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Jul 6

Magneto vol 1: “Infamous”

Posted on Sunday, July 6, 2014 by Paul in x-axis

Magneto has been an antihero, or at times even an outright hero, for the better part of thirty years now.  Which makes it surprising that he’s not had an ongoing series before, particularly given Marvel’s evident keenness to find every exploitable angle on the franchise.

There are two likely major reasons for that.  First, bear in mind Magneto’s role in the X-Men.  When first introduced in the Silver Age he was just a generic would-be world-conqueror.  The early Claremont stories largely stick to that portrayal, though they throw in an element of personal bitterness towards the X-Men.  But it’s only later that Claremont really brings his big theme front and centre, and – almost as a consequence of that – has to retool Magneto.

The X-Men were always about peaceful coexistence, but in their Silver Age iteration, the main threat to that peaceful coexistence is the threat from the villainous schemes of “evil mutants”.  Under Claremont, the main threat shifts to being humans and their anti-mutant prejudice.  That poses problems for Magneto’s role as arch-enemy, since he obviously can’t embody that threat, being a mutant himself.  Instead he has to represent an alternative response to the threat.

The point of departure between the X-Men and Magneto, of course, is that the X-Men believe that coexistence is both possible and desirable, while Magneto thinks it’s impossible and responds, depending on what year it is, either with pre-emptive attacks on humanity, or with some form of mutant separatism.  The clever bit about Claremont’s approach, and the reason why it’s been so influential for so long, is that while the stories implicitly invite us to accept that the X-Men’s way is right, they make sure that Magneto has plenty of logical support for his position; the humans really are out to get mutants, and if the future timelines shown in the comics are anything to go by, Magneto is just plain right about the way things are going.  It would have been easy to show unequivocally that the bad futures are all due to the counterproductive efforts of mutant separatists, but the comics have wisely held back from that.  Not only does this give Magneto a credible argument, it also makes sure that the X-Men’s worldview requires a leap of faith.

The point being, this take on Magneto – which has been the dominant one for decades – is interesting in large part because of the contrast with the X-Men themselves.  Even Magneto’s recent stint as a member of the X-Men was done principally to make the point that Cyclops’ revised vision for the X-Men steered dangerously close to Magneto’s worldview, and to ask whether, by “uniting” almost all the remaining mutants on Utopia, Cyclops had achieved something wonderful, or merely compromised what the X-Men stood for.  So all this leads to the question: is he actually less interesting if you take him away from the X-Men?

Second, until recently Magneto was vastly overpowered for a solo hero.  In fact, he always has been – which is fine if you’re the sole arch-enemy for an entire team, but not so good if the audience has to root for you.  Obviously, Magneto’s recent depowering as part of Brian Bendis’ Phoenix Five storyline solves this problem nicely.

So how does Cullen Bunn approach the task of a Magneto solo series?  For a start, he plays up the depowering heavily, and moves as far away as possible from the traditional depiction of Magneto as an A-list super villain.  This is Magneto in reduced circumstances, living in motels and investigating stories of violence against mutants.  He does have his costume and does get to do set pieces with his powers, but we’re on the fringes of the Marvel Universe here, away from the big cities, and away from established characters for him to interact with – until issue #6, but by then the tone has been firmly set.  Gabriel Hernandez Walta, drawing the first three issues, is a perfect fit for this take, since although we know he can do the grand gestures from his run on Astonishing X-Men, his basic style steers clear of superhero norms and points us to re-align our expectations accordingly.  Javier Fernandez, who draws the next three, is a little more conventionally polished, but still fits happily into the tone set to start with.

This Magneto remains obsessed with protecting his people, with whatever limited resources he still has open to him.  You can perhaps query why he would choose to go this way rather than staying with Scott, but the series never goes near the question of why he left the X-Men.  More fundamentally, given his attitude to the people he’s fighting, even a vastly depowered Magneto is still pretty terrifying.  The series wisely limits Magneto to doing things that are properly connected to magnetism, a limit that’s never really been strictly adhered to before – even in his debut, he was somehow able to create force fields.  But so what if this Magneto is no longer up to throwing aeroplanes around?  You wouldn’t want to be stuck in a room with him and a fork.

