Saturday, September 27, 2008

X-Men: Magneto Testament #1 REVIEW

X-Men: Magneto Testament Part 1 of 5
Writer: Greg Pak
Artist: Carmine Di Giandomenico
Colors: Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering: Artmonkeys’ Natalie
Production: Paul Acerios
Asst. Editor: Alejandro Arbona
Editor: Warren Simons
Editor in Chief: Joe Quesada
Cover Art: Mark Djurdjevic
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Special Thanks: Mark Weitzman and the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Reviewed by: Rivka Jacobs
X-MEN: MAGNETO TESTAMENT is the definitive origin story of the comic book character Magneto. Judging by issue #1, this might be one of the most significant, impressive and heartfelt limited series Marvel has ever published.

As many know, but some may not, Magneto is a character created in 1963 by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby. He was introduced as the villain, the foil, the adversary for the team of teen-age super heroes known as the X-Men, led by X-Men founder Charles Xavier.

From the start, the X-Men were not the usual band of super hero vigilantes chasing criminals. They were a new race, a new offshoot of the human species, called mutants. They not only fought the "bad guys," but they had to fight prejudice, hatred, and cruel bigotry as well. With the introduction of the sentinels, mutant-hunting robots, in issue #14, Stan Lee inserted the possibility of a Holocaust, of genocide against mutants, into the Marvel Universe.

The X-MEN comic book was canceled in the late 1960s, but revived in 1975 by Len Wein, Dave Cockrum, and Chris Claremont. Chris Claremont then helmed the X-Men books from 1975 to 1991, one of the longest, most imaginative and productive runs in the history of comic books. One of Claremont's most important and creative decisions was to give the character Magneto, who before was a typical one-dimensional Silver Age antagonist, a back-story. In UNCANNY X-MEN #150, Claremont introduced the fact that Magneto had lost his entire family during the Holocaust, and had been a Jewish prisoner in the death camp of Auschwitz.

In later years, Chris Claremont would reveal that Magneto had served in the Auschwitz Sonderkommando (UNCANNY X-MEN #274, EXCALIBUR vol. 3 #14). And that his family had been driven from their homeland and hunted to their deaths, with no one coming to their aid (UNCANNY X-MEN #199).

Three years ago, editor Warren Simons began planning a series about Magneto's origin. He pitched his idea to current Editor in Chief Joe Quesada, and Mr. Quesada was completely supportive. It took three years to get the project off the ground, put together a creative team, do the research, and find a window of opportunity in the publishing schedule.

The result,
X-Men: Magneto Testament, is not only the definitive account of Magneto's origins, but a sincere and careful attempt by the creative team to portray Magneto's Jewish youth and the Holocaust with accuracy and respect. Typed in white on black, on the last page of issue #1, is an essay titled: "Afterward: A Few Words About History," by series writer, Greg Pak.

Mr. Pak says: "We've done our best to remain true to these elements while fleshing out the rest of our hero's experiences based on research into the actual historical record. Longtime readers will notice a wealth of surprising new details -- for example, for the first time we're revealing Magneto's birth name. And sometimes, because the comics record is contradictory or conflicts with historical fact, we've had to choose one detail over another. But at every step, we've done our best to remain true to the key moments that have contributed so much towards making Magneto the deeply compelling character we know today."

Magneto Testament #1
opens in the city of Nuremberg, in the year 1935. The young Magneto's family is trying to live as normal a life as possible, in this Bavarian city that was so central to Nazi ideology and propaganda. The young hero is only nine years old, and still attending school, when we first meet him. We see a brief glimpse of what it's like to be the outsider, the alien, a physically average boy who is emotionally abused by his teachers as well as his fellow students.

We also see a young girl, a Gypsy girl, named Magda, forced to clean the trash off the streets with her mother. Since the Gypsies of Germany were overwhelmingly Sinti, we now know that Magda was a Sinti. The young Magneto becomes smitten with this girl, and she with him.

But the dark clouds of the Nazi storm are rolling in, engulfing the young Magneto and his family, and by the end of this book, issue #1, the boy's world has already changed forever.

The story is not a memory, or told by Magneto, but is about Magneto, and always we see things from the young hero's point of view. It is a remarkable achievement.

Greg Pak, in particular, has done an outstanding job. He spent long hours reading about and researching the historical era, and the comic book canon, and as a result, Magneto Testament feels authentic and honest. Mr. Pak brings his cinematic sensibilities to this story. With some of his previous Marvel work, it seemed like he was a comic book writer who happened to be an award-winning film maker. With Magneto Testament, Mr. Pak is a film maker writing a graphic novel told in five parts, and has successfully integrated his entire creative and academic background for this project.

Carmine De Giandomenico's art is refined yet dynamic. There is a purity of purpose and clarity in each panel. The characters live and breathe, their faces full of emotion.

Matt Hollingsworth has done an exceptional job on the coloring, using colors as another narrative device that expands or sometimes counterpoints the action. I suspect that the colors will continue to play a big role in the story, as we get closer and closer to Auschwitz.

The art and writing, the pace, the stylistic choices made, elevate this series beyond the usual origins saga. Issue #1 is a moving and powerful book that never forgets, not only is this a Holocaust story, but the story of Magneto, and the man the boy will become.

I highly recommend issue #1. I highly recommend this entire series.

X-Men: Magneto Testament
is, in all respects, a history-making achievement.

Below are some links to interviews with the creative team of X-Men: Magneto Testament: