Monday, July 5, 2010

Villain Musings: Magneto

Next under the Sympathetic Villain microscope of evil analysis: that greatest of Marvel mutant supervillains/anti-heroes, Max Eisenhardt/Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, AKA Magneto, Master of Magnetism.

Like most villainous characters, what makes Magneto sympathetic is his biography. I am more willing to accept a person I think I understand, even when his actions are deplorable. Here's his origin story according to Wikipedia:

Magneto was born Max Eisenhardt sometime in the late 1920s to a middle class German Jewish family whose father, Jakob Eisenhardt was a highly decorated World War I veteran.[1] Surviving discrimination and hardship during the Nazi rise to power,Kristallnacht, and the passing of the Nuremberg Laws, in 1939 Max and his family fled to Poland where they were captured during the German invasion of Poland and sent to the Warsaw Ghetto.[1][16] Max and his family escape the Ghetto, only to be betrayed and captured again. His mother, father, and sister were executed and buried in a mass grave, but Max survived possibly due to the manifestation of his powers. Escaping from the mass grave, he is ultimately captured yet again [17] and sent to Auschwitz, where he eventually becomes a Sonderkommando.[17][18][19] While at Auschwitz, Eisenhardt reunites with a Roma girl named Magda, with whom he had fallen in love when he was younger, and with whom he escapes the prison camp during the October 7th 1944 revolt. Following the war, he and Magda move to the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia, and adopts the name "Magnus". Magda and Magnus have a daughter named Anya, and live uneventfully until one night when an angry mob burned their home down with Anya still inside. Enraged at the mob preventing him from rescuing Anya, the young Magneto's powers manifest uncontrollably, killing the mob and destroying a part of the city. Magda, terrified at Magneto's power, leaves him and later gives birth to the mutant twins Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch before walking away to die. Wanted by the authorities for the deaths and destruction in Vinnytsia, while searching for Magda, Magnus paid a Romanian forger George Odekirk, to create the cover identity of "Erik Lehnsherr the Sinte gypsy" for him.[3]

"Erik", relocated to Israel, where he met and befriended Charles Xavier while working at a psychiatric hospital near Haifa.[2] There, lengthy debates are held by the two regarding the consequences humanity faces with the rise of mutants, though neither reveals to the other that they both in fact possessed mutant powers. However, they are forced to reveal their inherent abilities to one another, while facing Baron Von Strucker and HYDRA. Following the battle, Erik (now dressed as Magneto) leaves, realizing that his and Xavier's views are incompatible, with a cache of hidden Nazi gold, which provided him with the financing to launch his goals.

Stan Lee, co-creator of Magneto, has said that he never envisioned Magneto as a villain, but rather as a man desperate to make the world safe for mutantkind. As portrayed by Sir Ian McKellan in the feature films, this comes out very strongly. He even quotes Malcolm X at one point. Sure, he's arrogant, amoral, bigoted, and vicious, but he is also devoted to a cause bigger than himself. I think he has more in common with the leaders of radical movements: Lenin, Paine, Goldman, Guevara, than with supervillains of Lex Luthor and Doctor Doom's ilk. His biggest flaw is in seeing only groups, never individuals.

I suppose how you view Magneto (or any other radical figure) is based on what lens with which you choose to view the world. Che Guevara is an international hero to some, a murderous sociopath with a political agenda and a fetish for firing squads to others. If you are a mutant, Magneto is a freedom fighter, if you're human, a terrorist. When interpreting the character, you have to decide with whom you identify. You and I are human, but comic geeks (and I am definitely one) will probably more readily identify with (if less readily condone the actions of) Magneto and Homo superior.

If Magneto were an In Real Life person, history would have to be the final arbiter of his character. And like all historical figures of great power, he has been retconned more than once (he was even a superhero for a while, in the 80's).

No comments:

Post a Comment