Today is for taboo
Straight to the obvious question: What does Magneto think of Israel?
So, on to it. Which Magneto? Only one stipulation: designated as a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz. Otherwise, Magneto as you most clearly see him, with no specific reference to any issue or title. You’ll have to adjust the toggles of supremacism, ruthlessness, leadership, idealism, and grief to the points and combination that works absolutely the best for yourself, and be ready to summarize them clearly. I’m not interested in your interpretation of canon but rather of concept. [Important: Chris Claremont is the author reference here in X-Men #150, 1981, but is not to be held as the owner of intention or an authority over this question.]
What is Israel? I have one stipulation about that too: no made-up history. The points which follow in a moment are historical fact and whatever view or presentation of Israel you use is invalid without knowledge of them. [the following sentence was initially removed based on a commenter’s response but I have decided to restore it -RE] Criticism of Israeli ideology and policy does not constitute anti-semitism.
As you can see, there’s a deliberate double dial here, generating a special kind of Rorschach test. This isn’t about which personal answer is “right” compared to the others – it’s about illuminating oneself to everyone else. Embrace that if you dare.
The following is the baseline historical context for Israel-Palestine.
Following World War One, the area variously colored on the map below was designated the British Mandate of Palestine. Its population included Arabs of various religions (including 10% native Jewish and ancient Christian, both reaching back to New Testament times) and a small but well-funded contingent of Jewish Europeans calling themselves Zionists, who sought a mass emigration of the global Jewish population to this area. The situation from the 1920s through the 1940s is not well known to Americans or to many others, but suffice to say that both groups had fallen out politically with the British, there were several Arab revolts which were put down in classic British colonial fashion, and the Zionists had entered into covert militia warfare against the British, for which they invented the word “terrorism.”
You should probably click on the image to understand the next part. The area in pale beige was designated “Jewish territory” in the U.N. Partition Plan proposed by the U.S.S.R. and seconded by the U.S. in early 1948. The areas in red and white were outside of that territory and designated “Arab territory.” Upon the scheduled lapse of the British Mandate of Palestine in 1948, two things happened: (1) unilateral recognition by the U.S. Truman administration and (2) the military forces then called the Haganah and the paramilitary forces Irgun and Lehi ethnically cleansed the red areas, displacing approximately 800,000 people, and seized them. In Arabic, this is called the Nakba.
The Partition Plan was never adopted. It would be an irrelevant footnote except that the recognition by the U.S. stipulates those precise borders, which were and have remained completely overrun, and they are briefly referenced in the later UN Resolution 181.
The ensuing 1948-1949 war against the idiotic invasion by Jordan and others heavily favored the Haganah, now called the Israeli Defense Forces, supplied with air power and weaponry by the Soviet Union, against at most one conceivably-competent Arab army armed with WWI-vintage weapons. The seizure of the areas in red became permanent. Although in Israel this is called the War of Independence, it did not “win independence” from anyone.
Israel’s inclusion in the United Nations in 1949, supported by both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., citing U.S. recognition and hence the Partition borders (this is UN Res. 181 mentioned above), was contingent on its declaration of borders and its ratification of a constitution. It also stipulated the permission for refugees to return and the independence of Jerusalem from any state’s control. None of these stipulations have occurred.
Approximately a million European Jewish refugees including some Holocaust survivors were transported to Israel following 1949, to a great extent against their will and in no way afforded political power (Tom Sege’ev, The Seventh Million). To this day such refugees receive extremely little respect in Israel and many live below the poverty line; the exceptions are extremely few. The idea that Israel was “created for the survivors of the Holocaust” as a solution or recompense for the Nazi atrocities is a fabrication.
In 1993, the Oslo Accords abnegated the Palestinian claim to lost lands and established the Palestinian Authority as the government of the West Bank and Gaza, including a schedule by which this government would become independent of Israeli oversight and by which Israel would withdraw its extensive settlements in both areas. None of this schedule has occurred.
To move to the present day, which includes the 1967 seizure and occupation of both Gaza and the West Bank (white areas on the map) including Jerusalem, the composition of the area looks a bit like this:
- Israel including areas seized in 1948-1949 and in 1967, including Jerusalem and the Golan Heights: over six million people, with over a million of them non-Jewish and subject to marginalizing laws – for example, they are “citizens” but not “nationals,” a significant legal distinction there. Many of them are descended from those displaced during 1948-1949. (See Susan Nathan, The Other Side of Israel)
- The West Bank: over 2.5 million people, many descended from those displaced during 1948-1949. This area is nominally governed by the Palestinian Authority established in the 1993 Oslo Accords, but is still fully occupied by the IDF and subject to Israeli martial law. Much of it has been appropriated for Israeli homes and roads, especially west Jerusalem and the city’s surrounding suburbs.
- Gaza: over 1.5 million people, many descended from those displaced in 1948-1949; subject to severe economic blockade since 2005, full Israeli lockdown on energy and water resources, and two atrocity-laden IDF military strikes (2008, 2014).
In case you didn’t know, there is no treaty or any written alliance between Israel and the U.S., and there never has been.
A more complete account is available in my book-and-game Shahida, including the ethnic diversity of Jewish Israelis and the white-nonwhite tension therein. The most important recent book for investigating these issues is Max Blumenthal’s Goliath. The main book for understanding how the Holocaust was co-opted into Zionism is Norman Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry.
I also stress that one can conceivably be favorable toward Israeli policy or otherwise feel positively toward its culture without resorting to fantasies (see any of Benny Morris’ historical books, for instance) or without approving its political and military actions (see the long-standing activist Uri Avnery, for instance). Nothing I’ve said here front-loads the Israel dial.
To repeat, I’m not asking my question to Claremont or to Marvel or to any sort of official or unofficial canon. I’m asking you, in the context of my two stipulations.
I know well where my little dial-spins end and have already written it, which I will share only after I see ten (10) substantive replies in the comments.
A bit about the recent me: in 2007, Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University in blatant circumstances of outside pressure and donor decree. Upon his departure, I became the faculty advisor for the Students for Justice in Palestine and did my best to help the group with BDS activism until I resigned from my position at the school in 2014. I wrote and published my book-and-game Shahida about the Lebanese Civil War and became a signatory to the BDS movement during this time.
Note: The political circumstances and resonance of both the 1960s Magneto and the 1981 retcon will be discussed as their own textual issue in a later post, so please save discussion of those for then.
Some links: To better know a villain, The Magneto is Jewish FAQ, Magneto was right, The Devin’s Advocate
Next: Justice comes by night
Posted on June 7, 2015, in Politics dammit, The great ultravillains and tagged Chris Claremont, Holocaust, Israel, Judaism, Magneto, Max Blumenthal, mutant, Nakba, Norman Finkelstein, Palestine, Partition Plan, Susan Nathan, Tom Sege'ev, Uri Avneri, Zionism. Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.
