In a Nutshell
The X-Men attempt to stop Magneto's latest attack on humanity.
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Dave Cockrum
Inkers: Joe Rubinstein and Bob Wiacek
Letterer: Tom Orzechowski and Jean Simek
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Editor: Louise Jones
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter
From his island headquarters, Magneto issues the leaders of the world an ultimatum: destroy all their nuclear weapons within a week, or face his wrath. As Magneto debates the merits of his actions with a powerless Cyclops and Lee Forrester, the Russian submarine Leningrad launches an array of nuclear missiles at the island, which Magneto easily dispatches before sinking the sub. He then uses a device he's created that allows him to control the Earth's crust to turn the Russian city of Varykino into a volcano in retaliation and as a show of force. That night, as the X-Men are searching nearby for the shipwrecked Cyclops, their jet encounters a magnetic force field that sends it crashing into the ocean. Though the nearby Professor X loses telepathic contact with them, the X-Men survive and begin swimming towards a nearby island.
Colossus, who doesn't need to breathe when in his armored form, walks into the power inhibitor field Magneto has surrounding the island, causing him to transform back into human form and drown. The X-Men reach Magneto's island and are spotted by Lee. Kitty and Wolverine manage to revive Colossus, and Cyclops greets the X-Men, explaining that their powers won't work on the island, but that they can defeat Magneto by destroying the machine that lets him manipulate the Earth's crust. The team splits up, with the men going to destroy the machine while Storm, Kitty and Lee attempt to destroy Magneto's computers. Storm comes across a sleeping Magneto and contemplates killing him, but is unable to do so, just as Magneto awakens and sends Storm crashing through the window.
Xavier attacks Magneto telepathically, but Magneto simply pulls Xavier from his boat and brings him to the island as well. Though the X-Men are able to destroy Magneto's device, he easily repairs it and captures the powerless team. Storm, however, has survived Magneto's attack and manages to destroy the power inhibitor, restoring the X-Men's powers. As the X-Men do their best to hold Magneto at bay, Cyclops sends Kitty to destroy Magneto's computers, ensuring he won't be able to attack any more cities. Kitty phases through the computers, wrecking them, but Magneto breaks off from the X-Men and attacks her. Kitty tries to phase through him, but the energy feedback knocks her out. Magneto, believing Kitty dead and realizing she is just a child, is shocked out of his fury, and realizes that for all his good intentions, his crusade has caused undue suffering for innocents. He gives Kitty to Storm and flees. As the X-Men recover on the beach, Professor X reflects that though the X-Men believe the battle was draw, he believes that by changing Magneto's perceptions of who he is, he may emerge a better man.
Firsts and Other Notables
This issue marks the last appearance of Magneto as a cackling Silver Age style super-villain, and the beginning of his transformation into, if not a hero, than at least an understandable, three-dimensional villain. So much of what defines the character to this day, from his connection to the Holocaust to his relationship with the X-Men and Xavier, begins in this issue (Magneto also spends a good deal of this issue helmet-less, which helps downplay the one-dimensional super-villain aspect).
As such, it is made clear in this issue that Magneto is a survivor of the Holocaust, as he specifically mentions being a prisoner at Auschwitz.
Magneto also commits his most quantitatively villainous act this issue, the sinking of the Russian sub Leningrad, killing all the sailors aboard (the text specifically notes that while he destroys the city of Varyinko, he allows the city's population to evacuate first). While Magneto most likely wreaked even more havoc in the course of earlier villainous plots, the limitations regarding what could be depicted in those stories at the time prevented any real sense of the causalities involved from being depicted. As a result, the sinking of the Leningrad will become something of an albatross around Magneto's neck in the future as he tries to redeem himself, and will be referenced several times throughout Claremont's run.
Cyclops is considered to officially rejoin the team with this issue, though no official pronouncement along those lines is ever made (this isn't the Avengers, after all).
Professor X isn't terribly upset that Magneto escaped, hoping he's found a new perspective on his crusade against humanity, which foreshadows both Magneto's future development and the reveal of the Xavier/Magneto friendship.
Angel's head has been removed from the corner box in the upper left side of the cover.
A Work in Progress
Magneto finally gets around to asking Cyclops why he's been making googly eyes at Lee Forrester instead of Jean Grey, prompting Cyclops to tell Magneto about Jean's death, which leads to a nice moment where Magneto expresses his own grief over the death of an honorable foe, and which sets up the reveal of Magneto's connection to the holocaust later in the issue.
