Comic book mythologies are often created on the fly, particularly those involving the classic superheroes. It’s a fun, if also perilous, aspect of the medium. A writer and artist will introduce the core concept, and over the years other writers and artists will build on the established canon, making connections and finding opportunities their predecessors hadn’t thought of. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc.—none were introduced with any grand multi-year plan in mind.
The X-Men movies have gotten lots of mileage out of the past friendship between Professor Xavier and Magneto, which for many years has been an essential component of X-Men comic book continuity. But not all the years.
Magneto debuted as standard-issue raving super-villain bent on humanity’s destruction. He had neither backstory nor nuance in 1963, and certainly no previous ties to Xavier.
Even as late as Uncanny X-Men #149, Xavier was recapping the X-Men’s battles with Magneto as if the man was some stranger of mysterious origins. But by #161, writer Chris Claremont figured out that a past friendship between the X-Men’s leader and most persistent foe would add much-needed depth to the villain. And he was right. It was a brilliant move, and worth ignoring any contradictions in previously established continuity.
In #161, Xavier flashes back to twenty years earlier, when he meets a Holocaust survivor named Magnus who’s volunteering in an Israeli hospital. They become friends as they work together helping a patient, Gabrielle Haller (this is also the first time we meet the mother of Xavier’s son, David Haller a.k.a. Legion, though he was still a few years away from his debut—another example of retroactively building continuity).
It’s a solid issue, complete with young Xavier and Magneto teaming up to battle Baron Strucker and Hydra, but most interesting is watching the beginning of the ideological divide between the two, which would be revisited and fleshed out in multiple mediums over the next few decades.
Magneto would be many things in the years to follow—antagonist, head of Xavier’s School, brain-dead focal point of a cult, depowered former mutant, repowered mutant, subordinate to Cyclops, and so on—but he was never a standard-issue raving super-villain again.
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Dave Cockrum
Inker: Bob Wiacek
Publisher: Marvel Comics
How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Essential X-Men vol. 3 (TPB)
Appropriate For: ages 10 and up