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A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 7: Magneto vs. Erik Lensherr

As I discussed last issue, Silver Age Magneto was a very different kind of antagonist than the ones that fans of the X-Men are familiar with today, due to changes put in place by Chris Claremont. It’s surprisingly how quickly this happened; only eleven issues into his run, Claremont had begun a conscious and sustained effort to transform the character. (Then again, that was very much his style, with Jean Grey dying and coming back as Phoenix all happened within the first eight issues of his run.)

So how did Claremont turn Magneto from a Silver Age Snidely Whiplash into this?

Magneto as Milton’s Satan

First and foremost, Claremont invested Magneto with a sense of personal presence and dignity that made him a villain to be respected rather than despised. Rather than a cringing coward who ran at the first sign of danger and who primarily relied on his bullied subordinates to fight the X-Men, Magneto was re-imagined as a fearless antagonist who would fight the whole team by himself:

Both writers and artists were key to this change – in X-Men #111, Claremont has Magneto politely wait for the X-Men to free themselves from the thrall of Mesmero (indeed, he casually defeats Mesmero off-panel just to get him out of the way) before challenging them himself. At the same time, John Byrne depicts Magneto as a powerfully muscular figure who looks like he could put up a challenge to an entire team of superheroes. Indeed two issues later, Magneto will actually trade punches with Colossus himself and hold his own.

In addition to his physical improvement, the un-de-aging of Magneto (one of the stranger but ultimately highly productive ret-cons in X-Men history) enhanced his mutant powers to the point where, rather than being repeatedly foiled as he was in the Silver Age, he defeated the entire team on his own, making him an adversary to be feared:

Power level is enough to make a villain a genuine threat, but it’s not enough to make a villain memorable – Doomsday is a powerful villain, but he’s not exactly a villain that anyone really cares about. Equally important, therefore, is creating a personality that makes the villain a memorable character. And Claremont went out of his way to make Magneto not only compelling but almost admirable. Firstly, he removed Silver Age Magneto’s sadism (a trait that works for a lot of villains, but isn’t suited to a villain who’s supposed to be Xavier’s ideological equal and opposite number) and emphasized Magneto’s idealism:

Secondly, he emphasized Magneto’s willpower as a core part of his personality. Whereas previously Magneto’s ability to fight off Xavier’s telepathy was explained by Stan Lee’s lack of understanding of magnetism, now Magneto was simply so strong-willed that he could go up against the strongest telepath on Earth and hold his own:

Willpower is a great attribute of classic arch-enemies. While you can have good weak-willed enemies (think Bizarro or Juggernaut), their more straightforward natures limit the kind of stories you can tell about them, which makes them better secondary threats. But to give your heroes (and your readers) an arch-enemy they can really sink their teeth into, you need someone with iron resolve who will keep on fighting to the bitter end. It’s probably the main reason why Doctor Doom is one of the best villain characters ever created, because no matter how despicable he may be, there’s still something admirable about him. (Incidentally, one of the best Doctor Doom moments ever was that he defeated the Purple Man through sheer willpower, because Doom kneels to no one!)

Thirdly, and this turned out to be the most fruitful change, is to give Magneto emotional depth. Whereas Silver Age Magneto wanted only to be feared rather than loved, Claremont’s Magneto had a tragic backstory (at this point, confined to a lost love) that showed he had a softer, one might even say, human, side:

What all of these categories have in common is that they’re ideal for a Villain Protagonist, a character who could share a stage with Professor Xavier in political debates, who could challenge the X-Men not only in combat but also to reconsider their previously held notions, and who could change in interesting ways throughout the course of Claremont’s run.

The difference between the two versions of Magneto is akin to the difference in the portraits of Satan in Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost. While both epic poems depict Lucifer as a powerful figure, the former is far more limited than the latter, not only because Dante’s Satan is literally stuck in the lowest ring of hell, but also because there’s a limit to the kinds of stories you can tell about Satan as a giant red monster with giant wings and three faces. By contrast, Milton’s Satan is imbued with a strong sense of individualism and drive that he can function as the protagonist of Paradise Lost, and such a rich and complex personality that William Blake argued “the reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God, and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

Magneto as Holocaust Survivor

In addition to these changes, most famously, Magneto’s backstory was given a central focus that has defined his character to the present day. While earlier generation of Marvel creators like Jack Kirby had been passionately anti-Nazi in the 1940s, Chris Claremont was part of a younger generation of New York Jews (Kirby grew up on the Lower East Side in the 1920s, whereas Claremont grew up on Long Island in the 1950s) who were more comfortable with describing characters as Jewish or discussing the Holocaust. And so, starting in Issue #150, Magneto was revealed to have been a Holocaust survivor – and this wasn’t an incidental reveal but something that would be developed substantially over time:

Rather than a coded or vague allusion, Magneto’s identity was made clear in both visuals and text – not only did he bear the tattoo of a concentration camp inmate, but he named the most famous death camp of them all, Auschwitz, as the place where he “grew up” and where his family died.[1] And while there’s always been a degree of ambiguity to his coding as Jewish, the fact that this detail is revealed when Magneto meets Xavier in Israel as an immigrant volunteering in a psychiatric hospital for survivors made it fairly clear at the time.

To me, this is an example of why retcons can be a positive force in comics writing. By placing Magneto in a historically-specific environment, not only does it has significant implications for his political ideology (more on this in the next section), but it also provides a much deeper connection with Professor Xavier. The man whose political opposite he now embodies was once a friend and colleague in a common project aimed at healing the wounds of the most profound act of violence directed at a genetic minority in modern history. And to me, this is how the “mutant metaphor” works best – not with mutancy acting as a stand-in for real-world hatred, but rather historical examples of oppression (for both us and characters in the X-Men universe) providing context for mutants dealing with anti-mutant prejudice (as I’ll discuss in the next section).

For Magneto, this element of his backstory ties together all the other elements of his new personality. He is fearless because he’s already experienced the worst fear imaginable and survived it; he’s powerful because he’s profoundly driven to never be powerless again; he is strong-willed because if he wasn’t, he would be dead. And finally, his experiences add to his emotional depth by making a personal loss something more universal – in contrast to the “inciting incident” for most comic-book villains.