Magneto reveals he's created a device which generates an inhibitor field on the island, neutralizing the mutant powers of anyone except for himself. He's also created a device which allows him to manipulate the Earth's crust, allowing him create earthquakes and volcanoes, which he used to raise his island base from the ocean floor.
Dr. Peter Corbeau pops up again, lending his yacht to help Professor X search the Bermuda Triangle for Cyclops. Accompanying them are Carol Danvers and Moira (there is no indication of why Moira is there but not Banshee). Incidentally, Corbeau's boat is named Dejah Thoris II, a reference to Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian novels (Dejah Thoris is a Martian princess who eventually marries John Carter).
It is revealed that Cyclops has told Lee about the X-Men and his involvement with them.
Kitty learned mouth-to-mouth at camp, and Wolverine knows CPR.
Cyclops has a nice moment where he rallies the X-Men, listing the innate abilities they each posses which Magneto's inhibitor field can't remove.
Later, when Wolverine wonders what the powerless X-Men can do when they've never beaten Magneto with powers, Cyclops explains they only need to stop Magneto's plan, not Magneto himself, meaning they have to target the device which allows him to control the Earth's crust.
In one of the issue's standout scenes, we're reminded of Storm's oath to not take a life as she stands over a sleeping Magneto, knife in hand, debating whether to break her oath and end his threat once and for all.
In the moment which begins Magneto's turn towards redemption, he is shocked out of a berserker rage after attacking Kitty and, believing he has killed her, realizes she is just a child. It is also revealed that Magneto's wife Magda fled from him when she saw him using his power to avenge their murdered daughter, which becomes a crucial piece of his backstory.
I Love the 80s
Magneto's ultimatum to the world's leaders is a veritable Who's Who of 80s political figures, from Ronald Reagan to Margaret Thatcher to Leonid Breshnev.
More early 80s computer technology:
The X-Men's emergency pack conveniently contains a spare ruby quartz visor for Cyclops.
With a little help from Colossus, Kitty uses the Force to raise the Blackbird.
This issue is packed with great little Claremontian moments, like Wolverine bumping into Storm as the Blackbird crashes and knocking her out because his skull is metal, or Colossus suddenly reverting to human form as he walks across the ocean floor into the inhibitor field, causing him to drown, or my favorite, when Magneto's costume is revealed to be like chainmail, allowing him to essentially "pour" it on with his power (an image that is one of Cockrum's best in the issue).
I love Cockrum's depiction of Wolverine with wet hair.
We get our first indication that Colossus may reciprocate Kitty's feelings for him, as his last thought is of her as he drowns.
The Awesome and Terrible Power of Cyclops
Cyclops' reaction to Kitty "raising" the Blackbird is so hilariously square it cracks me up every time (in fact, that entire scene is a great showcase for Claremont's strength with dialogue: you can tell exactly who is saying what just based on how their dialogue is written).
The Best There Is At What He Does
Later stories will reveal that Wolverine's healing factor helps compensate for the fact that his bones are laced with adamantium, such that he suffers health issues when his healing factor is removed/overworked, and that his hands are cut open whenever he pops his claws, with his healing factor sealing the wounds.
Of course, none of that is on display in this issue, thus we are required, retroactively, to assume that Wolverine was simply ignoring the open wounds left by his claws and that the inhibitor field was shut off before Wolverine could seriously be poisoned by the adamantium in his body.
Chris Claremont on Magneto's evolution
"My Magneto is a totally different person. He has gotten a second chance. He was reduced to infancy, remember, by Alpha, Len's [Wein] evolved mutant. And was since, by Eric the Red, bopped back into adulthood, younger than before, in the prime of his life [#104]...He now has the opportunity to start again with full awareness of the mistakes he made the first time. You know, whatever megalomania he might have had then, he might not have now. Or he might understand it for what it is and cope with it, get rid of it. I changed him because I have no interest in two-dimensional villains, except maybe in a one-shot story, perhaps. But Magneto is the major villain of the X-Men book; he is their opposite number. He should be at least as interesting and credible as they are."