Still, a Magneto remorselessly hunting down the oppressors of mutants and torturing them in inventive ways is basically the Punisher with added superpowers.  The Punisher likewise started life as an alternate model of (anti)heroism to be contrasted with the likes of Spider-Man and Daredevil.  Once you put him in his own book, you don’t have a full-blown hero to act as a contrast, and the moral argument becomes far bleaker – about a protagonist who has lost something of his soul, and where the stories can illustrate that there’s something wrong with him, but without there being any real impression that he might learn from it or experience redemption.

This seems to be the model Bunn’s working on in these six issues.  The stories keep confronting Magneto with moments that ought to be giving him pause.  The Sentinels are being stockpiled for defence by crackpot human separatists who would have been happy just being left alone.  Magneto’s interrogation techniques are directly lifted from his childhood experience of the Nazis.  The Marauders simply don’t fit into his idea that he’s defending all mutants, which he can only preserve by arbitrarily deeming them not to be proper mutants (even though getting rid of “the wrong sort of mutant” is precisely the crime he loathes them for to start with).  But while the moral problems here are obvious to us, they leave Magneto himself utterly unfazed.  As with the Punisher, there’s an element of moral horror here that stems simply from the fact of his refusal to respond to plot points that ought to be making him question himself.  He’s either oblivious to them or he’s rationalised them away already.

None of this, at this stage, wholly undercuts the idea that we’re supposed to be rooting for Magneto, who is, after all, facing actual anti-mutant bigots and the Marauders.  But it feels like it’s setting up some sort of debate about his obsessiveness, to be unpacked further in future issues.  There are no recurring characters for Magneto to interact with (until Rachel shows up in issue #5, and even she only recurs in an exposition flashback the next issue); for all that Magneto claims to be defending an entire race, he appears to exist in a world of one.  Magneto’s self-image is pretty unambiguous; the book’s attitude to him is a little more so, and it feel like this book will be less about him undergoing any sort of growth, and more about us figuring out how we’re supposed to feel about him.  Thus far, it seems like a viable direction.


Bring on the comments

  1. halapeno says:

    “Again, that’s how you see it. I still don’t see Warpath as a “resurrection” since if CC wanted to, he could have just brought him back. Making him a younger different character is still not the same thing. Also, CC wasn’t the one who killed off T-bird, that was more Wein and Cockrum.”

    No it was not “more Wein and Cockrum.” I don’t know where you’re pulling your facts from, but I’m getting mine from creator interviews conducted by Peter Sanderson in “The X-Men Companion” published in 1982.

    Yes, Wein didn’t intend for T-Bird to stick around. He also didn’t intend for Banshee to stick around either, but Wein didn’t end up writing the ongoing series and Claremont and Cockrum wanted to keep Banshee, and Thundebird as well. Wein allowed it.

    But Claremont and Cockrum ultimately conceded defeat on Thunderbird as they began the series. Says Cockrum: “It was easier to kill him off than to figure him out.” Turns out they later regretted that decision but since T-Bird was comprehensively dead by that point (Xavier was in his mind when he died) and since this was back before resurrections were commonplace, they came up with the “younger brother” thing, which was easy enough to get away with since T-Bird wasn’t around long enough to develop a substantial fanbase who would object on the grounds that “It’s not the real Thunderbird!”

    Cockrum never ended up sticking around for that story but he’d definitely been discussing the idea with Claremont. James Proudstar was just a means to “bring back” Thunderbird and take another stab at him. It was a resurrection in every meaningful sense except in the literal sense.

    So, see it however you’d like to see it but I’m more inclined to believe the actual intentions of the creators when they say “Well, this is why we did this…”

    You know, I conceded the point with Cyclops. I was wrong. You were right. I can admit to this sort if thing. Now I’m throwing out facts in regards to another character and you’re just not having any of it and choosing to view things how you’d like. So, whatever man.

  2. Nu-D. says:

    “When we were first planning out that first issue, we decided what we were going to do was have it be an aptitude test or an entrance exam or something like that,” Cockrum revealed in The X-Men Companion. “They would be sent off to rescue the original X-Men, but the original X-Men would not actually be in any danger. We figured if it’s an entrance exam, theoretically, there are people who are going to flunk as well as people who pass, and so we had Banshee and Sunfire, and we were gonna flunk ’em. Then, we thought, “Well, that doesn’t seem fair, we ought to have a new guy to flunk too, a new guy who’s unsuitable.” So that was what Thunderbird was for, to be a flunker. He was unsuitable because he was anti-social.”