Wow, I was really excited about this question until I got to the line that said ‘And no, acknowledging them does not signify “anti-Semitic”‘ and then I found myself unable to fight my way through the sudden nausea to proceed. I’m imagining your next post is going to say “here are the facts about the history of Africa, and no, acknowledging them does not signify “racist”‘, and the one after that, “here are the facts about the history of women’s colleges, and no, acknowledging them does not signify “sexist”‘. I mean, the dude doth protest too much, right?
Can you revise the line to read “and in summarizing them, as a random Gentile white guy, I have done my level best to avoid the inevitable mix of anti-semitism (whether demonizing or fetishizing) and anti-Arab racism and colonialism (also whether demonizing or fetishizing) which must inevitably attend such an effort, but of course I welcome corrections from folks actually targeted by these oppressions”? Because then I can read your no doubt awesome article and we can get to the terrific question of what Magneto thinks of Israel!
(For help interpreting my reaction, I doubt I’m going to necessarily disagree much factually with your account once I read it. I consider Israel to have become an apartheid state at this point; I want a just solution and am agnostic about whether it’s a real two-state solution as opposed to the current farce, or a binational or cantonal/federalized state with real protections for both (all) communities; and I have a lot of sympathy for the BDS movement. I’m addressing your dismissiveness, your not taking anti-semitism seriously as a thing — and not just a thing, but a crucial part of the toolset that the great powers have effectively used forever to divide and conquer.)
tl;dr pls check yr privilege so we can dish abt mangeto
Hi, and welcome. It took two re-reads for me to figure out what was up – with respect, you’ve mis-read that passage. It wasn’t claiming non-anti-Semitism for myself, for exactly the reason you stated – any such claim is automatically suspect or at the least, foolish. It was directed to the reader – to say that in considering the actual history as part of this question, that he or she isn’t to be held back by fears of accusation.
That said, I definitely see that your reading is possible, even likely, from the text of my post, so I’ll mess with it a little or eliminate it altogether (with attribution so this exchange doesn’t com out of nowhere). I’m away from my home computer and would rather do it there, so look for it Monday or Tuesday. So: yes, I see, and thanks. If I’m not guilty of assumed privilege, I definitely cop to bad writing there. [late edit, Aug 13 1015 – I have restored the original sentence, or close to it, as I stand by its content.]
Your parenthetical final paragraph is right where I’m personally coming from as well, so it’ll be neat to see where our Magnetos coincide or differ.
Well, I’m now late to the party and very impressed with everyone else’s reasoning about Magneto; I think my answer falls somewhere between the various ones given. I think Magneto is more interesting as a sincere ideologue scarred by horror than as a tyrant using the Holocaust as a way to browbeat his opponents (whatever actually happens in the comics), but at the same time I am persuaded with the commenters for whom Landsherr’s connection with Judaism is tenuous and for whom his true identity is as a survivor (and mutant) and his true origin is Auschwitz. (By the way: what the hell kind of name for a Jew is Erik Landsherr? I’ll tell you: an almost self-parodically and aspirationally self-hating one, a mashup of a hypermacho, supergoyishTeutonic first name with a last name — “liege lord” — which would have literally gotten a Jew killed in German-speaking Europe for most of the last millenium. Whatever Magneto’s real name was, it is not Erik Lehnsherr. Maybe an SS guard named him that as a joke?) I also love the bit about Xavier and Erik coming up with mutant ethnicity in sophomoric all-night coffee-bar bull sessions in the 1960s. (However, I can’t really place the blame for Marvel Universe mutant-hatred on their shoulders; indeed, Marvel Universe widespread mutant-hatred is so inexplicably forced that I can’t really headcanon it at all; it asks us to believe that the average of citizen of New York, in a nightclub where Dazzler was performing which then gets flattened by the Hulk, would despise the former as an abomination while making excuses for the latter because, hey, he only got irradiated AFTER conception! Really?)
Anyway, I think that, yeah, as others have said, Magneto went through a Jabotinskian phase before feeling sufficiently rejected by humanity that he started taking this mutant identity thing way too seriously. I think Israel is probably central to his vision of the humanity that rejected him, and he has a serious love/hate thing going on with it, because it is his immediate image of the unthinkable thought that he has to instantly reject, of what his life would be like if the human world accepted him or if he was human — something he clearly on some level desperately longs for even as he denounces it.
And I frankly think Magneto’s loss of faith can’t seriously be located in real-world Israeli politics, if we’re going to preserve him as a radical rather than a thug. His complaint — implacable human hatred of mutants — has to be a real one, and so his experience of disillusionment has to be based on some real instance of mutant-hatred sufficiently jarring that he became convinced that a bloody war for survival was his only option; and this event needn’t be directly connected with Israel, but his ideology is certainly formed partly by Jabotinskian nationalism.
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As a side note, not wanting to derail this into the most depressing argument known to the internet, but feeling a duty not to just let things go: I rather like and generally agree with most of your summary of historical events, except for this far-fetched and disappointing paragraph:
“Approximately a million European Jewish refugees including some Holocaust survivors were transported to Israel following 1949, to a great extent against their will and in no way afforded political power (Tom Sege’ev, The Seventh Million). To this day such refugees receive extremely little respect in Israel and many live below the poverty line; the exceptions are extremely few. The idea that Israel was “created for the survivors of the Holocaust” as a solution or recompense for the Nazi atrocities is a fabrication.”
So, that’s cherry-picking hyperbole. Israelis love to bitch about each wave of Jewish immigrants, and their treatment of the various groups (Ashkenazim, Mizrachim, Ethiopians, etc.) is certainly influenced by racism and prejudice; nonetheless, this is of a totally different order than anti-Palestinian racism, and it’s silly not to acknowledge Israel’s tremendous success in comparative terms in absorbing (Jewish) immigration. European countries go through spasms of anti-immigrant hysteria when they are asked to increase their populations by 10% over a generation with citizens of their former colonies who already speak their language; Israel doubled its size successively generation after generation from far more linguistically and culturally diverse sources. So “such refugees” and their descendants are essentially the entire Jewish population of Israel. Similarly, it’s absurd to suggest that Zionism, rather than being a response (and a halfway effective one) to centuries of murderous European anti-Semitism, is purely a colonial landgrab that happened to conveniently instrumentalize the Holocaust.
It’s disappointing because it feels like a move to ease cognitive dissonance rather than face the true unpleasantness of the world. The Israelis are currently brutally oppressing the Palestinians, so it would be convenient to believe that the whole thing is simply an imperialist landgrab from the beginning — one would be relieved of the burden of ambivalence. But it’s a failure of imagination and compassion not to consider someone like “Erik Lehnsherr”, liberated from the camps and well aware that after the liberation from the Nazis, pogroms were still going on, Poles and Lithuanians and so on eager to finish the work of extirpating the Jews, and well aware that neither FDR nor King Faisal nor anyone else had had any interest in taking in the Jewish millions, and not to understand why such a person would feel the need of a state.
