It seems kind of shocking that it has taken this long for Marvel to give Magneto his own ongoing series. Ever since the mid-eighties, Marvel has been toying with the idea of Mags as anti-hero more than a straight up villain (remember when he was in charge of Xavier’s school for awhile? That’s a thing that happened.) Since then, he’s gone back and forth, with his most outright villainous turn in the modern era having been in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, which was quickly retconned right after as having been a Magneto imposter instead (was it ever revealed who that imposter was by the way? Someone in the comments section fill me in, I don’t wanna get lost down the online Marvel Google search rabbit hole). Marvel has finally given in to fan demand and given us Magneto #1, the first issue in an ongoing series from writer Cullen Bunn and artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta.
When last we saw Magneto, it was in the pages of Uncanny X-Men, which features Scott Summer’s more militant branch of the team. While there was something interesting about the Cyclops/Magneto dynamic, with Magneto acting as Cyclops’ consigliere, to use Godfather language, ultimately the X-Men, even a more aggressive version of them, is far too soft for Magneto’s agenda. And recently, he took off in the night, leaving the new Xavier Scott Summers and Emma Frost the new Xavier school all to themselves.
As the issue opens, we hear the testimony of a Starbucks employee (or whatever the Marvel universe version of Starbucks is), who is recounting to the authorities the story of the grisly murder that happened in his establishment earlier that day; a man sat down with another man at a table, then after hearing some heated talk about evolution and genetics, the first man pulled the fillings out of the other guy’s teeth… and then replaced them with something else. I won’t say just what, but it’s pretty grisly and gross… and kind of awesome. You know, awesome in a horror movie kind of way. In short, Magneto the Badass is back.
From here, the issue switches to narration from Magneto himself, who is hiding out in a cheap Kansas motel. He laments how he once had the highest tech imaginable at his disposal, how he once ruled from space and lorded over Jurassic jungle nations, and now he’s reduced to hanging out alone in motel rooms plotting his schemes. We see a large collection of newspaper clippings on the wall, all with stories on mutant hate crimes that have gone unpunished, but won’t continue to be unpunished for much longer. And I slowly realize what this comic is, and why I’m digging it so much: it’s the Marvel Mutant-verse version of Showtime’s Dexter.
You see Magneto, in this series, is a serial killer. Sure, he kills people who deserve it, but as the barista at Starbucks says in the prologue for the issue, “you can see it in his eyes… killing for this guy is like autopilot.” Magneto kills the right people, but much like Dexter, he does it to quench an anger in himself that goes back to the concentration camps of World War II and everything he suffered there. He needs to kill, he needs to make people pay for crimes committed on him by people long gone. And while his actions are evil… well, these people he is killing are monsters, aren’t they? Humans who have contributed to the slaughter of innocent mutants: We, as readers, can only feel so bad for them. And we also can’t help but like and root for Magneto. And also like Dexter Morgan, Magneto knows just what he is… he has come to terms with the monster inside and accepts it. He knows one day he will have to pay for those crimes, but until that day comes, Magneto has work to do. Other people need to pay for their crimes first.
Magneto, much like other serial killers both real and imaginary, is hiding in plain sight. He knows that to the general public, it is the helmet and the cape that everyone knows, not the face. And with a shaved head now (a tribute to his fallen frenemy Charles Xavier?), he looks like Joe Sixpack. No one would expect to look for Magneto driving around in a dilapidated pick up truck. Of all the premises for a Magneto series, this is at once both the most expected and the most unexpected; on the one hand, this being a Marvel mutant title, you expect things to be on a grander scale than presented here, but then you think how everyone’s favorite scenes in X-Men: First Class involved a young Magneto hunting and killing Nazis, and this book seems like an extension of that. I will say, there is a twist to the ending of this book that implies that this book will go into more familiar Marvel mutant territory, but I hope the tone and set up as seen in this first issue continues. I would much rather this book continue to look and feel like something unique in the Marvel universe.
Writer Cullen Bunn has been making waves at Marvel these past couple of years, with series like Captain America and Bucky, Wolverine, and Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe. This is my first exposure to Bunn’s work, though, and I can see what the fuss is about. This issue was tight, disturbing and even managed to be funny at times. It does a great job setting up who Magneto is at this point in time, and just what his mission is. The art by Spanish artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta is also pretty great, extremely evocative of artist Tim Sale’s work, although probably less exaggerated and cartoony than his work sometimes can be. But it’s clear Sale was a big influence on him. Hernandez Walta knows how to use the medium to tell a story, which is something I wish I could say about every comic book artist, but I can’t. His panel arrangement is fairly impeccable, showing how good of a storyteller he is, an attribute lost on many a modern illustrator, who’ve traded in good splash pages for coherent storytelling.
Of all the classic super villains in the Marvel and DC universes, Magneto is the easiest sell as an ongoing series, simply because on some level we all sympathize with him. You couldn’t really do a Dr. Doom series, or a Joker series (both have been tried, both didn’t really work), and have it connect with an audience in the same way, but Magneto is an entirely different animal. So far, Marvel seems to be off an great start with this one, and this is definitely a book worth checking out.