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Dec 2

X-Men: The Trial of Magneto #4 annotations

Posted on Thursday, December 2, 2021 by Paul in Annotations

As always, this post contains spoilers, and page numbers go by the digital edition.

by Leah Williams, Lucas Werneck, David Messina & Edgar Delgado

COVER / PAGE 1: Three intertwined Scarlet Witches – one in the centre, one upside down, and one apparently made of branches.

PAGE 2. “Data page”, though in the magical designs used in this series (note the parchment effect). The spiral text is a description of the sensation of being reborn, with the narrator finally recollecting that they brought this about themselves. Presumably, this is Wanda describing the events of the flashback that follows.

PAGE 3. Flashback: The Five resurrect Wanda.

This presumably happens between pages 4 and 13 of issue #2. Hope takes the initiative to resurrect Wanda (just as she quietly ignored resurrection protocols to bring back Scout in New Mutants #21. As Hope points out, the Five are essentially untouchable because they’re vital to resurrection; they haven’t done much to use that political power.

However, in the end Wanda is able to resurrect herself using Cerebro, evidently reaching out from the limbo dimension where we saw her in previous issues. There’s a precedent for this in Way of X #2, where Legion was similarly able to force his own resurrection once his previous body had died.

PAGES 4-5. Flashback: Wanda’s children talk to Prodigy.

As we established last issue, this Wanda’s memories have been reset to a much earlier point in her life, so she knows nothing about Wiccan or Speed.

Speed saw Wanda’s body in X-Factor #10.

Prodigy recaps the clues that X-Factor found in issue #1. Wiccan suggests that enchanted metal provides an explanation for Wanda’s death by strangulation that exonerates Magneto. Northstar decides to call Excalibur, though Magik would surely be the natural choice – she’s an actual magician, which is more than can be said for any of Excalibur besides the rookie Rictor.

It’s not spelt out, but this scene is a flashback which overlaps with Wanda being told about the details of her life by Jean and Rachel in the previous issue.

PAGE 6. Recap and credits.

PAGE 7. Speed and Wiccan take Wanda aside.

As Prodigy says, the kaiju attack began last issue and was prompted by Wanda getting her memories back (or, surely more likely being given an infodump about her life – the whole point of her lacking memories is that Cerebro doesn’t have a more recent memory backup).

PAGE 8. Data page, showing the multi-arrow symbol (from the data pages of issue #1) transmuting into an opening eye.

PAGES 9-10. The other two Wandas fight.

This picks up from the confrontation that was underway at the end of the previous issue. The future Wanda has apparently come back to tell Wanda that her guilt is producing the kaiju, and that she needs to let it go; but the fact that they’re reunited later suggests she’s actually a projection of one side of Wanda’s personality.

PAGES 11-22. The three Wandas defeat the kaiju and are reunited.

Krakoan refuses to accept that she did any of the things she was told about, and denies responsibility – more or less exactly what old Wanda seemed to be asking for. The kids tell her that’s not acceptable, and at the same time the older Wanda apparently says that she needs to forgive herself instead of punishing herself. Honestly, it’s all pretty contrived, and rather obviously an attempt to dig the character out of the dead end she’s been in ever since Brian Bendis.

But if people are going to keep using her, then something like this is unavoidable; the Bendis stories are one of those rare bad ideas that has proved so unignorable that it’s effectively ruined every attempt to use the character since he left. At some point you either stop using the character, or retcon the Bendis stuff away somehow, or do something very contrived like this and hope everyone accepts it as the Moving On Point. It’s not a particularly good story, but that’s because the brief is impossible. It’s just one of those rip-off-the-sticking-plaster storylines that needs to be done to clear the way for something else.

PAGES 23-24. Wanda addresses the mutants.

Magneto is happily reunited with his figurative daughter, as he’d wanted at the end of the Hellfire Gala.

Quite reasonably, some random mutant voices the objection that Wanda is getting a pat on the back for saving Krakoa from herself. I think it’s just a generic, although it looks like we’re maybe meant to recoognise her. We’re left with the X-Men and Avengers defending Wanda from the mob, which seems a more fitting result.