    “But at the last minute well, I liked Banshee and we all liked Thunderbird, so we figured to hell with it. It turned out not to be a test anyway. So we had Sunfire, who nobody much liked, go off in a huff, and we kept Banshee and we kept Thunderbird. But then we didn’t know what to do with Thunderbird because we never thought him out. It was easier to kill him off than to think him out.”

  3. halapeno says:

    Yup, that’s the interview. Cockrum later talks about the possibility of a younger brother turning up because they regretted killing him the first time around. James Proudstar is essentially a “do-over.”

    By the way, if you can get your hands on The X-Men Companion (there were two volumes published then do yourselves a favor and get it. You get in depth interviews from these guys from back when all of this stuff was still fresh in their minds (and when Cockrum was still with us, obviously).

    One bit I quite liked was Byrne saying in print that he’d absolutely be interested in doing an Alpha Flight series if it turns out there’s a market for it. That’s not the tune he was singing after he left the book.

    Also an interview with Chris and Louise about the (then) upcoming New Mutants series. Sara Grey’s kids were supposed to be in it but obviously Claremont dropped that idea. Not sure why.

  4. errant says:

    I don’t see James Proudstar as being a rehash/resurrection of John Proudstar. Because the death of his brother and the venom he had for Xavier for killing his brother was his only defining character trait.

    Had Claremont put him on the A-team, and had him work out an arc so that he could end up as a hot-head replacement in the lineup, then yes, I’d consider it a resurrection/rehash/whatever.

    That he put him on the arch-nemesis team of the junior B-team and left him there made him work as his own thing, since he didn’t actually appear that often. And he got to be the odd-man-out/counter-point on that team.

    I give him credit for salvaging anything having to do with Thunderbird by replacing him with someone more interesting than Thunderbird would ever be.

  5. Nu-D. says:

    I thought I could find a follow up to that interview about James Proudstar, but I couldn’t find it.

    +1 to errant’s comment.

    halapeno, you and I are just not going to see eye to eye on this. I don’t see how anyone could think that Claremont’s first run didn’t make forward progress overall in a way that most comics don’t because they try too hard to maintain a status quo. But your welcome to your [s]delusion[/s] opinion.

  6. Nu-D. says:

    That’s supposed to say: You’re welcome to your delusion opinion. 😉

  7. Nu-D. says:

    Dammit: with the word “delusion” struck out. @#$% formatting.

  8. halapeno says:

    I don’t recall arguing that Claremont’s run was bereft of progression. I followed him from issue #129 to around #240-ish when he progressed me right out the front door after I couldn’t figure out where the hell he was taking the book. Changing direction is fine, and welcome from time to time. But he just seemed to be drifting. Excalibur seemed to have a clearer identity than Uncanny did.

    I felt he was on the book for far too long, and I see very few examples of him developing characters the way he claimed he wanted to in interviews (having them retire from superheroics). Maybe that’s not Claremont’s fault as the book grew into a line and creative control slipped away from him, but whatever.

  9. wwk5d says:

    “Asked about the death of Thunderbird, Len Wein commented: “He was created to die…We did that intentionally to let the readers know, ‘Anything can happen. Nothing is set in stone.” [Lamken, Brian Saner. “The Phoenix Effect: 25 Years of the All New Uncanny X-Men.” Comicology Fall 2000: 29]”

    Wein and Cockrum were the ones who “created” the all-new, all-different X-men. Claremont was brought in a scriptwriter at first, but lucky for him, Wein left the title as soon it was re-started. So it seems like CC inherited most of those first few issues from Wein and Cockrum.

    Granted, in those interviews (the one I posted and the other ones posted here), it’s hard to tell who “we” is. It ncould just be Wein and Cockrum, it could be them and CC, them and everyone else involved on the title. But, given how little input CC had before he started actually plotting the title, I’m more inclined to believe the “we” stands for Wein and Cockrum more than anything.

    “James Proudstar was just a means to “bring back” Thunderbird and take another stab at him.”

    Sorry, but with regards to that, I agree with errant and Nu-D. And for all we know, once Cockrum was gone, CC could have modified whatever discussions they had from making Warpath an outright “resurrection” to someone who was a different character in his own right.

