Welcome back Mutant fans! It's Friday and the Blog of X is back for your amusement. This week we are looking at one of the greatest villains in the X-Universe: MAGNETO! Or IS he a villain? Magneto (Erik Lehnsherr or Max Eisenhardt or Magnus depending on who you ask) is a storied character with many key moments to dissect. That's the debate I want to jump into this week and to accomplish that discussion I will be running through a few significant moments from his massive history and highlighting a few key books that you might want on YOUR hunt list.
To start, it has to be said that Magneto has clearly evolved from his original roots. He hasn’t maintained the clear intent of his first appearances (X-Men 1, 4 and 5) so if we strictly grade him on those first issues we might come away with the sense that he is 100% a villain. In issue one, he fights our X-Men with the zeal of a real terrorist, bent on destroying his enemy. Then, during his return in issues 4 and 5, he is in charge of the Brotherhood of EVIL Mutants. Not really the name for a hero's team. Clearly, despite Stan Lee’s claim that he didn’t view Magneto as a villain, Magneto is the bad guy.
But what about his later appearances? In Journey Into Mystery 109 Magneto famously battles Thor and attempts to take away his hammer. These were the days when Thor would turn into Donald Blake when he was away from his trusted weapon and this allowed Magneto to try and kill Thor without his God-like powers. Unsurprisingly, Magneto fails in this effort, but yet again he is shown to be a clear villain.
So when did this all ‘evolve’? Magneto’s path towards ‘anti-hero’ status takes a giant step forward in Uncanny X-Men 161 (his origin) and 200 (his trial). These are some of my personal favorite X-Men comics ever and underrated key books. In issue 161, we learn about the relationship between Charles and Magnus (as he's called) in the early days of their friendship. You can see the qualities that lead Charles to believe he's a man worth saving. Their struggles in war make for a strong bond.
In issue 200, Magneto is forced to answer for his many crimes during the Trial of Magneto. This might be my single favorite Magneto story. His many violent acts are placed before an international court in France. Xavier and Gabrielle Haller (mother to David the mutant known as Legion, and Xavier’s son) represent Magneto and must persuade the court of his innocence.
The trial in the courthouse is quite dramatic, with many twists and turns, while mutant terrorists wage war in Magneto’s name outside. The judge witnesses the humanity of Magneto and pronounces him innocent, while Charles asks him to take over the school and become the leader of the X-Men. This sets up one of my favorite runs on the series. Magneto must face his own impulses as he carries on Charles’ legacy and trains young mutants. His role as a teacher, being part of his journey away from evil.
We should also mention the Vision and the Scarlet Witch miniseries from 1983 since this brings his fatherhood into perspective. His relationship with Quicksilver and Wanda is also a part of his evolution. Avengers 186 gives us their mother's (Magda) first appearance and some of the backstory but the miniseries is where it all comes together. Fatherhood has a significant effect on Erik and I look forward to seeing that continue to play out.
I think it’s also important to discuss his relationship with Moira McTaggart. In the 90s Jim Lee X-Men run (specifically issues 1-3) we see a new side of Magneto. Moira has been working to heal Erik after he was reverted into a younger form. She discovered that his mutant ability was having a negative effect on his psyche. He was actually becoming evil the more he used his powers. She experimented on him and solved his aging problem. He was finally his old self again. But she was unable to completely fix the power his magnetism ability was having on his mind. The backstory elements are great in these issues and they humanize Magneto and his connection to Moira.
Lastly, I wanted to mention the House of M story. I am a big fan of it and it seems to reveal an overall change in Erik. He gets what he's always wanted: a world where mutants rule and are at the top of every food chain. But this experience, and the effect it has on his daughter, aren't what he thought it would be. I found this saga, and it's follow-up involving a world without mutants, gave us a Magneto shaped by his experiences and it's this version of Magneto, more than any other, who feels like an anti-hero in my book.
So there you have it! A quick look back at a few key moments in the life of Magneto. I hope you enjoyed this and maybe learned a little bit. Let me know in the comments whether or not you think Magneto is a villain. For me, he has clearly evolved and is no longer a villain. As usual, here is an eBay affiliate link if you want to hunt for any of these books AND support the blog at the same time!