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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

X-amining X-Men Unlimited #2

"Point Blank"
1993

In a Nutshell

Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Jan Duursema
Inkers: Dan Panosian, Keith Williams, Jimmy Palmiotti, Joe Rubinstein
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Colorist: Marie Javins
Editor: Kellu Corvese
Group Editor: Bob Harras
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
A former East German solider named Adrian Eiskalt recounts to his psychiatrist an encounter with Magneto in which Magneto killed Adrian's brother. In New York, Gabrielle Haller leads a symposium on Magneto, later meeting with Adrian to discuss their respective governments' desire to eliminate the threat he poses. Adrian insists he has no desire to kill Magneto, and Haller agrees to share information, but she can see the desire for vengeance in Adrian's eyes. Meanwhile, Exodus offers Phantazia a place on Avalon, but she reluctantly turns him down when he reveals her fellow Brotherhood of Evil Mutant teammates are not invited. As Adrian studies the information on Magneto provided by Haller, Haller compares notes with Moira MacTaggert. This leads to the creation of a suit which will mask Adrian's bio-electric signature, and a taser gun made of plastic. Later, Henry Gyrich briefs the Commission on Super-Human Affairs on Magneto's return, and while the group approves of sending Adrian to engage him, they're uncertain how to draw him out. Adrian has an idea, however, and lays in wait at the site of Magneto's wife Magda's grave, the same spot where Magneto killed his brother years ago. But when Magneto arrives and Adrian has him in his sights, he finds himself unable to act, having gained a better understanding of the man from his research, and realizing that when he killed Adrian's brother, he did so only in self-defense, after Adrian's brother attacked him. As Magneto leaves, Adrian is left alone, realizing all he's ever really had was his hate.

Firsts and Other Notables
This issue serves as a kind of "unified field theory" for Magneto, laying out his history in the midst of his central role in "Fatal Attractions" and the X-Men's thirtieth anniversary celebration and attempting to reconcile the occasionally-disparate depictions of the character in a consistent and reasonable way.


In the process, it reveals that his birth name is Erik Lensherr (Magnus, the only other name he's ever given, is said to be his middle name) and, more controversially, it is confirmed that the character is  Romani, rather than Jewish (as had never been technically confirmed before but repeatedly hinted at and generally accepted by fans and creators). Nicieza has said the decision to make Magneto Romani came from editorial, though it's not clear why (some have said Marvel was reluctant to have one of their top villains portrayed as Jewish, apparently caring more about angry Jewish people than angry Romani...), and Nicieza has argued there are semantical ways to reconcile past statements made by Magneto implying he's Jewish with this retcon. Whatever the rationale, the change ultimately won't stick, with both the Erik Lensherr name and the Romani heritage eventually retconned out, the first in X-Men #72, the latter once and for all in 2008's Magneto: Testament miniseries (which confirmed Magneto's Jewish heritage and also established the character's true real name as Max Eisenhardt, a change which has stuck to this date).


All that said, the name "Erik Lensherr" made its way into the animated series (which makes sense, since it was being made around the time the name was introduced) and apparently caught the ear of somebody involved in the production of the first X-Men movie (slightly more odd, as it had been retconned into being a fake by then), as it is used there and thus in most subsequent films, leaving at least a generation or two of the general non-comic-book-reading public recognizing "Erik Lensherr" as Magneto's name.

As with many issues around this time, this was published notoriously out of sequence with other issues - it was intended to come out after Uncanny X-Men #304, which is the big official "return of Magneto" issue, and even references events from that issue (incorrectly, as it turns out - Gyrich notes that Magneto hasn't harmed anyone since coming back, but we'll see that not to be the case in Uncanny #304), including, possibly, the EM storm that Magneto unleashes in X-Men #25 (which is the tipping point into direct action against Magneto for Professor X in that issue); it's unclear if the storm referenced here is meant to be that one, or something else. But because Uncanny #304 was so late, this issue came out first, before the events it referenced, thus further diluting the impact of Magneto's return (after the character technically already returned in X-Force #25) by treating his presence in this issue as a routine thing instead of the biggest return appearance of the character to date.