And for Chris Claremont, who wanted organic character development – where, rather than being trapped in status-quo stasis, characters would mature and change even to the extent of leaving the X-Men – Magneto’s new past was something that could motivate him to change:

In X-Men #150, when Magneto constructs a volcano-machine on his island fortress (which I’ll discuss more later), Kitty Pryde disrupts the machine with her phasing power and “Magneto ruthlessly responds, ending a lethal charge of electricity through her.” Magneto immediately recoils, realizing that realizes he has become what he has hated and feared, having (seemingly, because this is still Comics Code era Marvel) killed a mutant child. And it’s not an accident that the target of his wroth and the reason for his change of heart is Kitty Pryde, who isn’t just a mutant but is also openly Jewish. It’s not a particularly subtle scenario, but it lends the scene a certain energy and power.

It’s also a scene that the Silver Age Magneto simply wasn’t capable of acting in. However, the question remains, what is the reason for this change?

The Ideology of a Mutant Revolutionary

The purpose of all of these changes wasn’t to make Magneto so sympathetic that the reader would view him to be the hero (although as we’ll see in the future, it did put him in a place where he could become the headmaster of the Xavier School), but rather to make him a villain of prominence who could function as Xavier’s ideological equal and opposite. When Claremont had Magneto move from confronting the X-Men to once again engaging in super-villainy, he presented him as a revolutionary extremist:

The costume – red jumpsuit, purple gloves, cloak, and briefs, stylish helmet – is the same, and the demand for world conquest and threatening global destruction is the same as Silver Age Magneto, arguably a direct homage to his public addresses in X-Men #1. What makes the difference is that Silver Age Magneto was a plain and simple tyrant whose thinking went no further than crude Social Darwinism, whereas Claremont’s Magneto has a larger political agenda driving his demands:

There is a lot to talk about with this page, which is rather unusual for Marvel Comics (and not just because it does really weird things with the 180 degree rule). To begin with, it depicts actual politicians – Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Leonid Breshnev, and Zhou Enlai (although it should be Ye Jianying and Zhao Ziyang) are all recognizable (although the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Kenya seem more generic) – positing that Magneto is an actor in real-world global politics. Moreover, the layout of his speech posits that different nations are being singled out for Magneto’s particular political issues – Magneto points the finger of blame for anti-mutant prejudice at the United States and Great Britain (possibly a reference to Reagan and Thatcher’s less than friendly policies to racial and sexual minorities), of nuclear war at the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, and lists his demands for disarmament with leaders of the third world.

The content of his speech is also worthy of discussion. First, Magneto presents himself as a mutant nationalist, who believes that his powers “set me apart, and above, humanity” and who will act to safeguard his people from the threats (both intentional and inadvertent) that human beings pose. To this end, Magneto also presents himself as a non-aligned political actor, taking on both the Western world, the Soviet bloc, and the developing world, at a time when the Cold War was in one of its most tense periods.[2] Second, Magneto takes a strong anti-nuclear stance at a time when the nuclear freeze movement was at its height in the U.S and Europe, but again from a perspective of mutant nationalism as his primary concern is that “in the process, you might destroy my people as well.” Magneto’s aims go even further than nuclear disarmament, however, demanding total disarmament of conventional military weaponry as well as the threat of obliteration by volcano.

Moreover, as we learn from Magneto’s conversation with Scott Summers and Lee Forrester in the same issue, Magneto’s agenda goes further than just being a really militant anti-nuclear activist. His demands for total political control of the earth are not merely a reverse Cincinnatus drive to eliminate war and then resign:

Rather, Magneto sees himself as an enlightened tyrant, uniquely capable (due to his mutant powers) of bringing about a global golden age by redistributing the peace dividend to end “hunger, disease, poverty.” At the same time, so convinced is he of his own righteousness and capability that Magneto sees no need for compromise, dissent, or even the formalities of democracy. Again, we see the strains of extreme individualism and pride of Milton’s Satan at work, shaping his vision of utopia. The purpose of all of this is to create a villain whose goals are so admirable that we can’t help but feel that he has a point, but whose methods are so extreme and flawed that the X-Men can not only fight Magneto, but also offer a philosophic critique:

Thus, not only do the X-Men swing into the fray to face down Magneto and destroy his volcano-machine on Octopusheim, but Magneto has his “what have I done?” moment that makes him question his actions, because the best X-Men stories are about more than punching people.

At the same time, in order to make Magneto’s newly-developed ideology seem authentic, Claremont also tied in his backstory as a survivor to explain why he “believes that homo sapiens and homo superior can never live together in peace:”

As Claremont’s narration makes explicitly clear, Magneto’s political beliefs are founded in his experience in Auschwitz – he’s seen human beings hate and fear a racial minority to the point of genocide, so it seems perfectly reasonable that the same could happen with mutants, a racial minority with actual super-powers. As I said above, I think this is a case of how the mutant metepahor functions best with using the real world to provide context for mutancy; in Lee and Kirby’s run, anti-mutant prejudice was an infrequent and poorly-explained element of the X-Men’s story, especially in a world when superpowered beings like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers were enthusiastically embraced by mainstream culture. But anti-semitism is a real social and cultural phenomenon that has shaped world history both in our universe and in the Marvel Universe, so it gives weight to Magneto’s beliefs.

