RSS Feed
Oct 16

X-Men: Black – Magneto

Posted on Tuesday, October 16, 2018 by Paul in x-axis

X-Men: Black is… a series of random one-shots about villains, I guess?  There’s a serialised back-up strip, “Degeneration”, but the lead stories seem to have no connection with it, or to one another.  So I’ll take that at face value.

“The Stars, Our Destination?” is a Magneto story written by Chris Claremont and pencilled by Dalibor Talajić.  And it’s always a slightly strange feeling when Chris Claremont makes one of his occasional reprise visits to the X-Men.  He wrote the team for sixteen years; his take on the X-Men is the one that elevated them to A-list status.  But you can’t really emulate the strengths of that run in a story like this, because so much of it was about building characters and storylines over time.

Sensibly, then, this story doesn’t play particularly to any nostalgia angle.  Nor does it have much to do with current continuity, though it dutifully adopts the status quo that was established at the end of X-Men Blue (so he’s living on Asteroid M with a new bunch of followers, and Briar Raleigh is hanging around).  But the story is simply a straightforward restatement of the character.

Magneto is visiting a small town, since he’s investigating a mutant detention centre that’s just been opened nearby.  He stops in at the family-run Gold Star Cafe, which he says it because the name caught his attention.  Presumably he had something more Star of David in mind, but in fact the family were thinking of the gold star on a US Army service flag (which represents a family member who died in action).

Magneto gets to have a nice chat about all this with the teenage waitress, Kate, who’s pretty much your standard depiction of America’s positive side – patriotic, proud of her family history of sacrifice, appalled by the treatment of minorities, you get the idea.  The other customers are not so impressed by Magneto and Kate’s interest in mutants, being equally standard issue Trump voters, but for once this doesn’t devolve into a fight.

This is not what you’d call a subtle scene – and there’s something a bit odd in the way that none of the customers in this tiny town act as if they have any prior relationship with Kate – but it does have one nice point.  We’ve reached the point where people can see the number tattoo on Magneto’s arm, recognise it for what it is, and simply don’t believe it to be genuine, because he’s manifestly too young.  Some of this story is decidedly on the nose, and it helps a lot that Claremont underplays this moment very nicely.  The art helps too; it’s a lived-in cafe, and a relatively innocuous, almost kindly take on Magneto who seems plausibly to be trying to rise above this, if only because he’s taken a liking to Kate and doesn’t want to smash up her café.

That said, there’s some odd pacing here.  This opening scene takes eight pages, nearly half the story, and it doesn’t do a great deal to advance the plot.  The predictable ending for this story would be something like “Magneto smashes up the detention centre, and Kate sees him and is sad that he isn’t so nice after all”; we don’t get that, which is good, but it also means that the opening segment feels a bit detached from the rest.

In due course, Magneto does indeed show up at the detention centre to smash it up, and spends a couple of pages in costume fighting the warden in her Sentinel-style armour.  The point of this scene, as it turns out, is for Magneto to recognise the warden as somebody pretty similar to him; she genuinely thinks he’s a monster, in her mind she’s heroically risking her life and doing what’s necessary to protect Her People, and  Magneto can recognise that as a mirror of how he feels about her.  It doesn’t provoke a crisis of confidence in him, though; just a vague regret coupled with a feeling that the onus is on her to back down first.

The story wraps up with Magneto attempting to rescue the kids from the camp, only for them to tell him that they don’t want to go away and live in a mutant separatist community.  They want to be reunited with their parents.  This… kind of works in theory better than in practice.  In theory, there’s a good story in the idea of Magneto’s mutant separatism bumping up against the fact that all mutants have roots in communities and families that they don’t want to leave behind.  In practice, the kids don’t really feel like traumatised victims, so much as a Greek chorus acting as spokespersons for the moral, which seems to be that we should stay in the community and fight to make it better for the future, instead of isolating ourselves with our own kind.  This all leads to a suitably chastened Magneto giving the humans a speech about living up to American values, which… hmm.

Even though these are meant to be villain one-shots, it’s a broadly sympathetic portrayal of Magneto, who is clearly more in the right than the ONE detention-centre guys are (and accepts the moral more than they do).  It comes a little strangely on the heels of X-Men Blue, which seemed to end by setting up a return to the traditional villain role, but it’s not especially out of line with the broader way that Magneto’s been written under Cullen Bunn.

The story is a curious mix of the very heavy-handed with the comparatively subtle, but there’s more good than bad here.

Bring on the comments

  1. Col_Fury says:

    I liked the first story (I could have lived without the first 8 pages, though). Obviously, it’s a super hero version of Trump’s “separating families at the border” detention centers, but I thought it did a decent job of showing how random humans have different views. The restaurant patrons rang true for me; I manage a tavern and people these days (in my experience) aren’t afraid to just start spouting off about stuff (way more than they were, say, 10 years ago). And of course, those patrons are oblivious / dismissive of the evidence of what these policies lead to that’s right in front of them (Magneto’s tattoo).

