X-MEN LEGACY: raking over the coals; questions unanswered.
I was approached by an interviewer not long ago with some questions about the end of my run on X-Men Legacy. It was the nature of the story I chose to tell that there were certain ambiguities and uncertainties programmed into the closing of the tale. It’s arguably the nature of many (most?) spandex books that unanswered questions are exceedingly rare - whether because the neverending nature of these stories can string-out the “answers are coming” mantra indefinitely, or because (as Alan Moore might have it) these Shared Universes are explicitly gratifying because they present safe, tidy, unambiguous realities to readers uncomfortable with our own complicated and tiring world - so inevitably I’ve received a few letters from startled readers seeking clarification. I’m pleased to say it’s never clarification about the story I was actually telling - that is, the important bit - but about “what this means for the wider shared-Universe”.
The interview wasn’t run in the end because Reasons, but I thought it made sense - given that many of the aforementioned questions came to me through tumblr - to put the answer I wrote here. I hope it’ll be an interesting peek-behind-the-scenes for those of you who read and enjoyed the series, and I hope it’ll give some modicum of closure to those of you uncomfortable about the questions I chose not to answer.
The ending of Legacy was something I planned carefully from the outset.
You’ll appreciate the minutiae of these things evolve and drift as a story progresses, so whereas I knew the main meat of the final episode from the getgo (and doubtless you will’ve seen me waffling elsewhere about my unhelpful insistence on stories having endings), the specifics of the lead-in and the fine detail of how it all shook out were somewhat more elastic. The central goal was to bring David to a place where he’d overcome everything he reasonably could: his enemies, his own inability to trust others, his pride, his confusion regarding his father, and most importantly his own mental illness. And then, after all that, my aim was to further confront the poor guy with something he couldn’t defeat: destiny.
Predestination is something we use in fiction a lot, even though in my opinion it’s one of the most grotesque notions there is, and certainly one of the most unhelpful obstacles to weaving satisfying stories. (And yet one which we writers return to again and again, like picking at a scab - very interesting, that.) I couldn’t resist squaring up to it and making it the ultimate metaphor for David’s overarching quest to achieve self-control, self-determination and self-responsibility. What do you do when your own story is your ultimate enemy? Simple: you cheat. You make sure that your story operates on your own terms at any cost.
Obviously that’s got about a billion layers of wanky meta wrapped-up inside it, starting with some mischievous commentary on the nature of writing comics, all the way down to resisting living one’s life according to the ineffable whimsy of a metaphysical power. Somewhere in the middle was a swirling bunch of brainfood about love, adolescence and nobility which, to me, was the Good Stuff. It all feels right, is the important thing.
To me a good story should feel as though it’s ending in the only way it possibly can - which nonetheless should manage to be surprising - and should combine a sense of emotional satisfaction with an urge to keep thinking about it. From what I’ve seen of the reaction online Legacy was successful with a really good proportion of its readers.
As I anticipated (in that little author’s note I put in the back), there are inevitably some who’re riled by the prosaic fallout from the whole business. What it means for the continuity of the wider Marvel Universe in particular; all those alternate histories and character stories which wouldn’t have occurred if David really had written himself out of reality.
There are so many ways I could respond to those uncertainties it’s difficult to know which tack to take.
One route would be to announce with something akin to a warcry that my intention throughout was to mark this self-contained segment of David Haller’s life, X-Men Legacy V.2 1-24, as exclusively mine for all time and hereafter, and if any other writer intends to reuse any of its elements then they must at least be imaginative enough to find a way to start the story afresh (or to simply ignore everything I did and fall back on the status quo). In other words I’ve ringfenced this narrative - from beginning to end - in a very selfish sort of way. MINE. FUCK OFF.
Another response, which is frankly even more mealy-mouthed and unsympathetic of me, would be to suggest that if your response to the events of XML was to wonder what this means for (say) the existence of The Age of Apocalypse, then you’re perhaps missing the point at the heart of the tale: a point about the nature of stories and their ability to linger on in unexpected ways even after they’ve finished. This story was concerned solely and uniquely with David and Ruth. Anything else is beyond its purview, and it’s neither helpful nor fair for me to have to explain things after the fact. Stories either stand alone or they don’t; on these terms you can judge XML a success or a failure.
Buuuut those are both unnecessarily adversarial positions to take. I think the most broadly satisfying afterthought is this. I was quite careful, in the final few pages of issue #24, to spell it out: stories are stronger than time and space. David even mentions he’s sure that all the new dimensions he’s created, all the cataracts of possibility (as he puts it), will survive his own disappearance. If that’s simply handing the torch of responsibility onwards to the next writer who wants to craft a story about David, or the AoA, or whatever it is, then so be it. I don’t imagine they’ll be out of the wider picture forever.
The fact is that until someone else comes along to spell things out, or kickstart things afresh, or to simply ignore everything this pretentious presumptuous limey prick with floppy hair and a stupid accent (hello) has done, until then, you the reader have the joyful privilege of establishing your own solution. Do you think David left the Age of Apocalypse intact when he broke destiny - perhaps triggered by some other event but otherwise unchanged? Then that’s what happened. Do you think all he did was a few crafty resurrections and a whole bunch of memory-fudging? Then that’s what happened. Until someone else says otherwise, you’re the God of your own understanding. Don’t run away from that, don’t mistake it for being Messy and Unsatisfying.
Like I said: all I’m interested in is telling you what happened to David and Ruth, and more importantly the message which lies behind it. Everything else is wondrously unwritten.
That’s life, and in spite of - or perhaps because of - all of its messy chaos, it’s just so fucking excellent.