Greg Pak (W), Carmine Di Giandomenico (A), Matt Hollingsworth (C)
Cover by: Marko Djurdjevic
Publisher: Marvel Comics
“My name is Max Eisenhardt. To whoever finds this, I’m sorry, because I’m dead… and it’s up to you now. Tell everyone who will listen. Tell everyone who won’t. Please, let this ever happen again.”
So, here we are talking about Magneto, the Master of Magnetism, once more.
If it’s not abundantly clear by now, I really like this character. I find him to be one of the most fascinating and compelling villains of either universe, only truly challenged by the likes of Sinestro, Deathstroke, and Baron Zemo.
Eric Lensherr is a man devoted to his people. He is a mutant, and he is proud of this fact. He wants the best for his kind. He wants them to thrive, and, if they should be subjugated and exterminated by homo sapiens, he wants them to rule.
He knows what it’s like to watch a people become subject to genocide.
He knows what it’s like to watch his people become subject to genocide.
This story, The Magneto Testament, tells of young Magneto, then named Max Eisenhardt, gaining this experience through surviving the Holocaust.
As a warning, this story is a very graphic and horrific tale of what real people went through some 73 years ago. It is not a light read, and it is not a story of heroics or saving the day. That being said, I highly recommend this comic book. I recommend you read it before you even read my review. It’s an incredible piece of storytelling. I found it so enthralling that I read all five issues of it in a single day in two sittings.
You, as the reader, follow Max and his family through the systematic degradation of the Jewish quality of life in Germany, from the beginning of the National Socialist Party’s rise to power to the concentration camp of Auschwitz.
It is a very emotional read. Much of the first three issues focuses on the struggle between Max’s father, Jakob, and his uncle, Erich. Jakob is focused on keeping his family safe. He believes the only way he can do this is by keeping their heads down, so they are not singled out by the Nazis. He often comforts Max, telling him that everything is okay and that they will get better, even when he knows it not to be true.
Erich believes in fighting back, and, the few times Max gets the opportunity to do so, he congratulates his nephew for struggling against the German oppression.
The pacing is phenomenal. It begins with the little ways Jewish Germans were being suppressed by the Nazis, such as Max’s schoolyard torment and his father losing his job for being a Jew. It escalates naturally and historically, moving up through the implementation of the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, and the concentration camps. Max and his family witness these historical events firsthand, but it never feels like a walking tour of history. The characters are made engaging and sympathetic, and it makes these horrific occurrences more real, more frightening, and more personal. They also serve as preset plot beats for the story to flow through. The fact that you know what is going to happen only makes the tale sadder and more unnerving.
I am avoiding discussing the plot too much. Well, I am now. My first draft discussed the full story point-by-point. However, I decided that would be a disservice to you. In part, because you already know a lot of the story. It is history, and it’s fairly recent history with survivors still alive who experienced it firsthand. Also, discussing a plot doesn’t often capture the emotion being expressed by the story. This is a lovingly crafted tale about one of the most notorious comic book antiheroes of all time living through one of the darkest moments in human history.
To give you something of a plot timeline, it begins with Max and his family watching their lives slowly, then quickly, crumble around them in late 1930s Germany. It proceeds to them running from Nazi control through Poland during the invasion. The last act takes place in Auschwitz, with Max doing whatever it takes to stay alive.
It’s an interesting companion piece to Red Skull: Incarnate, another Greg Pak-penned villain origin story and another comic I highly recommend. They both start off fairly similar. Young Max and young Johann both have very troubled childhoods. They are, in a way, two sides of the same coin. They were both poor, the only difference being Johann was born poor and Max was made poor by the government. The branching differences are purely determined by their birth. Max was born a part of an ethnic group that has been targeted by societies for millennia, and Johann was born a “normal” German. Max was forced to be prey, and Johann chose to be a predator. They both witness and experience some horrific events that show how they became the characters that they are in the present.
To this end, you can see many times where Max develops his need to fight back. It seems natural to him, and he’s not one to keep his head down. It’s also a neat detail that his uncle was named Erich, and Erich did actively fight back against oppression. This shows why Max would later take the name Eric on his path to becoming Magneto.
If you’re looking for a story of heroes or people fighting back, this is not one. There is no cathartic final act coup-de-tat against the Germans. There are two instances in which Max might have used his powers (you’ll see if you read it). Other than that, he is simply a normal Jewish boy caught in the horrific machinations of this system.
It is, as you could expect, very stomach-turning to witness these events transpire. The sequences in Auschwitz are horrific, and there is a scene where circumstances make a massive pile of spectacles very nauseating.
The art is also very strong in this book. It’s incredibly detailed. You can see every hair, every wrinkle, and every wound. Great attention is paid to the eyes throughout this book, and you can see a lot of haunting emotion in them. The color pallet is drab and dirty to fit the tale.
Read this comic. If I gave review scores on these, this would easily be a 10 out of 10. It is a phenomenal piece of storytelling by a skilled writer and a masterful artist. It is one of the best pieces of comic book literature I have ever read. It’s haunting, emotional, and beautiful. You need to read this.
As an interesting addendum, if you get the second edition printed in 2014, it comes with a cool and lesser-known piece of history attached. There is a short comic put together by Neal Adams, Joe Kubert, and a Holocaust historian named Dr. Rafael Medoff to tell the story of a Jewish artist named Dina Babbitt. She was a victim of the Holocaust. She made murals of princesses and cartoon characters on the sides of barracks to help comfort the children in the camp. When the Nazis saw her work, she was charged by Dr. Mengele to paint portraits of his test subjects. She took special care to paint slow to keep them alive as long as possible. This comic was made in 2006 as a part of an effort by the comic book and cartoonist community to get her portraits back for her, as a Polish museum was holding onto them and refused to return them. The comic is called The Last Outrage, and it’s put after the main story in the trade paperback. It’s definitely worth a read too.
And, on that note, we conclude for today. Until next time, keep reading comics!