Max Eisenhardt, Erik Lehnsherr, Magnus, Erik the Red. Whatever his name, he’s recognized as the literal mutant boogie man. There is no hiding from him. Polticians, anti-mutant activists, judgemental parents–no one is too small for Magneto to bear down on.
He’s coming for you.
Today we look at the man behind the moniker, and the dark whirlwind of events that lead to his inception. Nessecity breeds invention, and a harsh world bore Magneto out of a mighty need. Charles Xavier might be the voice of mutant kind, but Erik Lenhsherr made sure it was heard.
A product of then writer Stan Lee, Erik was brought to life in X-men (vol 1) #1, in 1963. Original a villainous mammoth of a man (no really, original specs clock him in at 6’10”), it wasn’t until Marvel super writer Chris Claremont that Erik as we know him to day came about. With an incredible flare for the dramatic, Claremont had his work cut out for him, developing the character into someone human.
Max’s sad, sad story begins in 1935 when he and his family are interned in a concentration camp, before at some point being moved to Auschwitz, where his entire family perished. And while that’ll be featured in an up coming list Top Ten Terrible Things God Can Do to a Child, then still Max Eisenhardt survived, escaping in the 1944, during the October 7th revolt (Uncanny X-men vol 1 #150). He wasn’t alone, though. Childhood friend Magda escaped with him, and the two vowed to put plenty of distance between themselves and the camp (Magneto Testament #5). After proposing, the two were wed and settled down in Romania, where Max adopted the name Erik Lehnsherr. He and Magda welcomed daughter Anya into the world (Classic X-men #12). Things were looking good.
And then they went bad. When his boss tries to screw him out of his pay, Erik, now a carpenter, is understandably angry. In his anger, his mutation flares up and his boss is nearly struck in the face with a crowbar (Classic X-men #12). The boss pays up. Unfortunately, he noticed the weird flying crowbar, and in the time it takes Erik to get home, the boss has rounded up a mob and set fire the building he and Magda are living at. Bad to worse, Magda’s gone to the market and Anya’s the only one upstairs getting punished (Classic X-men #12). Restrained by the mob, Erik can do little but listen to is daughter cry for help–until her voice stops.
And he levels the block.
His wife sees this all go down, Erik silent in amongst all the dead bodies and their still smoking child. She views him as a monster, and flees (Classic X-men #12). It’s a helluv’ an issue. But this is where Magneto really begins; his purpose being to stop history from repeating itself, to be something for humanity to fear, and to be something to hate so the X-men can look heroic by comparison. Bottom line, he wants to protect mutantkind regardless of what it costs him or the people who stand in his way (Uncanny X-men #274). He wears a garish outfit to remind himself of the blood shed, and to stand out in honor of the mutants that can’t blend in with everyone else.
Let’s talk about what he did to do that. Magneto has had various projects to further mutant advancement. One of the more noteworthy ones is Asteroid M, a space station designed specifically to house mutantkind and keep them separated from humans (Mutant Genesis #1-3) in 1990. Magneto is such a fan of the prospect, he attempted it twice more after the initial failings. His most successful attempt was the space station Avalon (Uncanny X-men #304), made of chunks of Asteroid M, Shi’ar tech he stole, and Graymalkin. He even developed his own super-powered team, the Brotherhood of Mutants.
Helping or hurting, Mags? Depending on the writer, Eirk ranges from ‘I thought I was helping’ to ‘I am actually crazy’. Sometimes he comes off as a bit of a nine to five villain; he maintains several odd friendships within the X-men. Most famously is Charles Xavier, but series darling Kitty Pryde has a soft spot in his rotted apple core of a heart. The two even visit a Holocaust Memorial together in Uncanny X-men #199, 1985.
Of course, there are reprieves from the doom and gloom. When Professor X apparently died in 1986, Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters is left to Magneto, from New Mutants #35-75.
Or maybe still gloom.
You know who he doesn’t get on with? His other kids. Unbeknownst to them at the time, Magda had been pregnant with twins, and gave birth to them in Romania before passing away in a snow storm. Pietro and Wanda Maximoff grew up to become famed Avengers Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Though both had a brief stint in the Brotherhood, there is no love lost between parent and children when their connection is revealed in 1982’s Vision and Scarlet Witch miniseries, #4. His fourth child is Lorna Dane, better known as Polaris. With a different mom from the twins (who dies in a plane crash), Polaris can’t bring herself to fight her father (X-men vol 1 #50) With powers matching her father, the divide between them isn’t as bad as her older half-siblings, but it’s still not great.
And that’s all despite the fact that Mags has more or less hung up his villainous cape. In X-men #516, Magneto, impressed by the mutant island Utopia, kneels to Cyclops and offers to join them. It was essentially everything he’d been trying to do between the space stations and Genosha, and saw no reason to belabor his point. An island fortress off the coast of San Fransico inhabited entirely by mutants and untouched by humanity was the idealistic end to Magneto’s crusade he never expected to see. Well, minus the fact that mutantkind’s population has dropped to a number that would fit on an island fortress, that is.
It wasn’t to last, however. After the brutal murder of Professor X, Magneto has set himself firmly on the path of the anti-hero. He’s traded in the crimson and purple signature outfit for a sleeveless black and white number, as well as shaving his head, as we see in Uncanny X-men vol 4 #1. The change hasn’t exactly gone over well with fans, nor do they seem to appreciate his vigilante, Batman-like escapades in his most recent limited run, Magneto.
Still, even though his latest incarnation isn’t as well-liked, there’s no denying Magneto is a staple character to the X-men mythos, and is easily one of the most recognizable characters Marvel has ever produced. He can be your greatest defender, a champion, a savoir, or something far less tame than your worst nightmare.
Either way, he’s a solid argument for why storms are named after people.