“It’s a common misconception among humans and even among mutants that we are defined by our powers. Mutation, though, is adaptation. I was born with the power to shape metal. But I was forged into the man I am today. It is my conviction, not my abilities, that make me who I am.” – Magneto
For as long as I’ve been into comics, Magneto has stood out as one of the most fascinating characters in popular culture. His motivations are very relatable and human, so when I came across the Magneto: Reversals graphic novel, I just had to review it. Written by Cullen Bunn, the story centres on the Master of Magnetism’s one-man crusade to protect mutants at all costs. Along the way, he confronts his past as a Holocaust survivor in the form of the Red Skull, who’s stolen the powers of Charles Xavier and is using them to cull mutants. The stakes couldn’t be any more personal.
The story begins with Magneto infiltrating an organisation that’s capturing mutants and making them fight in an arena. Magneto has lost control of his powers, making him a shell of his former self. This doesn’t stop him from carrying out his mission as he enters the arena and discovers mutants are being killed by genetically engineered attack dogs called Predator Xs.
As a Predator X forms a psychic bond with its target once it has tasted blood, Magneto lets himself be cut. His traumatic memories overwhelm the beast, giving him enough time to drive a metal shard through its head. Magneto kills the people who run the organisation with his bare hands and frees the captured mutants. Afterwards, he finds the organisation were manufacturing mutant growth hormone and selling it on the black market. Magneto’s desire to have his full power back compels him to kidnap a MGH drug cook.
Soon, Magneto hears of atrocities being committed on Genosha and returns to his former kingdom. In a direct parallel to The Holocaust, mutants are being herded into camps and slaughtered on a mass scale by Red Skull. In his anger, Magneto strikes against Skull, but is outmanoeuvred by the Nazi and his villainous S-Men.
Captured and stripped of his helmet, Magneto becomes vulnerable to Red Skull’s telepathic abilities, harvested from the brain of the deceased Professor X. He plucks a Nazi officer, Hitzig, from Magneto’s mind to torment him. Magneto puts up a brave effort to hide within his memories, but the pain of his past proves to be too powerful to overcome. Before Red Skull’s henchmen can torture him, Magneto is rescued by Rogue and Scarlet Witch.
This sets off a chain of events that leads to Magneto murdering Red Skull and unleashing Onslaught, the darker side of Professor X’s consciousness. Onslaught’s power is too much for the Avengers and X-Men, so Magneto assembles a team of villains to turn the tide. His efforts prove enough of a distraction for Doctor Doom and Scarlet Witch to cast a spell and reawaken Professor X’s consciousness.
The story culminates in Onslaught being defeated. Magneto comes face to face with the psychic ghost of his best friend. Magneto admits he can truly see Charles’ point of view and vows to honour his memory by protecting mutants in a peaceful way. Charles disagrees and believes Magneto was right all along.
Bunn’s portrayal of The Master of Magnetism is an emotional character study of a man who’s seen the worst of humanity. Magneto flits between righteous fury to crippling doubt and self-loathing. There are plenty of emotional sequences. Two that grabbed my attention featured Erik trying to escape Hitzig through his memories and his conversation with Charles at the end.
Bunn doesn’t shy away from showing Magneto’s worse impulses either. Despite hating the idea of mutant growth hormone, Magneto willingly uses it on himself to regain his sense of glory and power.
Most of the art is handled by Gabriel Hernandez Walta, who injects a gritty feeling into each panel, which suits the noir setting of the book. Where new readers might stumble is trying to keep up with what’s going on in main portion of the graphic novel. Magneto: Reversals is part of a crossover event called Axis, and some of the plot isn’t shown. For example, Magneto’s execution of The Red Skull took place in a separate comic.
Nevertheless, Magneto: Reversals works as a haunting exploration of the character’s past and his direction for the future. You can get it on Amazon today.