Today’s Super Comic — Magneto #1 (2014)

magneto-1If there’s ever been a comic book villain who could carry his own series, it’s Magneto—and he recently did, for 21 issues. I’ve only read the first 12, but after re-reading #1, I realize I need to rectify that.

Magneto works as a character because he believes he’s in the right, and due to his tragic backstory, you can understand where he’s coming from even while disagreeing with his actions and rooting for the X-Men to stop him.

No X-Men appear in this issue (although technically Magneto is an X-Man these days). Writer Cullen Bunn and artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta reintroduce us to a stripped-down version of Magneto, a man who knows what it’s like to possess tremendous power and resources but currently has little of either. Here, he seeks to avenge the murder of innocent mutants in his typically unheroic way, but he learns there’s more going on than he initially suspected. And the stage is set for the first storyline, and I want to keep reading.

A truly distinct X-Men spinoff.

Writer: Cullen Bunn

Penciler: Gabriel Hernandez Walta

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Magneto vol. 1: Infamous (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 15 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Uncanny X-Men #161 (1982)

Uncanny_X-Men_Vol_1_161Comic 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

Today’s Super Comic: X-Men: Omega (1995)

X-Men_Omega_Vol_1_1_WraparoundApocalypse is bursting onto the big screen this weekend, so now seems like a swell time for a quick look back at the greatest—and most ambitious—Apocalypse storyline…The Age of Apocalypse.

The X-Men’s world (and history) was drastically altered thanks to the time-traveling antics of Prof. Xavier’s son. For four months, the usual stable of X-Men titles gave way to alternate-reality versions. In this X-world, Xavier died before he could found the X-Men, but Magneto did form the team to fight for peace and tolerance in honor of his fallen friend. One wee problem, though—Apocalypse rules the world in a decidedly not-friendly way.

X-Men: Omega is the grand finale, and it demonstrates what a superb accomplishment this storyline is. Part of the nature of the comic book beast is they always need to be setting up the next storyline. Definitive endings are the minority, unless a series is cancelled, but even then the characters can live on in guest appearances or revivals.

But The Age of Apocalypse occupied the less common position. This alternate reality needed to give way to the proper Marvel Universe sooner or later, thus allowing the saga to achieve a proper conclusion. This freedom from the normal confines of continuity bolstered the creativity of an already exceptional team of writers and artists. There have been attempts at revisiting this timeline, but honestly I’ve never felt the need to check those out because this original storyline stands on its own in such a satisfying way.

Also, Apocalypse may be the title character and formidable threat, but he’s not what makes the story interesting. More than anyone else, that distinction goes to Magneto—he’s never been a better man than in this dystopian world. But he’s still no Xavier.

It was definitely nice to return to the “real” X-Men after four months, but this storyline continues to hold up as a big crossover event that was properly executed.

Writers: Scott Lobdell, Mark Waid

Penciler: Roger Cruz

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; included in X-Men: Age of Apocalypse vol. 3: Omega (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up