Written by Chad Echakowitz
X-men is one of the more complex and multi-dimensional comic book franchises to have come out of Marvel. This is due to the multifaceted characters and their continuous struggle between good and evil. Within the X-men Universe (or Multi-verse if you really want to be more accurate) there is no black and white, good or evil. Instead, there is a mixed hue of realism which reflects a truth that some comic book franchises seem to miss: no one is just good or just evil. And no character exemplifies this more than Max Eisenhardt – more commonly known as Magneto.
As most of us may know from watching the film X-Men: First Class (2011), Magneto was a Holocaust survivor. According to cannon, Max and his family fled Germany after the rise of the Nazi Party and took residence in Poland. Unfortunately, they were captured in Poland and taken to the Warsaw Ghetto. The Eisenhardt family escaped the Ghetto but were then betrayed and killed but somehow young Max escaped, but was recaptured and taken to Auschwitz.
Luckily, Max survived Auschwitz and at the end of the war married his childhood sweetheart Magda. He changed his name to Magnus and moved to Ukraine and had a daughter by the name of Anya. Later, Anya is killed by an angry mob who burned down Magnus’s house with Anya still inside. Enraged by the mob’s actions, Magnus unleashes his powers and kills the mob and destroys part of the city. This was the first full manifestation of his powers – the ability to generate and control magnetic fields.
Magnus’s early life shapes his ideals on the future of mutant-kind once he dons the guise of Magneto. Magneto regards mutants as the next step in the evolutionary chain, being superior to humans. He even describes mutants as “Homo superior”. Consequently, Magneto rejects the idea of a future where humans and mutants can live peacefully together. He wishes to protect mutants from ever having to suffer like he did at the hands of the Nazi’s. He sees this as a genuine possibility, given the fact that human-kind persecutes mutants on a regular basis (as is so abundantly clear from the films and comic books).
Magneto’s history completely justifies his ideals. He has had violence and prejudice done to him because of who he is and, as a result, will not let that happen to anyone else. He wants to protect his people by any means necessary. This is not so different from the Jewish Nazi Hunters during WWII. While violence is not always the best option, sometimes fighting fire with fire is the only option. Moreover, Stan Lee himself has said he “did not think of Magneto as a bad guy. He just wanted to strike back at the people who were bigoted and racist.” This makes sense, seeing that Magneto’s character development was inspired by Malcolm X.
It could be argued that Magneto shows similarities to his own oppressors, holding the belief that mutant kind are the superior race, which is a similar idea that the Nazis held in terms of the Aryan race. However, Magneto’s beliefs differ from the Nazis in two respects. First, Mutants are superior to humans. Genetically speaking, Mutants are the next step in human evolution. Whether their powers are for defence, offence or just awesomeness, they have something advantages to survival that we, as humans, do not have. Therefore, there is a strong argument in Magneto’s favour that Mutants are indeed superior to humans. This differs from the Nazis because there was no evidence that the Aryan race was genetically superior. Unlike the Nazis, Magneto has truth on his side.
Secondly, Magneto actually repents for his beliefs. During an encounter with the X-Men, Magneto becomes so enraged with his enemies, he tries to kill Kitty Pryde (AKA Shadowcat). Magneto stops when he sees that Kitty is a Jewish child. In that moment, Magneto realizes he has developed into someone who sees the lives of those who oppose him as worthless, just as the Nazis did. He stands down, refraining from causing more harm. This act shows that Magneto knows the difference between good and evil and can recognize when he goes beyond his own ideals and morals. He is someone who strictly adheres to his code, and can recognize his faults and attempt to amend them.
Now, things are about to get awkward. This article attempts to argue that Magneto is not the bad guy in X-Men. This is made all the more difficult by the fact that Magneto created a Mutant group called The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. With the word “Evil” right in the title, it makes it hard to prove that Magneto is actually a pretty swell chap. In fact, it’s made even worse by the fact that there have been examples of Magneto performing acts of torture, as well as destroying all electronic devices on Earth. In response to this, all one can do is skip right over it and ignore it completely. One must break a few eggs to make an omelette.
Apart from the clearly evil crap Magneto does, he also has a softer side. After fighting besides the X-Men for a while, he takes over Dr. Xavier’s school under the disguise of Michael Xavier. During this period, he Magneto softens his ideals and actually stands trial for his crimes. A bunch of stuff happens and he goes back to his former self eventually but for this brief period he shows his good guy side. He is willing to help his enemies and even changes his own values once being shown the error of his ways. He is willing to change and is sorry for his former sinister ways. These are attributes commonly not found in those who are purely evil.
The X-Men series is a wonderful example of brilliant story-telling. These characters are complex and three-dimensional. They are able to grow and change and actually act like real people. It is a testament to good writing and the power to reflect real life through the comic book medium. Magneto is a shining star on the top of the X-Men Christmas tree. He is a hot mess of emotions, justifiable anger, sentimental protection and bad-assery. Magneto is a reflection of all of us: we are not defined as one thing and we will always have the ability to change who we are. Whether you think Magneto is good or evil doesn’t actually matter. What matters is that you must realize that you are Magneto. We are all Magneto.