Can Magneto’s Most Important Trait Keep Aging With Him?


  • The new Magneto series re-frames the character, examining his past actions and motivations while emphasizing his identity as a Holocaust survivor.
  • The series explores Magneto’s history, seeing his villainy as a construct while not letting him off the hook for the atrocities he committed.
  • It is crucial for Marvel to maintain Magneto’s connection to the Holocaust in his backstory, as it serves as a reminder of real-world atrocities and the importance of remembrance.

Throughout the decades, Magneto has been a man of many faces. Marvel’s Master of Magnetism has evolved from Charles Xavier’s and the X-Men’s greatest rival to a socially prominent anti-hero before he helped found Krakoa, a sovereign nation of mutants. As the identities, alliances, and even names of the man originally known as Max Eisenhardt changed over time, the context and intent of his historical actions in the face of his modern altruistic framing came into question. The character’s new self-titled limited series, Magneto​​​​​​, by J.M. DeMatteis, Todd Nuack, Rachelle Rosenberg and Travis Lanham seems excited to tackle those questions, celebrating Magneto’s 60th anniversary by re-framing his entire character.

The latest comic to center on mutantkind’s most complicated figure, 2023’s Magneto miniseries rewrites its title character, starting with his first actions in Marvel Comics. While the story reconstructs almost everything Erik Lehnsherr has been as Magneto, who he was before goes explicitly untouched. Lehnsherr’s past as a Holocaust survivor is reverently placed on center stage in the new series, emphasizing how foundational this idea is to for Magneto’s identity. However, there’s more at stake here than the former leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants’ character, it extends to the real people who survived the Holocaust. In 2023, nearly 85 years after the start of World War II, it’s also an origin Marvel should work ferociously to keep intact, no matter how many years or brand-wide reboots pass.

Magneto’s Magnum Opus

As Magneto’s powers twist metal, his new series posits the idea that he also used them to twist himself. Magneto features Lehnsherr leading a new team of X-Men, attempting to imbue them with the altruistic ideals necessary to build the future Charles Xavier sought. The students, however, are skeptical of their leader, unable to reconcile his past atrocities with who he presently claims to be. Their doubts inspire Magneto to reflect on who he was and what motivated his former terroristic lifestyle. A violent encounter with Irae, Queen of Wrath, forces him to do that a bit more literally when she invades his mind. Magneto looks at how and why the man known as Magnus became a supervillain, injecting a compelling new context into his history.

In Magneto #1, the antihero remembers his debut in Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Paul Reinman, and Sam Rosen’s premiere issue of 1963’s X-Men. Surprisingly, Lehnsherr recalls Magneto as a role he played, providing a face of mutant evil that allowed the X-Men to be seen as heroes. It’s a brilliant retcon by writer DeMatteis that unites the mindsets of the benevolently radical modern Magneto and his more villainous classic interpretation. This is far from a redemption, though. Magneto #2 pokes at the holes in that logic and challenges Magnus to reckon with the idea that the carnage stemming from his past actions may be his only legacy. The series gleefully replaces and restructures Magneto’s history and motivations, but leaves one element conspicuously untouched.

Never Again For The Master of Magnetism

No matter Magneto’s role or definition in a story, his experience as a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz during World War II should always remain as a salient part of his motivation. The character’s new series seems to understand how important this is, placing it at the root of his inner conflict. Magneto despises his past, refusing to acknowledge it and inventing reasons he should keep it from his students. He’s haunted by his memories, though, and every time he thinks of his former life he sees the people who defined it, led by a scared boy in striped pajamas. Whether he’s good or evil, Magneto has always been begrudgingly defined by that frightened child and his resolve to never be anyone’s victim again.

Magneto’s childhood experiences define everything Erik Lehnsherr believes in as an adult. Magneto’s life under Nazi rule taught him what it meant to be hated for being different. It taught him how deep human cruelty runs, and acts as the fulcrum that balances his belief in his own cruelty with the limits on where his moral compass will let him venture. Magneto doubles down on this, letting Lehnsherr’s experience as a Jewish survivor motivate him explicitly, even as it rewrites his motivation for everything else. The series acts as a reminder of the central importance of the Holocaust in Magneto’s story. However, as much as it consciously highlights this, the narrative also serves as an unconscious reminder that Magnus’ past needs some serious future-proofing.

Magneto’s Fictional Backstory Is Still Important

As the world, and Marvel, move into the late 2020s, there are some problems surrounding Magneto’s origin story. If he lived through the 1940s, he’d be around 90 years old in the Marvel Universe. Comics use reboots and retcons to keep characters from aging out of modern times, often changing characters’ backstories to keep up with the world outside the page. But no matter how thin the premise needs to stretch, World War II must remain a clear part of Magneto’s past. Marvel can pull from its repertoire time distillation excuses such as Captain America cryogenics or X-Men-related time travel, but the worst gimmick would still beat the best reinvention. Materially removing Magneto from the Holocaust would be disrespectful at best and irreparably damaging at worst.

The number of American-based Holocaust survivors in 2022 sat around 50,000, less than Arizona State University’s student population. More people than ever are unaware of Nazi Germany’s atrocities, and fewer veterans of the era are alive to provide context. Magneto stands as an immortal reminder of the real-world horrors of the Holocaust and the remembrance of its victims. The villainous master of magnetism may seem like a poor representative on the surface, but stories like X-Men: Magneto Testament were written with input from real Holocaust survivors. There’s a real legacy in this fictional character’s backstory, and erasing it only helps delete these atrocities from popular history. As ironic as it seems, the more out-of-place this anchor in time makes Magneto seem, the more important it is to protect.

Two issues in, Magneto has is a wonderfully-written deconstruction of what defines the Master of Magnetism after 60 years of X-Men history. Its modern examinations of past comics and well-thought-out explorations into themes of morality and historical bias feel perfectly at home in a character as nuanced as Magneto. It also helps that these philosophical deep-dives are surrounded by high-powered mutant action and twists that could irreparably alter which face Erik Lehnsherr wears as he heads into the future.

By the end of its four-issue run, the Magneto series will have not only changed most of what readers know about Magnus but also what they believe he can be. This miniseries’ retcons and new ideas are worth appreciating but the status quo it’s retained is equally important. The young Max Eisenhardt represents a generation of survivors and should survive no matter how many reinventions his adult self undergoes. Magneto is releasing two more monthly issues before its conclusion in November 2023.

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