So Sayeth the Odinson: The Amazing Character Arc of Magneto

Greetings from the Odinson,

I have always known that Magneto was powerful, but I guess I never quite fully gave him his due.  That was until I saw him go toe-to-toe with Proteus, a creature with reality-warping powers and easily one of the deadliest enemies the X-Men have ever faced (see X-Men: Proteus).  Not only did Magneto fight Proteus, but he fought Proteus, and he won!

Growing up, when I read Uncanny X-Men #126-128, I thought Proteus, along with the Dire Wraiths from the pages of Rom, was the scariest thing I’d ever seen in super hero comics.  So, to see Magneto vanquish this nightmare was quite impressive.  And that’s saying something, considering Magneto has stood toe-to-toe with heavy-hitters like Thor, Phoenix, and Apocalypse.  Like I said, I always knew Magneto was powerful, but defeating a creature like Proteus puts him in the conversation for Big Dog in the Marvel Universe.

Whether you call him Max, Eric, or Magnus, the man known as Magneto has always been one of the most complicated characters in the history of comics.  In the Marvel Universe the mutants have always had to deal with hate and prejudice.  Magneto and Professor Xavier are two of the most powerful and influential mutants alive.  However, one of them believes mankind and mutants can live together in harmony, while the other believes mutants should rule over man with an iron fist.  This puts Magneto and Professor X on opposite sides, a fact made more interesting considering these two men are friends, as seen in Uncanny X-Men #161.  And the upcoming movie X-Men: First Class will explore their past together even more, and expose the moment when their paths went in separate directions.

Magneto is not an evil man.  There are many reasons for his hatred toward mankind.  As a boy during World War II, he was sent to a Nazi concentration camp.  It was here that his mutant powers first started to manifest (see Magneto: Testament).  Time and time again throughout his life he was met with rejection and attacks from humans that fear and hate his kind.  His child was murdered during a mutant hate crime, and the woman he loved rejected him once she found out he was a mutant (see the back-up tale in Classic X-Men #12).  His own children, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, were taken from him and hidden for fear of what he might turn them into.  And, on top of it all, the one man in the world that understands him best, Charles Xavier, stands in his way of obtaining true dominion over the world.

Though he is not evil, make no mistake, in the Marvel Universe, Magneto is a villain.  As a villain, Magneto has had one of the most interesting character arcs in Comics History.  Very rarely is a “villain” given such an arc.  It all started in Uncanny X-Men #150.

Here Magneto makes his ultimate move.  He gives the governments of the world an ultimatum.  Turn over governing power to Magneto or he will destroy the world.  When the Soviet Union responds with the threat of nuclear war, Magneto sinks the submarine and its nuclear missiles, along with the entire crew, to the bottom of the ocean.  This is an act that will come back to haunt him in the future.  The X-Men, of course, thwart his mad scheme, but this is the beginning of the decade-long story arc that would redefine Magneto as a character.

When next we see him in the pages of God Loves, Man Kills, Magneto has come to a crossroads in his life.  For the first time he begins to doubt himself.  He sets aside his megalomaniacal crusade against mankind and actually begins to listen to his friend, Charles Xavier.  The change is not easy.  Magneto still has no patience for mutant injustice and his kind of vengeance is final.  Just ask Reverend William Stryker.  Oh that’s right, you can’t.

Though he was not quite ready to walk the path of angels, the fact that Magneto was actually talking with the X-Men instead of trading blows with them, revealed that there was inner conflict going on inside the man.  It was perhaps this inner turmoil, and maybe guilt, that led Magneto to pursue his next course of action – amends with his children.

Ever since Uncanny X-Men #4 it had been suspected, and in the pages of Avengers #187, it was all but confirmed.  But, it was in Vision and the Scarlet Witch (1982 1st Series) #4 that it was revealed that Magneto was in fact the father of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.  The joy Magneto displays when he holds his grandchild in his arms shows a side of the man the reader had never seen before, a humane side.

It is at this point in time when even the universe itself starts to look at Magneto in a different light.

In the pages of Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, a nigh omnipotent being known as the Beyonder kidnaps the most prominent heroes and most dangerous super villains of Earth and whisks them to the far side of the galaxy to do battle for the ultimate prize.  Typical comic book stuff.  However, in a twist of events Magneto has been placed among the heroes.  This, of course, causes all sorts of issues with the heroes that still think of him as the mutant terrorist that threatens the world every other week.

So what did this mean?  Did the Beyonder see something in Magneto that the rest of the Marvel Universe could not?  The fact that Magneto was now placed in the ranks of the White Hats was a harbinger of things to come.

Magneto’s journey reaches its crescendo in the pages of Uncanny X-Men #200.  Here his past finally catches up to him.

Remember the Russian sub he sank in Uncanny X-Men #150, well now he will be put on trial for that and all his past crimes against humanity.  And, once again, showing that he has really turned over a new leaf, Magneto agrees to face his accusers in a court of law.  However, the proceedings are interrupted by an organization trying to start a mutant/human war.  During the battle Professor X is mortally wounded and must immediately leave Earth for the stars with his beloved Lilandra if he is to survive.  But, before he departs for the Shi’ar Empire, Xavier makes Magneto promise him that he will take care of his students as if they were his own.

Magneto agrees and in the pages of New Mutants #35, he becomes the Headmaster of Xavier’s School for the Gifted.

However, as seen in New Mutants #40, the rest of the world is not quite ready to forgive and forget.  Has Magneto, one of the greatest threats mankind has ever faced, really become a good guy?  His dealings with the notorious Hellfire Club would surely cause doubt.  Plus, the Soviets wanted justice for the fallen crew of the submarine Magneto sank in Uncanny X-Men #150.

