Synopsis:Uncanny X-Men #200: The Trial of Magneto was written by Chris CLaremont with art by John Romita Jnr and Dan Green and opens with Magneto (a.k.a. Erik Lensherr, a.k.a. Magnus, a.k.a. Max Eisnhart, a.k.a. Michael Xavier) being led to his trial in handcuffs.
He has surrendered to the world court (normally at the Hague in the Netherlands, it’s this time held at Palais de Justice in Paris) to stand trial for his crimes. His friends Gabrielle Haller and Charles Xavier in defence and Sir James Jaspers prosecuting. The judges from permanent member nations of the security council of the UN. As this is happening, a pair of twins Andrea and Andreas are planning to avenge themselves against Magneto and in Paris, the X-Men and New Mutants arrive from their recent sojourn to Asgard.
The trial begins with a fiery opening indictment by Jaspers on the horrors committed by Magneto. Gabrielle points out that with Magneto being a much younger man than anyone who was at Auschwitz should be, that they can only try him for the crimes he had committed since he was restored to youth and vigour by Erik the Red in X-Men #104. So beyond trashing a circus run by Mesmero, the only crimes that Magneto has really committed is his attack on soviet forces in #150 and his holding the world to ransom to prevent nuclear war. All the while, terrorist attacks are committed in the X-Men’s name demanding Magneto by freed.
The X-Men locate and battle the terrorists, but their actions are misconstrued and things look all the more bleak. Meanwhile at the X-Mansion, Madelyne Pryor (current wife of X-Man Cyclops) is visited by the StarJammers, who are looking for Charles Xavier, she directs them to Paris and then seems to go straight into labour. Kitty Pryde is going short sighted and the prosecution calls a high ranking soviet military officer to talk about the sinking of the submarine Leningrad. This brings up the question of what right Magneto has to act at this level. Which is where we get to Claremont’s point regarding Magneto. His goal, certainly since his return was not so much global dominion, but safety for his people. He suffered at the hands of people who viewed him as subhuman and millions were exterminated, he can remember what people can do and will not allow his new people, to suffer this fate. He points out that his methods were wrong and he will abide by the court, but what he believes can be understood. The X-Men battle the terrorists again and this time it’s a victory, but tired of the hate and distrust, the X-Men just drop the bad-guys off and walk away.
At the trial the villains behind the attacks, the twins from earlier arrive. They are revealed to be Andrea and Andreas Von Strucker, son and daughter of Baron Von Strucker former head of Hydra and the man who battled Xavier, Haller and Magneto years earlier in Israel. The attack the trail, but Magneto stands between this pair calling themselves Fenris and the judges and lawyers as well as the civilians. The Palais is levelled by Fenris and Magneto and Xavier are swept away into the sewers and out into the nearby river.
Xavier is now dying, he has been for a while and asks, well begs Magneto to take his place, to lead his team, teach his students, walk Xavier’s path. Then Lilandra and the StarJammers arrive and take Xavier back to the Shi’Ar galaxy to try and save his life, only Magneto knows that this has happened and he is alone. He swears to honour this request, no matter what.
Notes: Will get this out of the way, don’t care for the art. I have never been a fan of the John Romita Jnr art of this era and I’m not going to start with this issue. The story flows and everyone is recognisable, but for me this is monumentally average and comics and John Romita Jnr is capable of better than this.
Now that out of the way, the writing is the star here and this is Claremont’s redemption for Magneto. I am a fan of the podcast Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men (formerly Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men) and as result the words that this issue bring to mind are one that this podcast made a tee-shirt about. “Magneto made some valid points”. Here he does. The sub-plot with Fenris, the terrorists and mistaken identity are a side note compared to the trial itself in which Chris Claremont explains Magneto.
Far from the silver age ‘I must destroy you all’ version of X -Men’s first villain. (Unless you count Xavier) this is a nuanced character that pulls you towards his point of view. Is Magneto violent? Yes. Is he ruthless and cold blooded regarding humanity? Yes. Is he a villain? No. Magneto points out that he lived through the holocaust and doesn’t want to see that happen again to his new people. This seems fair doesn’t it? He doesn’t want the world to be destroyed by nuclear war. This is also not a radical idea. But the difference is, Magneto could do something about it all. He could act on the global stage without bias between east and west and act to preserve human and mutant life, so that’s what he did. He submits himself to trial so no one else is punished for his crimes and owns his actions since his return. By putting it this way Claremont points out that Magneto’s villainy is a matter of the lengths he will go to. Faced with the complete and total failure of his way of doing things, he opts to try Xavier’s path of peace and education, rather than force and promises his oldest friend that he will do his best.
That’s the villain.
There are subplots, purple prose and misunderstandings that were all hallmarks of this era of X-Men which was an era I knew, but didn’t really care too much about and with one issue, Claremont kind of changed that. This is an issue worth checking out, but really watching Magneto’s arc from Uncanny X-Men 150 through his entire time as headmaster at the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters is worth a look. I found this issue a bit of a hard sit, based mostly on the art, but the writing really got to me as much as it did the last time I read it.
Next Time: Werewolves, weretigers and android sons… Oh My!