PAGE 25. Trailers. The Krakoan reads NEXT: THE ACCUSED (with the T and H written separately, instead of using the Krakoan TH symbol).

Bring on the comments

  1. Thom H. says:

    @Omar: Such a good point about Byrne’s Superman/Clark Kent inversion. It’s interesting what elements of Byrne’s vision have stuck around and become “permanent” parts of the character and his world, even through the New 52 era.

    Luthor as jealous, scheming businessman has to be another one (although he slips back into jealous, scheming scientist/inventor from time to time). And there were adjustments made to Lois, as well, if I recall. Not sure how much she was obsessing over Superman’s secret identity anymore by the Bronze Age, but she seems like a more self-possessed character since the 80s reboot.

  2. Josie says:

    Oh no, a female character expressing agency outside the confines of the male protagonist. How awful.

  3. ASV says:

    That aloof, pre-Crisis take on Superman is more or less the core of Icon, as I recall.

  4. Omar Karindu says:

    Thom H.: Used to be Bruce dressed as Batman. Now, Bruce wayne is a persona worn by grim and gritty driven Batman.

    This one actually started Pre-Crisis. Steve Englehart’s famous 1970s run with Marshall Rogers has him using that “Bruce Wayne is just a daytime mask for the Batman” at one point.

    Thom H.: Luthor as jealous, scheming businessman has to be another one (although he slips back into jealous, scheming scientist/inventor from time to time).

    Interestingly, Byrne’s Luthor was, interestingly, portrayed as incredibly vile and misogynistic, at one point unsubtly pressuring a female subordinate to sleep with him and enjoying it (Superman (1987 series) #2) and later shown to play a “game” by tormenting working-class women with the false possibility of running off with him and ditching their husbands, but leaving before they could really know if they’d make that choice.

    Current Luthor tends to blend the Elliot S! Maggin 1970s-vintage idea of an arrogant super-scientist who might have fed his ego by doing amazing things for the world if not for his jealousy of Superman, mixed with his businessman tyrant self.

    In terms of the X-books, I think that most of us would point to Claremont’s revamp/retcon of Magneto as a similarly radical reimaging, but in a much more sympathetic direction. And, as with Luthor, later writers have brought back and blended in some of the earlier Magneto characterization, so that current Magneto tends to be more arrogant and openly supremacist than the reformed one from Claremont’s stories.

    Josie: Oh no, a female character expressing agency outside the confines of the male protagonist. How awful.

    Post-Crisis Superman definitely made Lois Lane a much better character overall, yes. I don’t know that I have any problems with a lot of Byrne’s revamp, but I think the writers who came after Byrne dialed down the things that make Superman seem especially, er, “super” among the superheroes.

    Byrne’s version of Superman, I think had some good ideas about balancing all of this out. His Superman was clearly smarter, tougher, quicker, and a cut above the typical superhero, and extraordinarily capable in any situation, but not in ways that required him to be horribly aloof or condescend tot he supporting cast around him.

    That left room for Lois Lane, Lana Lang, and others in the supporting cast to be stronger, more likable, and more capable characters in their own ways, with personalities and lives that didn’t revolve around how they felt about Superman or how they did or didn’t measure up to the protagonist.

    But Byrne also brought a lot of soapy plotting to the book; his Luthor was a bit J.R. Ewing minus the charm at times.

    That soapiness got dialed up after Byrne left, with the result that Clark Kent/Superman became less effectual, less on top of things, sot hat he could spend more time reacting to big, tangled, personal problems or blunder into the machinations of villains who kept getting away without him fully working out how to stop them.

    For me, at least, that’s not necessarily the distinctive appeal of Superman, and is more a “typical” superhero genre archetype.

    In the X-books, we have Professor X. Claremont clearly wants to play up his flaws, but until Byrne leaves, Professor X is perhaps out-of-touch with his grown-up former pupils still essentially a good fellow and can step up to the plate when needed, as he does near the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga when he helps Jean retake control for a bit.

    But when Cockrun returns, we start to Professor X played up as having some seriosu moral weaknesses, while Storm and, later, Wolverine start to become the noble, powerful leaders.

    Magneto’s reform plotline also means retroactively weakening Xavier’s character, in preparation for shuffling him off the stage and positioning Magneto as a solid replacement leader.

