The Silver Age was an interesting time. I know, call me Captain Obvious. Characters were being created left and right (though not that one as far as I know), and it floors me to think that many of the characters we know and love in present time were all created in rash of enthusiasm and constant desire to push out the next big thing in roughly a 15-year period! Sure, plenty of new heroes and villains have come along in the time since the Silver Age ended. But it’s still impressive that so many from that long ago have lasted. I’ve had a fun time digging through stories and seeing so many familiar faces.
One of these is Magneto. Boring as it may be, I’m a good guy. My favorite characters are heroes. When I think about what sort of characters I’d be if I lived in the Star Wars universe (everyone thinks about that, right?), I’d want to be a Jedi. I’m all Light side, all the way. But. I have an affinity for reading villain origin stories. It’s fascinating to learn what happened to make someone click over. Sometimes it’s out of his or her hands, sometimes it’s a general personality inclination, and then occasionally, it’s a moment in time. A fixed point where a person can turn in one direction – take one misstep – and change his or her life forever.
It happens with heroes, too. Think about when Bruce Wayne witnessed the murder of his parents. He could have gone either way. He chose to develop an alter ego for justice instead of evil.
Magnus was shaped into Magneto by the events of his youth. In Uncanny X-Men #161 by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and Bob Wiacek, it’s revealed that he’s a survivor of the Holocaust. Through a fantastically told flashback, you see the origin of the relationship between him and Xavier. It was the first time readers learned about their shared past. They had mutant powers, but they were not yet Magneto and Professor X. They were meeting each other on different ground – both happy to find a kindred spirit, both glad to stumble across someone who knew about mutation and had opinions about the science – yet they were both completely different.
They revealed their powers to each other. I believe Xavier assumed they would be close friends, but Magnus had other plans. The comic outlined their basic conflict, the point they would argue over and fight about for years to come: Magnus believed mutants were superior and could never co-exist with humans. He thought humans would only fear them and therefore try to kill or control them. Xavier had none of it. He was optimistic and hoped mutants and human could live side by side. There are times when I think Magnus, and later Magneto, almost came around to that way of thinking. Almost gave into hope. But humans would commit acts against mutants out of ignorance or terror and prove his theory right.
It’s a sad story. He twists and becomes very much like the entity that made his childhood terrible. The Nazis believed they were superior and wanted to wipe out all those who didn’t meet their standards. They acted out of hate. Magneto has that and also a healthy amount of fear. He’s seen what a large group of like-minded people is capable of doing. Of course, big organizations can actually do good, but he was only exposed to the worst and unable to open his mind to see any other way.
By believing that humans are the enemy waiting to destroy him and all mutants, he almost forces them to think that way. He’s completely blind to the fact that not all people are alike, or if he’s aware of it, he doesn’t care. He thinks evil will ultimately triumph. So he becomes evil to stop that from happening. To prevent oppression before it begins. Professor X tries to use education and good will to do what Magneto does with horrendous acts of violence. I wonder who’s been more effective.