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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Jason Powell on a classic X-Men story

I think, folks, that this will have to be an X-Men-oriented week, what with the new X-Men: First Class movie being released in just a few days. Away from the blog, I'm wrestling with the work of Dinesh D'Souza, Alister McGrath, and so on. Here, at the Hellfire Club, I intend to have a little bit of fun. Who's with me?

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As a treat to X-Men fans everywhere, here are two splendid posts from last year by Jason Powell (with good threads following on from them) discussing the classic Magneto/Rogue Savage Land story - i.e. Uncanny X-Men #274 and #275 - that pretty much finished off Chris Claremont's original run with the X-characters. By this time, Claremont was unhappy with how things were going, and though I am not privy to any details it's well known that there was friction between him and his UXM artist/co-plotter, Jim Lee. But that friction wasn't necessarily a bad thing for the quality of the stories: however exactly they got that way, the stories themselves ended up being complex, suggestive, open to many interpretations. They are better than the sum of the intentions behind them.

There was a little bit more in the tank for Claremont after that. His run concluded a few months later with the first three issues of the then-new X-Men v. 2 ... which played on the events of UXM #274/75. But the Savage Land story can be seen as in many ways the end of the era:

This is, ultimately, a perfect ending for Claremont’s Magneto: Neither standing among the heroes whose naivety (i.e., sparing the lives of irredeemable villains) he does not share, nor to be ghettoized amongst the two-dimensional villains who comprise the rest of the X-Men's "rogues gallery" (fitting then that he abandons a "Rogue" as well at the end of this arc [at this point, I, i.e. Russell, interpolate that I find this comment about Rogue's name a bit like over-reading, but it's the only thing in Powell's two posts that give me that reaction]). [Magneto's] psychology is simply too vast, his morality too ambiguous for a four-color world. Note how much of his dialogue in the present issue twists around moral questions like a snake, impossible to nail down. Before murdering the Russian soldier Semyanov, whose son he killed years earlier, Magneto offers condolences. "I am sorry for your son, Colonel," he says. "Which is more than I ever heard … for the slaughter of those I loved." "Your … daughter, you mean?" Semyanov replies. "And that absolves you of any crime?" Magneto’s equivocal reply: "I never said it did. For what we are, and what we have done, Comrade Colonel … we are both of us condemned." Much like Miller's Batman in "Dark Knight," Claremont’s Magneto is simply "too big." Beyond judgment by any but the power that he sees himself "condemned" by. This is the only possible endpoint that Magneto's trajectory (begun a decade earlier) could have taken him, and it feels utterly right.

And yet the story and its tropes continued to echo through the franchise ever afterwards. It is still being referenced today ... in fact very much so in the last few days. Does Magneto come, as it were, "pre-absolved" for his crimes because of what he first suffered during the Nazi Holocaust and then later when his first daughter was murdered?

That question is still being asked: in fact, Rogue asks Magneto exactly that, and in much the same tone, in X-Men Legacy #249. "Does that absolve you, then? Do you come pre-absolved?" This is after he tells her the story of yet another of his murder victims - a monstrous Nazi doctor whom he forced to commit suicide (and who did, indeed, commit suicide in our actual world after WWII). He gives her a similar answer. "No," he says, as Mike Carey's beat for the character reflects Chris Claremont's from twenty years ago, "quite the opposite." Clearly, Magneto still sees himself as condemned.

So he tells her not to love him for her own good: he's the product of a nightmarish era, and he's full of darkness and nightmares.

I'm going to have occasion to refer back to this post, and possibly to what Powell says, a bit later in week, and, hey, it's not just because of the movie: X-Men Legacy #249 also marks the end of an era, or maybe just the beginning of a new one, and it deserves a separate review. So, that's still to come ... and if you're interested at all in this stuff do have a look at what Powell has to say. His writing is exemplary critical discussion of popular culture.

2 comments:

Bruce said...

You know, after reading this, I may just break out my UXM #274/75 for the first time since storing them in 1991. :D

Russell Blackford said...

Yeah, break 'em out and see what you now think of them after all this time.