It's said here that Magneto used his power to affect the iron in blood, causing strokes and seizures; using his power on the iron in blood is something of a hallmark for the returned Magneto, one of those things we've never really seen him do before but he does a lot around this time (see also: unbrainwashing Rusty & Skids in X-Force #25), leading up to his attack on Wolverine in X-Men #25.


Gabrielle Haller, Xavier's baby mama, pops up here, for the first time since X-Men vs. Avengers. She and Moira compare notes on Magneto, as well as on being lovers of Xavier's. This is also the point at which Moira, who was fairly traumatized by Magneto's death and the events surrounding it, learns he is still alive.


Colonel Vazhin, the Russian Nick Fury, also appears briefly at Gyrich's Magneto briefing.

Briefly glimpsed in this issue is Jonathan Chambers, who has written a book titled "Fatal Attractions" about Magneto; he will appear again in X-Men Annual #2 as that issue's "new" character, Empyrean.


Exodus pops up briefly, appearing briefly before the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to offer Phantazia sanctuary on Avalon, in the process revealing her real name to be "Eileen Harsaw".


He does not offer sanctuary to Toad, Blob or Pyro, citing the first two as being too driven by greed (with Toad, probably not-incorrectly, also believing this is just Magneto sticking it to him again after all those years serving as his infantile lackey in the Silver Age Brotherhood) and Pyro as being "tainted", which is the first indication that Pyro has the Legacy Virus (something which will be confirmed in X-Men Annual #2 and then drag out for seemingly-forever, almost as long as the actual Legacy Virus plotline).


As I've mentioned in various "Unstacking the Deck" posts, Magneto tends to be portrayed well in static, regal images, and the cover to this issue, while nothing fancy, is another example of that.

Creator Central
With Lobdell writing the debut issue of this series, Fabian Nicieza handles this one. He is joined by future X-Factor penciler Jan Duursema.

A Work in Progress
In the opening flashback, we see Magneto visit the grave of his wife Magda at the base of Wundagore Mountain (where she gave birth to Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch, unbeknownst to Magneto, before dying), and Bova, the cow-woman nursemaid who briefly took care of the infants, makes an appearance.


It is said that Magneto built the monument to Magda when he learned the truth about Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch (and where Magda died), setting this flashback sometime between the Vision & Scarlet Witch miniseries where he learned that information, and New Mutants #18 (when Warlock destroyed Asteroid M, after which Magneto adopted a different look before eventually joining Xavier's school).

Graydon Creed makes another talk show appearance, peddling the official line that the Friends of Humanity group which kidnapped Rusty and Skids in X-Force was a militant splinter group and wasn't officially sanctioned by him.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
The then-recent dismantling of the Berlin Wall is referenced.


Also, Adrian's anti-Magneto invisibility suit comes complete with a Gambit-esque head condom.


Austin's Analysis
Putting aside the retcon involving Magneto's heritage (which falls somewhere between mildly-annoying and deeply insulting, depending on your take), this is actually a really solid issue. The plot is a little dry (it's a lot of talking heads) and the art isn't great (those talking heads around re-purposed shots of Magneto, but it is clear and doesn't detract from the story), but in presenting essentially a dramatized Marvel Handbook entry on Magneto, it manages to effectively blend all the various representations of the character, from ranting Silver Age looney to the more haunted villain-turned-headmaster of Claremont, to the hard-edged isolationist that followed his departure from Xavier's, into a cohesive whole. As these things do, some rough edges get sanded down (it's always been hard to reconcile Silver Age Magneto with Holocaust Survivor Magneto, powers-messing-with-his-head retcons aside), but the end result holds together pretty well as a mostly entertaining character study. That it sets up a fairly well-balanced Magneto that is more or less torn apart in his next published appearance isn't this issue's fault, and in the grand scheme of things, that later Magneto reads far more like an aberration, with the measured, unified Magneto presented here more consistent with the character's overall depiction, both historically, and in the (further) future.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, Deadpool hunts for Tolliver's will in his debut miniseries, and Friday, Excalibur gets their own annual. Next week, Magneto returns officially in Uncanny X-Men #304.

10 comments:

  1. I skipped this issue back in the day, I think because I flipped through it and all those "talking heads" looked boring. Plus I wasn't too interested in a recap of Magneto's history; I just wanted to see what he would do next.

