Saturday, January 3, 2009

Magneto's Testament

Of all the villians in Marvel Comics, Magneto was always the most complicated. Sure the master of magnetism was ruthless and arrogant but unlike your average comic book villian you can understand his point of view. His people, Human Superior, the mutants are a persecuted minority in the Marvel Universe. They are hated and feared as the next step in humantity's evolution. They are a danger to be controlled or eradicated. What makes him such a great character is that you can see his point of view and agree with it. If you were a mutant you would live in fear and you would lash out at those who wished to do you harm. Created in the middle of the civil right moment, Marvel's X-men was part superhero adventure and part social commentary. Much of the mutants struggle can be equated with the struggle African Americans faced in the 1960s so Magneto comes across as the Martin Luther King of mutants albiet his methods diverge sharply from those of Mr. King. The miniseries - Magneto Testament takes us back to the childhood of Magnus when he was a jew living in Nazi Germany. Sent to the concentration camps he struggles to survive and witnesses first hand the cruelty that man is capable of. However, unlike the concentration camp survivors in real life we know that his powers to control metal and magnetism will kick in and allow him some measure of vengence against his captors. But it also shapes his world view for the rest of his life. In X-men 3 a mutants asks Magneto where his mark is if he is a mutant - meaning his tatoo. He shows them the number tatooed in his arm signifying he was imprisoned at a concentration camp and says "I have a mark...and I can assure you that no needle shall ever touch my skin again." How can such an experience not affect a person's perception of everything around them? If given the power by fate to make a difference and prevent that kind of genocide from ever happening again wouldn't you take up that challenge? I was so happy that the five issues ended without Magneto using his mutant powers to exact vengeance on the his Nazi tormentors. That to me would have seemed too easy of a cop out. To later develop the power to literally reshape the world and then NOT being able to revenge yourself of those who harmed you the most has created a melancholy that will forever color my impression of the character. To find something new to layer upon a villian that has been around for nearly 60 years is a rare and exciting thing for me. It was the above page, however, that I found the most affecting. When I was a child my parents took me and my sister to see the concentration camp at Dacau outside of Munich, Germany. I can remember it like it was yesterday. The place had an errie quiet without bird or insect sounds in the heat of summer. I could almost feel the spirits of the dead that have never crossed over. Like this picture I have seen the room where there are seperate spaces behind glass for eyeglasses, prostetic limbs, dentures, hair, suitcases, shoes ect...and its seeing those 'collections' that gives one a sense of the scope and breadth of the inhumanity that occured in that evil place. I have read alot about the Holocaust and seen the movies but it was only coming face to face with the clinical horror of it all in that 'warehouse' that I fully came to realize what had occured. Imagining six million people dead is too large an idea to wrap one's head around. But seeing a pile of eyeglasses you can almost feel the ghost of each person who wore them. I am glad this comic got made so I could be reminded that such evil in human history is all too easily repeated and all too hard to stop.

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