    So we get Uncanny X-Men #161, which has Xavier sleeping with his psychiatric patient after getting into her mind, and has Magneto as the decisive, powerful figure who defeats Baron Strucker while Xavier basically ends up taking cover with Gabrielle Haller.

    while Xavier gets to play the utopian leader again for a while in the 90s, the eventual explanation of Onslaught hinges on playing up every flaw he had in past stories, and then the post-Morrison writers take turns finding brand-new “dark secrets” for him, times when he sacrificed others to his mission or hid his failings through mind control.

    And his Ultimate iteration is played as a far more ambiguous figure, who may well be manipulating everyone in the service of his vision. Like so much of the Ultimate Universe, aspects of this bleed into the “main line” characterization.

    Silver Age utopian characters in general tend to get downplayed in terms of competence or played as manipulative and suspect these days, largely to examine and criticize the patriarchal and paternalistic culture that created them.

    Sometimes this is interesting, but the characters don’t seem to come back from it, and not everyone gets to be played by Robert Downey, Jr. and have their flaws turn into charming rascality.

    I wonder what an updated Professor X or Reed Richards would look like if we thought about how to make them seem heroic, but not condescending throughout their stories not just at the end of yet another “redemption” arc.

    But then, I think Big Two comics haven’t yet done enough for characters who aren’t cis het white dudes, at least not in ways that show a lasting commitment to address some of these baked-in issues, and maybe we can come back around to that idea later.

  5. Thom H. says:

    “That left room for Lois Lane, Lana Lang, and others in the supporting cast to be stronger, more likable, and more capable characters in their own ways, with personalities and lives that didn’t revolve around how they felt about Superman or how they did or didn’t measure up to the protagonist.”

    I think that’s a great way to put it. Because Byrne’s focus was more Earth-bound, he really put effort into balancing the characters’ personalities. Not to mention updating some of the stereotypes of the previous iteration. This is when Lois becomes *the* award-winning reporter at the Daily Planet, if I recall correctly.

    I wish he’d been able to capture that more modern, grounded characterization while maintaining the sense of adventure from the 60s and 70s. Superman still got into weird adventures in the 80s, but they all felt very discreet and not like Byrne was building an awe-inspiring universe. It was a very Marvel-esque, Fantastic Four-ish way to approach the material.

    I think it took Grant Morrison to imagine a Superman who is compassionate and good *because* he’s all-powerful. It was a tough line to walk, but All-Star Superman managed to merge the chaos and wonder of the 60s with the more balanced character portrayals of the 80s (in my opinion). Maybe that’s a blueprint for updating the other utopian characters you mentioned: a wider perspective allowing them to see a web of inter-connectedness.

    Otherwise, I’m fascinated by the idea of Storm not just replacing Cyclops as the team leader but also replacing Xavier as the moral compass of the book. I’d never thought of it that way, but it makes a lot of sense. Claremont was certainly quick to write Xavier as out-of-touch, with Storm making difficult decisions that even Cyclops wasn’t faced with when he was leader.

  6. Mark Coale says:

    When you read THAT description above of Byrne’s Lex, he really does dound just like the guy on which he was modeled. 🙂

  7. Col_Fury says:

    Oh, wow. I had no idea and had to look that up.

    I did know, however, that Back to the Future II based the “wrong 1985” Biff Tanen on the same guy.

  8. Luis Dantas says:

    Different strokes, I suppose.

    Byrne’s take on Superman was rather pedestrian to me. I always liked Superman as the idealistic alien, as the supremely nonterrestrian superhuman. Having Byrne jettison it while Superman was also being presented as second fiddle to Batman (since TDKR) cemented my perception that the character was a lookalike, but not “really” Superman.

    As for Claremont, I don’t think that I have really trusted his instincts since 1982 or so. He tries real hard to be a character writer and has been doing that since before it was perceived as a good practice… but for my money he is just not very skilled at it. He is no Kurt Busiek, not even a Marv Wolfman.

  9. Rareblight says:

    Given the clues in issue 1 (man in white cape, supernatural manipulation of metal), the murderer could be Exodus.

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