Monday, September 8, 2008

X-Men: Magneto Testament #1

Looks like Civil War: House of M isn't the only book to reexamine the birthplace of Magneto's psyche this week. Set once again against the backdrop of Nazi Germany, Magneto Testament takes a closer look at the formative years and early personal tragedies of one of mutant-kind's loudest voices.

There's always been a ready-made connection between the bigoted racism inherent in the Nazi party and the harsh, cruel treatment Marvel's mutants typically receive from humanity at large. It's one of about a dozen real-life movements and tragedies echoed by the currents that underlie every issue of X-Men, regardless of the physical threat they may be facing in that issue. The civil rights movement, the persecution of foreign religion during the Spanish Inquisition, even today's struggles surrounding homosexuality, they can each be tied to the same closed-minded group thinking that's at the core of these books. Writer Greg Pak understands that simple allusion to the real world, and makes the connection abundantly clear with this tale. When a young Magnus sees an angry mob of swastika-bearing neighbors punishing his family, the correlation to future events in the mutant timeline is obvious.

Pak tells this story from the right perspective, at the right pace. He sets up his cast in a quiet corner of the city, establishes their simple, understated personalities within just a handful of pages, and then throws the family into the fire almost as soon as his readers have accepted them. The sheer power of the unthinking, unyielding mob that changes these characters' lives shares a powerful message. It's handled carefully, but unrelentingly, and is easily some of the best work Pak has ever produced.

Carmine Di Giandomenico's contributed artwork is also captivating. His loosely detailed rendering style and prevalent focus on storytelling bears more than a passing resemblance to the work of Tim Sale, which is a big compliment in my eyes. Were this predominantly a capes n' tights tale, the tone of his work would be out of place, but as a largely pedestrian story focused more on the tragedies surrounding Magnus and his family than his ability to manipulate metal, Di Giandomenico feels right at home. Although he has an obnoxious tendency to grant younger characters abnormally large eyeballs, if that's the worst complaint I can level against an artist, he's doing just fine. The vast majority of this artwork is tremendous, and gives the story the extra personal touch that it was reaching for. And once the civilian nature of Di Giandomenico's illustrations help its readers make that emotional connection to the characters, the story reaps the benefits of their eventual downfall. When the Nazis flex their muscles near the middle of this issue, it's already unsettlingly personal and disturbingly powerful.

If you read one Magneto origin story this week, or this year, or maybe ever, make it this one. It's a fine combination of rich, emotion-charged artwork and a story that captures the simple brutality of a closed-minded oppression that's run through human history time and time again. This is as smart as the X-Men have been in years. Buy it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9

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