To “celebrate” Father’s Day I’ve written a selection of essays on some of comics worst ever dads. From adoptive fathers to absent ones, from rich and fascist to poor and useless, I’ve got ’em all! So strap in, grab your daddy issues, a stiff drink, and get ready to realise that pretty much all of your beloved men in tights are not only terrible people but also terrible parents. Welcome to DADDY ISSUES – COMICS’ WORST FATHER FIGURES.
Disclaimer: Magneto’s kids get retconned and revived all the time so I’m including any and all children who have ever been “confirmed as” his.
Toxic masculinity is a scourge on all of society. It damages everyone, including men, and seeps into every part of the world including our beloved comics. The story of Erik Lehnsherr is one that is shaped by the patriarchal fuckery that is toxic masculinity—because like many of the men in comics, Erik’s entire life has been marred by decades of unresolved trauma. How much of a full and satisfying life could he have had if at any point in his life someone—maybe his psychic best friend?—had sat him down and said, “Hey man, maybe you should talk to someone about everything you’ve been through?” Because if there is anything certain about the X-Men’s greatest foe/closest ally, it’s that he’s been through a lot.
Magneto has spent most of his life in mourning. Whether it was for his parents, who were murdered in a concentration camp, the many other victims of Auschwitz and other camps like it, or for the many mutant friends he would see killed during the existence of the X-Men, his world has been defined by loss. One that arguably shaped him the most was the loss of his daughter Anya, who was killed in a house fire started by people who discovered that he was a mutant. Erik’s life with Anya and his wife Magda, whom he met during wartime, was light-years away from his traumatic formative years as a child constantly running from the Nazis. His love for Magda and Anya was transformative. It enabled him to not only be a caring father and husband, but also an active member of a close knit community.
Whilst living his civilian life alongside his family and friends, Erik’s use of mutant powers was all but non-existent. It was only after his daughter was murdered by an angry mob that he became the frightening Magneto. His pain was so great that he killed all the townspeople and destroyed a huge part of the village that he had called home for so long. Like many men, Magneto was never offered (and never asked for) counselling or help. After Magda, horrified at the mass murder she witnessed Erik commit fled, his descent into villainy and bad fatherhood truly began.
Unbeknownst to Erik, his beloved Magda was pregnant with one of the most powerful mutants who would ever live, Wanda Maximoff, as well as her twin brother who was quite fast, Pietro. Alas, Erik’s generous, loving parenting, cultivated whilst raising Anya, would not transfer to his second and third children, and he quickly fell into the role of one of comics absolute worst dads.
To give him credit, Erik is one of the most complex characters that Marvel has ever bothered to create. His journey has often been a complicated one and creators have often used his relative goodness or badness as a plot twist more than once throughout his tenure as one of the X-Men’s biggest frenemies. Throughout his time within the X-Universe, it’s been hard to know where Erik’s loyalty truly lies, though one thing is for sure—it’s never with his long suffering children, Wanda and Pietro.
Magneto’s biggest betrayal of his children is arguably just his absence, and in a way this feels like one of the more authentic representations of bad fatherhood that we come across in any comics. This isn’t a huge, terrifying act or a malicious choice. It’s a small, almost insignificant thing in the grand scheme of all that Erik has done, but so many of us recognise that to a child there is something profoundly affecting in knowing that the people who created you do not want you, or even spare you a moment as they get on with their lives. This can become an insidious thought that thrives in your brain like a parasite, living off every fear and insecurity. A fear that your parents’ absence gave you in lieu of any actual loving attention or, you know, birthday presents.
Discovering that Wanda and Pietro were his children once they were both adults, Magneto had already recruited Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch to the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants—getting them to risk their lives to fight for the mutant cause as well as pitting them against their half-sister Polaris, an on again off again member of the X-Men.
Oh yes, Erik has another daughter. A radically powered young woman named Lorna Dane who shares her father’s magnetic abilities and is yet another young mutant who Erik managed to parent badly and lead into numerous wars. Poor Polaris discovered she was Magneto’s daughter when an evil android disguised as him told her whilst trying to stop her from defeating him with the help of the X-Men. Even fake android dad Magneto is trash.
Erik’s poor unfortunate male progeny is Pietro Maximoff, Wanda’s twin brother. The speedy mutant who was often defined by either his sister or his arrogance, Pietro was undoubtedly the one who suffered the most from his father’s terrible decision making, not the least because Magneto eventually murdered his only son, crushing him under a giant robot. Though Pietro’s death was only momentary—as is the way with so many in comics—it was brutal, and it once again highlighted just how awful of a parent Magneto truly is. After all, Pietro was only manipulating his sister into creating a world where mutants were the majority and Erik ruled every living thing. Like he consistently tried to in reality. Sounds like a son in desperate need for his father’s approval! Alas, Magneto can dish out manipulation but he can’t take it, so poor old Pietro had to die.
And then there’s the Scarlet Witch, Magneto’s fragile yet unbelievably powerful daughter—hmmm noticing a pattern with these mutant women yet—who found people so distasteful that she married a robot. And who can blame her? The people, more specifically the men in her world, almost exclusively use her for her powers, attempt to start race wars through her reality altering abilities, or fall madly in love with her. Alarming! Wanda has had an awful life and Erik’s choices have rarely made things any easier for her. One of the worst moments in their relationship came when he revealed that he was the twins’ true father, causing Scarlet Witch and her husband to leave the Avengers. Whilst taking this break she willed two children into existence—who just happened to be soul shards of a demon—and slowly descended into madness, finally having her mind erased by a witch. Thanks Dad.
As we wrap up this part of our epic saga in bad daddery, I cannot finish without at least mentioning Magneto’s erratic tenure as the Xavier Institute’s Headmaster. Yes, once again Erik and his beloved Charles—with little to no regard for students—used the school as some kind of emotional battlefield. After Charles decided to go on an interstellar holiday to bang a sexy alien, a newly redeemed Magneto (fresh off of a war crimes trial) took over the incredibly questionable school for *cough* child soldiers *cough* mutants. During his time there he destroyed both the X-Men and the New Mutants whilst trying to help them. He then joined the Hellfire club… for reasons? Oh—and then he decided to take over the world, because he thought that the now in hiding X-Men were actually dead. Great job, Magnus.
Once again we come to the end of my rant on the horrors of fatherhood in the comic book world. I feel like Erik is sadder than most of the men we visit as he too is truly a victim … but also a homicidal maniac who destroyed his children’s lives. After all, who hasn’t abandoned their kids to attempt many failed coups of the entire world? Another relatable and authentic character from the annals of Marvel Comics, though there is something deeply honest and revealing in the consistently terrible parenting we find represented in the pages of these books that we love so much. I guess it’s not just me who has daddy issues.