Missed Directions: Magneto Was Right

Words of the Prophets: PopMatters writer Jimmy Callaway supermans Grant Morrison's "Magneto Was Right" meme from the fictional into the factual world.

Few were as excited as I that Marvel, courtesy of writer Matt Fraction, would be bringing back into continuity that malevolent master o’ magnetism, Magneto, within the pages of The Uncanny X-Men. A fairly typically difficult adolescence has more or less rendered me one of those troubled souls who tend to root for the bad guys. And Magneto, much more a master of misanthropy than magnetism, often gives voice to my own hyperbolic curses upon mankind.

But then he comes back as a good guy. He wants to make nice. And though he is still regarded by the X-Men as being highly untrustworthy, compared to the recent aggressive national anti-mutant campaign, the one that led to the mutants creating their island “Utopia,” any trouble Magneto could cook up would at least be a change of pace. Plus, he goes and nearly kills himself bringing the outer-space-exiled Kitty Pryde back to terra firma.

So even though I am denied the traditional supervillainous rants against homo inferior, I find myself not that upset with my favorite character’s treatment thus far. This is largely due to Fraction’s continued top drawer output and the return of my beloved Shadowcat, but I think there’s more to it all than that.

Back in 2001, writer Grant Morrison turned his unique vision to the X-Men. During his tenure on New X-Men, he introduced a mutant named Xorn, a former Chinese political prisoner with a star for a brain and healing powers. Turned out, though, that Xorn was actually the then-believed dead Magneto, biding his time to strike.

And strike he did. First, taking over all of Manhattan Island, Magneto then set about getting to that whole reversing-the-magnetic-poles-of-the-Earth thing that he had been putting off. Some of Magneto’s finest moments as a raging anti-sapien orator appear in this arc, along with some most effective parallelism enacted by Morrison to show just how around the bend Magneto’s way of thinking is. Of course, the X-Men rise to defeat him, but not before Magneto kills Jean Grey.

This arc, “Planet X”, remains my personal favorite of the Morrison run, if not over all. But of course, Marvel could not leave well enough alone. Soon after Morrison left the book, it is revealed that Xorn was actually Xorn and not Magneto. The actual Magneto was alive and well, and the actual Xorn was just confused and angry. In some editorial shuck-and-jive that does not even take the first time around, the X-book editors sought to repair what they thought of as the damage Morrison had done. Apparently, this vast destruction and mass murder on Magneto’s part was just a shade too out of character for them.

Even writing those words makes me cringe. What else is the sworn enemy of all humankind supposed to do? Write a stern letter to his congressman? The short-sightedness of this editorial stance, even in light of then immediately-post-9/11 world these books were created in, should be clear to anyone with a smattering of respect for the medium.

I am not even Pollyanna enough to think the bottom line in this industry, especially where a company like Marvel is concerned, is anything other than profit. But would it not be more profitable to invest in timeless storytelling like Grant Morrison’s, the kind that will sell in reprint editions for years after, instead of taking the short money of a slapdash ret-con? Comics readers are not so stupid, nor are their creators, that at least some sort of middle ground could not have been reached on this score. But here it is nearly a decade later, still a blight on this on-going mythology.

Marvel editors: masters o' Missed Directions.

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