This is especially the case when you consider that in the Marvel Universe, Nazism is a far more persistent threat than it was in our history. In the same issue in which Magneto and Xavier meet in Israel and set out their ideological disagreements, Baron Strucker of HYDRA attacks the mental hospital in which they work, in order to abduct Gaby, a Jewish concentration camp survivor who is also a mutant whose power is to turn things into gold, in order to use her powers to finance the Fourth Reich in a plotline that has strong allusions to gold stolen by Nazis and hidden in Swiss bank accounts or abandoned in train cars in Poland. Xavier and Magneto thwart Baron Strucker and HYDRA, Xavier because that’s what heroes do and Magneto because no matter how much of a villain he might be in the moment he’s anti-Nazi first, but in a way that elucidates a lot about Magneto’s worldview and the roots of his ideology:

To begin with, we can see that Magneto holds a profoundly cynical view of “the essential goodness of man” rooted in his experiences that “hate is more popular than love, fear more prevalent than trust.” The extent to which this attitude and the attendant belief of the inevitability of genocidal conflict between humans and mutants are rooted in his experience of the Holocaust is made explicit by his parting words to Xavier that “mutants will not go meekly to the gas chambers – we will fight and we will win.”[3] Magneto’s vision of the future, therefore, is essentially his past rewritten, with humans taking the position of the Nazis and mutants of the Jews. (And as we’ll discuss in future issues, given the dystopian futures of a Sentinel-driven mutant Holocaust predicted in Days of Future Past and future comics, he’s not far wrong.)

One of the themes that will be explored periodically in X-Men comics, therefore, is the fact that Magneto seems to have internalized much of the worldview thrust upon him in the camps – the major difference between Magneto’s and Strucker’s view of racial conflict is that Magneto takes the side of the mutant and will work to see their victory. To that end, he’s willing to use any means necessary – including here stealing Nazi gold to finance his revolution. At the same time, there seems to be an unexplored contradiction in Magneto’s thinking – for all that he claims to “care nothing for…homo sapiens,” Magneto clearly had enough of an attachment to his Jewish identity to move to Israel in the 1950s, and in X-Men #199 we find that he participates in annual gatherings of Holocaust survivors. Does he view those survivors as homo sapiens who he must destroy lest they destroy him?

In spite of what some people have argued (and smarter people have corrected), very little of this resembles the ideology of Malcolm X, outside of the fact that both are drawing from nationalist thought traditions. If anything, Magneto’s ideology is much closer to some of the more militantly right-wing tendencies of Revisionist Zionism that emerged in the 1930s and 1940s – the belief in an inevitable racial conflict for control of territory, the disdain for democratic systems, and especially the rhetoric of the gas chamber and other symbols of the Holocaust used to justify violent action.

But to see how someone with those views could later become Headmaster of the Xavier School, you’ll have to wait until A People’s History of the Marvel Universe covers…the Trial of Magneto!


[1] Which makes it interesting that most of Magneto’s aggressive actions in the Claremont run are directed against the Soviet Union, which liberated Auschwitz on January 27th, 1945. Something that might be interesting for writers to explore.

[2] Incidentally, one of the things that I’d love to see developed more in comic books is the exploration of how world politics is different in the Marvel Universe, given the presence of powerful non-aligned nation-states like Namor’s Atlantis, the Black Panther’s Wakanda, Doctor Doom’s Latveria, and the Inhumans’ Atillan.

[3] One could also argue that Magneto’s experiences also lead him to believe in the inevitability of all forms of conflict – hence his identifying nuclear war as a present danger to mutants. Indeed, the idea of a nuclear apocalypse is a running theme in the X-Men, a subject I’ll be addressing in a future issue.

A People’s History of the Marvel Universe, Week 6: This Man, Magneto!

Face front, true believers!

When it comes to the intersection of politics and Marvel comics, the X-Men’s “mutant metaphor” is justifiably at the forefront. Up until now, I’ve danced around the topic a little because I lost a detailed set of notes that I had made on the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby X-Men and Chris Claremont’s entire run and am still in the process of reconstituting my research.

This means that my discussion of the “mutant metaphor” will have to build gradually, which is actually rather appropriate because I intend to argue in several succeeding columns that the “mutant metaphor” was something that took a good bit of time to emerge in the X-universe and as a theme ultimately owes far more to Chris Claremont’s work than to Lee and Kirby.

One example of this is the character of Magneto, the X-Men’s original antagonist who is often held up as the Malcom X to Professor Xavier’s Martin Luther King. There’s a lot of problems with this analogy, as I’ll discuss in future issues, but to the extent that there’s any truth to it, it’s entirely the result of Claremont’s run, because the original Magneto from the Lee and Kirby years is unrecognizable from his appearance in X-Men #114 through #161, and is frankly not that great a villain.

To begin with, Magneto’s motivations in the Silver Age are so generic and opaque that he decides to name his mutant revolutionary group the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. This kind of stuff is the weakest part of the Silver Age, because the adage that “everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story” speaks to a truth of human nature. Almost everyone, even sociopaths and sadists, feels the need to construct ideological frameworks and narratives which justify and legitimize their actions. But the closest that Silver Age Magneto gets an ideology is a crude Social Darwinism which posits an inevitable race war between humans and mutants in which mutants must rise up and subjugate humanity (which becomes more problematic when you consider the Silver Age depiction of anti-mutant prejudice…more on this in a future issue):

Despite these shortcomings when it comes to motivation, Silver Age Magneto could have been a more impressive antagonist if he was presented as a figure with some dignity (like Doctor Doom) or wit (like Loki). Unfortunately, Lee and Kirby depict the Master of Magnetism, the would-be messiah of mutantdom, as a straight-up Snidely Whiplash villain. To begin with, Magneto is repeatedly and habitually abusive to his underlings, especially to the cartoonishly obsequious Toad, who he makes wear a metal belt specifically so that Magneto can torture him with his mutant powers.

In addition, he’s also a lousy manager. He shows a blatant disinterest in his subordinates’ safety, makes it blatantly clear that he will throw each and every one of them under the bus the moment it can gain him the slightest of advantages, and repeatedly abandons them in moments of peril to save his own skin:

It’s not that these qualities can’t be part of a villainous background, but it doesn’t particularly fit a villain who aspires to be the leader of an entire race of people. At the end of the day, there’s just not enough Toads in the world who would be willing to follow someone who calls them cannon fodder to their face. The only way that Lee and Kirby explain why anyone would ever follow this guy, especially why they would continue to follow him after the first time that they get foiled by the X-Men, is that he’s a consummate gaslighter and emotional manipulator. Hence his long history of constantly holding over the heads of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch the one time he “helped” them, as well as pretending to be the father of both (plus Polaris):

Again, this isn’t adding to the portrait of a villain who impresses anyone. Add onto that the way that Magneto compounds this callousness with a sadistic streak that runs to the quasi-genocidal (which I think is where, if we’re in the mood to be charitable, Jeph Loeb got his idea from for Ultimatum), and you’ve got a real heel:

But of all of Silver Age Magneto’s personal behaviors, I find none so foul as the occasion where, to put it bluntly, he decides to pimp out the Scarlet Witch to Namor to gain his support.

