I call it the Magneto Paradox, but it basically boils down to the fact that Marvel’s sliding timeline is a bad thing for comics.
For those of you who aren’t aware: Marvel comics has a habit of sliding the timeline to keep characters of a certain age within their continuity. Jarvis was a pilot in one war, but then when that aged him out of continuity, they changed the war to make it more recent, and so on. It ensures that the characters stay within their “normal” age range while the series can stay modernized. I think this is a bad thing.
So many of our heroes in Marvel comics – and especially some of the villains – come from a place that is so ingrained in their creation that removing it is something that would ultimately destroy the character. And this is never more prevalent than with Captain America and Magneto.
Both characters have their start in WWII – both were shaped and molded around the fact that there were Nazis. Both were victims of the war, although it could be argued that Cap made it out better. The fact is that without the threat of WWII, without the interference of the Nazi regime, and without the looming threat of disaster on a global scale, these characters would fail to be the same as they are today.
And therein lies the problem.
Today, in 2019, the events of WWII and the Holocaust are fading out of living memory. The men and women who survived the war are dying of old age and the complications of being 100 years old, or older. And the political climate in the world right now is volatile and is mirroring a lot of the things we saw right before WWII, so it hastens the importance of remembering and honoring the people we lost and the people who served their country.
For the sake of argument, we all know that Captain America was frozen for 90 or so years, which is why he is still young. Adding to that, the Super Soldier Serum keeps him from aging at a normal pace. So Steve is less affected by sliding timelines and the general passage of time as the comics progress. He can always have his origin story be that of a WWII soldier given an amazing power.
And this brings us to Magneto.
Magneto cannot function as a character without his backstory as a POW in WWII. Erasing his Jewish/Romani heritage and the atrocities that he went through in a concentration camp erases why he is the way he is. Forcing his story to change as he ages out of continuity erases that last little bit of “living memory” regarding WWII. Changing his story to reflect a more ‘modern’ theme is harmful in that it erases his Jewish/Romani heritage and the persecution that his people have faced. It also erases a lot of the mutant-as-symbolism for persecution of minority identities and makes Magneto a less nuanced and sympathetic villain.
I will die on the hill that Magento is fully justified in his actions strictly because he survived Auschwitz. Making him a Weapon X type backstory for military advancement rather than a legit victim of the Holocaust ruins the sympathy. Logan or Deadpool, for example, are not as sympathetic because they were, mostly, willing to go into those experiments. Magneto was not. Magneto is a perfect polar opposite to Captain America – both were products of the time and of the circumstances, both were experimented on, but one was willing and the other was not. One experienced, first-hand, absolute atrocities, the other fought to stop them, but couldn’t protect the victims. Both were shaped by what happened to them in WWII.
So therein lies the rub. What happens to Magneto now that the events of the Holocaust and WWII are phasing out of living memory? How can this man be kept within continuity without destroying his backstory? We cannot give him a sliding timeline backstory, it doesn’t resonate. So, does Marvel drop him? Does Marvel kill him off forever? Or do they do the obvious and give him some secondary mutations that slow his aging? Do a body switch? Something else? And then how does that affect his history with Professor X?
Ultimately, I believe that sliding timelines are a detriment to progression in comics, so long as the writers can retcon and play around there will never be a reason to retire characters and make forward progress.