Magneto: The Hero & The Villain

It’s easy to love Magneto.

But as a child, X-men comics and animated media taught me to hate him. He was always in the way. Every time the X-men manage to restore peace, here comes Erik Lehnsherr to ruin it. Killing humans, attacking politicians – the man was shown to be a terrorist, and while I loved him as a character, I couldn’t help but get irritated whenever I saw him.

Fast forward five-or-so years later and I was at the tender age of 16. Uncanny X-men was out and thriving, and Magneto had suddenly made an appearance in issues #515-522. While the X-men were skeptical, they still let Erik into Utopia, albeit not without some friction between Scott and his former mentor Xavier. Of course the exalted Professor X would know better right? After all, the man was both friends and enemies with Magneto for countless decades, even before the original five showed up, and would surely know better than to trust him.

Wrong. Across the next few issues, Erik proceeded to prove exactly why he does have a place with the rest of his people on Utopia. After all, Scott did unite all of mutantkind – why would he not want to be a part of that? It’s only what he’d been fighting for across almost 50 years. But Cyclops leads the X-Men not just because of his apprenticeship to Professor X, but because he earned the X-Men’s leadership through experience, capability, and proven success time and time again. If Magneto really wanted a spot on the roster and Cyclops’ trust, he needed to do something big. Life changing big.

At the climax of one chapter in this arc, Erik manages to return Kitty Pryde to the X-men. Previously she’d been trapped in a giant bullet hurtling across endless space after saving the world from total annihilation by phasing the object through the planet. After almost 48 hours of complete concentration and a very prominent nose bleed, the master of magnetism manages to tug that metal monstrosity from the outer reaches of the galaxy. Everyone present is in awe, and our hero proceeds to pass out in the corner while they fawn over a returned Kathryn Pryde.

As the years passed, Magneto has gone through many changes, all for the better in my personal opinion. The ending of Avengers vs X-men all but nullified his mutant abilities, leaving him with a black suit, and a more gritty, grounded portrayal as seen in Cullen Bunn’s Magneto solo series. Starting off in the rural regions of America, our jaded Holocaust survivor finds himself on a more down-to-earth level. Hopping from motels to even a tent city at one point, Erik follows his nose, taking out whoever he deems a threat to mutantkind from former Nazi’s-turned-orthodontists to paranoid homosapian preservationists.

The series is peppered with glimpses into Erik’s past as a Holocaust survivor. From witnessing his friends being slaughtered in front of his eyes, to having to push the bodies of his people into the infernos that threatened his own well-being everyday. It’s very easy to see how Magneto was created after reading about the trials he’d faced all those years ago, from a homosuperior dogfighting ring where kidnapped mutants are pitted against terrifying hounds genetically modified to kill them, to the Red Skull and his hateful regime following the events after Uncanny Avengers (and leading into the Marvel event known as “Axis”).

A particularly memorable part of the series for me was the haunting of Magneto by his former oppressor, Herr Hitzig. It went to show even powerful men have fears, and we see a side of Erik we’d never seen before. A shadow of his former self, and reliant on special doses of MGH (mutant growth hormone), Magneto truly struggles to maintain his terrifying legacy. Readers are blessed to see how frightening a man backed up against the wall could truly be.

All in all, the one thing that made me realize that Magneto may have been right was his unwillingness to tap dance for the humans. He saw a possible future for his fellow mutants and refused to let his people live through it. And seeing how the X-men’s greatest enemy is often time travel, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that he was right all along.