Fox and Marvel team up for X-Men TV spin-offs 'Hellfire' and 'Legion'

With ever more superheroes hitting the small screen, we spoke with "Legion" author Simon Spurrier about what makes the character so compelling.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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The dastardly Hellfire Club as they appeared in "Astonishing X-Men". Marvel

Comics are known for their superhero team-ups, and now there's one happening in real life. 20th Century Fox and Marvel Studios have decided to work together on pilot episodes for two TV shows involving characters from the comic book world of the X-Men.

The first pilot, with the working title of "Hellfire", takes its cues from 60s-set movie "X-Men: First Class", focusing on a special agent taking on a villainous cabal of millionaires known as the Hellfire Club. It's due to be shown on Fox.

Meanwhile "Legion" tells the story of David Haller, a young man struggling with mental illness who suspects that the voices he hears and the visions he sees might be real. The potential show is destined for FX.

Over the last few years, Marvel has been clawing back the rights to its characters so they can all appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a shared fictional backdrop for movies and TV shows such as "The Avengers", "Agents of SHIELD" and "Daredevil".

Marvel had a big win when it did a deal with Sony to add friendly neighbourhood wall-crawler Spider-Man to future Marvel movies. But 20th Century Fox, for which X-Men movies have been a money-spinner for 15 years, has jealously guarded the rights it holds to Marvel characters. That includes the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and indeed the concept of "mutants" central to the X-Men story.

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In the comics, Legion, who was introduced in 1985, is the mutant son of X-Men leader Professor Xavier. Interestingly, Marvel's announcements for the pilots for both "Hellfire" and "Legion" pointedly avoid reference to Xavier, the X-Men or even the word "mutant". Whether they will be a part of the X-Men or Marvel movie universes is unclear; neither concept relies specifically on superheroes so they may simply be standalone shows.

The "Hellfire" pilot will be written by Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne, who worked on "Star Trek Beyond". The "Legion" pilot will be stewarded by Noah Hawley, the man behind the brilliantly chilling "Fargo" TV series. Among the producers of the two prospective shows are X-Men movie producer Lauren Shuler Donner and director Bryan Singer, as well as comics writer-turned-producer Jeph Loeb.

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Legion recently headlined "X-Men: Legacy" in 2012, written by British author Simon Spurrier. CNET's Crave blog spoke with Spurrier about what makes the character so compelling. "There's a long tradition of superhero characters being used as allegories in explorations of real issues, subtle or otherwise," he said.

"That's especially true of Marvel's X-Men 'mutant' characters, whose defining trait -- that they may seem different but they're still human in any way that matters -- has been very successfully used as a thematic stand-in for stories about racism, immigration, sexuality, transgenderism and so on," Spurrier says. "For me what's so wonderful about a character like David Haller is that he adds a new string to that bow, shifting the focus onto mental illness.

"The world is literally brimming with people who face daily struggles caused, or exacerbated, by their own minds," says Spurrier, "struggles which are often deepened by the ignorance or apathy of people around them. In David -- 'Legion' -- we have a character for whom this continuum of internal battles can be very neatly visualised and dramatised. With a little comicbook magic one can focus on this sort of thing without seeming maudlin or preachy.

"When handled right a character like David can open-up a whole new understanding of what it is to be 'heroic': punching the bad guys and saving the world is all well and good, but a lot of the most human challenges come from simply Living With Yourself."

Marvel's next TV show is " Jessica Jones", coming to Netflix on 20 November. The next X-movie is " X-Men: Apocalypse", in theatres in May 2016.