    Interesting that if you look at the first few issues of X-MEN UNLIMITED, you have #1 written by Lobdell, 2 and 3 by Nicieza, and 4 by Lobdell, before other writers begin to pop up. I wonder if the series was ever planned to have a regular writer, or if it was originally intended to always be Lobdell and Nicieza switching off, or what.

    (Or, perhaps most likely, nobody had any idea!)

    I know when SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED launched around the same time, at least, Tom DeFalco was the official regular writer -- though that only lasted for six issues until he took over SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN.

    I had a friend who thought Magneto controlling the iron in people's blood was the dumbest thing ever. I always thought it was pretty cool. Though you're right; it becomes a big thing right about now. Like someone suddenly had this idea and everybody ran with it.

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  2. Actually, the 'magnetically controls iron' came from Cosmic Boy in the Paul Levitz-Keith Giffen LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES#298, when he uses it to pull and (almost) torture terrorists who injured his family and killed his mother.

    And now to a more serious note: this is a question I've wanted to write on this board, and today's subject feels appropriate. Does Chris Claremont's Magneto retcon exploit the Holocaust? I didn't have a problem with it in my teen and college years, but just as I've read complaints on certain Holocaust films over trivializing the tragedy into a soap opera, it does give me question whether the superhero genre (with its sometimes silly aspects) may also be insulting the tragedy. Teebore once commented about how CC's use of the 'N' word has been reviled as cheap dramatic device; could his use of the Holocaust be a similar target? I've also read articles proposing this, calling CC 'miserable' or a 'hack' for doing such a thing. I don't agree on these attacks on CC (a man who has worked on a series for 16 years and quit because he didn't like what was happening to it is not 'a hack'), but I would like to read what this board thinks about it.

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    Replies
    1. This is an interesting question! Personally, I've never considered tying Magneto's origin to the Holocaust to be exploitative. I think it was a mistake for continuity-based reasons, but that's about it.

      The Holocaust remains the most horrific atrocity in recent world memory, but I'm not sure that means it should be off-limits for storytelling purposes. They're nothing alike in terms of scale or circumstance, but if a villain was ret-conned in another twenty-five or so years to be the child of someone killed on September 11th, would that be considered exploitative? I don't believe so. Tragedies affect people in different ways. Magneto used his rage over what happened to him as a young man to become a supervillain. Another character could just as easily have come out of the experience a hero, and if that had been the case -- if there had been an established older hero who, in the eighties, was ret-conned into a Holocuast survivor, would people call it exploitative, or would they applaud it?

      All that said, I look at this from the perspective of an outsider. I learned about the Holocaust in elementary school. A Holocaust survivor spoke to our class. But I'm not Jewish or in any way "related" to the Holocaust except in the capacity of a student. I believe it's one of the most sickening things ever to have happened in human history, but I don't have that personal connection like a lot of people. My opinion might be different if I did.

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    2. No, the controlling the blood doesn't come from the Levitz-Giffen Legion- Magneto first used it in Avengers 110, cover dated April 1973, long before the Levitz- Giffern legion.

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    3. // Does Chris Claremont's Magneto retcon exploit the Holocaust? //

      Not to me. 50% of my lineage is Jewish, of Eastern European descent, and I culturally identify as such. (About 75% of the other 50% is, as fate would have it, non-Jewish German.) When I read Magneto’s origins as revealed by Claremont in my teens, I appreciated the depth it gave the character; pushing 30, I found the depiction of young Erik at the gates of Auschwitz in the first X-Men film quite moving. My eight great-grandparents were either first-generation immigrants or first-generation American-born, all here in the States by the turn of the previous century, but I know people with direct familial links to the camps and it was impossible to attend Hebrew school, the Jewish equivalent of Sunday school except that it also ran Tuesdays and Thursdays, without the Holocaust looming large in my education. Other Jewish readers or viewers may well be of a different mind.

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    4. I feel like perhaps there's a difference between a character for whom the Holocaust has always been a part of their backstory, and one where it's retconned in after the fact. With the latter, there's a real risk of it coming across as, "Aaaaaand then... THE HOLOCAUST!" for the sake of canned poignancy. Which, absolutely, would be exploitative, and potentially offensive. If anyone does find it problematic w/r/t Magneto, maybe that's the issue, and there is some rationale for it.