There’s not really another way to interpret this scene, especially with the way that Kirby depicts Magneto pawing and leering at a shrinking Scarlet Witch in the manner of a cliffhanger serial villain tying a damsel in distress to the train tracks. All of this is truly despicable on a personal basis, but the reason why I argue that, in all the ways that really matter, Chris Claremont created Magneto as we have come to know him, is that Lee and Kirby’s Magneto is a Nazi (and I don’t make that claim lightly):

As I’ve mentioned before with reference to Captain America, Jack Kirby especially was not a man to make such comparisons lightly or accidentally, given his anti-fascist sympathies and service in the European Theater in WWII. Each visual detail – from the goose-stepping soldiers wearing M armbands and knee-high patent leather boots to the WWII era Stalhellms and forage caps and submachine guns – is meant to evoke not just fascism generally but Hitler specifically. And this is simply not compatible with the identity that Chris Claremont would develop of Erik Lensherr, the Holocaust survivor who bases his belief that humans will inevitably attempt to exterminate mutants on the fact that he saw genocide against supposedly dangerous genetic minorities first-hand. (Arguably there’s an interesting story to be told of a survivor so traumatized by their experiences that they seek to become the figure of their own nightmares, but that’s not a story that Lee and Kirby were telling.)

However, there are a few redeeming virtues of Silver Age Magneto that explains why he was revived when other antagonists like Unus the Untouchable were left in the circular file of history. The costume’s red with purple accents and the distinctive helmet are an iconic Jack Kirby design that would be carried forwards for decades (although in recent years he’s been rocking an all-white variation of same). And while Stan Lee didn’t have that good a fix on Magneto’s political ideology, he did have something that almost made up for it – a complete lack of understanding of how magnetism actually works. This allowed for some truly wacky moments while giving Magneto a useful power set for a powerful villain:

While the Magneto-turning-guns-against-their-wielders trick is a good one (that predates X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past by several decades), this is basically magnetism-as-telekinesis, which Magneto will use to block Cyclops’ eye-beams or fly through the air. And it only gets goofier from there:

While I’m willing to grant Lee and Kirby that there might be enough dust with a high content of iron or nickle or the like to spell out a giant skywriting message (and the cursive signature is an uncharacteristically dashing touch), Magneto’s hypnosis-by-magnets is clearly a callback to the long-discredited ideas of Franz Mesmer, who believed that you could use magnets and one’s own “animal magnetism” to cure diseases and mental illnesses.

However, a snazzy costume and a lack of understanding of magnets work is a thin reed to build a major antagonist on, which may be one reason why Lee and Kirby kept marooning Magneto on alien planets or de-aging him into baby. To make Magneto something more than a Snidely Whiplash, Chris Claremont would have to do some rewrites…which we’ll discuss the next time A People’s History of the Marvel Universe covers the X-Men!

Graphic Policy’s Top Comic Picks this Week!

star lord and kitty pryde 1 coverWednesdays are new comic book day! Each week hundreds of comics are released, and that can be pretty daunting to go over and choose what to buy. That’s where we come in!

We’re bringing back something we haven’t done for a while, what the team thinks. Our contributors are choosing up to five books each week and why they’re choosing the books.

Find out what folks think below, and what comics you should be looking out for this Wednesday.

Brett

Top Pick: Cyborg #1 (DC Comics) – Some things are changing for Cyborg, his armor is evolving some how. The series puts the spotlight on this founding member of the Justice League. The creators have also said they plan on examining real world issues, and how an African-American superhero (who’s literally a weapon) would have to deal with them.

The Blacklist #1 (Titan Comics) – The television show gets a comic tie-in that actually is in continuity. The writers have nailed Red’s quirkiness in what feels like an unaired episode.

Fight Club 2 #3 (Dark Horse) – With each issue it feels like we go down the rabbit hole more and more. That’s a good thing. The third issue makes everything a bit more interesting as we continue our journey through Tyler’s world.

Prez #2 (DC Comics) – The first issue had me regularly laughing as it skewered modern politics and gave us a new celebrity in Corn Dog Girl.

Transformers #43 (IDW Publishing) – Soundwave is building something around Jupiter. Is it a peaceful commune, or is there some other plan? Cosmos is on a mission to find out what’s going on, and the results are intriguing. The series stands out when it gets philosophical and political, and boy does it here.

 

Alex

Top Pick: C.O.W.L. #11 (Image Comics) – One of the best series out there, Kyle Higgins’ C.O.W.L. takes place in the 1960’s in a world where superheroes are unionized. A fascinating take on the superhero genre, Higgins also touches on the corruption that was rife during that period in America’s history. This issue was delayed by a few weeks, and the wait to get it in my hands has been a long one.

Old Man Logan #3 (Marvel) – Old Man Logan is one of the best Wolverine stories this century, and while I was originally nervous about Marvel revisiting it, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at just how good the series has been so far.

 

Elana

Top Pick: Power Up #1 (BOOM! Box/BOOM! Studios) – Kate Leth’s Post Modern queer feminist take on the Magical Girl genre. And it’s cuuuute!

Grayson #10 (DC Comics) – The last issue was my first and this is a new arc. It’s Grayson as a double agent Bond and the return of Huntress in a new role as head of a secret agency Grayson has infiltrated at Bruce’s request. And now Bruce is dead and Dick is on his own. Manifesting my dream casting of Rosario Dawson as Huntress this new 52 incarnation is bi-racial!

The book is suspenseful yet charming. But I’m a bit concerned that it may be engaging in queer baiting with its lead breaking the 4th wall last issue to ask if he was straight (or if that was just his tie). In 2015 its long past time comics stopped queer baiting and started having actual queer representation especially among A List characters.

