Dan Stevens wasn’t joking when he described his latest series, Legion, as the “fake news” of superhero dramas. Nominally set in the X-Men universe, the much buzzed-about new show, which has just arrived on Fox, from the outset tries to drill into the viewer’s brain and muck about with their perception of reality. In the best sense, it’s like sitting through a Sean Spicer press conference scripted by Stan Lee.
In the title role, Downton’s dashing Dan is unrecognisably rough and ready. “Legion” is the superhero tag of David Haller, a troubled soul apparently suffering a multitude of mental traumas (unstated is the nugget that he is son of X-Men honcho Charles Xavier).
He has superpowers – or at least believes he has – but these are presented more as disadvantage than blessing. In the original comic book, Haller’s abilities were tied to the multiple personalities competing for dominance inside his head. To access a power he had to “become” the person controlling it.
This is rather more complicated than Superman locating a convenient phone booth in which to slip his underpants over his trousers. In the television series, Haller’s talents are portrayed as a straight-up curse which has pushed him to the brink of sanity. It’s a fantastic showcase for Stevens, who leaves us guessing whether what we are seeing is real or part of a waking fever dream.
To return to the Superman analogy, can you imagine a retelling of the Man of Steel that hedged its bets whether Clark Kent really was a flying crime-fighter or sick man battling dangerous delusions? How post-modern and thrilling would that be? (Answer: very).
“He’s exhibiting symptoms that had him diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia since his late teens,” Stevens told reporters earlier this month. “From a narrative point of view, that lends itself to a very playful tone, in that all of these realities are quite real.”
Legion has been created by Noah Hawley, who has achieved acclaim for his ingenious small-screen reworking of the Coen brothers’ Fargo. As with that project, here he takes a familiar property – the X-Men story has been told in a multitude of forms on the big screen across the past decade-and-a-half – and gives it an irresistible twist. Is Haller truly a superhero? Or are the voices in his mind merely hallucinogenic reverberations?
“I was interested, after Fargo, which is very objective storytelling, in doing something subjective, in the sense of, here’s a character who either has schizophrenia or he has these abilities,” Hawley told New York magazine. “He’s a haunted house, and the things that he’s seeing, the things that he’s hearing, they might have a logical explanation, but he doesn’t know that.”
Adding to the ambivalence is a unique visual sensibility somewhere between Stanley Kubrick and Iron Man. As the presence of iPads and other technology makes clear, Legion is set in the 21st century. So why is everyone dressed in ’70s-style sweaters and track-tops – and how to explain retro fixtures that might have been shipped straight from Mad Men?
“Noah was quite deliberate in not letting me know exactly, at any given moment, whether what was happening was real, so it was sort of up to me to decide,” Stevens said. “David is ready to accept almost anything as real, at any given moment, and that’s a really alive place to be as a performer. No matter how crazy and out there, David is ready to take on whatever happens.”
“Noah wanted to make sure that the audience was as confused as David is about what is real by not having a time or a place, never saying where we are,” production designer Michael Wylie told New York.
Far from an aberration, Legion can be seen as part of the next stage of comic book adaptations – an evolution occurring almost exclusively on television.
Yes, a whiff of self-awareness attended last year’s loveably scatalogical Deadpool movie. However, the small screen has otherwise emerged as the driving force behind what, in comic book terms, is tantamount to an uprising.
Consider Netflix’s trilogy of superhero sagas – Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage (a fourth show, Iron Fist, arrives this spring). Here the fundamental conventions of comic book storytelling are turned on their heads, with nuanced storylines and characters who neither speak nor act like spandex clad do-gooders.
Yet far from a repudiation of the genre, there’s an argument that Legion and similar shows point to a thrilling new future. With bombastic comic book movies pitching tent at the box office for much of the year, there’s an imminent danger of ‘peak superhero’. You have already experienced the fatigue settling in, I am sure.
Thus if superheroes are to avoid the inexorable decline suffered by the western and the gangster flick they will have to outgrow their current juvenile tendencies and simplistic moralising. Legion, Luke Cage and their ilk represent the first steps in that transition.
