Thursday, September 11, 2014
Scanned Thoughts: Magneto #9
What goes into turning a villain into a hero? Is it a long, arduous journey of redemption? Are there any possible shortcuts on such a journey? These are all questions that relate to Magneto’s journey since he joined the X-men after the Utopia arc. At one point, he was having a beer with Sinister and Apocalypse on Sundays. Then he was bowing before Cyclops, professing his loyalty to the X-men. After Avengers vs. X-men, he decided to say, “Fuck it, I’ll be heroic on my own goddamn terms.” Those terms often included hunting down both humans and mutants who enjoyed tormenting innocent mutants and making them tie horrible, painful deaths. So I guess it’s safe to say his journey to become a hero is incomplete. But there is one tried and true shortcut towards turning anyone into a hero. When in doubt, have them fight a Nazi.
That’s what the X-men and the Marvel universe are about to face. The upcoming events of Avengers and X-men: AXIS promise to pit the X-men against the Red Skull, now armed with the telepathy of Charles Xavier. This is a guy who does not care much for peace and understanding. He’s more a war, genocide, and concentration camp kind of guy. He’s also the ultimate enemy for Magneto, someone who directly suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Now Magneto #9 is set to be the prelude to this event and Magneto gets to throw the first punch. Will that make him a hero? It’s hard to say, but anyone who fights a Nazi can’t be too big a villain.
It also helps if that fight takes place in a classic Nazi-style concentration camp. It just wouldn’t be sufficiently Nazi-like if concentration camps weren’t involved somehow. And this one helps add a personal touch for Magneto’s fight because it’s on Genosha, an island that he used to rule. Then it became nothing more than an exposed mass grave where 16 million mutants died. It’s the second worst transformation of a once prosperous locale after Detroit. And since Genosha isn’t tainted with enough mutant blood, it is now the sight of a new Nazi-style concentration camp for mutants. Because when a Nazi wants to commit an atrocity, they just love making it personal.
Magneto, as hardened as he might be, shows more emotional range than Sharon Stone for once. When he sneaks into the camp, he finds out that it’s every bit as bad as the concentration camp he grew up in and then some. As soon as he enters, the first thing he sees is a pile of dead bodies. And it’s not just mutants either. Inhumans have also been thrown into the furnace because why not? It’s not like Nazis are that picky when it comes to slaughter. How Magneto can tell the difference isn’t revealed. I guess he has the mutant equivalent of gaydar or something.
Regardless of whether they’re mutant or inhuman, the gruesome nature of these atrocities gets the point across. Magneto, as a character, has always been defined by the scars left on him by the holocaust. And who can blame him? The holocaust was by far one of humanity’s worst moments. Even at my most drunk, there’s no way I can joke about something that horrific. I can say that it gives Magneto plenty of good reasons for being the asshole he is. Hell, who wouldn’t hate humanity on some level if they went through what he did?
But it’s not enough for him to just be horrified at the atrocities being committed in the presence. Like many previous issues, the extent of Magneto’s righteous rage is given greater context through a few grim flashbacks. Naturally, being in a new concentration camp sparks memories of his time spent in a similar camp. He doesn’t remember them fondly to say the very least. He recalls how he used to have to feed dead bodies into a furnace. And keep in mind, he’s still a kid at the time. Parents today bitch and moan about kids seeing Janet Jackson’s nipple during the Superbowl. This kid was witnessed Nazi atrocities. I think there’s room for perspective here.
While I’m sure every day was shitty in a concentration camp, Magneto specifically recalls one particular Nazi who liked to feed dead bodies to the furnace just to keep warm. He’s like an insomniac who can’t sleep unless somebody he hears the cries of a dying puppy next to his bed. Naturally, Magneto wanted this Nazi, named Hitzig, to die a terrible death and he began training with his powers to do it. And there’s no question he would deserve it.
The flashback helps give greater perspective in the present in that it reveals the heavy burdens Magneto has shouldered over the years. At times it makes him sympathetic. Most of the time it just makes him understandably pissed off and a very unpleasant person to be around. And unlike a lot of assholes who try to use the shitty parts of their lives as an excuse, Magneto freely admits that it’s an excuse. That alone puts him above most of the bankers on Wall Street.
Armed with this perspective, he catches up with a couple of young women who are unlucky enough to be residents of this little slice of Hell. He offers to free them, but they’re too fucking terrified to risk it and for good reason. They reveal to Magneto that the man behind this new concentration camp is none other than the Red Skull. Not only that, he’s armed with the brain of his former bestie, Charles Xavier. It’s by far the worst of all circumstances that don’t involve resurrecting Hitler himself. For that reason, Magneto doesn’t hold it against them when the girls chicken out. They would rather suffer than confront the fucking Red Skull and sadly, that’s probably a good way for them to stay alive.
