Magneto Is Hateful
The first gig I got at Marvel was a small one. And by small I mean tiny. And by tiny I mean miniscule. Eight pages. But they trusted me with eight pages that were going to be an official part of the Marvel Universe. That was pretty cool.
Telling a complete story in eight pages is not easy, but I had some inspiration. Back in my teen years, when I read anything and everything X-Men related, Marvel started putting out a monthly series called Classic X-Men, in which they basically went back and re-published in order the series from the '60's and '70's. This was awesome for me because I could go back and read all those old stories without having to pay a bajillion dollars for them as collector's items. I like collecting as much as the next guy, but I was more into it for the stories. Call me crazy, but on one or two occassions I've actually taken an old comic book out of it's mylar protective sleeve and opened it and read it.
In the back of these Classic X-Men they would put short bonus stories that had never before been published. One, written by Chris Claremont (who was the guy responsible for making the X-Men so popular in the '80's) was called, I believe, "A Fire in the Night" and was a story in which Magneto dreams of his childhood growing up in a concentration camp and how horrible the humans were to him, then when he's older and his mutant powers are discovered, his home is set on fire and his daughter burns to death. He wakes to see that there is a building across the street on fire and though his first thought is to not care about the humans trapped inside, he eventually can't help himself and uses his powers to save a young girl.
This raised an interesting question for me: What is Magneto's motivation? When I first started reading the series, it seemed straightforward: as a young Jew living in Poland, he saw his people rounded up an slaughtered, now that his new ethnicity - mutants - were being persecuted, he decided he was going to take over the world rather than let them suffer the same fate as the European Jews of the 1940's. But throughout the series, the guy had shown a tendency to swing back and forth between righteous anger and sorrowful sympathy.
Magneto was always my favorite character because he was the first bad guy I'd ever seen, in any medium, who I could say, "You know, he's actually got a point there." He didn't twist his handlebar mustache and chuckle over his evil plan, he truly in his heart believed what he was doing was right, he truly believed he was the good guy.
Somehow in the middle of pondering all of this, I came up with an interesting dilemma for him. What if he met someone who could help the mutant cause tremendously, become a powerful ally for him, but then found out that guy used to be a Nazi?
I know, that's a good one, right?
I created a guy named Whisper, whose mutant power was that he could read minds from a great distance. Where Magneto had amazing physical power, Whisper was the ultimate source of information. As one of Whisper's henchmen says, together they would be unstoppable. I hinted that they were meeting in East Berlin in the '60's by mentioning the wall and that Whisper had stolen secrets from the minds of Johnson (U.S. President), Brezhnev (Soviet Premier), and Paul the Sixth (Pope). When Magneto shows up with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, one of Whisper's men says Whisper swore he'd never let the attrocities he saw in Auschwitz happen again. Magneto assumes Whisper was interned in Auschwitz, and the moment he meets him, he embraces the man. They talk and their ideals are identical, this is the perfect union. Then Whisper says he gave up his human identity, he will never again go by the name Karl Reifschneider.
Now, in my script Magneto's next line was, "That's not a Jewish name," as he comes to realize Whisper was at Auschwitz as a guard, not a prisoner. When the issue came out, my editor had changed it (without my knowledge) to, "I remember that name."
You may think this is nit-picky, but I truely felt that change undermined the whole purpose of the story. The question I was asking in the story was this: What is Magneto's motivation? Is it to take revenge on humanity, or to help mutants? Basically, is it love or anger?
Magneto wraps a steel beam around Whisper's neck and Whisper says, "I was too young to understand. I am no longer that man."
Now, in my version Magneto has a choice to make, and Whisper pretty much lays it out for him. "You can vent your wrath over deaths in the past, or you can save lives in the future. You cannot do both."
Magneto crushes the man's neck, killing him. (Sorry for the spoiler, but you probably weren't going to be able to find a copy of the issue anyway).
In the printed version, Whisper says the same thing, but here's what I feel the difference is. In the printed version, it's made clear that Whisper and Magneto knew each other personally back in the concentration camp 25 years earlier. Whisper literally threw Magneto's family into the gas chambers. Is Magneto going to kill that man? Of course he is. There's no way he's not going to kill that guy. I'm a non-violent person and I would kill that guy.
And that's why the change undermines the whole concept. Magneto had to have the ability to believe Whisper was just a young person who'd never heard anything other than Nazi propaganda and didn't know better. There had to be enough ambiguity there that Magneto's decision could have gone either way, and if Whisper was just a kid caught up in bad circumstance who was horrified by what he saw at Auschwitz then Magneto could forgive him. With that ambiguity gone, so was Magneto's ability to choose.
The story came out in Marvel Comics Presents #3, and I titled it "Hateful" because if I can use the title of a song by The Clash that perfectly fits the tone I'm going for, there's no way that's not going to happen. But nobody buys anthology comic books so it wasn't a blip on the radar the week it came out. I only read one review, and it basically said, "This story takes place decades ago, so what's the point and who cares?" I thought I was tunelling straight into the core of the deepest character in comics, in response I got nothing more than a shrug of indifference.
The cover was cool, though.