Who killed the Scarlet Witch at the Hellfire Gala? X-Factor investigates: was it… Magneto? Will he turn against the entire Krakoan experiment? And will his other super-heroic children, Polaris and Quicksilver, try to bring him down?
The Trial of Magneto #1
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letters), Edgar Delgado (colors), Lukas Werneck (art), Leah Williams (writing)
Aug. 18, 2021
Were you, sweet X-fan, in mourning for Leah Williams’ recently cancelled X-Factor, with its multi-generational character interactions, its constant team squabbles, its Drama (™), and its treatment of mental health? Did you miss the suspense and the Krakoan take on the police procedural as Leah’s mostly queer mutants sussed-out murder mysteries? Well, The Trial of Magneto #1 is that: Act One from this extra-long comic follows Leah Williams’s X-Factor team, in an adventure big enough that Marvel cancelled her ongoing so she could concentrate on this one story. The rest of the comic looks at the suspect — Magneto, of course — and his kids, and his place on Krakoa, and his future. And it works: operatically so.
First, the premise: Somebody strangled Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, during the Hellfire Gala, the line-wide crossover event from early this summer. Who? X-Factor investigates. Rachel chronoskims, Daken sniffs, Prodigy conducts an expert autopsy, and a crowd of other authoritative mutants from the X-Men and X-Force hang out and supervise, or rather, “supervise.” Ever had a boss who doesn’t understand your job try to watch you do your job? That’s how Rachel, and Daken, and Northstar feel.
I, as a reader, feel better than they do, because I get to see Lukas Werneck’s art: it’s nearly realist, excitably three-dimensional, at times approaching Alan Davis’s blend of the magical-fascinating with the expressively-personal. (Is anything wrong with it? Yes, too many shadows.) Curvy Krakoan branches replace panel borders for pages at a time: X-Factor chats and scrutinizes, Eye-Boy freaks out a bit, and We Are There.
And then we’re not there. Act Two: Magneto’s not happy. He’s changed his costume to a black outfit that shows up, depending on lighting, as sharkskin-ish blue-grey: because he’s no longer a “white hat,” or because he’s in mourning? The Master of Magnetism clearly regards Wanda Maximoff as his daughter, whether or not she is, biologically speaking (it’s been ret-conned, un-retconned, and ex-conned so many times). He wants to use the Krakoan resurrection protocols to bring back Wanda, which Krakoa can do — even though she’s not a mutant — because for a long time everybody in the Marvel Universe thought she was, so Mr. Sinister made backups. But the ruling council says no. As Emma puts it, “We’d be losing a world finally free of Wanda,” free of the woman who once de-powered almost all the mutants in the world, free of Krakoa’s Public Enemy Number One.
Foiled in his attempt to compel her resurrection by force, Sad Dad Mags stomps off to see the regular folks of Krakoa partying, celebrating “the death of the Pretender.” The character work here has swiveled around from X-Factor to focus wholly on Magneto, on his rage when he can’t get what he wants, on and his rage at himself, because he is alliances and his new leaf and his commitment to Krakoa have failed to protect the woman he sees as a daughter.
“I carved myself out of torture to stand tall on the ruins of my subjugation,” he orates. “I made a choice.” Whoever made the choice to assign Leah Williams this dialogue made a good one: she’s one of the best writers that these characters have had — heightened, dramatic, engaging, scary, real.
After a break for sadness — Captain America’s, the Vision’s, Tommy Shepherd’s — we get a massive superhero fight: Act Three. Magneto, commanding his powers, with a thunderstorm in back: heroes throwing themselves at Erik and failing. Polaris calls Magneto out: “How many women is it now you once claimed to love who all perished during your brief window of affection and attention? You leave a trail of dead wives and dead daughters in your wake… You tried to break me too. Tried to rearrange the pieces of me back into your perfect daughter. But you failed.” It’s been a while since an X-comic encouraged us to adopt her point of view — the Claremont era more often adopted Magneto’s. Williams’s powerful dialogue takes the green-haired mutant as seriously as we should. And if that take on Erik’s history troubled you, wait till you see– or fail to see, he’s fast– Quicksilver’s.
Since there’s a scene in the Green Lagoon (the mutant bar where Blob has a steady job), I’ll lift a glass here to Williams, and to Werneck for the panel compositions and the way how he depicts lines of focus, and I’ll lift a second third to VC’s Clayton Cowles, the letterer who understands how mixed-case lettering for most of an issue can give scary oomph to an all-caps yell.
But the last glass here belongs to Williams, who understands these characters’ histories. She’s writing about how hurt people hurt people, about how both Magneto and the Scarlet Witch have created their difficult present by acting out, asserting unearned authority, trying to control what no one person should control. She may be, after 16 years in real- time (who knows how many in comics time?), writing the story that finally puts a lid on House of M/M-Day/Decimation, as Avengers vs. X-Men, emotionally speaking, failed to do.
The Trial of Magneto won’t just be a whodunit, nor just a series of hero fights. Nor will it be just a long conversation about what blood family, birth family, the ties you can’t easily cut, turn out to mean on Krakoa, where everything is a metaphor for the family you choose. Nor will it be a chain of panels where Magneto wrestles with the angst of his knotty past. What’s happening here is character work, on larger-than-life, self-dramatizing, operatic characters, with art that does justice to their internal drama, big panels and pages of roses and branches and thunderous lines of electromagnetic force.
It’s a comic that shows how big our feelings can be, and how they get in one another’s way. It’s a comic about the limits of the Krakoan paradigm, whose possibilities for new storytelling (mutants can’t die!) require new stakes to stay relevant to our world (in which everyone dies). And it’s a comic about a man who thought he could rule the world, and discovers that he can’t even govern himself. Will Williams stick the landing? Who knows? That’s the peril in reviewing — and loving — issue #1 of a mini-series. But out of the gate, this one looks dramatically good.