Digital Pull List: Magneto
In less than two weeks, on May 23, comics fans and film-goers will pack the theaters to see a movie boasting not one, but two different portrayals of Marvel’s Master of Magnetism when X-Men: Days of Future Past is released. But long before Michael Fassbender reprisal of his charming, enthralling version of Magneto fromX-Men: First Class and decades before Gandalf lent his gravitas to the role, the X-Men’s oldest foe earned his iron-clad place as one of comicdom’s greatest villains by maintaining always at least a tiny shard of sympathy for his plight. Created during the height of America’s Civil Rights movement, it was never a secret that Mags and his nemesis Charles Xavier (Professor X) were analogs of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., respectively. Both leaders amongst their own communities of marginalized and discriminated people – in their cases, mutants in the Marvel Universe.
Now, me personally, I’ve never considered Magneto to be purely villainous. He’s surely perpetrated his fair share of evil deeds, and that’s expected for a comic book bad guy because let’s face it, if they didn’t regularly cross accepted moral lines then there’d be more than a few of them who aren’t any worse than their heroic counterparts. And of course, there’s always The Punisher argument of why that lunatic falls on the side of the angels.
Nevertheless, though it’s certainly not a precedent for a supervillain to have their own book, it says something when the occasional antagonist stars in their own monthly comic. And I immediately felt the strong attraction when I spotted Magneto #1 while browsing the Marvel Comics app on my tablet, irresistibly drawn as if by one of the Fundamental Forces of Nature.
The striking cover image that launched the series in March does an excellent job of conveying a few things about Magneto. For anyone familiar with the character’s history, the barbed wire impression of his infamous helmet really speaks to his origins in the concentration camps of Nazi-controlled Poland during WWII. It also serves a story purpose, too. With his powers diminished, Magneto is forced to act behind the scenes, noting in issue #1 that people around the world recognize him more by his helmet than anything else. With his current quest of taking a proactive role in protecting mutantkind, he is forced to act more clandestinely and to that end, stripped of much of his power and all his former resources, he travels the country using his non-mutant moniker Max Eisenhardt (roughly translated to “Iron Hard” in German – clever!).
The first issue of the series finds Magneto holed up in a gritty motel room with a conspiracy-theorist’s map of the U.S. complete with newspaper clippings and pinned yarn connecting various events linked to anti-mutant sentiment. Perhaps it’s Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art combined with the aged anti-hero archetype that makes it so reminiscent of Frank Miller’s classic Dark Knight Returns, and I was right away keyed in to his self-appointed crusade to do something about his species’ situation. Although I grew up reading a smattering of X-Men comics in the 80s, it wasn’t until recent years that I really came to appreciate the grand and humanistic struggle faced by Marvel’s homo superiors and their saga has mutated into one of my favorite comic book stories. I particularly like how most mutants consider their “superhero” names and costumes to be their “real” selves, and that their choices are more informed simply by their genetic lot in life, as opposed to traditional hero motivations of doing what’s right, beings an example to humanity or acting with great responsibility for their great power.
In Magneto’s book, most currently on issue #3, the Master of Magnetism has uncovered a literally underground movement to recreate the Omega Sentinel program using a salvaged Master Mold. This investigative story frequently features flashbacks to Magneto’s past, including the aforementioned Nazi occupation, and deftly shows not only how his past informs his present, but also helps explain his philosophies and ruthlessness throughout his life. At times though, it leaves me wondering if he is perhaps a bit shortsighted in seeing that his actions often imitate the brutality that was perpetrated upon himself, and I hope this is addressed in future issues – of which I hope there are many!
In the meantime, Magneto will definitely remain on my digital pull list, and whether you get your comics at your favorite mortar-and-brick shop or your favorite mobile app, I highly recommend this book. It’s a sophisticated look into one of comics’ greatest characters treated in a very realistic way. I especially like how, even with his diminished power, he is still cunning enough to stay one step ahead of his enemies and the S.H.I.E.L.D agents pursuing him. It’s also a very cool gimmick when the time comes for confrontation how he fashions makeshift helmets out of nearby metal, instantly instilling fear by the realization that this heretofore gritty old man is actually the feared Master of Magnetism.