In this column, I will dive into times, throughout superhero history, that comics got political. There seems to be a constant debate if political discussion has a place in the medium. I hope to show that politics and superhero comics go together. Today we are looking at Uncanny X-Men #150 and the introduction of Magneto being a Holocaust survivor.
The (very political) issue
The comic starts with Magneto proclaiming he is going to fix the world. He gives all the world leaders an ultimatum dismantle their nuclear weapons or face immediate destruction at his hands. Magneto argues that he can force the world into peace and though there may be some deaths, something better will come from it. In a way, it is an aggressive way to obtain a pacifist society. The X-Men with their strong moral leadership, under Professor X, see a violent threat as a violent threat and proceed with a mission to take Magneto down. Even though his goal is a good one, they do not want to see it achieved with blood and fear. While most of the team fails at taking down Magneto it is Kitty Pryde who finds success in her failure. When Magneto blasts Kitty he thinks he kills her and is immediately regretful of his actions. Seeing the (apparent) death of a child gave Magneto flashbacks to his past in the Holocaust. We learn that his family was killed in Auschwitz, in the Nazi-run concentration camps. Suddenly Magneto’s fear of humans, and how they treat mutants, is far more clear.
Magneto as a Survivor
Sometimes the best villains are the ones you can understand or sympathize with. While there are places in media for the likes of Joker and Carnage, agents of chaos with no redeemable qualities, a great villain is one that has more depth and meaning behind their actions. Magneto was always the more zealous foil to Professor X’s need to find common ground. Magento wants to force the world to change and accept mutantkind regardless if he has to get his hands bloody doing so. Professor X would prefer to combat ignorance with education, one of the reasons he runs a school. But having Magneto as a Holocaust survivor changes a lot. Chris Claremont was looking for a reason to make Magento more sympathetic and understood by the reader. Knowing that he has seen the worst outcome of prejudice, genocide, it makes sense why he is so aggressive in fighting for mutant rights. And he isn’t wrong, the Sentinels (one of the earliest X-Men villains) were designed by humans to hunt and kill mutants. Time and time again in X-Men comics the mutants are shown as victims of a prejudice society to eradicate or contain their presence. When Magneto sees the actions of politicians that have their interests in mind before those of their people, he sees a mirror image of the Nazi party. Magneto even rightfully calls out governments need to use their wealth to arm themselves rather than feed and take care of those technically under their care. Also having him as a survivor brings the X-Men book closer to its civil rights allegory. It is no secret that mutants are a stand-in for any minority that has faced systematic discrimination. The best part about Magneto is that if you sat down with him you’d probably have the same vision for the future, you just might not agree on how to get there.
How this changed Magneto
After this comic Magneto shifted from villain to and occasional hero. This change was not immediate but pick up an X-Men book today and you will see him standing side by side with the X-Men, and it isn’t the first time. There was even a recent X-Men Black issue where Magento compared his experiences with that going with the detainment of Mexicans in America (also written by Claremont). You even have students wearing “Magneto Was Right” T-Shirts in Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run. Him being a survivor, and attaching trauma to his actions, is what made him likable and relatable. Not only the reader was able to gain an understanding, but the X-Men themselves tended to reach out to Magneto. Suddenly, Magento being Jewish and a Holocaust Survivor was just as an important aspect of the character as his ability to move metal. And arguably was the one change to the character that truly made him long-lasting and endearing.