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.
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.
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.