      That said, I wouldn't call the retcon making Magneto a Holocaust survivor something that was just flippantly tossed out there. On the contrary, it became THE defining attribute of his character from that point forward. It's a reminder to generations far removed today that the Holocaust wasn't only a terrible thing that happened, and left in the past. There's an important message about the persistence of trauma, how it's carried by the survivors, and impacts those who were not directly touched (or even alive) during the event itself. That's not to say Magneto isn't responsible for his own actions, but the central role this tragedy served in informing his character is powerfully demonstrative - even in fiction - of why we say "Never Again." (Even if we do a piss-poor job, as a people, of practicing what we preach, sigh.)

      I would just hope that anyone who disagrees is being intellectually honest in their criticism. As in, let's play fair in assessing the portrayal on the basis of its merits rather than the medium. Not to make assumptions, but if it comes down to "this is wrong because comics are trash [while movies are Art]" then that's not cool. I'm not saying Magneto's origin measures up Schindler's List (or that it doesn't), but equal time for different depictions, right?

      Then again, this is an area where I freely invite being sternly told that I am wrong by those far more educated and qualified to speak on the matter.

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    5. For the context, during the 70's Marvel had been using "Holocaust" heavily in he titles like "The Hero and The Holocaust!","From the Holocaust - A Hero" etc. in some general non-WWII meaning, which certainly raises the brows of a modern reader. By making it an element in a prominent character like Magneto, Claremont rather took the word out of the happy-go-lucky comics vocabulary of the time.

      Also, from the well-known piece of research about Magneto's heritage we know that Claremont didn't so much milk the Jewish angle but rather hid the full holocaust history of Magneto and what it subtextually tells of his heritage. We knew he "had been in Auschwicz", but most what a young reader like me got out of it at the time was that there had been a place like Auschwitz. It's not a bad lesson to learn.

      Also, Magneto's experiences would soon enough be juxtaposed with Rachel and the DoFP timeline, and one obviously can have opinions about that, but technically the can of worms was opened in UXM #141-142 already, and I can't blame Claremont for respectfully reminding the reader that the mutant concentration camps of near future in his work are not such a fantasism as one would wish and like them to be. UXM from #189 forward in a way is a holocaust story, just done on another, sanitized level, and Magneto's presence and commentary during it is an anchor to keep it "real" and educational. It almost feels like it wasn't at all an accident that Magnus was there in 2013 in #141 and because of his off-panel death almost feels like he was a sole survivor among the rows of tombstones of the slain superheroes we love reading about, subtextually likening them to the real-world holocaust victims and forcing the reader to care about it having happened.

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  3. I've always been bothered that we really didn't know anything about Phantazia and then randomly she is shown here as a very attractive, skinny, blond woman that was good enough to be pulled to Magneto's side. She had always been a face behind a mask and a blacked space body. I believe this is basically the last time we see of her besides one or two more Brotherhood appearances.

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  4. The spaciousness of that airplane shown about a quarter of the way into the story is ridiculous —  like, more ridiculous than Magneto’s hair ridiculous.

    // Magneto used his power to affect the iron in blood, causing strokes and seizures //

    Thus hanging the question “Why doesn’t he just always do that and dispatch the vast, vast, vast majority of his opponents in mere seconds?” in the firmament alongside the same question, gender-adjusted, for The Invisible Woman regarding her ability to create suffocating force bubbles around her enemies’ heads and/or within their respiratory systems. (Also: Most speedsters are idiots.)

    // Colonel Vazhin, the Russian Nick Fury //

    I will belatedly mention here that I’ve been unable to pronounce his name in my head without thinking of Borat, which is not conducive to taking him at all seriously.

    // a Gambit-esque head condom //

    That design would be absolutely terrible at doing what a condom is intended to do.

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  5. It says a lot about 1993 and the sheer, massive amount of comics that I bought that year-and lord, did I buy a lot, my pull list was insane-that I owned this comic and yet didn't remember a bloody thing about it until I read this post.

    1993 was a mad as hell year for comics reading.

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