“Will we ever get tired of superheroes? It’s almost like saying are we content with enough gun violence on screen or will ever get sick of sex scenes?,” Luke Cage star Mike Colter told me when we spoke last year. “You change the positions and it becomes appealing. If we don’t find those things entertaining, what’s left? Maybe we’ll go back to books.”
“I did want to be very careful about sending a message that all conflict can only be resolved through battle. There is a sense in a lot of these stories that everything always builds to a big fight,” Hawley said. “And certainly, if you’re doing a story about outsiders and empathy, I didn’t want to be drawn into the gravitational pull of that white hat vs black hat. I wanted to find a story that was just as exciting and interesting, but doesn’t send the message that in the end ‘might makes right’.”
Legion airs on Fox on Thursdays.
Polished but not earth-shattering return from London soul singerRead More
Recorded while she came to terms with first-time parenthood, Glasshouse is JESSIE WARE’s most grown-up album to date – and also potentially her most successful.Read More
Solid sixth outing for pop princess.Read More
Stranger Things was the surprise TV hit of 2016. Ed Power looks at how this valentine to ’80s cinema became such a sensation.Read More
The world's best-loved TV show that doesn't have "Game" and "Throne" in its title returns to the screen after several miserable months. Can it reclaim its small screen crown asks Ed Power.Read More
Former wild child straps on guitar and ten-gallon hat.Read More
Ed Power was impressed with the indie heroes' first night in DublinRead More
Star Trek is back on television. But can the iconic saga cut it in today’s world of cutthroat television, wonders Ed PowerRead More
Personal upheaval gives bittersweet tinge to The Killers’ most vulnerable album to dateRead More
It’s been a wild ride for Foo Fighters and the band’s iconic frontman Dave Grohl. As the band unleashes their ninth studio album, he talks about getting over Nirvana, the pain of losing friend Chris Cornell to suicide and how the rise of Donald Trump informed the new record.Read More
As a new Channel 4 series celebrates the work of Philip K Dick, Ed Power looks at the influence on television and cinema of science fiction’s most singular voice.Read More
As she prepares to play Dublin, Aimee Mann explains how the election of Donald Trump influenced her new album and why a glum evening in Ireland inspired her writing process.Read More
The Vampire Diaries was a cult TV sensation with students. Now star Michael Malarkey is swapping his prosthetic incisors for a guitar and taking his music career to the next level.Read More
Cincinnatti's finest channel our troubled times with winning comebackRead More
As Celtic punks Flogging Molly return to Ireland for a hugely anticipated Olympia gig, frontman Dave King talks about having one foot in America in the age of Trump and why he isn’t quite as optimistic as the title of the band’s latest album might suggest.Read More
Electric Picnic headliners The xx have cast off their early shyness to become compelling pop mavericks.Read More
Indie groovers return with best album yet.Read More
As her new Amazon series The Last Tycoon debuts, Dubliner Dominique McElligott talks about achieving success on her own terms, while the show’s producers reflect on the parallels between America in the age of fascism and the United States under Trump. By Ed PowerRead More
Sci-fi escapism and political criticism are intertwined on Shabazz Palace’s double-whammy of new records. Frontman Ishmael Butler explains how, as an African American, he feels like an alien in the Age of Trump and what Prince’s death tells us about our unhealthy obsessions with celebrity.Read More
Eerie siren turns her frown upside down.Read More
Stadium grumps deliver return-to-form fire-cracker.Read More
Ed Power delivers the inside story on Mumford & Sons' extraordinary rise and unique relationship with Ireland.Read More
Ahead of The Weeknd’s Longitude headliner, Ed Power looks at the artist behind pop’s most fascinating enigma.Read More
Pop prodigy stages triumphant returnRead More
Generic comeback belies Perry’s supposed “woke” phase.Read More
As one-time baggy figureheads The Charlatans return with one of their finest LPs yet, singer Tim Burgess talks about moving on after death, collaborating with Paul Weller and his debt to Alan Partridge.Read More
As ex-Gossip front-woman Beth Ditto returns with her first solo album, she explains how Jesus broke up her band and why she wasn’t surprised by the rise of Trump.Read More
