Magneto #1: “The Once and Future Headmaster”

Witness a forgotten chapter from the Master of Magnetism’s past.

One of Marvel’s most complex and contradictory characters has always been the mutant master of magnetism, Magneto. From his early first appearances as a squarely evil mutant terrorist, hell-bent on destroying the X-Men and ruling the world, to his more modern interpretations seen within the pages of House of X’s seminal revisions to the X-Men line, which places Magneto as a leader of his people, someone’s whose past evil was merely part of a larger plan to accomplish the dream of Krakoa, a true home where he can finally protect all of his fellow mutants with no fear. And although the pages of X-Men: Red have (seemingly, it is X-Men after all) killed him once and for all, that doesn’t mean there are not plenty more stories to be told, and J.M. DeMatteis and Todd Nauck’s Magneto #1 makes a strong case that their attempt may be one of the best Magneto stories yet.

Set right in the middle of the seminal 100 issue original New Mutants run, after Louise Simonson had taken over writing duties from Claremont, and Magneto had taken over headmaster duties from Xavier, Magneto exists in a rare point in X-Men history where nothing overly horrible was occurring at all times to the mutants. While that would soon change, as the death of Doug Ramsey is seemingly not too far off from where this series takes place, it is very refreshing to return to a simpler time in the history of mutants, where entire issues could simply be character’s internal monologue as they wax poetically on their place in the world, action put on the back burner in favor of gripping character studies, something which DeMatteis achieves here to great success. There is, in fact, almost no action in this entire issue, beyond a brief danger room training session in the beginning, and the end fight which sets up the villain for the rest of the mini, both totaling only a few pages of this oversized issue #1. 

The heavy focus on Magneto as a character with a storied past, and (as this series seems to be all too aware of) future, DeMatteis attempts to square all the contradictions and retcons which have plagued the character over his 60 year history by making them aspects of Magneto’s own internal conflict and struggles. Positioning his Silver Age evil as merely a role being played in order to allow the X-Men to appear as heroes, in hopes that humanity would see that some mutants are good and pave the way to wider acceptance, is a genius way to understand the character through the lens of the hero he becomes during the Krakoan Age. This  especially true with the knowledge that he, Charles, and Moria had been preparing for their island state all along. But DeMatteis still leaves room for Magneto’s squarely evil years to make sense, laying the foundations of the cracks in Max’s desire to keep the act up as he sees human hatred continuing to rise rather than lower as he hoped, even when he becomes a hero. 

Questioning whether he could truly even fall to the dark side and rule humans with an iron fist, the ghost of his past comes back to haunt him, his decision-making paralyzed by visions of his childhood and his time at Auschwitz. This somewhat shocking and intense reckoning with such a traumatic and dark part of Magneto’s character, a past which has often been left unexplored and forgotten in various interpretations, helps add to the study of a deeply conflicted, and frankly broken, man. 

While Nauck’s art is not too similar to the more experimental styles that the New Mutant series became famous for, his ability to render characters that look truly stolen from a comic book on shelves in the 80s is incredibly impressive, and adds an immense amount to the story. Drawn with a clear reverence to the art of the time, seeing older costumes back in their former glory is incredibly exciting, and with a myriad of cameos during Magneto’s flashbacks to multiple eras of X-comics, Nauck treats us to showcase of beautiful re-imaginings that restore the iconic style of the age, notably Magneto’s magnetic field, which is very rarely drawn to be visible in modern comics. Colorist Rachelle Rosenberg’s use of muted yet still clear colors harkens back to the time of pre-digital colors and older printing techniques, while still using more advanced shadowing and a fuller spectrum of colors. 

While Magneto #1 may not work for those who are not already invested in X-Men comics, for anyone who was a fan of the original New Mutants series, or simply Magneto as a character, it is a beautiful return to a time long gone, which justifies its existence as more than simply  nostalgia bait, but rather a deep, nuanced series with a lot to say. The big villainous reveal on the last page sets up what will likely be even more rabbit holes to go down in Magneto’s layered psyche, and I personally cannot wait to read more.

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