Of course the Israeli government appropriates and grandstands about the Holocaust and uses it to justify unforgivable things — shamelessly, cynically, and grotesquely, at every turn! I hate the sacralization and instrumentalization of the Holocaust in modern Jewish life. But other people lying about a thing does not excuse one of the need to tell the truth about that thing.
The other thing about the convenient and comforting notion that Zionism was always a sham — that there’s no liberation movement there to begin with — is that it lets the Great Powers off the hook in a profoundly suspect way. Oh, the poor dear duped USA and UK and USSR, what were they to do? They felt so bad about the Holocaust that they let these unscrupulous Zionists seize the land, and now they try ever so earnestly and sincerely to promote Peace in the Middle East, but those dastardly Israelis refuse to play along. We are fed constant news stories about how very, very hard US politicians try to make peace happen, and how frustrated and sad they are at the intransigence of Those People (those people are interchangeably the Jews or the Arabs depending on whether the news stories are aimed left or right). It’s a fascinatingly inverted relationship between a great power and its client state, isn’t it? One might consider, though, that it’s the Israelis’ job under the arrangement not only to form a beachhead for US power in the Middle East, but also to take the blame for it. In the 1980s we blamed Israel’s intransigence on the complete lock AIPAC had on US Jewish public opinion, and its steadfast support for the Israeli right. Interestingly now that J Street is just as powerful in public opinion and most young US Jews look askance at Israel, there hasn’t been any shift.
It might be the case that you have two desperate peoples here, one almost exterminated and then offered a reprieve if they set about very publicly almost exterminating another, and that in fact the real power is just where you would think it was.
It’s correct to take the side of the one currently being targeted. But to do so to the extent of rewriting how the other one got in this situation, is only to play the great powers’ game.
Cool, and thanks. I see we’re struggling with the same things about Magneto; I too want him to be idealistic and scarred, rather than psychotic or so vilely supremacist that he decides Israel isn’t fill-in-the-blank enough. I don’t know if you’ve seen my earlier Bootin’ the Pooch post, but you can get there quickly through the Magneto tag, and it ties strongly into that issue.
I’ll be posting about mutie-hatred in a sequel post to this one, later this month. I’d also like to authorize you for a preview of it for critique, so let me know if you’re interested via email (address in sidebar).
The “Seventh Million” debate does rage, and I certainly have no beef with alternate views being posted about it given what I provided. I figure the thing to do is to provide the reference, which I did, and people can follow up.
The first part of the question is set up as something rather absurd (I know I should look at the question as a whole, but I will get to it, this is part of the answer)
“Magneto as you most clearly see him, with no specific reference to any issue or title.: it’s a contradiction: there is no “Magneto” to see, no single character, without reference to specific issues and stories. Thinking that these is some sort of “Prime Magneto”, that is the character is he “should be”, would mean living in frustration seeing that character that exists only in my head being betrayed every time.
(This DOES happen with other characters, there are characters that I feels are betrayed by some depictions, but for that to happen, there should be a baseline of coherent characterization that established the character. In Magneto’s case it does not exist)
The second part of the question is not so much a clarification, as a negation, or maybe a totally different question:
You’ll have to adjust the toggles of supremacism, ruthlessness, leadership, idealism, and grief to the points and combination that works absolutely the best for yourself, and be ready to summarize them clearly. I’m not interested in your interpretation of canon but rather of concept.
This is about our preferences, how we LIKE our Magneto.
I am not saying that you didn’t write that clearly, it’s not for that reason that I splitted the question. I did it to explain my reply, and why it does violate the first part.
I can’t answer without references to old stories, because my preferences for Magneto are based on their failures.
My preference is for a Magneto that live in a world where Israel is never nominated by an American comic book author.
Because, probably because a lot of the American political discussions about Palestine are so toxic and drenched in American exceptionalism and colonialist culture, that every time it was shown in a Marvel comics, it was cringe-worthy.
(there could be exceptions, but I don’t recall any at the moment)
I am not talking about historical details: I am absolutely no expert, I don’t know a lot about it, it’s simply a matter of finding the rhetoric distasteful.
Now, trying to find a reply that would not violate the first part of the question… it’s not easy, it’s not something I usually do, to try to imagine “what this character would do”, in particular when the character is all over the place as Magneto… but my reply would be that Magneto talks about “homo sapiens” and “homo superior”. Maybe to distance himself from the phase in his life when he was a victim, he would consider himself above humanity. ALL humanity. If you are not a mutant you are an inferior race, period. He would not consider Israel government differently from the USA or the Russian government.
But you see how this second “correct” answer is totally informed by the first “incorrect” one, right?
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If I were roleplaying Magneto (as I love to do), and therefore freed from the twin questions of “Is this any canon but my own head-canon?” and “Does Magneto know more about the intricacies of Israel than I do?” here is my response:
“Do I -approve-? I suppose, for what it is worth, but you must realize that WHAT I approve of is precisely that they do not hypocritically ask for my approval. Whatever the reality, they see themselves as an endangered people and rather than beg and mewl they have chosen to champion the cause of dominating and, when necessary, destroying those they perceive as their oppressors. They will doubtless turn their hatred to me in time, but that sad irony does not reduce my respect, albeit minor, for their will and candor.
“Of -course- you see the question as more complicated than that, Charles. Was there ever any doubt that you would? I’m sure you will have plenty of time to continue agonizing about it. Thank you for the tea. It’s always lovely talking with you, but I am -rather- busy these days, if you’ll excuse me.”
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The Magneto of my head-canon, eh.
Magneto used to identify strongly as a Jew until he met with Xavier when they were both young men in the ’50, adventured with him for a while and kept in touch until maybe early ’60s (I suppose the first X-Men team is started in the late ’60s in this canon), and the two basically invented the idea of a “mutant ethnicity” while sitting in a bar and shooting the breeze.
This idea about an emerging mutant “race” was heavily informed by both men, but particularly by Magneto, who had only truly constructed a Jewish identity for himself in the ghetto and Auschwitz during WWII – it was a militant identity, born of adversity to a teenager whose family had been solidly German before the events of the Third Reich. Magneto moved to the emerging Israel after the war, but grew heavily disillusioned with the Israeli project over the next decade, which left him somewhat at sea. When he met Xavier and befriended the man, the notion of a new ethnic identity which he could control and define himself without all the hassles involved in Jewishness appealed to him – Magneto jumped at the chance to define himself as a “mutant”, and never looked back. So much so that I have some trouble understanding it myself; what makes that man so much a mutant and so little a Jew, aside from authorial unwillingness to talk about Israel in comic books?
