Futility, Humility, and Villainy in 'Magneto #21'

As the world ends, we find out just what kind of man Magneto is.

Magneto #21

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Author: Cullen Bunn, Paul Davidson
Publication Date: 2015-10

Every economist, philosopher, and Ayn Rand enthusiast will endlessly debate the color of the sky, but they can usually agree on one thing. People respond to incentives. It doesn't matter if they're Donald Trump or the Dali Llama. If the incentives are right, they'll usually follow what's in their best interests. To do otherwise would be like running a red light during rush hour. It's just plain stupid and helps nobody's agenda.

Every now and then, the incentives will align themselves in a way that makes even the most unrepentant villain into a hero. Sometimes those incentives have to be pretty extensive. If someone like Lex Luthor and Thanos are going to save kittens from trees, they need a very good reason and one that serves their typical villainous interests.

For someone like Magneto, however, the incentives don't have to be extensive. He's still not the kind of guy who can be bribed or sweet-talked into being a hero, but he does tend to be more reasonable than most. That's a big part of what makes him an interesting and likable character, although his likability is often limited by how well the Michael Fassbender's and Ian McKellen's of the world can portray.

Throughout Cullen Bunn's exploration of Magneto in the post "Avengers vs. X-Men" era (or the current Fox vs. Marvel era as it were), he's forged this villain/anti-hero persona who navigates a vast gray area between being a semi-hero and being a jerk. Magneto will do things that even Wolverine will hesitate to do on his worst day, but he'll do it for the right reasons. And it's because he's entrenched in this gray area that the narrative of Magneto #21 is so compelling.

The world is ending. "Secret Wars" is about to begin and the only one making a concerted effort to stop it at this point is Magneto. It's a rare situation where all the right incentives are in place. The Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Squirrel Girl have failed. There's nobody left to stop the final incursion. Magneto, however, is in a position to do something about it. Sure, it requires him to usurp power from Polaris his only non-retconned daughter, but he's willing to do that and not apologize for it. That's what makes him Magneto.

It's that unapologetic, I'll-do-what-I-need-to-do-and-be-as-mean-as-I-need-to-be attitude that highlights the best and worst of Magneto. Throughout the course of this story, it's just him staring down the oncoming incursion the same way a cow stares at an oncoming train. As he's doing this, others including Polaris are watching him. And they're hoping he succeeds. These are the same people who he once terrified as the mutant equivalent of Jason Vorhees. It's a strange situation for both sides, but one that feels oddly appropriate for the situation.

This sentiment is reinforced by a series of flashback scenes that remind readers that Magneto is definitively not a hero. Cullen Bunn goes out of his way to make this abundantly clear so that there's no ambiguity. This is still the man who tried to launch a nuclear attack against the human race. This is still the man who ripped the adamantium out of Wolverine's body and probably enjoyed every second of it. This is a man for whom the cries of his enemies are like the opening chords to "Stairway to Heaven". And yet, he's also a man who will save the world when called upon.

It's the ultimate culmination of the journey that Cullen Bunn has given Magneto over the course of this series. It's a journey that has kept Magneto in this nebulous gray area between being the kind of guy who rubs elbows with Cyclops and being the kind of guy who strangles Cyclops in his dreams. In the end, even as he's trying to save the world, Magneto remains in this area. He never tries to go full-villain or full-hero either. Like Lady Gaga's fashion sense, he just does things his way.

His methods are cruel. His personality is harsher than a Russian winter. But at the end of the day, Magneto still wants to create a world for his people where they don't have to endure the cruelty that he did. It's a goal that allowed him to be both a friend and an enemy of the X-Men. It's also a goal that put him in a position to be the only one who has a chance at stopping the final incursion. Like Gordon Gecko, he's as good as he needs to be and not a fraction more.

There's plenty of depth on Magneto's motivations. There's plenty of details on why he does what he does. However, some of those details are a bit narrow in that they don't focus much on Polaris or his former children in the Maximoff twins. And no amount of depth and detail can change the fact that he spends the entire issue just hovering in mid-air playing a game of chicken with an incursion.

As such, this is an issue that needs to be taken within the context of the entire series. On it's own, it's just an issue of Magneto having no regrets for anything he did, even as he's saving the world. That in and of itself is still a pretty compelling story, but it's a story that doesn't have the same impact without the cumulative impact from the previous issues. Like someone who has only seen the second half of the Matrix, it's going to feel incomplete and confusing at times.

In the end, Magneto can't stop the final incursion. However, Magneto #21 details his struggle and puts it in just the right context. There's no ambiguity as to why Magneto is doing what he's doing. There's no final realization or change of heart either. To his dying breath, he's still Magneto and he still makes no apologies for anything he's done. He might not be the kind of guy anyone would hire to babysit their kids. However, Cullen Bunn's run on this series has proven that this is the kind of guy you want on your side.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.