As someone who had grown up learning about the Holocaust — both from an educational standpoint and from a personal inclination, as some of my own relatives had suffered because of the Shoah — I constantly look for texts about the subject. That being said, MAGNETO TESTAMENT is one of the best graphic resource materials about the Holocaust that I ever read. It focuses on the backstory of Magneto, one of X-Men’s greatest anti-heroes, revealing his origin as a Holocaust survivor. For me, this graphic novel joins the ranks of comics such as MAUS by Art Spiegelman and PERSEPOLIS by Marjane Satrapi, discussing subjects like war and humanity in an elegant, yet stark, graphic manner.

LISTEN: We discuss Magneto’s origins in MAGNETO TESTAMENT in this episode of our podcast

Magneto: Villain or Victim?

Everyone knows Magneto as one of the X-Men’s most prominent arch-nemeses and allies; a man so bitterly against the world that he would do anything to separate himself and his fellow mutants from it, even at the risk of destroying both. However, not everyone knows him as Max Eisenhardt, a Jewish boy who had lost his family and nearly himself to World War Two, or more specifically the Shoah. Early manifestations of X-MEN comics hinted at Magneto’s character having a deeper history with prejudice. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the comics confirmed his status as a Jewish Holocaust survivor; especially in issues written by Chris Claremont (who himself is Jewish on his mother’s side). In MAGNETO TESTAMENT, Greg Pak and Carmine Di Giandomenico expand upon Magneto’s origin story, reaching with more depth into his history as a Holocaust survivor.

Introducing Max

MAGNETO TESTAMENT
MAGNETO TESTAMENT #1, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

MAGNETO TESTAMENT begins with Max at home in a middle-class German-Jewish family. In the opening sequences, Magneto doesn’t appear in costume or at war or even as Magneto. Instead, he is simply Max, a boy spending time with his loved ones, making a gift for a pretty girl he likes. Yet the comic soon delves into the reality that Max lives in: Germany on the cusp of World War Two. Danger is potent in the country. The air of anti-Semitism that surrounds Jewish families becomes even more toxic, increasing the fears of losing their businesses and being unable to support their families, or something even worse.

As a former soldier who had served bravely in the previous war, Max’s father, Jakob, believes that his veteran status will provide some protection for his family, if only just a little longer. Even urged by those around him to leave Germany while there’s still time, Jakob refuses to believe his homeland would betray him. He has hope that if his family keeps their head down, things will get better. Needless to say, anyone reading this comic knows what actually happens.

Writing Towards Authenticity

 

MAGNETO TESTAMENT
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

 

MAGNETO TESTAMENT feels all too real as events slowly unfold before the reader, who possesses the unfortunate knowledge of exactly what is coming next. The reader often experiences heartbreak, passively watching the Eisenhardt family become further entrenched in the tides of war and persecution. The comic also captures the reality of survival in times of chaos. During the war, Max tries to do everything and anything he can to protect his family, from scrounging in the garbage for coins, to smuggling, to worse.

Greg Pak attested to committing full research on this project in order to avoid harassment from Holocaust deniers stemming from any historical imprecision. Sincerely dedicated to this project, Pak even consulted with the Simon Wiesenthal Center for full accuracy, demonstrating his commitment to this intense topic. Greg Pak’s incredible writing and thorough research bring World War Two to life for the reader; he captures the subtle and toxic rise of Nazi Germany and its effects experienced firsthand through a family like Max’s.

READ: Need comics that talk about the darker reality of humanity? Here are our suggestions!

MAGNETO TESTAMENT effectively chronicles the evolution of the war; from events like Kristallnacht to the implementation of the Nuremberg laws, to the eventual transfer to camps such as Auschwitz. Pak even captures the most minute and haunting details, such as the 700 calories worth of rations distributed to Poles versus the 200 calories given to Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. Furthermore, Carmine Di Giandomenico’s artwork is simply incredible. Each panel and page layout are painfully beautiful in their brutal representations of war. His wide-eyed character designs especially capture the sense of horror and loss of innocence in the very young protagonist who grew up too fast.

A Personal Introduction to Magneto

Truth be told, when I first read this comic, I was pretty new to the world of Marvel, not yet possessing the same knowledge of its characters that I do today. So back then, when I first picked up this comic, I had no idea that Max was the Magneto. My first time reading this book, I never knew that Magneto was considered a villain at all. All I saw was this sweet kid who went through hell trying to stay alive and still be human. When I first read this comic, I was still in middle school, around the same age as Max. Now I’m twenty years old, and still find this comic one of the most potent ones I’ve ever read; its messages are still as, if not more, relevant than ever.

As a woman of Jewish descent, the Holocaust to me is a very personal matter. Since I was a kid, I had grown up with the knowledge of what was done to my family, from descendants whose names have been lost to the depths of Babi Yar to my grandparents who had to escape to Kazakhstan when Ukraine no longer remained an option for living. Every time a history class covered this subject, there has been that silent reminder in my head telling me that if I had been in the exact place and time that Max had been born into, the likelihood of my survival would not have been very high.

No Heroes

MAGNETO TESTAMENT
MAGNETO TESTAMENT #5, Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

In MAGNETO TESTAMENT there are no heroes, and the lines between good and evil blur until there is only survival. It is here where the tough questions are asked. Is it ok to keep your head down in the hopes of protecting your family? To turn your eyes away from someone’s pain to focus on your own survival? And if one does revolt, will they be able to live with the consequences if one enemy taken down could mean fifty innocent lives taken in revenge? When you’re literally battling for your life, things like black and white morality no longer exist; the person you once thought you were is lost in the crossfire.

READ: Don’t let the past repeat itself. Learn more about the dangers of the alt-right here.

Even the original creators did not believe in a clear-cut villainy for Magneto. Stan Lee himself once said in a 2008 interview that he did not see Magneto as a stereotypical villain; that in his quest for justice, Magneto was trying to attack the bigots who persecuted people like him. He stated that Magneto “was a danger of course… but I never thought of him as a villain,” (Marvel Spotlight: Uncanny X-Men 500 Issues Celebration, pp. 5-7). Even after learning about Magneto’s complicated history post-Holocaust, I still carried that first reading of Magneto with me; I never really saw him as the “bad guy” that everyone believed to him to be.

MAGNETO TESTAMENT: Conclusion

In each reading of MAGNETO TESTAMENT, I’m struck by its attention to historical detail and heart-wrenching storytelling. The comic still reminds me of the power of a story well told, capturing humanity and horror based on a true historical reality that never should have happened, but did. If you are interested in learning more about Magneto or about the Holocaust, or simply someone who appreciates honest and evocative narratives, I can’t recommend this comic enough.

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