I’ll delve into these issues in my review of the new issue.

Infinite Loop #4 (IDW Publishing) – Teddy confronts her archenemy: her former boss, Tina, and launches a series of unprecedented temporal attacks to force Tina from her hideout, putting the safety of the world at risk!

Spider Woman #9 (Marvel) – Last issue Jessica made a socially enlightened decision in spite of being brutally attacked by the formerly abused wife of a costumed villain.

Jess is going to let this new Utopia for the escaped families of super villains continue as a safe haven.

Now we are only a few months from Jess being pregnant as her All New All Different cover shows. Let’s see how she gets there. I’m reserving judgement since writer Hopeless’s run has been strong and feminist.

Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde #1 (Marvel) – This better be mostly Kitty…

 

Mr. H

Top Pick: Grayson #10 (DC Comics) – Agent Dick Grayson. Super Hero Lex Luthor Nuff round two. Nuff said. This should be fantastic!

Cyborg #1 (DC Comics) – New team, New tech, New Start and art by superstar Ivan Reis. This one is worth at least a beta test.

Deathstroke #8 (DC Comics) – Slade contracted to kill some gods and Diana interferes. Just some good ol’ beat em up, slash em up action! Grab the popcorn and let your brains go for this one.

Old Man Logan #3 (Marvel Comics) – Basically Clint Eastwood with claws roaming the desert kicking ass. 1-2-3 Snikt!

We are Robin #2 (DC Comics) – Social Media Super Saviors? We shall see. It takes more than a color scheme and pinning a letter on yourself. Time to see if the kids got what it takes.

 

Paul

Top Pick: Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde #1 (Marvel) – I have been following this couple in Guardians of the Galaxy and All New X-Men, so naturally I’m excited to see this title.  But what really has me interested is the cover showing Shadowcat from Age of Apocalypse…is Kitty with Peter, or against him?

Magneto #20 (Marvel) – This title is showing how Magneto is trying to deal with the incursions, wanting to be the saviour of the planet so mutants can carry on.  Polaris is also along for the ride, helping her father but also looking after the humans her father is stepping over while he tries to save the day.  This title will more than likely be ending when the Marvel Universe gets its reboot, and I am looking forward to see how Magneto goes out.

Marvel Zombies #2 (Marvel) – Issue 1 was fun, and I really enjoyed Elsa Bloodstone as the main character we follow.  I only know her from the stories she’s guest starred in, and I’m glad to be seeing more of her and what kind of character she is.  Plus, who doesn’t like zombies?

 

Pharoah

Top Pick: Fables #150 (DC Comics/Vertigo) – I heard that this world shattering story was coming to an end in a big way during last year’s SDCC, this is one of those stories that every comic book reader needs to read yesterday and am interested to see if this ends in typical Fables fashion….

Archie vs Sharknado #1 (Archie) It has been quite a few months for Archie. He has fought zombies, died, fought Predator and now he fights Sharknado !!!! Nothing else to be said

JLA: Gods and Monsters : Batman #1 (DC Comics)- I loved the prequel series on Machinima, and can’t wait for the movie, but will settle for prequel comic book set in this alternate world, where Kirk Langstrom ( known to Batman devotees as Man-Bat) is Batman, should be interesting!!

Star-Lord and Kitty Pryde #1 (Marvel )- longtime readers know them as , *insert pun* “star crossed lovers”, but this takes place within Battle World, so one is curious to see if their love is the same or are they mortal enemies?

Wolf #1 (Image) I love hardboiled detectives, but hardboiled detectives who deal with the supernatural, (i.e., John Constantine, Harry Dresden) is a special breed, enter Antoine Wolfe.

The First Official Look at Psylocke and Apocalypse in X-Men: Apocalypse

Though a leaked, grainy version of the X-Men: Apocalypse teaser trailer is making its way around the web, as per usual Entertainment Weekly has the first official look at some of the characters for next year’s X-Men: Apocalypse directed by Bryan Singer.

The cover shows off Olivia Munn‘s Psylocke, as well as Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse. Also featured is Michael Fassbender in a new Magneto uniform.

We also get some info from EW as to what to expect from the film as well as who Apocalypse’s Four Horsemen are:

As the new film opens, 10 years have passed and Raven (Lawrence), Charles (McAvoy), and Erik (Michael Fassbender) are still estranged, but not for much longer. The Big A awakens from his Egyptian tomb, sizes up the global ’80s vibe, and decides he’s not down with the Reagan era. “It’s a chaotic world of conflict and war and destruction,” Singer says. “It’s one giant civilization that now requires one giant culling. That’s why he needs ­special assistants in this process.” He finds teenage Storm living on the streets in Cairo, Angel (Ben Hardy) duking it out in a fight club in Berlin, and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) working behind the Iron Curtain for the mutant-broker Caliban. But his big get is Erik, who has been attempting to live a “normal” life in Poland. “He’s fallen in love and he’s basically left his metal ways behind,” Fassbender says. Pretty quickly, though, his world is shattered and “normal” is no longer an option. Says Fassbender, “Apocalypse finds Erik at a low ebb and recruits him.”

ew-cover-1373-xmen

Review: Red Skull #1

rs001There are likely those that think that the well of ideas for Secret Wars might already be exhausted, between the new material and the inspiration from previous crossovers or other inspirations.  If thinking only inside of Marvel, then they might be right, but Red Skull #1 proves that there is still some more distance to go in this massive crossover.  Although it draws upon characters from across Battleworld, this series is one which is at home in the heart of the Deadlands, the realm of the crossover title of Marvel Zombies vs. Age of Ultron.  The setup is not like anything from Marvel though, as it is essentially a Secret Wars version of the Suicide Squad.  This group of supervillains only has one job, to travel to the Deadlands and to prove that the Red Skull died after being exiled there.

