Anyone who has ever dared to debate a creationist or argue with someone on an internet message board knows that most people will go to any length to avoid admitting they’re wrong. It’s probably the most painful act any person can do that doesn’t involve a lawyer. Sometimes the mere thought of being wrong is so traumatic that some people will practically lobotomize themselves to avoid even considering it. That obsessive aversion to avoid such a painful admission embodies many of the defining traits that make someone a villain. From Satan to Donald Trump, it’s a mentality that has spanned generations, civilizations, and culture.
This is what makes the concept of an “inversion,” as it has been defined in the ongoing events of Avengers and X-men: AXIS, so intriguing. It’s easier for a hero to become a villain for the same reason it’s easier to blow up a house than it is to build one. But for a villain to become a hero, they have to confront their flaws and actually admit that they’re wrong on some levels. They might as well be performing open heart surgery on themselves. This dramatic realization hasn’t been explored that much in Avengers and X-men: AXIS. However, the events of Magneto #12 that tie into this story offer insight into the actual process of this inversion. And the process, it turns out, is even more profound than the results.
In terms of the bigger picture, the story itself doesn’t reveal much more than what was already shown in the early events of Avengers and X-men: AXIS. That’s not to say it’s a glorified flashback. These events are given a different, more personal perspective by Magneto as he’s battling the Red Skull and the Sentinels. That’s not to say it’s not explosive and visceral either. There’s certainly no shortage of stories that have Magneto fighting Nazis and Sentinels. That has been the subject of at least half of his stories. What makes this struggle meaningful is how it establishes Magneto prior to the inversion.
He identifies himself as a villain. He associates himself with the team of villains he assembled to defy the Red Skull. He sees his part in this attack and that of his fellow villains as a strategy. The Red Skull probably always works under the assumption that the Captain Americas of the world will attack him at some point. He’s not nearly as likely to assume that a team of villains would attack. It would be like showing up to a gang war wearing clown costumes. The concept alone is so brazen that it leaves the other side too shocked.
Magneto and his team of villains stop short of putting on clown makeup, but their attack does the job from both a strategic and conceptual standpoint. Magneto is still a villain. He’s just a villain who has a grudge against Nazis and guys who rip out the brains of his deceased friends. But beyond being a villain, the story also re-establishes the decades-old divisions between Magneto and Charles Xavier. Now even though these divisions have been revisited more than a Simpsons rerun, it adds another dimension to the conflict that goes beyond labeling the guys superheroes regularly beat up.
While Magneto’s relationship with Charles Xavier and the X-men has been complicated over the years to the point of absurdity, he has still never once admitted that he was wrong. He still thinks Charles Xavier is crazy to think that mutants and humans could live in peace. A flashback with him, Charles, and Gabrielle Haller help explore this disagreement. It was among the first of an argument that Bryan Singer would eventually turn into a series of bad movies, but it established Magneto as the kind of guy who would sooner rip his own tongue out with a butter knife rather than admit he was wrong.
Then the inversion spell happens and Magneto experiences a moment of clarity nearly a century in the making. Like an alcoholic having endured one hangover too many, he awakens after the Red Skull’s defeat with a very different mentality. He now has a new understanding of what it means to be a villain and why it has turned his friends and family against him. It’s the kind of moment that is usually reserved for a made-for-TV movie on the Hallmark Channel, but it’s done in a way that feels genuine.
What makes it a truly powerful moment is the last message Charles Xavier gives Magneto before his mind fades again. Magneto goes out of his way to tell his friend he now understands the merits of hid ideas. He even comes to terms with his role as a villain in helping the X-men pursue it. But what makes this realization all the more painful isn’t the overflow of humility. It’s Xavier’s admission that Magneto might have been right all along. It couldn’t be a bigger case study in irony without being an Alanis Morissette song.
The irony and the emotions help give the whole inversion concept a sense of substance that has been lacking. It doesn’t just show how it changes the way a villain like Magneto thinks. It puts all the conflicts that helped make him a villain in a new context. It helps take away some of the magical elements of the inversion. It’s not just a spell that gives characters an excuse to be different. There is something else to it that can’t be accomplished with clones or mind-control and anything that can avoid resorting to clones and mind-control deserves credit.
What Magneto #12 accomplishes has little bearing on the overall events of Avengers and X-men: AXIS. However, it helps enrich the concepts of this event in ways no amount of killer robots or Nazis could ever match. It details the actual sobering journey of villains who become heroes. And like a recovering alcoholic, it’s a much harder journey to make. Nobody likes to admit they’re wrong. But when someone does find the strength, it makes for a rare, beautiful moment that has only become increasingly precious in this era of message boards and Kardashians.