I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Favorite Marvel: Magneto

In a previous post regarding Green Lantern Hal Jordan, I mentioned that the dream of Professor Charles Xavier was a strong motivating force in my life. Next thing you know, I'm writing not about how Xavier is one of my favorite Marvel characters, but about how his arch nemesis Magneto is one of my favorite Marvel characters. On the surface, this seems like a strange contradiction, but there are a lot of reasons it makes sense for me to like Magneto over Charles Xavier.

Charles Xavier is a rich boy who just happens to become interested in the rights of mutants because he is a mutant himself. He has every resource in the world at his command because of his wealth and his ability to read minds. I can count the amount of people who can relate to such a character on one hand, and that's only if you count Bradley Cooper's character in Limitless as a real human being in the real world. While Xavier is creeping around his parents' mansion trying to steal an expensive cookie from an expensive cookie jar, Eric Lehnsherr (or Max Eisenhardt), the boy who would one day become Magneto, was a Jew in Nazi-controlled Germany (and later Poland). The recent story called X-Men: Magneto Testament tells Max's story of great loss and suffering during the Holocaust. One of the best moments in the first X-Men film surrounded the first manifestation of Magneto's powers as being the moment when his family was dragged off to a concentration camp. And most of the best parts in X-Men: First Class similarly surrounded Magneto and his Holocaust suffering. Because we also suffer, we can connect with the troubles of Magneto.

As a result of his suffering, Magneto's intentions are more clear. Xavier has always dreamed of a world where humans and mutants can live in harmony. He was able to devote his life to dreaming as a result of the fact that he never had to fear for his life and hide from any authority. Xavier was born a wealthy white male in the United States of America. But because of the things that Magneto has witnessed in his life, he has a strong motivation for protecting the mutant population at any cost. He has seen what happened to the Jews and other "undesirables" during the Holocaust, and as a result he wishes to do everything in his power in order to prevent that from happening to the second group of people that he ever identified with, the mutant populace. Whereas the Jews prayed to God to deliver them from their trials, Magneto was blessed with the powers of a god, and surely he, if nobody else, would hear the cries of his people and respond.

So, why is Magneto considered one of the greatest villains of all time rather than one of the greatest heroes of all time? The beginning of Magneto's departure from heroics was his decision that his goal was to be accomplished by any means necessary. In the Ultimate Universe, Magneto conducts himself much the same as a terrorist would, destroying certain targets in order that his words can be heard. He takes over television broadcasts in order that regular humans should fear him. But most of all, Magneto has no trouble killing innocents in order to accomplish his end. The thing that we can relate to the most about Xavier's dream is that he intends to protect his people, but only through the right methods, and peacefully if possible. But Magneto's utilitarianism leads to destruction and corruption. Add in the fact that with Magneto's godlike powers, he puts himself above the rest of the population. Humans to him are like insects to a god. And instead of exercising great responsibility with his great power, he brings great pain and suffering to the world. Some might say that he had no choice. One like Magneto, who survived the fuhrer and gained considerable power himself, would have little recourse but to become another fuhrer. We would hope that he could overcome these feelings, that he could choose a path of peace and respect, and at times Magneto has done exactly that, but it does sometimes seem like fate that a terrorized Jew named Max would become a tyrant named Magneto.

I've mentioned a couple of times now that Magneto has put aside his hatred and become a hero here and there. As a matter of fact, I remember somewhere in the 200s of Uncanny X-Men, Magneto and Kitty Pryde, both Jews, attended temple together in memory of Holocaust survivors. And there was something incredibly touching about that. Furthermore, in nearly every alternate reality, Magneto is the one who is leading the heroes to victory, not Xavier. And let's not forget that in the recent events of X-Men: Schism, Scott Summers chose both Xavier and Magneto to provide expert suggestions for how to proceed in difficult times. There is a reason that Charles Xavier and Eric Lehnsherr are first and foremost friends. They both believe in the same cause. And they both want to do the right thing for their people.

Though Magneto has some of the most fantastic powers, he happens to be one of the most real characters that Marvel has ever created. Whether he's villain or hero, both or neither, I think that I will always love him. He could mourn Xavier's death and unite all mutants in Xavier's dream (Age of Apocalypse) or he could kill Xavier himself (Ultimate Marvel). Either way, he's a fantastic character, and we have a lot to learn from him.

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