In Grant Morrison's 2003 X-Men storyline Riot at Xavier's, an angry adolescent mutant named Quentin Quire rallies a few other outcasts and foments a student-led revolution at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters. Morrison used the story to riff on teenage rebellion, and specifically pokes fun at the Che Guevara t-shirt trend by depicting Quire in a t-shirt emblazoned with the visage of OG X-Men arch-nemesis, Magneto.
I myself bought one of these Magneto Was Right t-shirts in my late teens, because it was both nerdy, and provocative, which has pretty much always been my aesthetic. In other words, I wasn't thinking very hard about the actual message or political implications; it just filled that perfect niche of nihilistic irony.
As an adult, I can assure you I have thought about it: Magneto was right. But no one has ever articulated why as well as Spencer Ackerman, senior national security correspondent for The Daily Beast as well as the author of the upcoming book Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump. Ackerman was also part of the team at The Guardian that received a Pulitzer for public service journalism for reporting on the Snowden revelations. So he's clearly someone who understands the long arc of history, conflict, and geopolitics.
Ackerman explains his reasoning on Magneto's rightness on episode of the podcast Cerebro. Hosted by Connor Goldsmith, each longform episode focuses on a different X-Men character — and just in time for this past Hanukkah, he had Ackerman on to dive into the radical Jewishness of the man once known as Max Eisenhardt and Erik Lensherr but most commonly called Magneto.
It's a fascinating — if sprawling — conversation that covers both the diagetic history of Magneto, as well as the sociopolitical implications around his changing character throughout the years. Magneto wasn't always canonically Jewish, but Ackerman and Goldsmith discuss how the character's history as a Holocaust survivor shapes his story. In both the comics and the podcast, this ties into the Roma experience as well, and Ackerman acutely examines the differences in each of those survivor experiences, through the lens of Magneto. The podcast also articulately touches on issues relating to Zionism and colonialism, as it relates to the current X-Men storyline which began with a scene set in Jerusalem and features the X-Men building an independent island nation with its own language as a home for all mutants (including his recent visit to Davos).
Through it all, Ackerman makes clear: Magneto was right (although he is certainly not above criticism, and has made many mistakes that he owns). In the global theatre of war, there are certain marginalized groups who will always be hated and hunted by those in power. Assimilation is presented as the path of least resistance by those like Charles Xavier, but it can never truly erase the threat. But perhaps more importantly is that Magneto has demonstrated a capacity for change, without ever losing sight of his convictions, and his steadfast defense of his people, whom he hopes to never see suffer again.
He also does a really great impression of Magneto as Bernie Sanders.
Ackerman is also a guest on the Cerebro podcast episode on Hank McCoy, also known as Beast, which takes a similarly political perspective and examines Beast's role as the perpetual outside who nonetheless perpetually aspires to neoliberal assimilationism, and how this causes all his problems. (There are lots of other great episodes, too, but I realize that not everyone is interested in a 3 hour discussion on the convoluted queerness of Stryfe.)
Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump [Spencer Ackerman]
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