The team is made up of an unlikely grouping of villains, similar once again to the Suicide Squad comparison – Electro, Moonstone, Magneto, Lady Deathstrike, Jack O’Lantern, and Bucky Barnes, seemingly acting in the Rick Flag role.  They are recruited by Crossbones, a one-time loyal follower of the Red Skull who has given him up for a blind allegiance to Doom.  He leads the team to the brink of danger before stopping to stand guard over the portal from which he expects them all to try to instantly escape.  The remainder of the story comes across as a bit of a juvenile wish list, with zombies, robots and dinosaurs, but the action never lets up in this exciting issue as the team get pretty close to discovering the source of their mission.

This issue proves that there are still some fresh ideas floating around in the somewhat constrained world of Secret Wars.  This has proven to be a winning formula elsewhere, and works well here too.  The combination of characters is broad, but it seems like they fit well together, even if they don’t have much of a chance yet at this point.  With so many other Secret Wars inspired series being born after this crossover, it would be nice to see one inspired by the same concept as presented here.  Many people will look at the title for this series and likely not give it a chance, but for those that do, they will find something pretty fun and probably what will become one of the highlights of the entire crossover.

Story:  Joshua Williamson Art: Luca Pizzari 
Story:  8.9 Art: 8.9  Overall: 8.9  Recommendation: Buy

Review: Years of Future Past #2

years002The Secret Wars crossover has perhaps been the unkindest to the X-Men.  Part of the underlying concept behind the huge crossover is to take story arcs and other crossovers from the past and to rework them into the Secret Wars framework.  While this has worked well for some series, for others it has not, and the X-Men versions are perhaps among the most distorted.  This is because the mutants often serve as analogies for what is wrong in society, and with that as a theme, it tends to make a lot of the best X-Men stories into the best of the genre.  In this case Secret Wars hgas grabbed what is one of the best comic book story arcs ever written, so popular in fact that it was chosen as the story line to revive the movie franchise.

This story follows along some basic plot elements from the original series while leaving other important parts behind.  This has been the case with other X-Men tie-ins to Secret Wars where a lot of the characters remain, if not for the baseline being altered in minor, though fundamental ways.  The changes here are thus similar and different as a similar group of characters struggle against the sentinels of the future who have eliminated most mutants already and the few remaining mutants who struggle to maintain their lives and their kind against this threat.  One of the highlights of this issue is a monologue by Colossus which evokes the famous quote by Martin Niemöller about the Holocaust.

That is the case with this issue though.  Although it works well enough as a story, it also is a story which has a few defining moments with other material in between which almost feels like filler.  It is an unconventional format for a story as it moves between moments which are either strong for character development or artistically impressive, but such is the lot of the X-Men tie-ins to Secret Wars.  It is good, but not much else, and more than anything makes the reader want to re-read the original as opposed to continuing with this.

Story: Marguerite Bennett Art: Mike Norton
Story: 8.3 Art: 8.3 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Read

Review: Magneto #19

Magneto_Vol_3_19_TextlessTwo worlds are coming to an end. The final Incursion has started, and fighting on the front lines to try and save his planet is…Magneto? We open Magneto #19 to New Yorkers looking skyward, watching as the energies of 2 planets inching closer to impact cascade and send chaos through the streets. Flying high above them, Magneto (aided by his daughter, Polaris) are taking the fight to this ‘other’ Earth, battling the parallel Sentinels sent after them. Polaris is shocked to see the energy levels her father is exhibiting, all the while trying to protect the people caught in the crossfire of Magneto and the Sentinels. Magneto clearly has one goal in mind, clearly shown as he rips a building to pieces to use against the killer robots; Polaris chides him for so reckless an action, as people in the building fall to the ground below…and his advice to her…”then catch them”.

For his attitude, this is the Magneto all of us know; not caring much for the collateral damage, or the human lives at risk, but rather making sure that he and his fellow mutants are protected and safe. But the level of power he is exhibiting is something fans of this book have not seen in Magneto for some time. To answer this, we get a flash back of Magneto and his current right hand, Briar, working with a chemist under Magnetos employ to pump him up with a new cocktail of various drugs to amp up his powers (MGH, Kick, etc..). But to face this Incursion, Magneto needs further assistance, and seeks out a geneticist who can do the kind of work he needs…and he finds Sugar Man (a cast away from the Age of Apocalypse I didn’t know was still around). From him, Magneto acquires the means to initiate his plan, and thanks him in true Magneto style. We move back to present time and see this plan working, Magneto using the very magnetic forces of the planet to aid him, but very quickly taking a deadly toll.

I have enjoyed this book from the start, showing Magneto going back to his roots and doing what he always strived to do; protect his fellow mutants. Away from the X-Men, Magneto has gone back to doing whatever necessary, even spilling blood, to see his goals attained, and this is the Magneto I have always liked reading.  I have not been a big fan of Briar, at his side serving as guide and counsel, but in this issue it is revealed Magneto as his doubts about her as well. Cullen Bunn has given a great voice to Magneto and getting the reader into the story; and Paul Davdison‘s art really made me feel the action, but also the darkness and mood of the flashbacks. The end is coming with the Incursion, and I am looking forward to see how Magento will face it.

Story: Cullen Bunn Art: Paul Davidson
Story: 8 Art: 8 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Read

No Salon. Magneto Should Remain a Holocaust Survivor.

magneto-1On Saturday, Eli Keel posted what looks to be his first article on Salon, “It’s time for Marvel to make Magneto black: Use the coming “Secret Wars” reboot to make X-Men get real about race.” I believe this is the same Keel who has contributed to other sites, and in his first piece for Salon, he shows either a tone deafness to what he asks, lack of understanding of the Civil Rights movement, a lack of understanding of Marvel’s X-Universe, or a mixture of all of the above. It also surprising that Salon would approve such a poorly thought out article.

Keel opens his article with the conundrum of time in comic books that originally had characters reflecting or living in “modern” times. And with real-time moving, and characters not aging there is an issue of how do you deal with age and origins in the comic universe. Iron Man for instance originally was injured in Vietnam, but in years that has been updated to the Gulf War, and most recently Afghanistan. This shifting time line has led to inconsistencies and continuity issues. DC Comics has rebooted their universe numerous times, often resolving such issues, while Marvel has had a rather unexplainable sliding time scale. This summer’s Marvel event Secret Wars will hopefully right some of those time paradoxes, resulting in a new “prime” Marvel universe bringing together the various continuities, versions, multiverses, and more into one grand vision that will guide Marvel for the “next 50 to 75 years.” Marvel has said that some things will change and that new characters may take on old mantles for instance X-23 will be the new Wolverine, and there’ll be a new Hulk that is not Bruce Banner. In the past few years Marvel has also found success in changing up the gender or race of characters such as a Jane Foster taking up the role of Thor, a new Ms. Marvel who is a 16-year-old Muslim girl from Jersey, and the Falcon who is now Captain America.

