Synopsis from Amazon: Today, the whole world knows him as Magneto, the most radical champion of mutant rights that mankind has ever seen. But in 1935, he was just another schoolboy — who happened to be Jewish in Nazi Germany. The definitive origin story of one of Marvel’s greatest icons begins with a harrowing struggle for survival against the inexorable machinery of Hitler’s Final Solution.
Discussion: X-Men Magneto Testament by Greg Pak is a five-book series on the origins of Magneto. My high-school daughter had to read this series for school, and she thought I would enjoy the series. I will be honest, this is my first exposure to anything X-Men, having never read the comics nor watched the movies.
In this series Magneto gets a first-hand account of the Holocaust. His entire family is killed in front of him, he witnesses how people were killed, and understands the sheer number of people killed as part of his job is to take care of the bodies. These books are more of a Holocaust story than an X-Men story as this series occurs before Magneto knows about his superhuman powers. The author has stated he wanted to be true to the Holocaust and focus on the lesser-known facts about the tragedy.
Since this was my first exposure to X-Men I did look up Magneto, so I could have an understanding of who the character becomes in the comics. Wikipedia explains:
“Magneto’s experiences during the Holocaust shaped his outlook on the situation that mutants face in the Marvel Universe. Determined to keep such atrocities from ever being committed against mutantkind, he is willing to use deadly force to protect mutants. He believes that mutants (“Homo superior”) will become the dominant life form on the planet and he sets about either creating a homeland on Earth where mutants can live peacefully, or conquering and enslaving humanity in the name of mutantkind.” Emphasis added by me.
My daughter’s class debated the question, “Is Magneto a victim or the villain?”
My daughter’s viewpoint was that he was both, and being a victim does not justify similar or even worse behavior. She tells me many argued he was the victim, and therefore, his victim-hood justified any behavior. He will never be a villain because of the atrocities he survived as a child.
I am not surprised that teenagers have this viewpoint as society operates under this understanding. If someone can prove to you how they have been the victim, then all behavior is excused. The problem with this viewpoint is there will never be an end to violence, hatred, and revenge. Violence creates victims who are justified in violence towards others, which makes more victims, and the cycle goes on and on. Hatred and revenge always have the irony of causing us to behave precisely like those we are fighting.
We will all be a victim at some point in our lives. So we have to be careful of our reactions and always call on God to guide us.
Pope Francis explains,
He refers to the advice given to us by St. Paul and Jesus.
There is no easy answer for evil and how to overcome it or handle things when we are victimized. First, we must recognize we have a fallen nature, and thus we must ask God for grace and give us prudence and discernment. Second, we must put love of God and neighbor first.
1889 Without the help of grace, men would not know how “to discern the often narrow path between the cowardice which gives in to evil, and the violence which under the illusion of fighting evil only makes it worse.” This is the path of charity, that is, of the love of God and of neighbor. Charity is the greatest social commandment. It respects others and their rights. It requires the practice of justice, and it alone makes us capable of it. Charity inspires a life of self-giving: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.”
In my blog, I have discussed redemptive suffering often, which could relate to this topic.
Pretend She’s Here by Luanne Rice
Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco
They’re giving high school students Marvel comic books to read. That is interesting to know. I do like a Marvel comic book from time to time, but this seems odd to me.
Nevertheless, you raise good points. My X-Men lore is limited, but I would agree about Magneto. It’s interesting how many people can be led to evil by experiencing evil.
Normally I would be annoyed by my kids reading Marvel comic books in school. However, this was all Holocaust and very little Marvel. The author does state at the end of the series his goal was to be true to the Holocaust and focus on the lesser-known aspects. He also gives all of his references for where he got his information. Given this, I can understand why the teacher chose the series. The students go into it excited about Marvel but only learn about Holocaust.
I am noticing this new trend to sympathize with villains. This series, as well as the movie they recently made about the Joker. Giving these villains a troubled past makes people excuse their crimes. At least, that was how the debate went in my daughter’s class. I am not a fan of that reasoning.
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That is a fair point. If you must know, my sister knows all about X-Men lore, so maybe I should ask her about it. I suppose popular stories can also be educational, instructing children about the Holocaust while at the same time hopefully making a compelling story about a popular comic book villain’s past.
That is true—I must admit, however much I like superheroes. I will say that in all fairness, I do believe it is possible to develop a villain in a way which can come off rather as a cautionary tale, and some superhero stories, in my mind, do that well. I think it comes from a balance between making a villain’s motives understandable yet being clear to avoid justifying them. Talking about the movies, I think some recent ones which gave good balance were Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming or Zemo in Captain America: Civil War. One I really liked personally (although, bear in mind that others may not agree here) was Venom in Spider-Man 3. He was an absolutely awful guy in every sort of way and only descended into more and more evil. Nevertheless, his portrayal actually felt like one of the most human super villains I’ve ever seen, truly showing how a man can transform into a monster.
Actually, I could probably go on like this for some time.
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