Much is still a mystery when it comes to FX’s Legion, the ambitious new X-Men series being produced in collaboration with Marvel Television, but creator Noah Hawley just offered a few hints about how his mind-bending drama ties into the larger X-Men cinematic universe.
He was joined Sunday at New York Comic Con by the cast, executive producer Lauren Shuler Donner and Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb.
The series follows David Haller (Dan Stevens), a man who has struggled with mental illness since he was a teenager. Diagnosed as schizophrenic, David has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for years. But after a strange encounter with a fellow patient, he’s confronted with the possibility that the voices he hears and the visions he sees might be real.
Shuler Donner — who has also worked on all of the big-screen X-Men films — confirmed that Legion is definitely part of that wider world. "This was exactly what I wanted [from an X-Men TV show], because it is far away from the X-Men movies, yet it still lives within that universe," she said. "The only way for X-Men to keep continuing forward is to be original and to surprise us. This is really a surprise; it’s very different."
Fans of the titular mutant, David Haller, know that in the comics, he shares a connection with the X-Men’s leader, Professor Charles Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy in the X-Men films), and Hawley confirmed that the show intends to stay "true to the origins of this character," adding that "I don’t think you can really tell this story without that element."
Whether that means that Stewart, McAvoy or any other familiar faces from the X-Men films could make an appearance in the series remains to be seen, and Hawley, Loeb and Donner all gave conflicting but vaguely promising answers about the possibility of cameos.
"Probably not, but you never know," Shuler Donner offered.
"I’ll answer the other side, which is, ‘Wouldn’t that be great?’" Loeb teased.
Choosing to keep his options open, Hawley hedged, "What I enjoyed with Fargo was the idea that it seemed, for the first three hours, completely unconnected to the movie because it had to stand on its own feet, and I feel that way about this show as well. We’ve got to earn the right to be part of that universe. My hope is to create something that is so strong that people at the movie studio will call up and say we’d be foolish not to connect these two things … but I also know they’re different waters to swim in. All I can do and control is the show and make the best version possible."
As for whether the series could ever link to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe — where the likes of The Avengers, Daredevil, Agents of SHIELD and Guardians of the Galaxy reside — Marvel TV boss Loeb was more cautious, since Fox holds the rights to the X-Men characters (and other mutants like Deadpool, as well as the Fantastic Four) under a separate deal, leaving them annexed from projects produced by Marvel Studios.
"This one is particularly complicated — in this particular case, this audience is sophisticated enough to know the X-Men characters live in the Fox world and we live in a different world," Loeb reminded fans. "Obviously the fact that I’m sitting here is an indication of the bridges that are being made, by people like Lauren that are facilitating that and making it happen, and John Landgraf, who is the head of FX, who is very involved in trying to open those lines of communication. I don’t want to make any promises that I have to explain the next time someone asks me."
Another mystery in Legion that has no clear answer (at least judging by the pilot) is when the series takes place. Aesthetically, the show evokes the ’60s and ’70s in set design, costumes and hairstyle, but there’s also technology that looks far more modern, if not futuristic.
"When I started to think about putting it on its feet, it wanted to feel like a 1964 Terence Stamp movie for some reason," Hawley said. "Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the last three X-Men movies have all been period pieces. I didn’t feel like I wanted to root us in a particular time, but I like the idea that if we have a character who doesn’t know what’s real, some things feel very retro and some things feel very modern, and there is this kind of alternate universe. It almost becomes a parable or a fable, so we started going in that direction."
When a fan asked Hawley where the show fits into the canon of the X-Men films, the showrunner kept things purposefully vague.
"There’s a certain degree to which that’s to be determined; we’re in this subjective reality of David’s, so it’s hard for us to tell," he said. "One of the things that’s attractive about the X-Men universe is there are all these alternate timelines and alternate universes, so it does have this fable quality… We’re seeing this world though multiple layers of the confusion and mixed signals that Dan’s character is getting. It would be a spoiler in the true sense to say. I like the idea of trying to make things that are unexpected and yet in the end feel inevitable."
Legion will premiere on FX in 2017.