The key point to my characterization is that Magneto is one of the two men who quite literally invented the idea of “mutant” in the first place. At the time the phenomenon was entirely unacknowledged by the scientific community – Xavier would make his career as a whatever it is he is with it – and the various people later interpreted as mutants saw themselves variously as gods or whatever identity seemed handy. I’m not sure which of them brought the idea of the mutanthood as an “emergent new humanity” in a sort of Crowley-ite proto New Age manifest destiny into it (probably Xavier, his young ambition as a mystery archeologist needed and wanted a pseudo-mystical “movement” to latch on to), but it’s pretty clear that Magneto was the one who modeled mutanthood as a militant state defined by oppression – he basically took everything he wanted Jewishness to be, where he found the Israeli project to fail him, and molded mutanthood into exactly that kind of thing to be.
The above helps us answer the question about what Magneto thinks about Israel, because we can look at what he made of mutanthood, and assume that the things he desires in the mutant identity are the same things that the Jewish identity were not giving him; after all, he essentially stopped being a Jew in any meaningful political or cultural way, and dedicated his life to mutant extremism. If Israel of late ’50s had been his kind of country, “mutant” would’ve probably remained an academic/mystical idea, Xavier would’ve met Amahl Farouk (the Shadow King – the encounter of two telepaths that strong was inevitable sooner or later) anyway, but the kind of mutant identity we see emerge in the interplay of the comics would never had occurred; Xavier’s school (started in response to Farouk) would have been non-militant itself and much less successful (as Xavier’s career in general; without Magneto his concept of “next step in human evolution” doesn’t break through as the dominant explanation, and he doesn’t become a staple of the talk show circuits), there would’ve been no Brotherhood of Mutants, and people would treat “being a mutant” as just a medical condition and a personal talent instead of a mystical-political “Homo Superior” concept. Xavier could even conceivably not meet with the Grey family or an equivalent study case without his fame (mutants were very rare in the ’60s, making both men’s insistence on a mutant ethnicity or whatever a total shot in the dark), leading him into thorough obscurity as an armchair theorist unable to ground his research in empirism.
But that’s the What-If of Magneto being happy about Israel. In reality Israel apparently lacked the following qualities for him, all very prominent in his own Brotherhood:
Militant organization with himself on top; this is probably something he could have discarded at some point, but to me it seems clear that Magneto has deep control issues – he’s afraid of following and compromising. I’d be too, with that background.Uncompromising extremist policy in striving for strength and a place in the sun. The core of Magneto’s political identity is public insistence on mutants being here to stay (as opposed to Xavier’s cowardly hiding among the teeming masses), and thorough unwillingness to lead with negotiation and compromise with human politics, which he sees as corrupt and illegitimate.Loyalty to mutants as an idea and individuals. I would be first in line to admit and condemn the actual characterization of Magneto in comics as consistently wishy-washy and hypocritical, but in my head-canon he’s first and foremost somebody willing to gather humanity’s rejects into his Brotherhood, and defend them and look after their interests even where humanity fears and hates them. If he should later sacrifice his brethren in a power political power-play, as he so often does without an smidgen of guilt in the comics, that should be a defining moment of betrayal for the man who first became Magneto – by making that choice he’s changing into something more like the institutions he originally rejected, not becoming more like the man who rejected Israel.
(For comparison’s sake, it might be interesting to note that the Brotherhood and Xavier’s child soldier experiment are both politically militant and pro-mutantkind, only differing in publicity strategy and the kind of accomodation they desire vis-a-vis humanity; one is extremist, the other is moderate. This only becomes exceptional when you realize that those are the only two organizations in their world – which I’m interpreting as separate from the “Marvel universe” for this purpose – with that mutant-loyalty bit. The Hellfire Club, Morlocks, Marauders, Alpha Flight are all examples of organizations that make heavy use of mutant talent, but none of them define themselves through mutantry – take away the comics sales thing about putting mutants everywhere, and there’s no reason whatsoever for e.g. the Marauders to consist exclusively of mutants.)
OK, so let’s look at Israel in the ’50s in this light. Magneto was on the brink of adulthood during the war of ’48, and would probably, given his characterization, have served in the war, eager to defend Israel and to create a sanctuary in the Middle-East for all the Jews of the world. He knew of his mutant talent (perhaps explained to himself in pretty old-fashioned, even Hitlerite terms – what’s a Jew to think when he discovers himself a superman of the sort the nazi ideologues fantasized), but kept it hidden, perhaps because he wasn’t comfortable with the idea of a superior being at the time, and because he was still weak and unused to the power, which came to him slowly and took diligent practice to master. (We know that Xavier trains mutants intensely to strengthen their powers, so it is reasonable to assume that the first generation would have taken their sweet time to achieve anything much.)
Magneto would have supported all the strong policies of Jewism immigration and Arab population transfers, to create a more Jewish an viable stronghold state after the independence. He would have been conflicted about Arabs, having little personal experience with them before, but he would have been one of those immigrants for whom the idea of Israel and Jewish community was more important than a Levantine history he would have known mostly in the abstract, if that – as an European born and raised, Magneto wouldn’t quite grok emotionally that he’s arrived in the middle of a decades-old conflict waged against people torn from their homes, so it would be easy for him to interpret the war of ’48 simply as Arab hostility against Jews (probably driven by power politics in his mind more than some sort of incidious Arab plot against ethnic Jews – Magneto never imagined Jewry as an exceptionally mythical victim ethnicity, he fought for the Jewry simply because he was one himself).
The big political things in Israel around the time Magneto lost faith would’ve been the Suez crisis, the shaping-up of the immigration policy, the Eichmann trial and the general firming up of the national mythology of the new state. Magneto would have already left Israel behind by the time of the Six Day War (notably, if he hadn’t, he surely would have participated heavily – by then he would have mastered his powers and been ready and willing to use them) in the late ’60s by all canonical accounts, so whatever it was that disillusioned him, it happened in the late ’50s, early ’60s.
It would be easy to postulate a personal reason for Magneto’s disillusionment, but that’s just not very good writing, and not in character for the man; I prefer to think that Magneto-as-a-Jew would not suddenly decide to be a non-Jew because his Jew lover lilts him or an Israeli soldier kills his favourite puppy or something like that. It has to be bigger. Fedayeen terror would only solidify his loyalty towards Israel, so that’s not it, either.
