Magneto can be described as one of the earliest mutants and among the most powerful. His defining characteristics are: controlling magnetic materials, being a Jewish Holocaust survivor, and seeking to gather and protect mutants separate from humanity

His role as the leader of the mutant Resistance, the man who says do not assimilate or submit, live freely and ideally together for your safety is entirely due to Magneto’s experience as a Jewish Holocaust survivor. He’s internalized the horror and oppression, so to speak, and said “Never again!” His personal evolution, so to speak, was to apply that mantra to the emergency mutant “tribe”. As a Jewish man, he might have considered it unnecessary to go help Israel after it survived the wars to wipe it off the map as soon as the nation was founded. And as a mutant who witnessed and survived Nazis experimenting on humans, he may have realized that same strategy was necessary for mutants to live as themselves.

This means Magneto will always need to be a Holocaust survivor. The experience cannot translate to another, more modern context. And there are a number of reasons why.

You can’t create a similar character citing vague anti-Semitism in the EU today while Israel exists as a place for Jews to flee.  A Hassidic youth in New York may be subject to the occasional beating, but it isn’t systematic oppression like the Nazis imposed on Jews in Germany. Jewish kids growing up under the Intifada and regular rain of rockets are in fear of their lives, but they have a military protecting them. Nothing in modern times rivals the Holocaust in severity and scope for Jews. Therefore, you cannot update the Magneto character by shifting his origin story a few decades and putting him somewhere else.

Nor can you reinvent Magneto as another ethnicity. The Yazidis are the closest population today in terms of surviving their own “Holocaust”. One of the most horrifying statements I heard in recent years was one of their leaders saying this was the 60thor 65thsuch pogrom against their people by Muslim fundamentalists. Surviving the horrors of the persecutions by the Islamic State could create a similar character to Magneto, but the Yazidis are deserving of their own superhero. Then again, the Yazidi and Kurdish women who armed to fight ISIS are modern day super-heroes who don’t get enough attention as is.

Reinventing Magneto as another ethnicity is “appropriation” and “historical erasure”, if we’re going to borrow the social justice terms. If someone tries to reboot Magneto by saying he’s Palestinian or Rwandan is both insulting Jews by appropriating one of their main comic book heroes and cruelly equating those other events with the Holocaust. The Palestinians are receiving water, power and medical aid from the people they’re trying to wipe off the map. False equivalence isn’t compassion – it is cruelty to the innocent.

Where does this leave Magneto if they want to keep the character in the reboots and extensions of the X-Men movies? There are actually several options:

  • Say his superpowers are like Wolverine’s, so it adds decades to his life. The Holocaust survivor could therefore continue as a historical reminder for another few decades.
  • Time warp, skipping him forward in time a few decades. Narrative intact.
  • Take the “Captain America” route and freeze him for a few decades so he thaws in modern times with his narrative intact.

You could even make it a variation of the human experimentation them. He was frozen for later study and forgotten, or simply kept there as a baseline before someone releases him as Wolverine was by Jean in one of the X-Men flashback/reboots.

  • As the head of the mutant resistance, he receives medical treatment to extend his life.

In a universe where they’re studying mutations and they’ve already tried to clone both Wolverine as a person and his healing abilities, someone successfully copies his regenerative powers… and it is transferred to Magneto. He lives another few decades, narrative intact.


Photo by T.Young