Nabokov? This question is rhetorical.
Anderson’s films have been repeatedly criticized for their racial insensitivity, but in spite of this (or, perhaps, because of this), I’d like to see his take on Kipling’s The Jungle Book.
Speaking of imperialism: Another Tintin film. And while he’s at it: Lil’ Orphan Annie.
Faulkner’s a bit too gritty, too dirty (not to mention too Southern) for Anderson, but he would probably do a great feature length adaptation of “A Rose for Emily.” Decay, incest, the crumbling of an old value system.
And: It’s about time someone made that Night Court movie, right? Okay, maybe not.