Friends, it has been a little while since last that giant signal has lit up the early morning sky around the Retroist Vault. Being that as it may it does however mean that once again I have the extreme pleasure of being part of the latest Super-Blog Team-Up. The subject matter for this gathering of the internet’s greatest comic fans and pop culture aficionados is characters and storylines involving redemption. For my entry I’ve decided to focus on Marvel’s mutant master of magnetism – the redemption of Magneto.
Marvel Comics over these many years has most certainly created some very memorable villains. Doctor Doom, the Red Skull, Thanos, the Green Goblin, and of course Magneto to name a few – but of all those characters I just mentioned, it is the late and great Stan Lee’s mutant equivalent of Malcolm X that has always been able to walk the razor thin line of villain as well as hero. While his first appearance in The X-Men #1 back in September of 1963 didn’t exactly paint him in the best light – Lee has gone on record as stating that in regards to Magneto’s nature:
“did not think of Magneto as a bad guy. He just wanted to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist… he was trying to defend the mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly he was going to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course… but I never thought of him as a villain.”
While there are elements of Doctor Doom that you can get behind… and I’ve shared my feelings about Latveria’s ruler on a past Super-Blog Team-Up, it’s not like you are going to find yourself siding with the likes of the Red Skull, right? Of course it helps that Magneto has been given an incredibly relatable as well as tragic backstory – survivor of the Holocaust in addition to making himself a self-proclaimed guardian of all mutant kind. Like Lee himself mentioned in that quote, Magneto or if he we go with his birth name of Max Eisenhardt, the character naturally has decided to not just protect his fellow mutants but punish humanity for their prejudices.
Personally I feel Michael Fassbender has wonderfully exemplified those dual characteristics in the X-Men: First Class series of films. Those movies did a fair job of showing the redemption of Magneto to boot – although to be fair in those films it’s not like he accepted that redemption when all was said and done. Not like in comic books, in particular starting with 1984’s Secret Wars – where Magneto and many others are transported by the Beyonder to Battleworld – where the heroes and villains are expected to fight each other, the winners receiving their heart’s desire.
I mention this mini-series as when the characters were transported off Earth by the all-powerful Beyonder, Magneto was included in the good guys camp. The Beyonder explained his actions with Magneto’s overall desire for protection of his fellow mutants marking him more as hero than villain… even if said heroes didn’t necessarily see him as one of their own.
It bears remembering that at the time, the X-Men and other mutants in general were considered criminals – not to mention ‘monsters’ – that was a viewpoint shared by the general population and even the likes of the Avengers to the Fantastic Four! The redemption of Magneto kicks into high gear with Uncanny X-Men #200 when he surrenders himself to stand trial for his crimes at the Palace of Justice in Paris. And as these things do happen in comics, his day in court is violently interrupted by the children of Baron Strucker seeking revenge on Magneto (Through flashbacks in Uncanny X-Men #161 you learn both Xavier and Max confronted the Nazi/Hydra leader in their youth). During this attack on the court room, Charles Xavier is wounded and asks his former friend to take up the role of headmaster for the students of his school as well as the X-men.
For myself this is where I feel that Magneto truly earned redemption, in the pages of The New Mutants comic book series. Doing his best to leave his feelings of revenge against Humanity behind to attempt to honor Xavier’s hope of Humans and Mutants living peacefully with one another. In fact in The New Mutants #35 – the first issue with the former villain as headmaster, he addresses his students and expresses that very hopes of this new start.
Furthermore, in that same issue one of his charges, Danielle Moonstar, is attacked by a bunch of drunk frat guys and almost raped – Magneto quite naturally is enraged when he learns of this and uses his abilities to destroy the attackers home on campus, warning them:
“Mine is the power to destroy — but I choose not to. Profit from my example.”
His angry confrontation with the attackers leads to one of the frightened young men to call the authorities, not to report a mutant act of aggression but to turn himself in – and we assume the rest of his friends. Unbeknownst to Magneto, his students were privy to this scene as well and it helps them to begrudgingly accept him as their new headmaster. Although to be honest that is something that doesn’t work out very well, no matter how much Magneto tries to walk a different path.
However the redemption of Magneto that took place in the 80’s is one of those elements of his character that I feel makes him so popular – under the right writers he is never used simply as a villain but as a flawed hero. He’s not exactly in the wrong, due to the atrocities of his early life he truly believes that it will all happen again to mutants this time… and that is something he cannot allow to occur, even if that thrusts Magneto firmly in the anti-hero role
There are many other members of the Super-Blog Team-Up that have their own favorite stories and characters that have been redeemed, you may check out their hard work throughout the day by following the links below.
In My Not So Humble Opinion: The Redemption of Orson Welles
Between The Pages Blog: The Secret Origin Of Spider-Man
Black, White and Bronze: The Redemption of Red Sonja
Chris Is On Infinite Earths: The Pied-Piper Reforms!
Coffee and Comics: Green Lantern #100
Comics Comics Blog : Elfquest :Cutter’s Redemption
Comic Reviews By Walt: SBTU Presents – Redemption/Coming Home: Shredder
Longbox Review: Nightwing’s Redemption
The Crapbox of Son of Cthulhu: Iron Man: Alcoholic, Part I
The Daily Rios: Thanos: Samaritan
The Source Material Comics Podcast: Penance – The Redemption of Speedball
The Superhero Satellite: The Walking Dead: “Redeeming Negan”
The Unspoken Decade: What If Vol 2 #46 and 47
Two Staple Gold: Just a Pilgrim