Wednesday, January 30th, 2013
7

Magneto, the Mighty Jew

'At the time I wanted to be a hero-type, Superman, Captain Thunder.'If you saw any of the X-Men movies, was there any doubt that Erik Lensherr—the young man who goes all Uri Geller when the Nazis put his parents in Auschwitz—is a Jew? Followers of the 50-year-old X-Men comic books have different opinions. Some say "Magneto" (or Magnus or Erik, whatever you like to call him) is actually of Romany blood. (Nazis, you may recall, also massacred Gypsies, homosexuals, Communists, Poles, Czechs, Russians, Ukrainians and Freemasons.) But in the form of actors Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender, Magneto has a concentration-camp tattoo identifying him as Jewish. Does this matter? Aren't most comic-book heroes also of the Chosen People? Of course it matters! Magneto is very powerful and a good chess player. But why put such a terrible real-world thing in a comic book?

So let’s have a look at Magneto’s real progenitors, and by that I mean folks on our side of the border: Kirby, Lee and Claremont. Kirby and Lee, like the vast majority of comic book pioneers, were Jews of Central European origin. It’s unlikely they would let a word like Auschwitz get into one of their publications without a lot of thought. As for Claremont, who developed the psychology and history of Magnus so brilliantly, he’s known for the seriousness and wholehearted care he puts in his work. If he wrote Auschwitz, he meant Auschwitz.

One reader of this piece noted that his non-comic-book-reading wife watched X-Men: First Class and assumed throughout the movie that Magneto was the hero. It's sort of true, too. And both McKellen and Fassbender will be back as Magneto (some kind of time-travel story, apparently) in the new X-Men movie, which Bryan Singer has come back to direct, hooray.

7 Comments / Post A Comment

LondonLee (#922)

I preferred comics when the heroes and villains didn't all have dark and depressed psyches and were just people in silly costumes.

Ken Layne (#262)

@LondonLee You must be very old! X-Men dates back to 1963 and was dark from the very first issue. Magneto's survival of the Holocaust is from the 1970s; I remember reading this as a little kid and wondering, "What's Auschwitz?"

BadUncle (#153)

@Ken Layne And the Original Famous Batperson was – relatively speaking – of stormy personal origins.

LondonLee (#922)

@Ken Layne I am very old but I wasn't aware of Magneto's past until the 80s (probably because I didn't read it in the 70s). I thought Claremont had come up with that which seemed to fit in with the general drift of comics in the Frank Miller/Alan Moore direction of moody supers. I don't remember X-Men being all that dark at the beginning, they were just crazy, mixed-up kids.

Sure, there was Batmam, and Spiderman was a confused teen, but nothing like the relentless gloom and "realism" that pervades comics these days.

Ken Layne (#262)

@LondonLee The ones my kid brings home now–the $17 graphic novels–are pretty depressing, but they do also seem like endless retreads of the Frank Miller stuff from 20 years ago. And good god did that Frank Miller ever turn out to be a jackass ….

BadUncle (#153)

@LondonLee I dunno. Eclipse wasn't exactly pouring rainbows into comic books stores, in the 70s. Don McGregor's "Sabre" (a personal favorite), and Alan Moore's turn at "Miracleman" were particularly violent and socially disturbing.

LondonLee (#922)

@Ken Layne Yeah, I stopped reading comics in the 80s (just grew out of them) but now my daughter has got into Batgirl and Wonder Woman via the old TV shows so I've been going to comic shops with her trying to find appropriate stuff she can read and mostly failing. They're taking themselves far too seriously these days.

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