Here are my guesses at what happened, working off my list of Brotherhood qualities that Israel evidently lacked, forcing Magneto to reinvent himself thoroughly:
Magneto was mixed up with Israeli hardliners, possibly even had some Mossad action going for him or something. He wanted to assassinate Nasser (the strongly pan-Arab, anti-Israel president of Egypt) as the tensions mounted between the two nations. The Israeli government stabbed him in the back, perhaps in some underhanded and disappointing way, that made him re-evaluate his loyalty to the cause.Magneto is disgusted by the insufficiently socialist politics of the new Israel, being as how it quickly becomes a heavily stratified class society predicated on cheap labour provided by not only Arabs, but also immigrant Jews without the cultural and social resources European-born Jewry like Magneto himself enjoy. He might suffer political defeat and frustration himself, encouraging him to forswear democracy altogether.Israel itself refuses Magneto in some concrete manner, making less of a Jew out of him. This likely wouldn’t be a religious issue, Magneto is totally the sort of guy who would be capable of participating in every sort of Orthodox tomfoolery, and enjoying it as part and parcel of his ethnic identity politics. Perhaps he is rejected by Israel due to a mutant-related issue, e.g. some course of events where he is wrongly accused of causing a disaster with his superpowers – happens all the time in the Marvel literary world, after all.
Considering those ideas and their credibility, I frankly have to drop that first one out of the running – there is no way in hell for the Israel of the ’50s to be perceived as too moderate by anybody even bordering on sanity, and I am pretty much working off the assumption that Magneto of the time was a civilized, intelligent man with heavy baggage but also deep ethical sensibilities and whatnot. Whatever it was that caused Magneto to abandon Israel and become a mutant full-time was not the unwillingness of the Israelite government to use all weapons at their disposal.
This leaves me with the kernel of an “Untold Origin Story of Magneto”: after the war of ’49 he goes to college, becomes involved in politics, his convictions solidify along leftist lines, he joins a Kibbutz, becomes heavily involved in national-socialist (using the term literally here, to characterize the flavour of socialism they were doing in those days – very much non-USSR, non-internationalist) politics of Israel. Magneto prospers, has friends, dreams of a strong and independent Israel free from danger. Later on, in early ’60s maybe, everything crumbles for him in a most dramatic manner as he is exposed as a mutant, perhaps in a terrorist attack by e.g. Hydra or some other suitably thematic party, and he faces a severe anti-mutant reaction; this cannot be because “people hate mutants just because” (the weakest part of the X-Men mythos to my thinking – it is never acknowledged that Xavier and Magneto basically cause the anti-mutant prejudice of their world with their own actions; without them there is no sociological reason whatsoever for racial hatred to emerge), but is rather likely because of the way the events go down; there’s confusion and misunderstanding and Magneto unwilling to compromise his principles even a bit, and when the dust settles he’s basically the Rambo of Israel: a war veteran on the run somewhere in Haifa or such, drummed up in media as disturbed and unreliable, perhaps speculated to be in possession of some Soviet super-telekinetic weaponry. This is merely headline news for a time for Israel, but for Magneto it is devastating: his identity has betrayed him. Throw in a close friend who sells him out to Mossad, maybe, to make him really feel like Israel has become a hollow mockery of the ethnic solidarity dream that has driven him so far.
Now, Rambo of course gets out of this particular situation with the ever-so-insightful Hollywood ploy of going back to work for the military as their very own super soldier. Magneto is made of sterner stuff, though, or perhaps the Israeli state has more sane hiring practices; either way, bridges are burned and although it probably takes Magneto a while to accept it, he is well on the road to redefining himself as a “Homo Superior”, hated and feared by those lesser than himself and his true peers.
So what does Magneto think of Israel, then? Seems to me that he tries very, very hard to not think about it, because it reminds him of the country and identity he left behind. It is conspicuous how little Magneto is a Jew in the comics, and the reason is literally that he doesn’t want to think about it, either.
For Magneto Israel is like the parent he hates, as opposed to the dead and sainted parents he lost. Israel is still kicking and Magneto doesn’t know what to think about it. Very likely he gives private, bitter monologues about the politics of Israel, predicts doom and despair, can’t stay away from reading the latest news – but he also remains profoundly aloof, refusing to move for or against the nation that hurt him so; he wants nothing more than to see Israel fail on its own. (And yes, it would be logical to write an X-Men story where Magneto ends up defending Israel from say En Sabah Nur strictly because he wants Israel to prove itself unfeasible on its own merits, not because some mutant god decides to make it a parking lot for his new spaceship.)
Within Magneto is a young man for whom all the extremely internationalist mutant spectacle is not quite real, and his strongest emotional attachments are probably still to people he met and loved in Israel in the ’50s. Of course he cannot really deal with all this himself, so he puts his everything into his work, and does his best to make mutantkind a new nation for himself. As a profound nationalist Magneto doesn’t really have any other options, he cannot conceive of the world in any sort of post-modern political context any more than the prior generation fighting their own world war could.
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The historical guy for you to check out is Ze’ev Jabotinsky, general opposition leader vs. David Ben-Gurion prior to the state’s creation and mentor to Menachem Begin who played the same role with the party Herut, co-founded the Likud coalitio, and became prime minister in 1977. Jabotinsky’s doctrine was called the Iron Wall. Arguably it was carried out by Ben-Gurion’s Mapai/Labour party anyway, with less explicit rhetoric.
Eero, maybe the big deal in the early 1960’s would have been Eichmann’s trial. Eichmann was arguably the last of the big-time Nazis, and it was a big deal for Israel to kidnap him from Argentina, bring him to trial, convict him, and execute him for crimes against humanity.
If Magneto’s ultimate identity is linked to the Holocaust, with Jewish-ness as a necessary but secondary trait, it could be that by killing the last of the mass murderers, Israel fulfilled its purpose and simply became another country. If your whole life is a subconscious revenge fantasy, and suddenly all the targets for revenge are gone, you kinda have to recalibrate. So Magneto takes several years off, cobbles an ad-hoc ideology based around a label without much content, and starts picking fights based on stuff that only happens in his imagination.
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The Magneto construct in my head cares only about Mutant Jewish Israelis. He would also take Marionite Christian mutants into his gang, and a notional non-observant Muslim raised in a PFLP family. The supervillain in my hypothetical “gritty” 80’s comic book would ride herd over the conflicts that arose between these Middle Eastern recruits. He would play on their individual resentments and fears and find ways to twist them all into his vision of united mutant supremicism. Magneto seems to be willing to unleash apocalyptic violence on ANYONE who stands in the way of his vision.
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So, I imagine my Magneto engineering some outrage on the Temple Mount that sets the entire region aflame, and he and his crew manipulating it for their advantage.
The trouble is, I can never think of supervillains as imaginative constructs without their opposite numbers. So, Dr. X would come in an give us one more iteration of Pax Americana.
Kobra does that during the Ostrander-Yale run in Suicide Squad, to usher in the Kali-Yuga.
Eero makes a convincing argument along the main points, but I would place certain bits of emphasis differently:
(1) Magneto is, fundamentally, a Holocaust survivor. That’s his ethnicity, his creed, his identity, and motivation. If you like, Holocaust survivor, Jewish version.
