Max Eisenhardt or Erik Magnus Lehnsherr was a victim of the Holocaust. Depending on where you came to the X-Men, you either met him as a youth displaying his powers in a futile attempt to save his mother. Older fans know Magneto’s origins from his multiple flashbacks during the Claremont era. Young Magnus was lined up with a group of other camp members and brutally shot down. The difference was that Magnus survived and while he was buried alive, his powers appeared. Slowly but surely, he magnetically pulled himself up to the top by dragging against the metal in the ground and in his fellow victims.
Magnus, Erik or Max (pick the name you want to use) escaped the camps with his beloved Magda. They escaped in the Fall of 1944 and sought refuge in the Ukraine. While there, the younger lovers built a life as Magneto started using the name Magnus in public life. The couple lived there for years and they had their first child named Anya. During a freak accident, their home caught fire and Anya was trapped inside. Several of the villagers had previously seen Magneto use his powers and they felt they shouldn’t intervene. Unfortunately, Anya died and this began the first honest push in Magneto’s war against humanity. Fearing for her life, Magda escaped while Magneto destroyed the villagers for allowing his child to die.
Unbeknownst to Magneto, Magda was carrying twins that she never had the opportunity to tell Magneto about before the death of their daughter. Months later, Magda would make her way to Mount Wundagore where she gave birth to her twins. The children would grow to be the mutant heroes known as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. In the meanwhile, Magneto had made his way through Russia and the Middle East forging a new identity with the help of some criminals that helped his former Nazi oppressors escape justice. Now known as Erik Magnus Lehnsherr, Magneto was free to begin a new life. Eventually making his way to Israel, Magneto met his first fellow mutant. A young recently graduated Professor Charles Xavier was using his telepathy to help patients in a hospital in Haifa.
They worked together for a year or so, as they both started to fall for a hospitalized woman named Gabrielle Haller. While work with Ms. Haller, Xavier and Magneto both noticed that agents of Hydra were intimidating certain Holocaust escapees and began to piece together that Hydra was working out a plan to move secret Nazi Gold through the country. Teaming up to stop Baron Von Strucker and Hydra, led Magneto to fully use his powers for the first time in the face of another mutant. Professor Xavier was impressed and began piecing together the fundamentals of what would become the X-Men. Stealing Hydra’s gold, Magneto realizes this views didn’t match up. Having the money to now finance a private war against humanity, Magneto left.
As the years went on, Magneto raged against humanity. Using his sizeable resources, underworld connections and impressionable mutants; Magneto launched an aggressive campaign against anti-mutant military installations across the world. He even hollowed out an Asteroid and built his on/off again base dubbed Asteroid M. Magneto manages to find his kids and forces them into his new group “The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants”. Magneto won’t learn that Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch are his children until years later. But, he uses them as soldiers in a slowly building army until Xavier’s X-Men arrive to stop them on multiple occasions. Throw in a few trips to The Stranger’s alien world and some genetic tampering in the Savage Land and that is how Magneto spent the 1960s.
That is the central problem with Magneto and Professor X as the sliding timeline of the Marvel Universe marches on. They are both presented as men of considerable age and history, but how do you keep doing that in a work of serial entertainment? Over the years, Magneto has been genetically tampered with and de-aged through efforts of science. But, he’s one of a handful of Marvel characters where his constant aging is getting ridiculous. Especially when the Claremont era launched in 1975 and so much focus was put on the fact that he was a father/grandfather that survived the Holocaust. The X-Men and his own children were allowed to get younger, while he had to keep staying at the same age range. Where does it all end?
The idea of Magneto being misguided or having a terrible temper has been an ongoing trope. However, the angry youthful rage that his views presents never became more defined, as when Magneto would die in the books. He never outright died, but went into hiding like a modern era Moriarty. Meanwhile dozens of imitators or devotees would step up and carry on his unfiltered war against humanity. Fabian Cortez, Exodus, The Acolytes and many others would just openly attack people without any just cause other than Magneto Was Right. T-shirts would appear and it would become a rallying cry for angry mutants who were tired of being more powerful than a group of flatscan humans that were hellbent on killing them.
It’s only when Magneto returns properly that he sees what his ways have brought about and he tries to fix it. Cue to the present and we have Magneto working with Cyclops and a splinter cell of X-Men. They’re trying to carry on Professor Xavier’s dream, but Magneto is also using it as a chance to stage a covert war against military and private individuals who torture and execute mutants. His powers are a little off-kilter following the X-Men’s encounter with the Phoenix Force, but he’s slowly building back to full steam. Plus, he’s shaved his head in some aesthetic effort to resemble his dead friend. After all of these years, Magneto still hasn’t gotten what Xavier was trying to teach him.
In the mid 1980s, Chris Claremont wanted to redeem Magneto. As a fan, this is where I was introduced to the character. I had no idea why it was weird for him to lead the X-Men and New Mutants. But, I went with it. He was a troubled guy who seemed to really understand what they needed. But, that’s the problem with Magneto. You want to justify his anger without paying attention to the long-term effects of his rage. Most madmen don’t come as lunatics, but as silver tongued devils with deep pain in their past. It’s only through absorbing power and building a facade, do they feel like they have the means to force their vengeance on the world. Magneto is a far more complicated character than most realize and this brief essay just scratches the surface.
Ultimately, Magneto is more than a villain. He is THE villain.