Dreams of War: “Uncanny X-men #16”

[28 January 2014]

By Jack Fisher

Some people never change. It could even be argued that most people never change. Their influences may change. Their circumstances and motivations may change. But at their core, they remain the same person. That’s why when villains become heroes, it rarely lasts. And it doesn’t necessarily cut both ways either. Heroes can become villains too, but they’re far more likely to stay villains. That’s because being a hero and doing the right thing is hard. In the same way some alcoholics are doomed to relapse, some reformed villains are doomed to become villains again.

It seems like it has been a long time since Magneto was a major villain. After the events of House of M,  he withdrew from mutant affairs and further clashes with the X-men. And when he returned in the pages of Uncanny X-men, he humbled himself in front of Cyclops and became one of the X-men’s heaviest hitters. It has gotten to a point where there is an entire generation of readers who wouldn’t know that Magneto was a villain if they hadn’t seen the X-men movies. But readers familiar with Magneto’s history always knew it was only a matter of time before Magneto’s old habits caught up with him. Like addicts that never stop being addicts, he needed only the right circumstances to fall off the horse. And those circumstances are what plays out in Uncanny X-men #16.

The whole story is dedicated to reminding Magneto of his original vision for mutants. It shows that he is dissatisfied with the way Cyclops’s mutant revolution has played out. Not long ago, he stood by Cyclops’s side as he addressed a crowd of pro-mutant protesters at a university. It’s probably the first time that Magneto has ever seen humans protesting in favor of mutants, supporting their struggle. On nearly every level, this should be a good thing. If humans are protesting in support of the mutant struggle, then that should help them as they deal with hostile authorities. It sounds like a win-win if ever there was one.

But Magneto doesn’t see it this way. He sees it as an insult. These human protesters conduct themselves as if they are sharing the burden that all mutants deal with for being different. And to him, that’s a joke because they really have no idea what it’s like to be a mutant. These humans never had to go through something like the holocaust or M-Day. They also fail to realize that so much of this burden that mutants deal with comes from other humans. To him, it’s like an army of drug dealers at an anti-smoking rally. To him, it’s the most offensive kind of joke without using a racial slur.

So now Magneto is fuming, but he doesn’t take it out on the protesters. Luckily for them, he actually does have a more pressing issue and so do the rest of the X-men. Someone has been attacking mutants with Sentinels again and not the big cumbersome kind with the goofy faces. He coordinates with Dazzler, who has been Mystique in disguise for the past few issues, to track down these Sentinels. This leads him to Madripoor, which is probably the first place anyone in the market for killer robots would look. But upon arriving, he notices that Madripoor has become to mutants what Cancun has become to American college students on spring break. It’s a new haven for their kind and one that is governed by a new mutant presence.

And when Magneto confronts this presence, it marks a critical turning point that has been several years in the making. It turns out that Mystique and a new Brotherhood have been running the show on Madripoor. And they haven’t just made it a haven for mutants. They distribute Mutant Growth Hormone, which turns ordinary humans into mutants. So the whole city is now overrun by mutants and psudeo-mutants. Mystique paints it as a beautiful work of art worthy of Picasso, a place where mutants can just come and be who they are. It sounds so appealing. But for Magneto, it’s only the second most egregious insult he’s encountered. It’s one thing to get it from a crowd of immature college students. It’s quite another to get it from the Brotherhood he helped create.

This time, he doesn’t just fantasize about responding to this insult. He attacks Mystique and the Brotherhood, much to their shock. In doing so he reminds them of the divide that the X-men and the Brotherhood once faced. Xavier dreamed of peaceful coexistence. Magneto dreamed of mutants asserting themselves as the new dominant species on the planet. But Mystique’s dream is a nightmare. He sees her setup on Madripoor the same way most people would see a newly graduated college student that lives in their parents’ basement, smokes pot all day, and uses any excuse to avoid getting involved in the real world. Magneto, at his core, is a man who believes mutants should stand up and fight, not lay down and hope the conflict blows over.

This harsh reminder puts Magneto in a position where he can stake a step back and look at the state of the mutant race. They’re no longer going extinct and they’re no longer unified behind a common goal. Their aimless and unmotivated, preferring to either aid a divided X-men in their bickering or get drunk in Madripoor. It shows him that there is a void that needs to be filled with the mutant race. There’s no dream to follow anymore. This new generation of mutants is content to never confront the challenges they face. For someone like Magneto who has been confronting those challenges all his life, that’s nothing short of cowardice.

It is by far the most powerful Magneto story since House of M. Uncanny X-men #16 effectively sets Magneto on a new path that diverges from Cyclops, Wolverine, Mystique, and pretty much everyone else claiming to have a vision for the mutant race. It’s like he is Gordon Ramsey watching a bunch of amateur chefs repeatedly ruin the same dish and now he’s ready to get into the kitchen himself so he can do it his way. It’s a very satisfying transformation and one that feels natural, adhering to the core of Magneto’s persona. It may be jarring for those who are used to seeing Magneto as a hero, but it’s as refreshing as a cold beer on a hot summer day for fans longing to see Magneto as the villain he is at heart.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/178587-uncanny-x-men-16/