Friday, 18 January 2013

X-Men vs. Avengers: Magneto Was Right Here, A Moment Ago, I Swear

X-Men vs Avengers is a four-issue limited series written by Roger Stern and pencilled by Marc Silvestri. It is now almost impossible to Google. As the name suggests, the X-Men fight the Avengers, but while that might be the headlining attraction, it's not really what the story is about. Instead, it is a belated follow-up to the abandonment of Magneto's trial in Uncanny #200, and like the X-Men vs. the Fantastic Four limited series we covered last post, covers the reaction of the superhero community to his freedom and his association with the X-Men.

Storm • Dazzler • Havok • Magneto • Rogue • Wolverine
Captain America • Black Knight • Captain Marvel • Dr. Druid • She-Hulk • Thor
Soviet Super-Soldiers
Vanguard • Crimson Commando • Darkstar • Titanium Man • Ursa Major
The U.S. government have set a trap for Magneto, by downing Asteroid M. Magneto finds out about this and immediately goes to recover what he can from it, and destroy the rest, lest it fall into the "wrong hands" (yes, he uses those exact words.) He is intercepted by both the Avengers, seeking to arrest him so he can stand trial again; and a Soviet super-team, who just want to see him dead in revenge for the attack in Varykino in Uncanny #150. There is lots of punching in various ways for the first three issues. The Interesting part of the plot starts with issue #4. The X-Men are placed into protective custody, while Magneto is hiding in Singapore. Magneto is contacted by a local group of mutants who acclaim him as a leader. Among them is a chap named Light who used his power of truth discernment to amass a fortune.

Eventually Magneto surrenders and submits to a trial, but not without consulting Captain America about whether he should use his mass-prejudice-removal device on the entire world (which he cobbled together from bits of Asteroid M - now only practical that Xavier has left the planet). Cap says no, Magneto blasts him with it and is surprised to find his answer still the same. Cap never had been prejudiced against mutants.

This breaks Magneto a bit. It's time for his retrial (again with Haller defending and Jaspers prosecuting. The defence tries a new argument, that Magneto is a state actor in his own right, part of a new nation of mutants, and hence not bound by the Geneva Conventions. As an argument, I'm not sure this works: the Geneva Conventions are part of customary international law, but it's not like this comes up much. But if we're bringing the real world into it, it's far more likely that Magneto would be shipped to Cuba in an orange jumpsuit. The court rejects this argument, and then evidence is taken about Magneto's atrocities. Stern knows his stuff (he was editor for this part of Uncanny's run, after all) and the evidence here presented is a decent hatchet job on Magneto.

The court now retires to consider its verdict. Magneto is worried the ruling is going to go against him, and there will be an uprising by his Singaporean fan club and other such mutants. He'd really rather avoid that. Can the judges be trusted? One item of bizarre random paranoia is his belief that one of the judges is secretly a mutant and wishes to martyr Magneto precisely to start the race war, which mutants will win. Some investigation proves this false: the more prosaic and explanation is that that the judge is a mutophobe. Fortunately, Magneto's got an app for that.

Magneto gets let off: the revised non-bigoted judges accept his argument of lack of jurisdiction. It stops rather abruptly, as he leaves the court building he sees an angry crowd and wonders whether he didn't just make a terrible mistake. The idea that we can go back to business as usual (or rather, to Uncanny X-Men #220) after this is nonsensical, and I was almost expecting an issue #5, with the pogroms beginning.

The miniseries has to fit here because there's nowhere else for it to go: they just got Havok in #219 and then Storm goes off in #220. But it doesn't actually fit here. Apart from the difference in tone (apart from the scary ending, we'd simply not get something as Silver Age as a global anti-prejudice ray in the main series in 1987), we're seeing a different Magneto to the one we've been seing lately. Claremont's is just headmaster of the school and is kept at arms length from their other activities, whereas this one appears to be a fully-fledged member of the X-Men. Claremont's has reformed. This one just thinks he has. This Magneto has all sorts of wacky psychic powers that Magneto hasn't exhibited since Uncanny #4. Claremont's is the master of magnetism. I did this out of order (it's Christmas Eve, if you're wondering), and I can tell you that the Claremon/Simonson Magneto isn't going to put on that helmet for a good long time yet; whereas this Magneto doesn't even give it a second thought.

And yet, although he on paper he is examining a less well-developed Magneto, the ground this is covering is a far more interesting use of the character than the ineffectual sub-Xavier that Claremont/Simonson have him be at this bit in the run. That Magneto is never really tested, not until Inferno, at any rate. What are his limits? This title is willing to ask and answer that, and the answer, though less definite, is more convincing. And there's this idea of Magneto as a revolutionary hero to a mutant underground. Well, that's gonna have legs...

I originally wrote this post more or less as it appears above. Then I happened to look at the last few pages of the collection, that contained behind-the-scenes notes. And suddenly, it clicks into place why the last issue was so different to the others. Tom DeFalco wrote it, not Roger Stern. Stern's original treatment is presented: it presents a much less noble Magneto, still definitely wearing a black hat under that metal helmet. I said "Stern knows his stuff"; he only went and went through every single issue of any comic Magneto has ever been in and documented all crimes, however slight. He poured scorn on the rejuvenation defence, too. But this was not to be. Then, as 16 years later, Marvel would see value in a redeemable Magneto, but this time they caught it before it went to press.

1 comment:

  1. It is now almost impossible to Google

    Ha! I can imagine.

    I agree with the sentiment that this is a series that probably had to happen, it just would have been interesting to see what Claremont would have done if he'd written it and/or tested Magneto more in the main book.

    Not sure if you saw this, but this series came up in the comments of my post on issue #150, and Jason Powell was able to talk to Roger Stern about the fourth issue and the fact that he didn't write it.

    He wrote:

    "Well, in the first place, I wasn't planning on making any sweeping change in Magneto. Mind you, I thought the idea of the X-Men (and their readers) so easily believing that Magneto was "a good guy now" and accepted as their leader/teacher in Xavier's absence was at the very least unwise. But that had become the status quo in the X-books, and it wasn't my place to monkey with it. I intended to just ignore it.

    But then, the marketing folk decided that there should be an Avengers vs. X-Men miniseries (and a Fantastic Four vs. the Avengers) miniseries. And I was told that if I didn't write it, someone else would.

    With that hanging over my head, I had to deal with the fact that a notorious international terrorist was in charge on the X-Men.

    So, I had to come up with a way of allowing Magneto to go on doing what he was doing in the X-Men, without making the Avengers look foolish for letting him go.

    I thought I had. I outlined the entire miniseries before I started, and got it approved. I wouldn't have even started on the project without that approval.

    But then, after the final plot was written, everything was changed. And I never got an answer as to why.

    So I passed on scripting the final issue.

    If I'd known that I was soon going to be fired from the Avengers, I probably would have passed on the entire project."