    I guess we just don’t eye to eye on the character. I do agree with you on one point, I do think CC should have left the title earlier than he did. Of course, we all have our opinions on when he should have left. Personally, I think either once Fall of the Mutants was done (as he had set up the team for the next writer with a carte blanche as far as the status quo was concerned, perfect for a new writer) or Inferno (the Maddie story being resolved and the X-men and X-factor FINALLY meeting). But to each their own.

  10. Jamie says:


    Seriously, nerds, why is the “sliding time scale” or whatever bullshit you want to call it such an issue?

    Magneto lived through the Holocaust and it traumatized him.

    Now he hates humans.

    It doesn’t matter when “now” is. “Now” is whenever you read these comics.

  11. Nu-D. says:

    @Jaime — this is a blog about comic books. One of the aspects of comic books (any fantasy, really) is that they require a certain degree of suspension of disbelief. However, if they require too much suspension of disbelief, the stories are not enjoyable. Where to draw the line is a standard topic of debate, and reasonable minds can disagree. This is just one of those areas. If you’re not interested in the debate, go read blogs about nonfiction. Don’t just come in here and tell everyone they’re stupid and “nerds” because you don’t give a shit. Grow up and learn some manners.

  12. halapeno says:

    Yes, Jamie. Grow up and learn some manners. Follow Nu-D’s lead. For example, if you disagree with someone else’s opinion, it’s always polite to refer to them as delusional (see a few posts above).

    @wwk5d – What the plan was for T-Bird is irrelevant to my point. Let’s back up a bit here for simplicity’s sake…

    Someone gave credit to Claremont for not bringing back Thunderbird. I argued that he came up with James Proudstar who may as well be a resurrected Thunderbird.

    Now, your chief argument against this seems to be that James is much more developed and developed differently, however:

    1) Is that so surprising? T-Bird was around for all of three issues before getting bumped off. He wasn’t around long enough and never got past the “angry young man” stage.

    2) That was the point. Original plan or not, Claremont, by his own admission, regretted killing T-Bird. So quite obviously he was going to take James in a different direction. I’ve repeatedly pointed this out, and yet for some reason, you seem to view it as a strike against the whole “Let’s try another go at Thunderbird” idea.

    The only question that needs to be asked is this: “Why did Claremont create James Proudstar?” The answer is because he regretted killing T-Bird and this was his way of making up for that. If you email him and get a response, I’m certain he’d answer along those lines.

    And that’s all I’m saying. James may as well be a resurrection of John Proudstar. He may not be a literal resurrection but he’s a reiteration of the same idea – taken further and in a different direction because Claremont was obviously not just going to do the same thing over (stick him with the X-Men and have him be angry all the time).

  13. Nu-D. says:

    C’mon now, it was followed by a winkey-face. All in fun, no?

  14. halapeno says:

    If you say so, loser. 😉

  15. Nu-D. says:

    In all seriousness, if you were offended, I apologize. I thought we had a good discussion, and only called your position a “delusion” as a tease. No offense intended.

  16. halapeno says:

    No apology necessary. I just thought it amusing you went off on Jamie for the “nerd” remark, especially since she has a point (although she does have to count herself among us just for being here in the first place).

    This is almost nerdy as nerdiness gets, and although I’m not at all ashamed of my nerdiness, I can’t imagine ever incorporating it into my standard pick-up routine. “Hey baby, why don’t we grab a bottle of wine and head back to my place, hmm? I’ll dress up as Magneto for you and then tell you all about Marvel’s sliding timescale! RAWR!”

    Mind you, if that actually worked, I’d probably end up marrying the girl.

  17. Nu-D. says:

    The problem I have with Jamie’s post is not the use of the word “nerd,” but the fact that the only purpose of the post is to be derisive of the entire conversation and the people involved.

  18. halapeno says:

    Fair enough.

  19. errant razor says:

    Ugh. I think I’m with Jamie, but re: Thunderbird being resurrected.

