Saturday, June 4, 2011

Magneto and the Holocaust

Just saw "X-Men: First Class" with my brother and sister-in-law. Pretty good; I enjoyed! One thing really bothered me, though.

It's always the small details with fans, right? With all that changed in the remade Star Trek, my wife gets most upset about Kirk having the wrong eye color. In X-Men, they decided to make Magneto Jewish.

This seems like a small enough change; in the comics, Magneto was (gently) retconed as a Holocaust survivor, informing his separatist vision, making him more sympathetic anti-hero than over-the-top villain, and ratcheting up the irony of his whole "genetically superior race" thing. He was in the camps, though, for being a Gypsy, not Jewish.

Small change; don't really care, on the surface. Glad to have another overachiever in the ranks, right? Except the movie uses this as an excuse to ratchet up the Holocaust imagery to a degree not seen in any summer blockbuster since "Schindler's List". At the end of the movie (spoiler alert!) Magneto declares that he has suffered enough at the hands of those "just following orders" - a badass line! - then dramatically stage-whispers "Never Again!" before doing something naughty.

That was the step too far. Sure, it's another movie where the only identifiably ethnic characters are all villains, but mutants have always been Marvel's metaphor for race, so I'll allow some room for that (small room, though; not happy about it). But summing up Magneto's creed by using modern Holocaust imagery doesn't fit, and turns this complex character into a comic book Jewish Defense League ("A .22 for every Mu....tant"?).

It also reinforces the message that the Holocaust is the central issue of modern Judaism, a philosophy that drives me batty. I get it; he's motivated by revenge. Of course, if he was a nice WASP like Batman he'd be a hero, but no; the Holocaust is so important that it turns Jews violent. Just look at Israel, right?


I don't think that's what the writers were trying to do. I suspect that, like most modern Holocaust literature, one of the writers is the grandchild of a survivor, and wanted to honor his grandparent's struggle, or reinforce how important it was to them, or something. They probably included the "Never Again" line as an inside reference they thought Jewish viewers would appreciate. "Oh," we're supposed to say, "I totally get his motivation now!"

We get it. Fine. But that was the line too far. Based on this subtlety I expect the sequel will be about Magneto's attempts to broker a "Two-State Solution" based on the '67 borders.


  1. Dude, what's wrong with some Jewish revenge fantasy? I saw X-Men last night, and I really enjoyed it. Yes, the "never again" & "following orders" lines were cheesy, but so what? What Jew doesn't harbor such fantasies about having powers to either go back and kill Nazis ("Inglorious Basterds") or ex-Nazis. (Kevin Bacon & those guys supposedly in Argentina) Plus, in the context of the movie, Eric/Magneto/Jew is correct about how the world would continue to hate & fear mutants; and one could argue the metaphor aptly describes today's ever-growing anti-Israel/anti-semitic rhetoric, especially in Europe and as always in the Arab Middle East.

  2. In the comics, Magneto was originally Jewish. Claremont made him a Jew when he started to reform him in New Mutants but when they decided to make him a villain again in the 90s, they came up with a strange storyline where Moira MacTaggert found out he had forged the records indicating he's a Gypsy because Marvel didn't want their big villain to be Jewish. I don't quite understand the reasoning, but whatever. Magneto did start out as a Jew though and he went back to being one. I think the "he faked being Jewish and his real name isn't Erik Lehnsherr, it's Magnus" isn't really all that active anymore. There are doubts about what his name is until today that have been fuelled by that storyline in the 90s (though recently, it seems it's been established as Max Eisenhardt) but Magneto being Gypsy really didn't last all that long and I think it's rather insulting anyway to take a character and change their faith like that. I think I would have had a big issue with Magneto being anything but Jewish to be honest.