[Guest Blogger Jason Powell continues his issue by issue look at Chris Claremont’s X-Men run. For more in this series, see the toolbar on the right.]
“The Trial of Magneto”
Early in Uncanny #200, the judge presiding over the eponymous trial rules that the charges against Magneto be “restricted to those specifications which occurred after Magneto’s ‘resurrection’” in Uncanny X-Men #104, his first appearance under Claremont’s pen. This is the author’s quite shrewd use of continuity to make the character entirely his. It’s right there now, in black and white: Everything Magneto did before Claremont wrote him doesn’t count.
As Claremont’s greatest achievement as writer of the X-Men, Magneto always manages to stand out as a dynamic and arresting character, even if the rest of the goings on aren’t necessarily up to snuff. (See “God Loves, Man Kills” for the most extreme example of this phenomenon.) Here, Claremont places Magneto in the rather staid milieu that is the courtroom drama. The resulting goings-on are predictably bland, although Claremont’s casting of “Sir James Jaspers” as prosecuting attorney is a fun Easter egg for Alan Moore fans. (Jaspers is a super-villain -- a mutant posing as a normal human being -- in Moore’s “Captain Britain” comic published in the UK circa 1982.)
Magneto, however, again seems better than the story he appears in. His testimony toward the end of the comic is the most entertaining part, particularly the explanation for why he no longer seeks world conquest: “I thought I could impose sanity from above – through conquest,” he explains to the humans on the bench, “but there are too many of you. So, I decided I must try another way.” That’s a great line, and a far more credible motivation than the idea of him suddenly seeing the light. Indeed, Magneto’s evolution from issue 150 (wherein he was portrayed as a pure villain until the final few pages) to now has been steady and controlled. Xavier’s entrusting the entire school to him seems somewhat abrupt as it occurs in this issue, but considered in a larger context that includes Magneto’s appearances in “Secret Wars,” “God Loves, Man Kills” and New Mutants, it is a perfectly logical next step.
As mentioned in the previous issue, Claremont is deliberately shifting the series’ political alignment – revolutionaries like Magneto are sympathetic; backward-looking conservatives like Scott are played quite the opposite. During a cutaway in this issue to Madelyne, stuck in the mansion alone and pregnant, we find out that Scott hasn’t called her since his arrival in Paris. “Others have phoned,” we are told by her thought balloons. “Ororo, Nightcrawler – and Kitty almost every day, bless her!” Claremont is laying the groundwork for X-Factor #1 (to be published in two months’ time), which will destroy Scott entirely when it depicts him abandoning his wife and newborn son to reunite with a resurrected Jean. That’s the ultimate moment of ruination, but Claremont’s use of him here is almost as bad: That Scott doesn’t call his pregnant wife is downright reprehensible. The author has complained about X-Factor ruining Scott as a hero, but his work here makes Claremont himself culpable as well. Claremont writes Cyclops as an asshole, both in this issue and the next. (There is, amazingly, a large contingent of X-Men aficionados who fervently defend Scott’s behavior in Uncanny #’s 200 and 201, and in subsequent issues of X-Factor, via any number of laughable, ridiculous arguments. I’m tempted to wonder whether that speaks to the high level of sexism among much of comic book fandom.)
At any rate, as with the previous issue, there is once again a sense of Claremont using Magneto and Cyclops to deliberately flag up the paradigm shift that he is attempting with the series: Magneto, the consummate Silver Age villain, becomes a hero, and Cyclops – the only remaining Silver Age X-Man besides Xavier – is explicitly a “real jerk.”
The anomalous variable in the equation is Xavier himself, a Silver Age character who has transcended the conservative, assimilatory stance he once held. As he did in Uncanny 193 when he let the Hellions go free, Xavier once again eschews operating within the bounds of conventional law. He asks Magneto to take over his place at the school because to do so “will stand as a far nobler monument – and better safeguard to mutantkind – than [Magneto’s] martyrdom at this trial.”
As the three characters who appear both in the original X-Men #1 and here in #200, Xavier, Cyclops, and Magneto are the crucial triumvirate for expressing the series’ political shift, with the former being the mutable axis around which the latter two shift positions entirely.