Sam reviews The Trial of Magneto #1, written by Leah Williams with art by Lucas Werneck & Edgar Delgado.
I guess I should have known all along that it was going to fall apart. The whole Krakoan experiment, I mean. And it’s here in The Trial of Magneto #1 where we see the fissures in the dam spread and the water start to come through more holes than we have fingers.
The issue takes place after the events of the Hellfire Gala, more specifically X-Factor #10 which was also written by Williams and SWORD #6. As the partygoers are leaving we see a surprise guest, Wanda Maximoff the Scarlet Witch, sharing a rather tender moment alone with her father after the gala. This is significant in that Wanda is hated by the vast majority of the Krakoan mutants, who denounce her as “The Pretender” and blame her for the de-powering of millions of mutants on what became known as M-day. The next time we see Wanda however she’s dead, found by her own son.
The story begins with a massive investigation by both X-Factor and X-Force into the circumstances around her death, which highlights what I really liked initially about the newest iteration of X-Factor doing detective work and solving crimes. Unfortunately all of the evidence they obtain – a trusted murderer, a white cape, use of metal and magnetism in the death – points to Magneto as the culprit.
When confronted by the rest of the Quiet Council, Magneto lashes out, even attacking Xavier after demanding Wanda be resurrected. When he refuses to be taken in by X-Factor, a massive fight ensues until he’s brought down Polaris and Quicksilver. The issue ends with Magneto comatose and the mutants no closer to finding the truth than they were at the beginning. A mysterious interlude with Scarlet Witch reveals the depth of her own grief for those she’s harmed as well as for herself. She is dead, but somehow knows she is dead. A symbol representing chaos magic on the final pages of the issue transforms and changes, but into what?
This is a pretty powerful issue, and a frustrating one. The power comes from the snarling, egotistical portrayal of Magneto set off against the ever-passive Xavier and the rest of the Council, as well as from the anger and grief displayed by Polaris and Quicksilver. Even the quiet scene of Vision doubling over at hearing of Wanda’s death serves as counterpoint to all of the fighting and anger on display among the mutants.
In reading this issue, I couldn’t help but make some parallels to how systems that serve to protect themselves often end up doing so much harm and eventually fail catastrophically. The Quiet Council of Krakoa was a council of equals in name only. Xavier’s constant passivity has let Magneto basically run the show, with the rest of the council divided on whose side to be on. Kurt Wagner spent the run of “Way of X” trying to find something to unite the mutants, but the council itself isn’t united. Given my background, I couldn’t help but see a parallel between Krakoa and any one of the Christian organizations, leaders and churches that imploded due to narcissistic leaders and ineffective oversight. Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll, Ravi Zacharias, Josh Harris, Jerry Falwell Jr., just to name some of the most prominent ones. And these are only the ones you hear about. There are countless other cases of spiritual abuse and authoritarianism just below the headline fold that haven’t gotten attention because the individual or institution in question didn’t rise to the level of warranting an entire podcast like “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill”. Too often abuse persists because the institution and the cause become more important than the people impacted by it. Magneto states this explicitly when confronted by the council’s lack of support, saying “…you’re all willfully making a choice to endanger the Krakoan experiment.”
A common feature that happens when a leader or an institution fails is to look back and wonder not how it happened, but how it couldn’t not have happened – if that makes sense. Early on, red flags are often overlooked as minor when considered within the greater, grander picture of what hopes to be accomplished. Things like crude comments and angry outbursts are more easily overlooked when the overall cause is believed to be just and good, and one must always remember the mission. But the longer the behavior goes on unchallenged and unchecked, the more likely it is to cause serious damage to the people and institution it was originally intended to help. Pair a visionary and egotistical leader with a body that either won’t or can’t provide oversight and there will be damage. In retrospect, all the pieces are glaring. But at the time, you have no idea how hot the water in the pot is getting, only that the frog in there has really built a following.
Another thought I had goes back to a prior discussion Brian and I had on redemptive arcs, most notably in “The Suicide Squad.” Perhaps part of my frustration is that Magneto continues to be a character that refuses to be redeemed. He has stood trial many times, occasionally even being contrite enough to accept human judgment like way back in Uncanny X-Men #200. He’s joined forces with the X-Men on occasion, and even led the New Mutants for a time. He has been given opportunity after opportunity to reform himself. And yet he always ends up throwing away every chance at redemption offered to him, using force at the first opportunity against anyone that threatens his plan or his ego. Polaris points this out in the most painful way possible, telling him “You leave a trail of dead wives and dead daughters behind in your wake”.
While this issue would seem to make it cut and dry that Mags is the murderer, other readers have pointed out that his behavior could be the result of his own grief. When Jean Grey enters Magneto’s comatose mind, she finds a screaming Eric surrounded by death and pain, a state where she admits he can’t confess to anything. His encounter with Wanda in SWORD #6, something which only we readers were privy to, also seems to work against a motive for Magneto as a murderer. As with all good murder mysteries there will be more details to unearth, more motives to investigate, plot twists and revelations. Given that Magneto is the obvious perpetrator at this point, you can almost guarantee that it wasn’t him. While there are certainly other choices, Moira McTaggart is rising to the top of my list. She’s been remarkably quiet after the revelation of her past lives and machinations, so it would be fitting that Hickman’s run would end with Moira again pulling the strings behind the scenes.
This one death will undoubtedly have the most lasting and significant effect on the mutant community moving forward, and will probably make Mars Hill look like a molehill.
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