When the first three X-Men movies were released, each presented the team the way most of us remembered them from the comics and cartoons. But the new film, X-Men: First Class, sets out to tell the story of the early friendship, and eventual rivalry, between Professor X (played by James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). To further fill in the backstory and relationship between these two characters, we’ve assembled the Five Comics To Read Before X-Men: First Class Hits Theaters.
1. Magneto: Testament, 2008-2009 (Includes: Magneto: Testament #1-5)
What makes it great: This is the definitive look at what turned Magneto into a relentless terrorist. Greg Pak writes a chilling depiction of Magento’s adolescence spent in Auschwitz and how his hatred for humanity began to grow while confined within the concentration camp. Even though Magneto may believe that humans are nothing more than violent, frightened animals, Pak made sure not to write this book as a superhero revenge story. It's simply an amazing tale of survival with thinly veiled hints at Magneto’s true powers.
There are no action sequences or scenes of Magneto triumphing over his captors, powers ablaze. The book pulls its inspiration from real stories of Holocaust survivors and weaves them together into a heartbreaking look at one of humanity’s darkest times. After reading Magneto Testament, it becomes clear why, in the character's mind, he unapologetically justifies his own violence.
Magneto: Testament is much more than a comic book. It ranks amongst Maus, Watchmen, and V For Vendetta as graphic literature that blends social consciousness and entertainment seamlessly together. And while X-Men: First Class will touch on Magneto’s time during the Holocaust, this book is no doubt much more in depth and disturbing.
2. X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, 1982
What makes it great: God Loves, Man Kills features the X-Men squaring off against a radical zealot named William Stryker as he preaches to the masses about the evils of mutants. As Stryker spews his anti-mutant rhetoric, and orders the clandestine deaths of mutants all around the country, the X-Men and Magneto form an uneasy alliance to put and end to his dangerous ways.
Writer Chris Claremont portrays Stryker as a Fred Phelps-type character who organizes and promotes violence against mutants while pandering to humanity’s fears. Claremont was the first writer to really grab hold of the social issues facing the X-Men and, in turn, transformed the team from an average superhero squad into a metaphor for tolerance. But the story really shines when it focuses on Magneto. His devotion to his people and his hatred for humanity borders on an obsession and this book provides the best character study on him.
God Loves, Man Kills shows an older Magneto still fighting his personal war and depicts how his viewpoints have only strengthened over time. This book is a great way to see how the character’s drive has evolved after the events of X-Men: First Class.
3. Uncanny X-Men #161, 1982
What makes it great: Much like X-Men: First Class, Uncanny X-Men #161 recounts the early days when Charles Xavier and Magneto were actually allies. Sharing the same dream to help mutants, these two found a common bond in their passion for social justice and mutant rights.
However, as depicted in #161, there's one very strong difference that will always keep them at odds with each other. Xavier believes that mutants and humans can live peacefully among each other, while Magneto knows that mutants will have to eliminate the human race to ever truly achieve peace. This issue sets up the friendship yet also sews the seeds for their eventual hatred.
And while the film will present these events in a slightly different way, the same basic conflict will remain intact.
4. X-Men: Planet X, 2003-2004 (Includes: New X-Men #146-150)
What makes it great: Tricking the world into thinking he was dead, Magneto actually infiltrated Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters disguised as a mutant named Xorn. Relishing the fact that the prof had made minimal progress in his attempts to improve the volatile relationship between mutants and humans, Magneto decides to secretly teach his militant philosophies to some of Xavier’s more talented students.
This storyline, written by Grant Morrison, shows Magneto at his most unhinged and megalomaniacal. Very rarely has the character been so brutal and merciless, but after years of frustration, and a nasty drug habit, Magneto goes off the deep end. Herding humans off to crematoriums and murdering them by the hundreds, he finally puts into practice what he experienced as a Holocaust survivor himself.
While the storyline was controversial, and eventually erased from Marvel’s history, Planet X still stands as a shining example of what Magneto’s violent feelings towards humans eventually evolves into and the stark difference between himself and Xavier.
5. Uncanny X-Men #200 1985
What makes it great: After years of terrorism and violence, Magneto is finally put on trial for crimes against humanity. But, to the shock of both civilians and mutants, he is found to be innocent. However, Professor Xavier, who actually acts as Magneto's defense attorney, suffers what seems to be a heart attack after a battle erupts in the courtroom.
The Professor’s dying wish is for Magneto to become the leader of the New Mutants and see his dream of peace through to the end. Magneto accepts and the judge agrees to let his actions as a teacher dictate his future.
This is the best example of the grudging respect that both characters have for each other and the bond they still share despite their differences. The fact that Magneto can go from the X-Men’s fiercest foe to living amongst them in an issue’s span is a testament to the their complicated relationship.