Magneto In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three

Debuting in 1992 after various unsuccessful attempts to get the X-Men on Saturday mornings, Marvel finally did what many thought impossible – bring The X-Men from the comics to the small screen. For those not in the know, The X-Men are a mutant peace keeping force whose ultimate goal is to live in a world where humans and mutants can co-exist in peace. Their main villain, Magneto, is of course the polar opposite, he dreams of a world where mutants reign supreme as he believes they are man’s better as they are the next step in the evolutionary chain.

Before I begin to speak of how utterly spectacular this version of Magneto is, there’s a few things which seem to pop up every time anyone discusses X-Men: The Animated Series – AKOM. Again, for those uneducated, AKOM is the cheapest animation studio money can buy, and boy does it show. If you happen to be more familiar with DC animation than Marvel, AKOM animated several episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, including Feat Of Clay, Part One, Cat Scratch Fever and Prophecy of Doom. Most of the show’s designs were rather uninspired too, although they were based on the comics being published at the time, to the point were I believe even Jim Lee was consulted. Now that the visuals are out of the way, let us continue back on topic with Magneto.

Originally appearing as a small cameo in the premiere, Magneto’s real debut came in the show’s third episode, Enter Magneto. This Magneto wasn’t the generic supervillain of previous times, this one had real character and this episode developed his back-story and his friendship with Xavier, which would go on to become one of the best aspects of the series. Originally working in a hospital in a nameless country helping those who suffered injuries in the war, a few soldiers attempted to attack the injured and Magnus realised that humans were simply savages that wouldn’t accept those different from them. Revealing to each other for the first time that they were mutants, the two immediately had different philosophies on who mutants should be treated in society, Magneto believes mutants should rule over the humans and Xavier believed all men were equal, one is not better than the other. With this, they parted ways, and a bitter rivalry ensued. Xavier began training his X-Men, and Magnus began calling himself Magneto. They fought, with Xavier originally winning. By the time their rematch was due, Xavier students would have to fight for what he stood for, as he was now confined to a wheelchair. Oddly enough, the show never explained how he lost the use of his legs, nor did it show his originally battle with his greatest friend and most bitter foe.

His first meeting with The X-Men consisted with him attacking a nuclear missile base and having a throwdown at the base but things really start moving in Deadly Reunions, as Xavier and Magneto face each other after Magneto kicks the living tar out of Xavier’s students. In another interesting plot, The X-Men once again lost against their adversaries, just like they did against The Sentinels. X-Men wasn’t, and never should be considered to be just another cartoon. It’s a shame few people remember this, I can’t help but feel this series would go down a storm on DVD, if you’ll pardon the pun (Christ, I sound worse than Arsenal – do The X-Men bring out terrible puns in all of us?)

Magneto would next appear in the series finale, after kidnapping Senator Kelly, an anti-mutant State Senator running for President and attempting to kill him. After being on the receiving end of a brutal attack from The Sentinels and seeking medical attention in Xavier’s Mansion, Magneto deems The X-Men as heroic fools as they attack The Sentinels base in an attempt to rescue the one man who potentially has the power to pass the Mutant Registration Law. Whilst Magneto and Xavier had different means to achieve the same goal, The Final Decision gave them something they’d never had before – a common enemy. So, as The X-Men are overwhelmed by thousands of Sentinels, who should arrive to help them, and more importantly, save Xavier from his suicide mission to finally put an end to Mastermold? Who else but the Master Of Magnetism? Magneto then reminds Xavier that it would be foolish to consider them partners, as they still have their wars to fight. Opinions between which show is better, TAS or Evolution have been debated since Evo began, but anyone who thinks Xavier’s and Magneto’s relationship in Evo is better than it is here should be told to shut up as quickly as possible. Not even terrible animation could ruin a story as good as this!

Season two once again saw their friendship/rivalry take centre stage, as they were tricked into meeting in The Savage Land. It’s interesting to note that they both replied to a fake plea for help from each other without hesitation. Even Morph knew their friendship was just as strong as their rivalry, if that makes sense.

Realising that they are trapped in The Savage Land without their powers and no means to escape, they spend the entire season roaming through the ancient jungle, fighting various obstacles together as a team. It’s pretty obvious why their powers were taken away from them, working together, they could’ve collectively kicked the ass of anyone who was stupid enough to oppose them and it was highly interesting to see how they were going to get by without relying on their powers, and it certainly added to the drama as they saved each other from Dinosaurs, weird mutates and anything else the island could throw at them. The season once again ended with Magneto and The X-Men fighting side by side, and again ended with them parting ways, claiming that they can never fight on the same side, despite how much it pains them to fight each other. How many shows can say that a season ended optimistically because the villain was smiling at the end of the episode as he floated away?

There’s no doubt about it, TAS’ Magneto truly was one of the finest villains ever to be found in animation, because it’s still arguable to this day whether or not he was a true villain. Much more was to come from the villain in the later seasons, despite a smaller amount of appearances.

