Behind every famous revolutionary is a forgotten tragedy. People don’t just seek to overthrow the established order when things are peaceful. Revolutions happen because there’s an ongoing injustice and if it’s ignored long enough, it morphs into a full-blown atrocity. Magneto is, at his core, a perfect storm of personal tragedy and extreme revolution. He takes every concept associated with violent revolts and crosses every conceivable line. The fact he can also control magnetism is almost secondary.
Since his inception in the first issues of Uncanny X-men, Magneto’s story is as relevant today as it was in the ’60s. He’s a victim of the Holocaust, among the worst atrocities committed by humanity. He watches it unfold from simple bigotry to full-fledged genocide. For him, the threats to his people aren’t threats — they’re inevitabilities. He knows a mutant holocaust will occur if the world continues down its current path.
Whether he’s a bloodthirsty villain or a conflicted anti-hero, Magneto’s motivations don’t change. In every era of X-men, from the days of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to the recent developments with Cullen Bunn in X-men Blue, Magneto is still a mutant revolutionary to his core. His goals remain the same, protecting the mutant race from oppression. The final issues of X-men Blue effectively take him off the path of an anti-hero. In X-men Black: Magneto #1, legendary X-men scribe, Chris Claremont, returns to send him further down the path of a villain.
His actions, in this story, are somewhat standard. There are innocent mutants being detained without cause at a facility that has too many similarities with a concentration camp. Magneto single-handedly liberates them, albeit in a less-than-heroic way. That’s not to say he ruthlessly butchers dozens of guards who are probably “just following orders”, as is often the case with great atrocities.
Like his ideological counterparts in the X-men, he’s not just about bullying the bullies. He seeks a better future for mutants and he’s willing to resort to fear, violence, and intimidation to achieve it. He’s not one of those conflicted villains who constantly waffles in their dedication. Magneto knows who he is and doesn’t care how others see him. That he has his own Danger Room in which he practices killing the X-men is proof enough of that.
He also goes out of his way to let humans who fight back know what they’re up against. In that sense, sparing their lives is less about mercy and more about tactics. He wants to show the world what he’s willing to do and what happens to those who get in his way. Even though he frees a bunch of innocent mutants who were detained without cause, he’s no hero. It’s this character distinction that makes X-men Black: Magneto #1 work at a fundamental level.
However, Claremont’s style is one that rarely stops at fundamentals. A big part of what makes his contributions to the X-men so iconic, especially with respect to Magneto, is how he adds layers to a character’s actions. While a significant chunk of the story revolves around Magneto freeing innocent mutants and terrifying the humans tasked with guarding them, another part of the story involves a more personal touch.
Before he dons his iconic helmet and starts attacking bigoted humans, he’s just a man sitting in a cafe. He even forms a friendly connection with a young waitress. She’s not a mutant, but she shows that she understands the plight of mutants. She sees the same story about mutants being detained and points out the blind prejudice. She says outright that it’s no better than the crimes committed against other minorities. Given how the entire concept of X-men has parallels to the struggles of minorities, it puts Magneto’s actions into a critical context.
Magneto takes humanity’s tendency for bigotry and shoves it in their face. This isn’t a case of a villain conflating a personal injustice with the collective crimes of the entire human race. If a young waitress at a cafe can see the same predicament as Magneto and conclude that it’s wrong, then what’s everyone else’s excuse? This isn’t a case of someone being driven by madness or ego. This is a man who sees an unfolding atrocity and does something about it, not caring whether or not his methods upset self-proclaimed heroes.
X-men Black: Magneto #1, it’s easy to understand why Magneto does what he does. There are circumstances, choices, and larger implications at work. It makes for a story that is thick with details.
Claremont’s style is distinct in how it utilizes narration boxes and drawn-out conversations. It can get a little wordy, but not to the point that it detracts from the visuals crafted by Dalibor Talajić. It also leads to instances where some characters have genuine depth while others are just glorified props. There’s some of that here, but it remains concise from start to finish.
As both a character and a concept, it’s possible to root for comic superhero Magneto, but only in the sense that he sees the same crimes as everyone else. How he goes about confronting them is what makes him a revolutionary and a villain. Adding nuance and complexities to his motivations help further establish him as someone who isn’t just the guy in the purple helmet who battles the X-men. It sets him apart as someone who has his own plan for his people and God help those foolish enough to get in his way.