    I also liked that Magneto was confronted with child mutants not wanting to segregate themselves and would rather just go back home to better their environment… and he basically shrugs them off. He’s ignoring that he’s falling out of step with the next generation’s mutants views on things and ignores it.

    So yeah, humans are dismissive of mutants concerns, and Magneto is dismissive of mutants (current) concerns.

    (yeah yeah, mutants can have powers that could kill us all with a thought, but hey. It’s an analogy that helps us think of things in a different way. It’s what sci-fi does!)

    I’m baffled by the Apocalypse back-up strip. The last time we saw Apocalypse, he was whisked away by the Celestials never to be seen again (in X-Men #186, over a decade ago). How’s he back? How’d he get away from the Celestials? Why’s he chugging along like nothing happened? I mean, we was so definitively gone that over the last several years we’ve had Apocalypse Seed stories and Apocalypse Clone stories exploring where the NEXT Apocalypse will come from because the original was gone. So, what happened?

  2. SanityOrMadness says:

    @Fury

    Well, remember the “Blood of Apocalypse” version was himself a clone grown from his blood after the “original” original was killed off in Twelve/Search for Cyclops. (Cable even confronted it while still half-baked!), although that does make the ‘host bodies’ thing here odd.

    But really, all the Remender-y stuff can be skipped over as “everyone thought he was dead again and acted accordingly, now he’s been released by the Celestials and is back doing what he does.”

  3. Jacob says:

    This is the best work Chris Claremont has put out in a while. Definitely him, but not so heavy on the Chris Claremont as he has tended to be in his X-Men works in the 2010’s.

  4. Voord 99 says:

    But really, all the Remender-y stuff can be skipped over as “everyone thought he was dead again and acted accordingly, now he’s been released by the Celestials and is back doing what he does.”

    I think that’s true, but my question would be “Absolutely, but why skip over it?”

    The Celestials are fun and interesting giant space gods created by Jack Kirby, with evocative-sounding names. They are a Good Thing to have in your comic. Why not tell that story?

    I haven’t read this (I confine myself to Unlimited), but glossing over that detail sounds a little like those Silver Age Superman stories where he would come back from space and then deal with the fearsome menace of a gangster with some name lile “Legs” Larkins.

  5. Are Celestials a good thing to have in an X-Men story, though? I could see either side on that. On the one hand, I can’t really think of any X-Men stories where adding Celestials were particularly helpful in reinforcing the plot, or making for cool action bits. It kinda falls under the larger issue of X-Men in Space–there’s potential for really good storytelling (Claremont proved that pretty definitively) but it’s harder to make the case that it fits with the X-Men in a larger thematic sense.

    On the other hand, I generally like their involvement in Apocalypse’s origin; they (along with Kang and his involvement) stitch the mutant stuff in with the larger Marvel universe. You could arguably do something with the idea that Apocalypse’s thing is survival of the fittest, but the Celestials view humanity as farm stock–it’s not at all about the fittest, it’s about the biggest use value for the Celestials. That could be a cool story, but not exactly a “back to basics” story for Apocalypse.

  6. Chris V says:

    The whole Celestial thing might be addressed in stories outside of X-Men.
    I’m pretty sure that all the Celestials have been killed off.
    Jason Aaron just did a Celestials story in his Avengers run.
    The Celestials are no longer the same Celestials as from Jack Kirby. There’s a different purpose to the Celestials now.
    I don’t want to give too much information, because “spoilers”.
    The reasons why the Celestials weren’t available to use is due to events in other comics, dating back to Secret Wars.

    As far as this comic, I agree that this is the best Claremont I’ve read in a very long time.
    I’d say this is Claremont’s best work since the Aliens vs. Predator comic he wrote directly after leaving Marvel.

  7. Krzysiek Ceran says:

    Cyclops’s Extinction Team intimidating the Celestials off Earth was a fun use of Celestials in an X-Men comic (though probably a bit of a stretch).

    As for this book – definitely the best of Claremont’s many returns to the X-Men since… um… Well, I have a lot of sentiment towards X-Treme X-Men, as it was the first full run of X-Men I’ve actually read, but I never went back so I’m not sure if it was actually any good. But if it was then probably since X-Treme? His later run on Uncanny was mostly weird, I remember that much.

  8. Nathan P. Mahney says:

    A lot of positive reaction here for this Claremont return, but I found it a little disappointing. I guess I like all of the “Claremontisms”, and this didn’t really have any. A Claremont comic without overblown narrative captions is just weird. If they’re going to hire the guy, I want the full experience.

  9. wwk5d says:

    Oh, there were a few “Claremontisms” here and there.

Leave a Reply