It leads to another flashback by Magneto. He’s still a boy who has been plotting to kill this Nazi, Hitzig, the same way most boys plot to steal candy. He’s been training himself, using his powers to manipulate any metal he can find. But when the opportunity finally comes along for him to kill Hitzig, he fails. He doesn’t even get other chances. He reveals that he failed and someone else had to kill Hitzig, which meant he was able to live longer and torment more innocent people along the way. That’s a heavy burden for a kid to carry and one he still carries as an adult. And to think most adults feel their first day of high school was a heavy burden to carry.
It’s another powerful insight in a series that has had plenty. These flashbacks, combined with Magneto’s inner thoughts have given him more dimensions as a character than he’s had at any point since the early 90s. He doesn’t pretend to be a hero. He doesn’t carry himself as a villain either. He’s Magneto. He’s in his own unique category. He’s not some character that can be replaced by any other villain who had a shitty childhood. There aren’t a lot of characters that can make that claim and that’s a big part of what makes his struggle so awesome.
Armed with this burden, he continues to probe deeper into the concentration camp. It’s still pretty typical Nazi-style horror. There are cramped barracks, death marches, and deplorable conditions that make downtown Detroit look like the Beverly Hills. It helps add even more incentive for Magneto to horribly maim the Red Skull in ways befitting of a Nazi. It’s actually a lot less complex compared to his previous struggles in this series. There’s really not much complexity to battling Nazis. Even so, it does change the style of the series somewhat, but not in a way that makes it less enjoyable.
Magneto manages to get close enough to the Red Skull to strike in the same way he did with Hitzig. He muses how killing the Red Skull would be a reprieve of sorts for not killing Hitzig because this guy could inflict more torment than 100 Hitzigs. I think karma would definitely balance itself out in that respect. Unfortunately, Magneto doesn’t get to find out because like Hitzig, he fails to kill the Red Skull. But he shouldn’t feel too bad about it. Captain America has failed to kill this asshole any number of times.
That failure comes at the hands of the Red Skull’s S-men. They were introduced in the first arc of Uncanny Avengers. They are his Nazi style X-men apparently. Why he deems them fit to serve while other mutants are fit for the gas chamber is not explained. Again, he’s a Nazi. His hatred is purely arbitrary. But these are powerful beings that fought the Uncanny Avengers to a draw. Magneto really has no fucking chance against these guys with his broken powers.
That still doesn’t stop him from trying. Not many people get this close to the Red Skull who aren’t named Steve Rogers. Even with broken powers, Magneto makes a valiant effort with all the metal he can find. It’s not much of a spectacle, but it’s still a full-blown confrontation between Magneto and the ultimate Nazi. How could it be anything other than awesome?
Well, he does sort of find a way. Despite all the build-up and talk about burdens and disgust, this confrontation is pretty damn muted and not just because Magneto is under-powered. These two really say anything to add weight to the battle. The Red Skull just points out Magneto is fighting an old war and he’s trying to fight a new one. It’s really not clear what that means. He might as well have said his helmet makes him look like an uncircumcised dick.
In the end, the Red Skull really doesn’t do or say much. He doesn’t even taunt Magneto about stealing Charles Xavier’s brain. He just walks away while his S-men take care of him. Magneto even admits he fucked up the same way he fucked up with Hizrig. It’s still way too underwhelming for a typical Magneto vs. Nazis style battle. It has some emotional depth when one of the girls from earlier show up. But there isn’t much else beyond that. Magneto is definitely in over his head and the Red Skull is enjoying himself way too much. And any story that ends with a Nazi feeling that content just doesn’t feel right.
There was nothing subtle about this story. It didn’t have the same twists and turns as previous issues in this series. This time, the setup was very simple. Magneto infiltrates a mutant concentration camp, recalls his own experiences with concentration camps, and attempts to horribly murder the asshole responsible for said concentration camp. There’s no subtlety with the villain either. It’s the fucking Red Skull. He’s the perfect Nazi. There’s no Walter White style complexity to his character. He’s just a sadistic Nazi asshole to the highest degree.
This simplicity was a change of pace, but still very satisfying. It showed Magneto being the same Magneto that has been developing since this series began. The insight of his thoughts and his interactions with others continues to give this book a uniquely uber-Magneto feel. The problem is not much is really accomplished this time. He fights the Red Skull and he loses. He doesn’t show the same cunning he’s shown in previous battles. To be fair, this is the fucking Red Skull we’re talking about here so I’m not going to bust his balls too much for it. I’ll just give Magneto #9 a 7 out of 10 and say it provides a great backdrop for another Magneto vs. Nazis type story. Sure, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Wolfenstein, and the History Channel done the Nazi thing to death at this point. That doesn’t mean we should take less pleasure in rooting for those who try to give them the sadistic death they deserve. Nuff said!