As I mentioned in the Wolverine retrospective, most of season three was taken up by several Phoenix episodes that Magneto was thankfully not apart of. Magneto’s sole contribution to the season could arguably be considered it’s highlight and would take the title with ease if Nightcrawler took place in another season.

Tired of the prejudice against his people and the constant fighting taking place on the planet, Magneto deems that it’s time to humans and mutants to separate and creates Asteroid M, a haven for mutants where normal humans can’t mock them. Upon presenting his plan to the world leaders, he makes a point to not ask permission, he flat out told them of his intentions and welcomed all mutants to join him on Asteroid M, with Genosha, a country which used mutants as slaves, would be the rendezvous point. In essence, Magneto’s plight wasn’t an unjust one, and he didn’t attack any of the humans – his mission truly was one of peace, which made it all the more sympathetic when The Sentinels attacked him and the mutants.

I haven’t brought it up yet, but I think now is the best time, because his performance in this episode was utterly outstanding. David Hemblam, the actor who portrayed Magneto in this series was exceptionally well cast. TAS often had issues with a lot of its voices, but Hemblam was pitch perfect, and really helped sell the character with his performances. His speech in part one about the barbarous treatment mutants have received at the hands of humans was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen anywhere.

Sanctuary is arguably Magneto’s finest appearance in animation ever. In my opinion, X-Men had very few bad episodes, and even the worse ones had redeemable qualities to them, but Sanctuary stands as one of the show’s finest moments.

Magneto’s next appearance was one of his weirdest in the show. Shoe horned into the story in an attempt to get all the big villains in one story, Magneto joins Apocalypse in his grand plan to prove that evil is greater than good, and allow ol’ A belt to help create his own race under his rule or something. This has nothing to do with mutant prosperity, as Apocalypse is as far beyond mutants as they are beyond humans. Magneto’s motivation behind the episode is that he wants Apocalypse to resurrect his dead wife. It’s never been said, but one could presume that she was one of the casualties of the war he mentioned in Enter Magneto. He changes sides in the end, and helps The X-Men stop Apocalypse. I know this story has it’s fans, but I’m not among them. I think The X-Men work best when streamlined, as a mutant peace keeping force. When you add aliens, time travellers and space pirates, you’ve missed the point of The X-Men, in my opinion.

The show had gone from season long arcs to stand alone stories, usually done in two or three part stories, for the worst, in my opinion. The next Magneto episode, Family Ties still confuses me to this day and thinking about it only confuses me further. Talking goats (?!), The High Evolutionary (that was a reminder of Spider-Man Unlimited I didn’t need, thank you!) and Quicksilver (ugh) so I take what few good things I can from the episode. Magneto’s speech with Xavier at the beginning and the thankful return of David Hemblam as Magneto, who was oddly recast for the Beyond Good And Evil story to a loud chorus of boos from an army of X-Men fans.

Magneto’s penultimate appearance in the show returned him to his former glory, as a now bitter and broken soul in a state of bereavement of the loss of his dream world on Asteroid M. At the beginning of the episode, as The Phalanx attempts to swallow the Earth hole, Magneto couldn’t care less, until Beast mentions Pietro is missing. In another interesting twist (TAS was full of them) Magneto is forced to team with Mr. Sinister, his ever-awesome adversary from season two. I don’t consider this show’s version of Magneto to be a villain, so Mr. Sinister takes that crown. I often wish they’d have pitted Sinister against Magneto again, but have it take centre stage more than it did here.

The finale is one of the more daring episodes, as it features so little action and is basically a talking head episode. Given just how much had been told in the show and how big the world in which these characters lived was, it was going to be as difficult a task as one could undertake. Surprisingly, rather than go to someone who had previously delivered the goods on this show, Jim Krieg, a writer from Spider-Man: The Animated Series penned the show’s final episode, and he did an excellent job. Magneto and Xavier take centre stage once again, as Magneto is about to realise his dream of a human/mutant war as Xavier lies on his deathbed. As luck would have it, Magnus is forced to choose what is more dear to him, his dream, or his friendship with Charles? After spending most of his life putting his dream above Charles, this time, he decides to save Charles, his greatest obstacle but also, his greatest friend. I get very close to choking up whenever I see this episode. In closing, I think TAS did a better job than anyone could’ve expected. Whilst the comic Magneto eventually became far too convoluted for his own good (just like everything else in X-Men comics) TAS will always be an outstanding interpretation of the character.

Thankfully, more Magneto greatness would follow, with British legend Sir Ian McKellan portraying the character in 2000’s summer blockbuster. This in turn helped green light an all new X-Men cartoon, X-Men: Children Of The Atom, which would later be renamed to the cartoon we affectionately refer to X-Men: Evolution. With Magneto’s role as chief villain in the movie, the same was no doubt to be expected from the new cartoon.

Then we learned the cartoon would air on Kids WB…