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p34
"I started to wonder, why do people follow him? I started doing what any writer does with a character. I asked, who is he? Where did he come from? Why does he do the things he does? What is his rationale, his origin, his goal? I was having this dialogue with myself - or with Louise [Jones]- about Magneto. How could we explain where he came from within the context of the X-Men? If he's the flip side of Charlie, is there something charismatic, noble, admirable about his desire to conquer the world? ... He had a cause and I tried to figure out where that cause came from. Bearing in mind that I started writing in the 60s, most of the adult characters had been involved in World War II. So if Charles Xavier is a teenager during World War II and a line officer in Korea, Magneto's got come out of the same era. If you're going to play with prejudice and racial conflict, the concentration camps immediately spring to mind. Once the dominoes set themselves up, I just started knocking them down."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p68
John Byrne on the difference between Dr. Doom and Magneto
"Dr. Doom was the noble guy; Dr. Doom was the tortured soul. Roger Stern summed Magneto up best, based on his first appearance: Magneto is the kind of guy who leaves activated atom bombs to cover his escape. This is not a nice guy. This is not a freedom fighter...I always thought that Chris developed his new take on Magneto because we wouldn't let him use Dr. Doom. When I was doing FF, he used Dr. Doom once and did a bunch of stuff that FF editorial hadn't approved, so we wouldn't let him use Dr. Doom any more. So he turned Magneto into Dr. Doom. Chris even said Magneto was a gypsy for awhile there, as I recall."
DeFalco, Tom. Comic Creators on X-Men. London: Titan Books, 2006. p104
Chris Claremont on the difference between Dr. Doom and Magneto
"Doom, to me anyway, is power for the sake of power. Once the power is achieved, he can be the most benevolent of dictators. But all power rests with him. Magneto is fighting for a goal: the preservation, the enhancement, of mutantkind. So of the two, I would say possibly Magneto has the more noble motives, but from there on you're just getting into matters of style rather than substance."
Sanderson, Peter. The X-Men Companion II. Stamford: Fantagraphics Books, 1982. p32
Though the story is a bit rushed (the X-Men learning about Cyclops being lost at sea and Lee learning about the X-Men happen off panel between last issue and this, making it feel like we've missed an issue) and the plotting a bit contrived (despite the setup in issue #149, the X-Men are more or less drawn into conflict with Magneto by coincidence), this is without a doubt the best issue of the series since "Days of Future Past" and Cockrum's return. Whether rejuvenated by the return of the X-Men's arch-foe or just thankful to be working on a plot that was, at least in part, intended for the book's 150th issue back during his collaboration with Byrne, Claremont finally regains his footing in this issue, once again seamlessly blending the character and action beats into a compelling story, while Cockrum seems to have at last regained his form from his first run, turning in some great images and a fantastically choreographed fight with Magneto. The decision to send the new X-Men, who, we are reminded, have never actually beaten Magneto, into battle with the villain while powerless is inspired, adding a new layer of tension to the story while preventing it from being yet another standard "X-Men vs. Magneto" yarn.
But this issue is even more significant historically, for it marks both the end of the ranting Silver Age villain incarnation of Magneto and the beginning of the more complicated, three dimensional, partially-reformed iteration of the character. After re-contextualizing the human/mutant conflict in "Days of Future Past"l, here Claremont begins to re-contextualize Magneto. Magneto has always believed that mutants belong on top, ruling over humans, but thanks to "Days of Future Past" and the reveal in this issue of his connection to the Holocaust, for the first time we're left thinking that maybe Magneto is right (at the very least, we have a better understanding of why Magneto wants to subjugate humanity, and are, as a result, more sympathetic, even as we spot the irony that is lost on Magneto). Magneto knows first hand the genocide of which humanity is capable, and the readers know that humanity in the Marvel Universe is more than capable of carrying it out against mutants. The gap between the X-Men and Magneto has begun to narrow towards a point where they both want essentially the same thing, and only disagree over the best means to bring it about.
Nowadays, that's a fairy obvious idea, with Xavier and Magneto often compared to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X by even the most casual of fans (because that relationship has become so integral to the X-Men's mythos that it appears in pretty much all adaptations of the characters), but this issue marks the first step towards the creation of that idea, and in the deepening and development of Magneto's character. That development will eventually stand as Claremont's single biggest post-Byrne contribution to the series.
Next Issue: X-Men Annual #5
The X-Men and the Fantastic Four vs. the Badoon. Yeah, I'm not terribly excited either.