He’s not a religious believer. His family was killed when he was in his early teens, so he didn’t get exposed to the rich cultural heritage of his people. Being Jewish, for Magneto, is basically a question of “race,” bigotry, industrialized genocide, and impotent rage. At least until the War is over, there ain’t many positive aspects of being Jewish, given that set of circumstances.
In other words, rather than being a Jew who survived a horrible genocide, he’s a genocide-leftover who staggered into a tenuous connection to Jewishness. Magneto never references his Jewishness without also bringing up the Holocaust: Auschwitz is his real nationality.
(2) Magneto is not human. Race or religion are immaterial compared to someone’s “mutant-hood.” Nightcrawler and Colossus, whose nations of origin mistreated Jews terribly, are simply (misguided) fellow mutants. Storm, Karma, Sunspot, Mirage: Magneto doesn’t see race. Again: being Jewish is just Magneto’s starting position, and only matters to him to the extent it exposed him to the worst of 20th Century inhumanity.
I don’t think in fifty years of comics, Magneto has ever had a single human friend (defined as, shows up in two issues). We’re all the same to him, werewolves ready to discard all pretense of decency at any moment. Amazingly, during his trial (Uncanny X-Men 200) Magneto’s “reform” consists of realizing his actions were harmful to mutants in the long run–rather than to humans immediately. Thanks, dude. Great moral awakening there. (And note that neither he, nor the X-Men, insist on him going back to stand trial after it gets disrupted.)
So with those points in mind, I think Magneto wouldn’t really give much of a thought to Israel. He certainly respects and understands the nation’s implacable determination to ensure the survival of the Jewish people, no matter what the cost, no matter what anyone else may think. But again, that’s a concept of Israel as rooted in genocide, rather than in a living Jewish tradition. At best, he probably has some fleeting pride.
(3) Magneto’s use of the Holocaust is extremely cynical. While there’s no doubt he was terribly traumatized by the experience, he mostly uses the Holocaust as a rhetorical shield whenever some dumb super hero starts lecturing him about morals. In effect: you can’t criticize me, I survived the Holocaust. That’s a far more common usage than the (always welcome) Magneto hunting Nazis deal.
(4) And he uses the Holocaust because Magneto’s goal isn’t simply mutant survival, but Magneto-Ruling-Over-The-Mutants. He’s a raging authoritarian bully when leading the first Brotherhood. When he’s appointed headmaster of the school, he’s an authoritarian bully to the New Mutants. His “reform” lasts about 2 years, at which point he openly joins the Hellfire Club (supposedly for expediency, but later to oust Shaw and take it over for himself). He’s a drug-addled authoritarian bully at the end of Morrison’s run. This isn’t the perpetual turnover of interpretations as new writers take over: it’s parcel of who this guy is.
As much as we all love Magneto-as-charismatic-outlaw, that’s part of Magneto’s game. Maybe he even believes it himself sometimes. But his story begins with him being a powerless, tormented, enraged child amid tyranny and death. The tragedy of Magneto is that he has taken those values for his own, even if he doesn’t consciously realize it. He’s a manipulative dictator who’s managed to trick most people into mistaking his self-pity for empathy.
So, with THAT in mind, I don’t think Magneto really cares much about Israel at all, or its efforts at preserving its people. Magneto is doing what he does, for his own self-regard.
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That reminds me of the writings of Marc Ellis, who posits a 20th-century Judaism for which the Holocaust and Israel are the two founding principles. He posits this idea in order to challenge it in favor of an equally-new Jewish liberation theology.
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“He’s a manipulative dictator who’s managed to trick most people into mistaking his self-pity for empathy”: Which is why he makes a compelling villain. Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost ALMOST catches you with his proud, defiant boldness. And even if Adam is kinda dull, there is no way to read the main figure in that poem as a Gnostic liberator. (Exception made for William Blake, who was doing a strong misreading deliberately.)
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Oh, and I wanted to hit on something Eero mentioned, but which is important to my interpretation as well: mutant as meaningless identifier.
Eero’s comment that “mutant identity” really was created by Professor X and Magneto while they were hanging out in Israel (“Uncanny X-Men #161”) is absolutely correct, and I think Eero’s also correct that “mutant-ism” gets to mean whatever the hell Magneto wants it to mean.
That’s quite versatile from a reader/author standpoint: the plight of the mutants gets to substitute rather elegantly for any civil rights struggle you name: blacks (late 1960’s), gays (1980’s), arguably even the Palestinians in the mid-2000’s.
But in-fiction, being a mutant is apparently a uniformly distributed genetic quirk, like being left-handed. Being a mutant would be as meaningless as being left-handed, except that in the X-books, every culture on earth rejects its mutant members. They only thing mutants really have in common is being feared. Tellingly, Professor X wants to erase people’s fear of mutants, while Magneto wants to exploit mutants’ own fears.
And that’s another thing that’s interesting about how Magneto invokes the Holocaust: the Mutant Holocaust isn’t happeningl. (Quiet, Rachel Summers.) Magneto isn’t actually defending mutants: he’s taking the initiative, basically waging a one-man preventive war against humans.
I’d submit that the deal with Magneto is that, deep down, far below the urbane “How good to see you again Chares” bullshit, Magento is ANGRY AS FUCK. The Holocaust talk is simply looking for an excuse to beat the shit out of people.
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James: Well … not -exactly- uniformly distributed … or rather, only uniformly distributed in the first generation, since offspring of one or more mutant parents appear (at least anecdotally) to have a disproportionately high probability of being mutants themselves. That’s the kind of thing to have a fairly massive impact on demographics as the generations roll along (if one were to posit such a thing happening, in some version of the Marvel universe in which people age and Franklin Richards is not vaguely eight-ish years old forever).
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Tony, with the grandfathered-in exception of the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, my headcannon doesn’t contain any second-generation mutants 🙂
Oh, listen: metaphor toggle: OFF!, if we’re treating mutants = Jewish-by-ethnicity and trying to pigeonhole fictional characters into real-world political positions, as if this isn’t a comic book universe, Erik trikes me as a reflexive defender/apologist for Israel.
Most of the Jewish folks I know are heavily assimilated American mainstream Reform folks, who’ve grown up in the American Northeast, usually with families that have deep and admirable commitments to FDR New Deal conceptions of justice. These folks tend to be left-wing, and of that set, most but not all view Israel’s policies with a mixture of dismay, grief, anger, and frustrated love.
But Erik is an Eastern European Jew, born right around the time of the Great Depression followed by constant betrayal and extermination of everyone he ever loved. That is going to fuck up your head something awful.