Keel begins his article from a false logic point, that comics have been white and cis-gendered throughout their history. Not only is this incorrect, it ignores comics’ rather vast a varied history that is often forgotten or unknown. Female characters have existed since the early days, with many over the years placed out of mind such as Nellie the Nurse, Invisible Scarlet O’Neil, Betty, Veronica, Sheena, Miss Fury, and many more. There’s also comics’ progressive nature including the creation of Captain America who advocated America’s entry into World War II a year before Pearl Harbor, integration of the military in comics before the actual real world military, and creation of characters such as the Black Panther and Luke Cage when African-American and black characters weren’t heard of. In fact comics were the industry that Jews, women, and African-American creators went in to when they were shunned by “mainstream” America. Things haven’t been all rosy, but it’s not all black and white as Keel suggests.

All of this leads Keel to conclude in the new Marvel universe:

It’s time to make Magneto black.

Magneto is one of the very few comic characters inextricably tied to a specific real-world event: the Holocaust. His abuse at the hands of Nazis turns him hard and cruel. This real-world event can’t be moved forward in time, and that’s becoming a problem.

Thing_Num56_Pg22Keel is requesting for not just erasure of one of the highest profile Jews in comics (a minority more underrepresented in comics than blacks and African-Americans), but also erasure of the Holocaust from mainstream comics as a whole. There’s a tone deafness of the request that is astonishing, but also beyond insensitive to the reality of both the real world and history of the X-Men and X-Universe. The website ComicBookReligion lists 507 out of the 36,389 characters as Jewish. How many can you actually name? How many actually wear their Jewishness regularly and out in the open? Compare that to how many African-American or black characters you can name.

Lets begin with the argument of Magneto’s age being an issue. Keel correctly points out his age has been fudged and changed before, and there’s no reason it can’t be done so again. If we de-age Magneto a bit and say he’s 5 or so during the Holocaust (born in 1940 for an easy number), that’d make the character 75 years old today giving him decades more before age is an actual issue. There’s no reason Magneto can’t be 75 or older, and in fact it opens up even more compelling storytelling opportunities. To make a more “comic” like solution, we can say his mutation somehow makes him age slower too for an even easier fix.

Thing_05There is a very real world issue of those who survived the Holocaust dying out and the history being forgotten. Not only by keeping Magneto as a Holocaust survivor do you do a service of serving as an entry point for those to learn about this vile point in human history, but it can also address this very issue. Imagine Magneto reflecting that those that have experienced what he has are dying out, and the world is forgetting the horrors. What would a man do with the power he has when faced with that reality? Imagine a story of him being on his death-bed, and having characters around him reflecting upon his experiences and what it means to lose that first hand knowledge.

Today there’s a “cult of Hitler” propping up the genocidal leader as a pop-culture icon, not even 70 years since those last camps were liberated, parts of the world have washed the ghastly horrors away enough to use the visage of a madman to sell products, ideals, and more, turning him into an advertising prop. If that’s not enough of a sign we need for a renewed call to “never forget,” I don’t know what is.

Keel continues:

But part of what makes Magneto such a great villain is his base in real-world historic tragedy.

This is absolutely correct, and his experiences in the death camps have driven his actions to prevent similar tragedy for the mutants of the Marvel universe. It’s not Magneto’s Jewishness that defines him (actually for quite a while it was murky if he was Jewish or Romani), it’s his survival from the Holocaust that defines and drives his character and actions. His hope is to prevent what happened to 6 million individuals repeating for the mutant population.

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-comic-coverThe imagery of the Holocaust has been an aspect that has been used time and time again in Marvel’s “X” comics. In the classic tale Days of Future Past, mutants are rounded up into camps reminiscent to exactly what the Nazis did. There’s constant talk of the eradication of the “mutant threat” in Marvel comics, and it’s going on today quite frequently in the current Secret Wars event. This is something the X-Men have been attempting to fight against, and Magneto proactively through terrorism is trying to prevent. In fact when it comes to the black/African-American experience or the Jewish experience, Marvel’s mutants in their dwindling numbers better reflect the serious issues modern Judaism face, as the religion dwindles in numbers.

Currently Jews worldwide account for a little over 6 million individuals, less than 0.1% of the world’s population. There are fewer Jews in the world right now than intersex individuals who are about 1 in 1,000 (not really a point to that, but an astonishing stat I learned). In modern stories the X-universe was faced with dwindling numbers and the very possibility that mutants would become extinct. This issue is something that Jews face today as the numbers of those practicing shrinks and interfaith marriage increases. Other recurring stories have had mutants attempting to establish a homeland where they can be safe, but have been besieged over and over again, and recently that very storyline has had almost Zionist tone in a schism that divided the X-Men, a split that does exist within the Jewish people.

But most insulting is Kreel’s insistence that any retconning/race-swapping be tied to the Civil Rights movement, ignoring Jewish contributions to the actual Civil Rights movement. Also the Marvel X-Universe today is more reflective of the Gay Rights movement, more so than the Civil Rights. It shows a lack of knowledge about X-History and the real world history. It was in Haifa, Israel that Xavier and Magneto first met as an example.

Keel says:

The best fix for Magneto’s origin problem is to reboot him and Professor X into the heart of the Civil Rights Movement. Have them experience the heartbreak of the historic assassinations as young black men. This reboot would be true to the heart of the characters — X-Men began as a  metaphor for segregation. In 1963, America couldn’t openly discuss race in comic form, so the conflict was encoded. “Negroes” became “mutants.” Professor X and Magneto are often interpreted as metaphors for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Having the characters openly admire the historical figures would give Professor X and Magneto the opportunity to argue about the nuances of the their mentors’ philosophies.

