I recently came across a lit of the top 100 Comic Book Villains from IGN. I was working my way through, seeing who I knew, agreeing and disagreeing with the various rankings for the villains. The top ten is pretty excellent, but the top spot is a surprise. I’ll give you a minute to look at the list, go ahead.
Okay, you might have guessed from my post topic, but beating out the Joker for the top spot was Magneto. What is it about this villain which so fascinates us? Is he truly a villain – or a victim? Is he right in all of his fears? After all, none of this tension has been resolved yet – in the comics, in the movies, anywhere.
And what about the group he surrounds himself with – his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants? Any group that includes “Evil” in the name is problematic, because does the truly evil person consider themselves to be so? Or is this Magneto just playing into society’s expectations – calling themselves evil because the humans will call them so?
Magneto – Survivor of the Holocaust
It is one of the singularly most grounding elements in the X-Men timeline – they could exist at just about any time in history, really, except that it is essential to Magneto’s character that he survived the Holocaust. It is the underlying event that leads to his entire worldview, his belief that humanity will commit genocide if given the chance.
Take this belief away, and Magneto is a different man. This is why this is a scene shown in two of the X-Men movies, X-Men and First Class. It is essential to his character.
And he keeps being proven right. The Weapon X project, the Sentinels, Genosha, and even recently things like the mutant-hating Nazism of the Red Skull. Are these just plot devices to keep the X-Men universe and plot going? Yeah, maybe. But as this is all a different way of looking at minority, difference, and rights in our own world, do we have that all solved here and now?
Magneto – Foil to the X-Men
Magneto exists as the perfect foil to Xavier’s dream. They are two men, with a faith in an ideology, neither one knowing if they are right. Part of the reason they believe they can back their own belief is because there is someone else already heading up the other side. With one of them gone, they might do something different.
For instance, in the Age of Apocalypse, Magneto leads the X-Men against the forces of Apocalypse, on the side of humanity, against a genocide of mutants against humans. Still fighting against genocide, but on the side of Xavier’s dream.
Or, in today’s comics, he’s working with Cyclops, with Xavier dead. Are they working towards Xavier’s dream? They have opened a new Xavier school, after all. I talk about this a bit in reviewing the new Uncanny X-Men. Magneto’s school of thought seems to be winning out: that humanity will be the enemy, not a friend. But are they still villains? Or will they try to do it as heroes? The jury is still out.
But for Xavier’s dream to mean something, for his thought to not just be taken as a given, there has to be the opposed thought. There has to be that question – can humans and mutants coexist? Will there be a war between the two? There can be no X-Men, or certainly not to the extent there are today, without Magneto.
The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants
So Magneto is occasionally right, and Magneto is the thought experiment opposed to the X-Men and Xavier’s dream. Magneto is a villain at times, but a villain of necessity, believing in a world where they need to be ever-ready for war.
But does that mean he has to surround himself with a group called the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants?
He’s kind of asking to be painted as a villain. Asking to be fought against. Not necessarily actually evil – he’s trying to defend and save his people, after all – but still working well outside of the system, against governments, against humanity.
Occasionally, he works on grand plans against humanity, like in X-2, with turning Cerebro against humanity. But would he have done it if the humans hadn’t done it first? Because any move he makes, he feels the need to have to defend to Charles Xavier.
He is a quintessential sort of monologuing villain, wanting to explain why he is right in everything he does. Like in Uncanny X-Men 304, one I remember from growing up – where he shows up at the funeral for Magik, and freezes the iron in the blood of all of the X-Men, freezing them all solid so he can talk to them, and tell them he is right. To recruit. Oh, and to strip Wolverine of his adamantium, that happens in there somewhere.
But then he surrounds himself with thugs, with violent mutants, with psychopaths… mutants like Sabertooth, Mystique, Pyro, Avalanche, Blob, and Toad. A wide range of mutants, but selected more for being able to fight than for being vulnerable – the vulnerable sort of mutants (those who obviously look very different) end up with the Morlocks.
Magneto wants a fight, invites a fight, but in the end by his actions wants to be attacked first – so that he can justify his actions as self-defense. And it’s only partially to convince himself of this, and far more to convince his friend and rival, Charles Xavier.
So what will the future of Magneto look like, with Xavier dead?