Interviewing Peter Milligan, Part 1: Legion As An “Everyman Struggling Against A Terrible Internal Enemy”

by Oliver MacNamee

Last week saw the release of Legion #1 from Marvel Comics, written by Peter Milligan (with art by Wilfredo Torres), a creator who has made something of a habit of taking on fractious and fractured characters in the past, and I could think of no-one better to take on this most disturbed X-Man and try to make some sense of him. And, with the ongoing adventures of the critically acclaimed Kid Lobotomy over at Black Crown, we thought it high time to catch up with one of our favourite writers here at Comic HQ to talk to him about both series.

In Part 1 of our interview I thought I’d quiz him about David Haller, Legion, and what makes him tick. Disturbed? Undoubtedly. Tragic? Maybe.

Olly MacNamee: Hiya, Pete. Let’s get stuck straight into it shall we? From Hewligan’s Haircut, through Shade The Changing Man, and now Legion (and Kid Lobotomy too): What draws you to these kind of quirky, off-kilter characters? Or, do they find you out?

Peter Milligan:  It’s not a conscious decision, but it does seem that these are the kind of characters and situations that interest me, or that I seem to be interested in creating. I don’t like weirdness for weirdness’ sake: I’m always looking for something to say or using the weirdness or quirkiness as a way of exploring characters. Shade, for example, though pretty psychedelic and crazy, also dealt with some very real themes of love, death, politics. Both Kid Lobotomy and David Haller AKA Legion can be said to be mad. But “Madness” in comic books usually has little in common with real mental illness; rather, it’s a dramatic way of exploring and showing in some kind of expressionist way the struggles they’re going through. In my Legion story, David Haller suffers from a recognizable psychological problem – Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)–and he enlists the help of a psychologist, but the way that that psychologist attempts to cure him – entering David’s “mindspace” and interacting with David’s alternate personalities – leaves the real world behind, and enters a crazy expressionistic world that the comic book form just seems so well equipped to handle.

OM: And, David Haller, Legion, is certainly one of the more challenged mutant because of his metal health, right? Is he a tragic hero is some ways? What’s your take on him?

Peter Milligan: There’s no getting away from it. David Haller is a very disturbed young man. Is he a tragic hero? Almost: he certainly has a tragic flaw – his explosive multifaceted  madness – and in his own way he has a kind of nobleness. The way he suffers, but doesn’t turn outright evil (usually) and use his powers for wickedness (generally) the way  a lot of his fellow mutants might, makes him kind of heroic. Maybe if he’s a hero, it’s in the way that Leopold Bloom is a hero in Joyce’s Ulysses. An everyman. But in David’s case, an everyman struggling against a terrible internal enemy: his mutant madness.

OM: Now, you’ve worked with the X-Men and women in the past, most notionally on the critically acclaimed X-Static. What was your own relationship with Legion before this series? How well did you know him ahead of writing this 5 issue mini?

PM: I had no “relationship” with Legion. I’d never written him. I’d seen some past Legion stories but of course, before writing this story I read a lot of past stories. Older stuff, plus Si Spurrier’s very good mini-series. By the time I got thinking about my story, I felt I knew him pretty well:  but one of the processes that happens when you write a story is you get to know your character better, on a deeper level.

OM: This time round, I believe, David is in danger of being consumed by one of his many personalities and taken over in his mind and body. What psychiatric support can someone like David expect? Who can he turn to? 

PM: The crux of this story is the help that David reaches out for. In some ways this book is as much about the smart young psychologist who agrees to help David, at great risk to her own physical and mental well-being.

OM: With Legion’s very real mental health issues, will you be exploring these sensitive issues in this book, given the premise of the series?

PM:  Yes. You can’t ignore this aspect of David. Though the ways his problems manifest themselves is expressionistic and psychedelic, I did quite a lot of research about his condition: DID, and some of the more radical thoughts on how this might be treated. I’ve been careful not to make this difficult condition some kind of joke. Yes, in this comic we see a visual and sometimes crazy representation of David’s condition—but I don’t think we ever make light of it.

OM: And, of course, I have to ask whether you’ve seen the TV show or not? It’s rather good. If you don’t watch it drunk, you can even follow the story!

PM: I have (and I wasn’t drunk) and I thought it was good. The first episode, in particular, had a really nice feel and I enjoyed the ‘mindfuck’ quality of it.

Legion #1 is out now from Marvel Comics.

We’ll be catching up with Pete again later this week to discuss his fascinating work on Kid Lobotomy. Stay tuned, because that’s not all, folks!