Folk wallflower channels Pixies for her latest album.Read More
Artful folkies emerge from long dark night of the soul.Read More
Saviours of British rock grow up but stay true to themselves.Read More
Bon Iver tells about his youthful days in Galway and the inspiration for 22, A Million He's the world's biggest indie star- a contradictory figure who feels intensely uncomfortable in the spotlight, yet has Kanye West on speed dial. Now Bon Iver is returning to Ireland for a headline performance and an evening of curated music. But what makes this enigma tick- and how has his deepening unease with fame impacted his music? Ed Power attempts to uncover some of the answers...Read More
A selection of top international acts to sink your teeth into at Forbidden FruitRead More
Back with their finest LP in decades, new wave legends Blondie talk about the influence of David Bowie, kicking up a punk racket in Trump's America, and their forthcoming Aviva Stadium hook-up with Phil Collins.Read More
Electro maestros Moderat talk about finding inspiration in Berlin, explain why they refuse to sign with a major, and discuss their love for live music over DJing.Read More
Pop introvert steps confidently from the shadowsRead More
Brooding alt.rock overlord Greg Dulli talks about The Afghan Whigs’ extraordinary rebirth, making rock in the Trump Era and how the death of Prince informed his latest album. Interview Ed PowerRead More
What makes a hitman? A new TV3 series from investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre lifts the lid on the secret world of the contract killer.Read More
Ahead of his return to Ireland, funk legend George Clinton talks about his friendships with Prince and Kendrick Lamar, why the Trump presidency is on borrowed time and what Obama did right.Read More
Alt/folkie gets his groove on for cool follow-up.Read More
Life has been a rollercoaster for Nelly Furtado. But on her latest album she chronicles her journey from crowd-pleaser to mother at peace with the universe.Read More
it's the most controversial new show of the year- but the team behind hard-hitting teen drama 13 Reasons Why argue that its gritty approach is entirely merited.Read More
Ex-chart diva embraces the indie underdog withinRead More
As nihilistic comedy-caper Better Call Saul returns, start Bob Odenkirk reflects on the show's success and his unlikely journey from cult comedian to television icon.Read More
With U2, Arcade Fire and Coldplay just a small selection of the acts headlining their own shows this summer, there really is no shortage of one-day events to choose from.Read More
Mike Skinner talks life after The Streets and why he’s happiest as a jack of all trades.Read More
Indie moochers return to form with sprawling opusRead More
Elusive folk singer delivers career best LPRead More
As the season finale of The Walking Dead approaches, Ed Power talks to the stars of the world’s most popular television drama.Read More
Synth warriors shine on consistently rewarding album number 14.Read More
Hot Press headed to vicar street for Cat Power's spell-binding performanceRead More
A dark comedy with a devastating streak of sincerity, Judd Apatow's Crashing is one of a generation of new sitcoms that mingle laughs with slice-of-life veracity. You'll giggle but maybe you'll cry too.Read More
Affecting break-up LP from alt-pop mavericks.Read More
One-time indie darlings thrive in the margins.Read More
Truth-speaking rants from the laureates of Brexit Britain.Read More
The Terrible Tangerine has ascended to the White House - but how will his dystopian presidency impact on the small screen?Read More
Brit soul star serves up the goods on glossy debutRead More
He's the up-and-coming songwriter of the moment - but don't write Declan McKenna off as just another Ed Sheeran clone.Read More
As part of the Hot Press ‘Hot for 2017’ special, here’s our run-down of the best international drama to watch out for in the months to come.Read More
Goth-pop crew turn their frowns upside downRead More
London-based Limerick trio whenyoung on breaking into the UK indie scene, why it pays to have a day job and the shadow cast by Brexit. By Ed PowerRead More
Eye-rolling return to form by madcap crew.Read More
Serial killer drama The Fall went out with a terrifying flourish, with career best performances by Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan. We talk to one of the show’s stars, Bronagh Taggart, and ask why this chilly thriller became such a word of mouth hit.Read More