And obviously for someone who has gone through such an horrible experience, Israel means something very, very different than it does to my friends and neighbors. Hope, continuity, a terrestrial paradise, providence, sanctuary, destiny–whatever, again something that I can’t fully appreciate given my laughably sheltered and privileged upbringing. It’s an attitude that Israel, the country, definitely tried to encourage among the people immigrating there.
My loose impression is that guys of Erik’s generation, who had gone through what he had, were wildly pro-Israel on pretty much any question. And while there’s definitely a lot to admire about Israel’s achievements, it’s also done some really nasty things–often justifying them through a combination of “we went through one genocide” and “we won’t risk ever going through a second one.” And that’s something that would obviously resonate very powerfully with someone like Erik. It’s like Israel as a country has a kind of “papal infallibility” in effect. Exactly where Erik would differ with Israel, either as a particular government administration or in the abstract as a Jewish nation, is a question I can’t answer because I don’t know enough, but I bet this cohort of Israelis has been studied extensively.
So, fictional Magneto probably doesn’t care much about Israel. Erik Magnus Lenscherr, his imaginary counterpart in our world, would probably care a whole hell of a lot.
As a brief introduction, I was never a strong reader of the X-men continuity, which I abandoned somewhat earlier than the age of crossovers, even before stopping with the superhero genre altogether. I always was more of a Doom fan anyway.
First point, my version of Magneto.
I also imagine him as a holocaust survivor, first and foremost, but my emphasis is in him being a victim of ethnic cleansing; I do not think he ever identifies strongly with being jewish. It does not matter much to Magneto, which idiotic excuse was used to put him in a death camp. Only that those horrors existed, and that he has experienced what humans can do, what humans really are. All humans, jews very much included, given the chance and the power.
It’s a victim mentality, very deeply ingrained. And right after the war, Magneto watches Israel come into being as exactly that sort of state that does exactly that sort of things to people, and he thinks, _obviously_. It’s not a matter of nazi ideology; it’s human nature. It will keep happening.
Magneto is a cynic being constantly proven right.
I don’t think Magneto ever seriously considers rising above that cycle. That’s Xavier’s idealism, and in Erik’s mind it’s never going to work, not in the long run. Allow someone else to have that kind of power over you? Sure, do that, and there’s a concentration camp waiting down the line. So it becomes a matter of being more powerful than anyone. Smarter than anyone. Of having no weaknesses. Of doing it to them, before they do it to you. Both as an individual, and as a leader of a community.
Second point, what my Magneto thinks about Israel.
I think he’d like to run the place. He’d be an improvement.
Magneto does not care a whit about his own ethnicity, but he’s certainly going to exploit it and ask for citizenship. Any election in Israel? Magneto wins it by a landslide on the grounds of being a merciless living weapon of mass destruction. And then…
Yes, I know I’m evading the question.
He thinks it’s a fascist state, with a few more fucks given to appearances, because unlike Nazi Germany it’s not an independent superpower bent on world conquest. So the genocide there is happening in very slow motion.
And also from a reader’s standpoint… Well. Israel is the perfect Genosha.
It’s so much better than an african island nobody’s heard about, based on an apartheid state which is comparatively mild and closer to the american palate. The reality of Israel is the real kick in the guts.
Supervillain Magneto tears down *that wall* overnight?
World-wide standing ovation.
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From bios and fiction (like The Book of Daniel) I get the sense that Red Diaper babies were pressured to stay away from pop culture like movies and comic books and to stick with ideologically pure material. You grew up in another and different alternative cultural sphere?Did anyone pressure you to look askance at the rock, comics, and books you were consuming. The ’60s were not the 30’s and California is not New York. But people pushing the old “high culture is being preserved/overcome in the new radical movements” would never think that mass commercial media could or should deal with ideologically and ethically loaded topics like politics, war, Zionism, and race.
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I’d say that Magneto would consider Israel an instructive test case: “If this is how humans and their governments react to a human government that prioritizes its own safety above all other concerns and does not hesitate to use violence to protect that safety, how much moreso will they react to my mutant homeland?”
I’d think that the fact that Israel has survived and thrived for so long under such difficult political conditions would give him hope, not as a Jew, but as a test-case for a mutant state. If his mutant state can make it sufficiently costly for human governments to oppose him, they will allow him to do what he wants, and even support him if they think it is in their interest to do so. I imagine that he’d chalk up Israel’s many human rights failings as specifically human weaknesses—which homo superior would not replicate—or unavoidable necessities.
I’d agree with what was said above, that Magneto does not self-identify as a Jew in any authentic sense. He is quick to deploy his past as a rhetorical weapon—”playing the Auschwitz card” if you well—in his debates with Charles and, particularly, Kitty. But I see that just as a weapon of one-upsmanship, just as he’ll use his phenomenal powers for trivial tricks to intimidate people. Because of this, the concerns of Israel aren’t his concerns in any personal sense.
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A story I would in a certain sense like to read, but in another I hope I will never read: Magneto, in 1982, searching for a young mutant and finding her dead, killed in ethic “cleansing” of the mass murder and massacre of the Sabra and Shatila camps under Israelian supervision
I am practically sure that the event would be treated with insulting “changes” by American authors and publishers (probably in the story Magneto would find that behind the massacre there was an arab mutant or a angry mod of lebanese anti-mutants, with no mention of the reason people were in camps), and it’s for this reason that probably it’s better that nobody thought about it
But in the remote possibility that someone would write it respecting the victims and history, and in the even more remote possibility that Marvel would publish it, it could be an occasion to put Magneto’s ideology of violent “preventive defense to the point of genocide of humans” against him.
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My Magento: via various accreted bits of geek culture, cartoons, and Ian McKellen. Almost no comics. When considered at this moment, across the listed toggles, in the context of “what he thinks of Israel” … I discover that for me, his defining characteristic is a perhaps literally pathological attachment to exceptionalism. His own, and that of mutants generally. So in Israel, he sees a group/state driven to establish indisputably the “reality” of their (maybe a bit quaint, to his perception) religious/racial/cultural superiority/exceptionalism. An impulse he fully endorses, whatever disputes he may have about the particular methods used and the REAL group to be considered exceptional.
In short, to Magneto (should I stress, the VILLAIN Magento?), Israel embodies many of the worst anti-Semitic stereotypes, and he thinks they’ve got the right idea – just the wrong homo superior, and maybe some bad execution.
Even considered simply as elements within an X-Men universe, I find myself unable to examine in written words how the long history of anti-Semitism interacts with incipient anti-mutant policies. Or more precisely how young Erik’s personal Holocaust experience might inform both his psychology/psychosis and his views on Israel (given both pre- and post-Holocaust exceptionalism). To whatever degree those are unaddressed here, it’s because I’m deliberately letting them stew in my thoughts rather than in my typing.
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Magneto would kill all the jews and palestinians who weren’t mutants and claim Zion as his own, natch.
