A theme throughout Cullen Bunn and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s “Magneto” #1 is how the X-Men’s oldest foe-turned-X-Man has been transformed from a former villainous high-profile mutant crusader to a more low-key vigilante. Holed up in cheap motels and driving across America like a common man on a budget, the Magneto in this comic doesn’t rule nations or try to ignite a world revolution; instead, he’s like Billy Jack with superpowers, seeking justice for mutants with a far more grass-roots approach.
Bunn makes repeated references to the character’s past; his roles, previous aliases, old methodologies and the stronger powers of his glory days. The point is taken; a Motel 6 is a far cry from Asteroid M, and driving a beat-up SUV across the county isn’t as exciting as a magnetic force bubble traveling through a live volcano. In fact, it’s taken a little too well; the admission that Magneto’s past was much bigger, bolder and brasher also reads as implication that it was better, both for the character as well as readers.
The mostly quiet, sedate atmosphere for the first fifteen pages is compelling enough, as it establishes Magneto’s current M.O. away from the X-Men and provides a sound enough reason for his changed methods. Bunn also gives the story its own inferiority complex with all of these remembrances, though; his subdued story is good, but so are the ones he references, and some are even better. Even if readers never read any of these past stories, Cullen’s own words (“To live among the stars; to rule jungle kingdoms; to guide entire nations, only to find oneself here”) ironically cut down his own story; readers are essentially convinced how good that burger tastes for lunch, even as they are reminded of last night’s delicious steak dinner.
Comparisons aside, Bunn’s story starts off a little wordy, but he wisely makes one thing very clear early on: that this is still Magneto, and woe to anyone with an anti-mutant agenda who draws his attention. From there, he slowly builds the tension until Magneto finally strikes, in a sequence nicely laid out by Walta. Walta’s lines have a kind of Tim Sale-like rawness to them, which largely works well with the down-to-earth, back road atmosphere of the story. A few touches cleverly foretell what’s about to occur in this action scene, and when Magneto makes its move it’s effectively captured by Walta, who has also designed a pretty sharp looking new costume.
The issue holds true to what has historically made the character so interesting; despite his villainous ways, he sees himself as a champion to his cause. “Magneto” #1 isn’t any kind of definitive take on the character, nor is it among the best Magneto stories, but it is a strong introduction with a solid premise, and it’s enough to pull readers back.