In other words, they could openly talk about race. After 50 years of coded language, it’s time to get real. The Civil Rights Moment needs to become canon.

Personally, I’d have Professor X be a follower of Malcolm X, while Magneto hangs with Dr. Martin Luther King. That way, Prof. X sees Malcolm X gunned down, the tragic results of a movement divided. He tries to choose peace. Magneto watches the death of his pacifist hero Dr. King, and rejects nonviolence.

The Jewish contribution to the Civil Rights movement and black history is long and closely entwined. Jews after-all were the original slaves (Egypt) and treated as less than others/full citizens (most of history). The Religious Action Center has a wonderful article laying out Jewish contributions to the Civil Rights movement. That includes helping found the NAACP, the establishment of some black colleges, “Jewish activists represented a disproportionate number of whites involved in the struggle. Jews made up half of the young people who participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964.” It was Jews who were murdered attempting to do their part in the Mississippi Burning case. And this support continues today.

The Jewish community has continued its support of civil rights laws addressing persistent discrimination in voting, housing and employment against not only women and people of color but also in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and the disabled community. Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, is currently the only non-African-American member of the NAACP board.

Keel then suggests the rather non-inspired idea that not only should Magneto and Xavier be black, but they should be involved in the movements of Malcom X and Dr. King, showing insight of the X-Men that should be left in the past, much like some of the non-progressive attitudes that have been shed by the industry in recent times.

legacyToday, the X-Universe no longer reflects the Civil Rights movement so much as the Gay Rights movement. A more inspired idea would to embrace that aspect of the characters. Like gays, there has been a theme and outright debate throughout the X history of those that can hide the fact their mutants and those that can’t, reflecting more of the struggle of gays being in the closet and facing discrimination when they come out or can’t hide. In fact, there was real world uproar when writer Rick Remender had mutant and Avenger Unity team leader Havok say he disliked the division and the word “mutant,” and in the comics some responded it was easy for him to say, since he could pass for a normal human.

In the 1990s the X-books faced a disease called the Legacy Virus which very much was a not too subtle allegory about the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And, reflecting the Holocaust again, there was real world discussion of placing those afflicted with HIV/AIDS in camps to isolate them, another reason for Magneto’s past to remain unchanged. This is something that has actually been done in Cuba, and political leaders in the US have called for it in the past. While HIV/AIDS isn’t only a gay issue, add in the “coming out” aspect of a mutant’s gift and the mutant story better reflects the LGBT experience. An inspiring and more original twist might have Xavier be bisexual and present at the Stonewall riots or part of the early years of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

I can’t tell if Keel actually believes his suggestions would lead to compelling storytelling, is oblivious to what his request represents, or he and Salon are trolling for click-bait like rallying articles. No matter, not only is the article poorly thought out, it’s downright insensitive.

Around the Tubes

It was new comic book day yesterday. What’d everyone get? What’d you enjoy? If you haven’t gone yet, here’s some reviews from around the web that might help you make your choices.

Around the Tubes Reviews

Nothing But Comics – Archie vs. Predator #2

Comic Vine – Bill & Ted’s Triumphant Return #3

Comic Vine – Chrononauts #3

Comic Vine – Convergence: Batman: Shadow of the Bat #2

Comic Vine – Convergence: Green Lantern/Parallax #2

Comic Vine – Darth Vader #5

Comic Vine – Legendary Star-Lord #12

Comic Vine – Magneto #18

Comic Vine – Secret Wars #2

Comic Vine – Silk #4

Comic Vine – Spider-Woman #7

The Beat – Thor #8

Comic Vine – Thor #8

CBR – Thor #8

Comic Vine – X-O Manowar #36

Review: Convergence Titans #1

titans001Of all the characters to receive a makeover in the new 52, it is perhaps the original Teen Titans that have fared the worst.  The team was replaced almost completely with newer versions of older characters, and those older characters were left behind in part in the old continuity.  This Convergence title focuses on three DC heroes that have been trapped in Gotham City under the superpower nullifying dome – Donna Troy, Starfire and Arsenal.  The choice of these three is interesting as their histories are full of some controversy already.  Donna Troy had her origin story told and retold numerous times since the post-Crisis Wonder Woman was introduced, to the point that her own character’s history is confusing.  Starfire didn’t live as much controversy until she was introduced in the new 52 as a purely sexual creature (though the writers have backed off from that since) and her fans yearned for a return to the pre-Flashpoint version of the character.  It is perhaps Roy Harper who was the most controversial though, as fans had found a favorite in his daughter Lian, and when it was revealed that she had never existed in the new 52, they got the opposite of what they wanted.

This story focuses mostly on that of Roy, still trying to deal with the death of his daughter.  The heroes have moved on since the imposition of the dome, although Roy is ready for the return of something vile.  They get this return when the Extremists show up on Gotham’s doorstep after being gone for so long.  The Extremists are an interesting footnote in DC history.  They formed one of the main villain groups which fought the Justice League and Justice League Europe, but the group of villains were all loose facsimiles of Marvel villains (Doctor Doom, Doctor Octopus, Magneto, Sabretooth and Dormammu).  Thus while other heroes or anti-heroes from this same Gotham are facing other foes (such as the Zoo Crew) this group of heroes is facing villains from not only a different place, but also kind of from a different company.

The main problem with this (and many other Convergence titles) is that it is hard to see exactly where it is going.  At the same time the concept is not really gripping, and doesn’t really draw the reader in to its world.  It is still interesting to see where this can go, but this interpretation of the cherished and missed characters feels like they have forgotten what made them popular to begin with.  It is after all likely that every single group of characters will prevail against the somewhat random selection of foes it has to face, most of whom are not relevant to modern readers, even those from before Flashpoint.  Therefore this kind of feels like a fluffy but also mostly fun interlude before we find out what exactly is going to happen to these other characters

Story: Fabian Nicieza  Art: Ron Wagner 
Story: 7.7  Art: 7.7   Overall: 7.7  Recommendation: Read

Almost American
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