What follows is a free-for-all between the X-Men, the Avengers, and the Soviet Super Soldiers.  The X-Men, even if they still don’t fully trust Magneto and doubt whether or not they are fighting on the right side, decide to defend “one of their own.”  In the pages of X-Men vs. Avengers, not only does Magneto finally stand trial for his crimes but he also seems to come to terms with his past.  It is left ambiguous whether his path will lead him back down to the dark side or if he will remain on the side of angels.

What happens next might have been the deciding factor.

During the Fall of the Mutants, the next generation of X-Men disobey their Headmaster and head off to help their friend.  Unfortunately, during this mission Doug Ramsey is murdered (see New Mutants #60).  Overcome with grief and wracked with guilt over the fact that one of Xavier’s students was killed while under his watch was too much for Magneto to bear.  It is during this dark time that Magneto began to wear his old armor and once again donned the helmet that symbolizes terror to so many around the globe.

It was also at this time that Magneto was invited by Loki to join his secret cabal of arch villains as they plotted against their hated enemies.  This would become known as the Acts of Vengeance.  His association with these criminals left little doubt in the minds of heroes like Captain America where Magneto’s loyalties lay.  However, what the world at large did not see was that Magneto actually used this “Acts of Vengeance” not to seek revenge against the heroes of the Marvel U, but to, as a Holocaust survivor himself, take vengeance on the Red Skull and the cyborg Geist, Nazi criminals from World War II.

Then, in the Savage Land, Magneto, along with Rogue, Ka-Zar, and Nick Fury set out to stop the insane machinations of Zaladane (see Uncanny X-Men #274).  In Uncanny X-Men #250, Zaladane had stolen the magnetic powers of Polaris, the as yet unrevealed other daughter of Magneto.  Zaladane attempted to do the same to Magneto and threatened to destroy the world as we know it.  Pushed to the limits of physical and mental endurance, Magneto had had enough, and his judgment of the villainess who once served under his command was swift and final.  Magneto had once again crossed that line that heroes should not.

This marked the end of Magneto’s good guy experiment with the X-Men.

The 1980s came to an end, and so did Magneto’s time as a White Hat.  In X-Men #1-3, Magneto decided to leave the hatred between humans and mutants behind.  To do this he would recreate his orbiting space fortress (Asteroid M had fallen to Earth during the events of X-Men vs. Avengers).  He would offer asylum to any mutants that wanted to live among their own kind, in peace, away from the mutant hating humans.

So, to protect his mutant haven, Magneto revisited his past.  Using his awesome powers, Magneto raised the Russian submarine he had sunk in the pages of Uncanny X-Men #150 (this seems to be an event that will follow Magneto for the rest of his life), and planned to take the nuclear missiles it held within its lifeless hull.  Now, of course, the X-Men were not going to allow him to just take weapons of mass destruction and aim them at planet Earth.

Thus, the conflict of Mutant Genesis began, and the days of Magneto being a hero ended, if only for a little while, but more on that in a moment.

Since then, Magneto has done many horrible things (see Fatal Attraction) and many heroic things (see Age of Apocalypse).  He seems to ever be walking that thin line between good and evil.  He has been given what he thought was his ultimate dream in House of M only to have the cost of it be the soul of his own daughter and his people being brought to the edge of extinction.

For the next twenty years after the end of his character redefining story arc, Magneto’s life has been a roller coaster of contradictions, triumphs, and failures.  Now, Magneto has come full circle and resides once again among the X-Men.  He has stood by their side through the nightmarish Necrosha campaign and the tragic events of Second Coming.

Has Magneto truly seen the light, or will he ultimately betray the X-Men and pursue his own agenda once again?  Only time will tell.

One thing I have learned about this extremely complicated character over the years is that Magneto is completely unpredictable.

This is Odinson bidding thee farewell

About Odinson

I am a lifelong comics fan and pop culture enthusiast. Comic books, novels, games, television, movies, I love it all. From fantasy to science fiction, drama to comedy, as long as the writing and execution are interesting, I love it, and I want to talk about it.

There are 7 comments

  1. So Sayeth the Odinson: The Odinson’s Must Read Limited-Series: Part 3 – Marvel: 1986-1989 | MyComicShop

    […] X-Men vs. the Avengers (1987) – Format: 4 issues.  Plot: When Asteroid M, the old HQ of Magneto (see Uncanny X-Men #113), falls to earth, events are set in motion that pits the Avengers against the X-Men, with the Soviet Super Soldiers thrown in for good measure.  NOTE: The Russian super heroes are there to make sure Magneto pays for crimes committed in Uncanny X-Men #150.  The Odinson’s Thoughts: There are so many layers to this tale: Magneto’s dark past coming back to haunt him and his fellow mutants, the Avengers struggling with doing what is right and what is lawful, all set against the backdrop of the last days of the Cold War.  This is another fantastic example of the limited series format being used to its true potential.  This seminal tale is a very important chapter in the character development of Magneto (see So Sayeth the Odinson: The Amazing Character Arc of Magneto). […]

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  2. So Sayeth the Odinson: History of the X-Men: Part 3 of 6 – The Modern Age (1985-1991) in 10 Images | MyComicShop

    […] The decade of the 80s was a pivotal time for the Master of Magnetism.  From Uncanny X-Men #150 to God Loves Man Kills, from Uncanny X-Men #200 to New Mutants #35, from X-Men vs. the Avengers to X-Men #1, Magneto undergoes one of the most amazing and important character arcs in Comics History.  I talk about this arc in detail HERE.  […]

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