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Ten! OK, I’m on it.
Most of me really wants to preserve the “charismatic outlaw” figure that Magneto has accreted almost in defiance of most of the texts. The movies certainly contributed to that, at least in my eyes, especially positioning mutantdom with gayness and with his organization looking right out of a Pride parade + punk festival. But I painfully admit that this is an accretion rather than a founding concept or any discernible textual reference, which is even why I chose Magneto for the example figure in Bootin’ the Pooch.
I’ll stick with this “really right” Magneto anyway due to my absurd romantic notions. This is the best version for me, the one who cradles Kitty’s presumed corpse in his arms and grieves to the heavens. Who also happens to look like a white-haired Nordic godling under his helmet rather than whatever distorted scary-person Kirby might have thought was under there, or would be consistent with the 60s version’s behavior. Who pretty much exists only in my head.
This Magneto would exemplify and embody a dramatic transition:
1. Thinking that Israel had the right idea and more-or-less combining his rhetoric about “I’ve seen this before as a child” which he’s always invoking, i.e., the 1930s Jewish experience is the same as the 1980s mutant one, with his mutant supremacy. It’s not a real mental reconciliation, it’s pure compartmentalization, opportunistically choosing from real history and false narratives to support his current aims, and it completely overlooks both the existence of non-mutant Jewish Israelis and the Israeli history of ethnic cleansing, but he believes it.
2. But this compartmentalization keeps hitting the rock of reality – especially when and if Magneto (i) tries a “kinder gentler but still bad-ass” effort as he seemed to back in the late 80s and (ii) begins to succeed in rallying non-psychotic mutants to him and even being listened to by non-mutants, perhaps superheroes, with some sympathy. This would only work if the whole kick-the-dog issue was completely avoided. This is the personal romance speaking; I want Magneto to undergo massive cognitive dissonance trauma and to renounce supremacy for everyone, but maintaining his harsher/realism perspective in the face of Charles’ blatant self-subordination. Hooray!
Which, uh, has a lot to do with my views toward Israel ten or fifteen years ago, when U.S. idealists like me were saying, “But if Labour gets into power again they’ll scale back the settlements and everything will be fine.” The idealization of Rabin, the JFK-like belief that Israel was hovering on the threshold of an enlightened-reform revolution when he was killed. The J-Street line, although J-Street didn’t exist yet, and which is completely deluded, especially in the face of the assault on Gaza in 2008-2009. Now, I find myself thinking of this inner-me Magneto undergoing what Rabbi Brant Rosen illustrates so well in his book Wrestling in the Daylight (disclosure: I’m in there), as those exact events changed him from a troubled-liberal into a truly wonderful radical, in the very best sense. Could Magneto be a wonderful radical? Or is that the Mary Sue Magneto that James wrote about in the earlier thread? Grr, probably.
I think the other replies/versions are way better than mine.
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(1) Movie Magneto is the best Magneto;
(2) the character you’re describing is what Marvel claims to be doing with its current interpretation of Cyclops, but the implementation borders on unreadably bad, which is a tragedy because it’s so long overdue.
Cyclops and Magneto, the standout cases for implementation failure, and the odd thing is that I think more than one writer has tried hard to do well with each, more than once. Hold that thought for an upcoming post though.
Having grown up with the early 90s X-men cartoon, I always thought Cyclops was a colossal wiener, and whomever wrote the movies seems to have shared that notion. It wasn’t until I read someone who did a play-by-play with lots of pictures of the complete silver age run up until Giant #1 that I could conceive of why anyone would think he was awesome. Because back then, he was. Though also back then, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants was less of a “brotherhood” and more of a handful of mutants that Magneto could easily bully into doing his bidding.
Well, your version leaves me with what seems at the moment to be a pretty wonderful line of inquiry: what are the obstacles and barriers keeping Magneto from becoming a wonderful radical? What self-constructed obstacles, what situationally-imposed barriers? What would it take to get past them? Why is it that Magneto ISN’T a wonderful radical? I mean, besides the fact that he’s a supervillain.
Because, you know, it turns out there are barriers and obstacles to “wonderful radicalism” in the real world too.
Arguably, his power is in the way. This ties back to James’ point in the Pooch thread that if Magneto isn’t written stupid, then he becomes both Right and Powerful, which is essentially boring, and preachy. Such a Magneto might cure all the world’s ills, or many of them, by waving his Master of Magnetism around for a while. If his powers’ effectiveness were scaled down from where they went in the 80s, then I’d like it better toward this end – he’d be up against significant opposition rather than waving his magnetic wand around.
To go with real-world issues, that’s about power too, the real-world kind. At the very least, I think it’s important that everyone we historically call a political “leader” (for good or ill) had a significant core support structure, which included many skill-sets and differing viewpoints, as well as both specific and diffuse cultural support. Magneto might wield considerable personal power but without these, he’d simply be a thug. Much like Sheldon Adelson is a thug who wields money instead of magnetism.
James’ presentation cuts the whole “wonderful radical” off at the knees, in that his Magneto is supremacist and authoritarian to the core, with Jewish history being a weapon in his arsenal. Even if this grim image weren’t the case (for the mental construct I’m talking about), it would potentially be there as a temptation or effective tactic at all times.
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FWIW the current iteration of Magneto has had a power-reduction and is slinging around much smaller stuff, rather than yanking enormous robots or stadiums into the sky and crushing them.
While Magneto’s mid-80’s face-turn didn’t stick, I think that’s very unfortunate. Claremont was doing very careful, plausible work to show a gradual evolution of this character, on a timeline that stretched over 10 years.
(Magneto’s villainous turn in the late 80’s was almost surely mandated by then-E-i-C Tom DeFalco–it’s a completely “non-organic” reversion to a Silver Age status quo apparently for its own sake.)
And yeah, continuing the “grey” Magneto would have been an interesting experiment. I agree that the dude’s goal would have to be convincing people that he has a positive vision worth struggling for, and that he himself is an accountable and responsible guy. Magneto’s chief fault seems to be that he’s unreflective: he never doubts his ends, and only doubts his means for a little while. That suggests someone who is not used to accepting criticism or blame–more broadly, a problem engaging with other people’s points of view in good faith. (Which is an interesting contrast with Professor X’s power set.)
Obviously, a guy with that kind of personality is going to have a really hard time EARNING a position of respect. True authority comes from maturity, compassion, and accountability, qualities he’s still struggling to develop. Given that Claremont was able to develop Wolverine’s character quite plausibly over 5 years, I think this was possible for Magneto as well.
But the real stumbling block there is how to overcome one’s awful history. What does “redemption” mean, does Magneto actually want it, and if so, what will it cost him?
The question may be, not what does Magneto think of Israel, but what does he think of Germany?
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