Thursday, 17 July 2014

Magneto, Volume 1: Infamous Review (Cullen Bunn, Gabriel Hernandez Walta)

Remember that scene from X-Men: First Class where a young Magneto hunts down some Nazis in post-war South America and executes them? That’s the basic concept of this series with an older (and less powerful) Magneto roaming across America as a wandering angel of death, avenging any and all wrongs against mutants by mankind.

It’s actually a brilliant concept for the character because Magneto’s gone from being the quintessential X-Men villain to, recently, an almost heroic figure while retaining some of his darker tendencies. He’s kind of like the mutant Malcolm X, standing for a good cause but using questionable means to support it, so it’s in keeping that he would kill and still be the anti-hero of his story.

What’s frustrating about this series is how vague the two stories in this book are when you think about them as a whole – but when reading them, you don’t actually notice that quality. So the first story arc is, I think, about some scientists doing Dr Mengele-esque experiments on human subjects to create human/sentinel hybrids, while the second arc is…. um… about The Marauders? I don’t know anything about these characters but they mean something to Magneto. They have a fight and then there’s that bizarre final page. So…

But, like I say, when you’re reading the book, it’s quite easy to follow – Magneto is incognito (take away the costume and helmet and he’s just an ordinary bald dude) and being hunted by SHIELD. He’s popping up all over the country violently executing people who’ve hurt mutants. Simple! But when Cullen Bunn introduces a plot, things start to wobble a bit.

Bunn gives Magneto a strong, resonant voice which is personable, even likeable, distinctive and sounds reasonable, in contrast to his very dark actions – the ways he kills is extremely violent. Though when the people he kills turn out to be nasty pieces of work, hurting mutant kids and whatnot, it’s hard not to feel righteous about Magneto’s murders. He’s not killing for the sake of it, he’s doing it for a purpose, and though you could say an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, you get a strong feeling that that’s how Magneto’s wants to play it and damn the consequences. Which is kinda cool – don’t get many of those Marvel types with their own series!

Bunn throws in some flashback scenes to World War 2 and we see a young Magneto witnessing horrific violence at the hands of the Nazis, so you know where he’s coming from, but he’s also very aware that he’s become like the monsters who once tormented him. There are a lot of grey areas in this book and Bunn brilliantly walks the line between light and dark with Magneto.

Thinking about the book as a whole though and it’s harder to figure out what the point was – it doesn’t help that there’s no real antagonist. Magneto’s just getting stuff done… whatever that stuff is. We know it’s probably in service of the mutant cause though. Probably.

It almost doesn’t matter though when the main character is so well written and the moments when Magneto becomes Magneto are so exciting, like the opening chapter when he walks into the police station and uses various bits of metal to form his trademark costume, appearing in the midst of them, floating. So good!

Artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s art is terrific, from that splash page I just described to drawing Magneto’s victims’ faces – he acutely captures their pain - and I liked how he represented Magneto’s powers like how he feels the metal in the police station just being around them with small panels displaying a gun or a paperclip. Jordie Bellaire’s colours give this book a magnificent look, using a limited palette of muted and darker tones, making his black uniform and helmet very stylish.

I don’t think Bunn did a great job of making the reader aware of what was happening in the main – ie. the point of that particular arc – but I do think he got the voice down perfectly. I read through the first six issues in one sitting (a rare feat) because I was so hooked by Magneto’s narration rather than the plot (magnetic personality? I’ll get me coat…).

It would be better too if he were really challenged which he hasn’t been so far – every threat he comes across is dealt with quite easily, almost effortlessly, on his part, so there’s little dramatic tension. It’d be better to see him on the ropes and being forced to use his wits more or facing a villain of his own. 

Still, it’s a very decent first volume to kick things off with. With Bunn’s Magneto and Al Ewing’s Loki, the Marvel villains are turning out to be as compelling in the spotlight as the heroes! 

3.5 stars

Magneto Volume 1: Infamous

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