It’s been a stand-out 12 months for Pixies, with a fantastic comeback album to their name and now the ultimate accolade of Hot Press Indie Heroes of the Year. Ed Power breaks the good news to the Boston legends.Read More
Adele is an all too rare example of a celebrity visibly retaining their humanity under the spotlight. Ed Power recalls the moment last year when Adele embraced her superstar status yet somehow found a way to stay normal.Read More
In a revelatory interview, Panti Bliss opens up about inclusion, exclusion and matters personal and private.Read More
It’s been a strange 12 months for Hot Press Man of the Year, Kanye West. Ed Power looks back at 365 days of heartache, scandal and sublime art from a troubled superstar.Read More
Impassioned Return from Sometime Libertines TroubadourRead More
On the 20th anniversary of Super Furry Animals’ debut album, frontman Gruff Rhys talks about taking the record back out on the road and offers his thoughts on the EU, Wales at the Euros and that time he drove a tank around Glastonbury.Read More
Swedish star flies feminist banner. Gender rules apply...Read More
Sublime R&B agit–prop from the cooler Knowles sister.Read More
Potent stadium rock from former wild child guitar-slingers.Read More
Synth-pop sadsters Poliça talk about Donald Trump, finding happiness when they least expected and their debt to Prince.Read More
Cult folkie embraces obscurity.Read More
As Black Francis and co return with their finest record in 25 years, the alt-rock luminaries talk egos, in-fighting and the controversial exit of bassist Kim Deal.Read More
Elusive singer suffers enervating case of trying too hardRead More
Where do you start with Jamie Treays? Here is an intense young man whose early career was dogged by severe panic attacks yet who has always aspired to an old fashioned, chart-slaying idea of stardom.Read More
With season two of Narcos freshly arrived in Netflix, Ed Power looks at how the series met the challenges of chronicling the larger-than-life story of cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.Read More
Artist on the rise Julia Jacklin tells Ed Power about coming of age in the mountains above Sydney, and why she can't wait to get back to Ireland for Electric Picnic.Read More
Triumphant return from likely lad emoterRead More
Dance duo deliver aural wallpaper on second outing.Read More
Indie rockers of the moment Wolf Alice look forward to Electric Picnic, contemplate their overnight rise and tell Ed Power about the thrills and challenges of meeting your heroes.Read More
After more than a decade on the go, Editors remain in rude health. Tom Smith tells Ed Power how the Picnic-bound rockers came through past upheavals to end up stronger than everRead More
Hollywood’s over-the-top master of ceremonies is making his first foray into television with a Netflix show chronicling the birth of hip hop. But, wonders Ed Power, can Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down – the most expensive TV show in history – live up to the hype?Read More
Synth weirdos shrug off loss of talismanic vocalist and return with spellbinding fourth albumRead More
Lera Lynn's Southern-gothic country dirges were the only good thing to come out of True Detective season two. The singer tells Ed Power about her new album, out-acting Colin Farrell's moustache, and the darkness that informs her music.Read More
Mixed messages a-go-go as art-rockers deliver their most direct album yetRead More
It's back to the Reagan era and smalltown America in the new sci-fi epic from Netflix. Ed Power binges on the Winona Ryder-starring Stranger Things.Read More
Lorde Acolytes Grow Into Their SoundRead More
Landslide of fun from missing-in-action sample gurusRead More
The comeback kids celebrate their return to Irish shores with a showing every bit as triumphant as 21 years agoRead More
Jamie XX has cast off his shy-boy shackles to become one of the most innovative figures in electronic music.Read More
Up-and-coming Irish rapper Rejjie Snow tells Ed Power about his days as a budding sports star, touring with Madonna and bringing it all back home at Longitude .Read More
Josh Tillman grew up believing in literal hellfire and damnation, he tells Ed Power. As Father John Misty he struggles both with the pain of his pentecostal childhood and the demons of adulthood.Read More
As Netflix’s historical epic Marco Polo returns with a second season, Ed Power talks to star Lorenzo Richelmy about shrugging off bad reviews and why this tale of east meets west resonates with the present day.Read More