Those wondering exactly what the point of a Magneto “origin” story is, given that the specifics of the character’s childhood have always been deliberately glossed over, should look no further than Marvel’s original justification for telling Wolverine’s complete origin: If they don’t do it today, Hollywood will do it tomorrow. This reasoning is only compounded by the frequent talks of a solo Magneto film to follow up next spring’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” movie. With the idea looming, it makes sense for comics to get it right before someone else gets it wrong.
Enter Greg Pak, the writer charged with the unenviable task of telling the origin of one of comicdom’s most complicated, nuanced, and often isnconsistently-written villains. Magneto is a popular character, and with the details of his childhood previously only hinted at, it’s going to take a careful approach from Pak to craft a story that respects the multiple interpretations of his character without damaging one of Marvel’s more recognizable properties.
Pak can occasionally be inconsistent as a writer, but it’s encouraging to see that “Magneto: Testament” falls immediately into the better half of his output. The issue expertly introduces the young Magneto, his family, his future wife, and gives us some indication of what life was like for Max “Magneto” Eisenhardt during the rise of the Nazis, and Max’s growing struggle against a society that has unfairly rejected him.
Undeniably, this is delicate subject matter for a superhero comic, but Pak gets around this by playing down the sci-fi elements, at least for the first issue. Although the themes of oppression and heroism that drive Magneto today are entirely present, it’s all kept rather within the bounds of plausibility. Magneto’s extended family is depicted as warm and good-humored in the face of creeping prejudice, and the young Max is well-adjusted despite the dawning realization of his situation. If there’s anything to be concerned about, it’s the inevitability of where all this is heading. Pak has made Magneto into a likable underdog worthy of the audience’s compassion, but from here on it’s a delicate balancing act to maintain our empathy with the character. Presumably, we’ll eventually see him turns towards radical supremacy as a consequence of his own oppression, and it’ll take skillful work to prevent the lead from becoming dislikable too early on.
Oddly, the issue ends with a short text afterward in which Pak expresses the creative team’s desire to create a cohesive origin for Magneto, even if that means contradicting previously shown events, some of which already conflict with one another. There’s no apparent sign of that being a problem yet; this is presumably to be considered an advance warning, but it comes across as perhaps a little too cautious this soon into the series.
It’s undeniable that, in the space of one issue, Pak has managed to make a “Young Magneto” book read like a far better idea than it might’ve initially seemed. If the quality of this issue is maintained for the duration, it should easily become essential reading for the character.