  20. Ingonyama says:

    re: Magneto: He was de-aged and then re-aged to about the same age as Beast (the oldest X-Man) shortly after the international X-Men first got together. Holocaust problem solved, timescale averted. I don’t know why this is still such an issue; if Scott and Beast aren’t too old to be doing what they’re doing, then why is Erik/Magnus/Max/whatever the heck he goes by these days?

    re: Thunderbird (and resurrections in general): Thunderbird died before Jean Grey, and Claremont, to my knowledge, didn’t resurrect anyone without planning and telegraphing that resurrection months in advance (see the entire team in Fall of the Mutants, Storm at the tail end of the Australian era, and Psylocke in 2005). He incorporates the character’s death itself into his plans for the resurrection, and personally, I think it handles less awkwardly that way. When Claremont brings someone back, you’re looking forward to it because there’s another story there, something to learn and expand upon with the character. Even if it’s something as cringe-inducing as the Foursaken plotline (because seriously, what even was that?!), you get to see a character who’s been out-of-focus disappear and come back refreshed and re-energized. It’s why I’m so happy he’s writing Nightcrawler again after Aaron brought him back.

  21. halapeno says:

    “re: Magneto: He was de-aged and then re-aged to about the same age as Beast (the oldest X-Man) shortly after the international X-Men first got together. Holocaust problem solved, timescale averted. I don’t know why this is still such an issue”

    We’ve already covered this ground. Magneto was de-aged AFTER the X-Men came into existence. But the year the X-Men first come into existence is always sliding forward in order to retain the youth of the characters. That works for the other X-Men characters but not Magneto because the gap between the Holocaust and the formation of the X-Men is always widening. Sooner or later that’ll have to be addressed. Because at some point, it won’t make sense for a Holocaust survivor to still be alive when the X-Men first form.

  22. The original Matt says:

    It’d be easy to hand wave away, really. Have Beast examining Magneto’s DNA for whatever reason and have him exclaim some pseudo science bullshit. “Oh my stars and whatever’s… Because Magneto is in synch with the earths EM field, he ages more slowly than the average mutant. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen!!”

    Add interjections as required if Bendis is to write that scene.

    Though I really like the elastic time whatever. I hope they go with that idea instead of the reboot everyone thinks they are building too.

  23. Jamie says:

    I’m sorry, but is knowing Magneto’s age essential before you can enjoy a story about Magneto?


    Then kindly shut up about it.

  24. Dimitri says:

    I don’t really care about Magneto’s age either (though I imagine this will become a bigger and bigger concern for new readers especially).

    However, here’s my thing about conversations I don’t care about. I typically just walk away instead of telling people that they need to stop talking because the whole universe revolves around what I, and I alone, care and don’t care about.

    On another topic, I’d like to thrown in my lot about Thunderbird and Warpath. If Warpath is essentially a resurrected Thunderbird, except his backstory, personality, and affiliations have been changed because Claremont didn’t want to go down the same hole, is he really the same character resurrected?

    I ask this not to criticize your position, Jalapeno — you’ve presented your arguments clearly and I understand them — but to widen the conversation as to what makes a character a character.

    Like, we can all agree that Thunderbird’s design, affiliation, personality, powers, and backstory but called Warpath is still Thunderbird. The same if you change the affiliation. Characters change teams all the time. The change costumes as well, so I guess design can be dropped too.

    So now we’re at Thunderbird with the same personality, powers, and backstory is still Thunderbird. But then the Ultimate universe routinely use the “same characters” but with a different backstory, and often, yes, a different personality. I’m wary to call them the same characters at this point, but Marvel arguably isn’t.

    That leaves us with Thunderbird is Thunderbird as long as he has Thunderbird’s powers. I am really not comfortable with defining a character this way.

    As such, I draw the line at personality, specifically. Where do you guys draw your line?

  25. moose n squirrel says:

    Well, that escalated quickly.

    Personally, I don’t think Warpath is Thunderbird; indeed, not even Thunderbird is Thunderbird. Clearly, every Proudstar we have ever seen has secretly been the Space Phantom.

  26. halapeno says:

    “Well, that escalated quickly.”

    I know! Brick killed a guy!

  27. Chris K says:

    So here’s your depressing thought for the day: Joe Casey’s “Children of the Atom” mini-series, which freaked people out at the time for retelling the Silver Age in then-contemporary time (with pop-cult refrences to Bill Maher, Marilyn Manson, Jerry Springer, et al) is — according to sliding-time-scale-rules – ripe for being the correct time period for the origin right… about… now.

    Oh, damn! Missed it! It’s already dated. Sorry ’bout that.

  28. Omar Karindu says:

    Joe Casey’s “Children of the Atom” mini-series, which freaked people out at the time for retelling the Silver Age in then-contemporary time …

    It also bothered people because it made all of the characters students at the same high school before their recruitment by Xavier, which doesn’t fit with anything before or since.

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