Charles Xavier jerks around with Magneto’s brain, X-Factor tries to protect the evidence, the Avengers pay a not-very-diplomatic visit to the mutant island homeland, and there’s yet one more mind-control baddie afoot. Oh, and Polaris has her Ph.D.
The Trial of Magneto #2
VC’s Clayton Cowles (letters), Edgar Delgado (colors), Lukas Werneck (art), Leah Williams (writing)
September 16, 2021
Spoilers follow for The Trial of Magneto #2.
The Krakoan script at the end of Trial of Magneto #2 reads HOW ARE YOU HERE. Dizzy readers of Williams’ and Werneck’s concoction might be asking, instead, how we got here, and where we are, and what just happened, and why so fast? It’s part two of a projected five-part series, which means we should expect more complications, more unanswered questions, some acceleration, and an ending in which nothing ends.
And that’s exactly what we get. If Trial of Magneto #2 were an ongoing series, I’d get frustrated and even apprehensive about how they’ll wrap things up, but here– and having read some prior Leah Williams mini-series– I believe they have a plan. I just have no idea what it is.
Neither does Charles Xavier, and he expects to be the one in the know. Taking his usual position that the ends justify his telepathic means, he’s got our titular antihero (or hero or suspect or defendant) in a mental projection, an M.C. Escher-esque hall of endless staircases combined with Magneto’s own home. With Hope Summers (who amplifies mutant powers) as the Slash to his Axl Rose, Professor X is using his illusion to investigate Magneto’s mind, “hoping to force a confession.” Hope has read enough X-Men comics that she has grave misgivings about his methods, but not enough comics to make her walk away. Werneck and colorist Edgar Delgado give us interior mindscapes that reflect the fast-moving, complicated plot. He’s caught up in it; he’s not sure where to go. Nor are we.
Nor are the Avengers, who show up on Krakoa to pick up Wanda Maximoff’s dead body. While Chuck asks Hope to keep their enhanced interrogation procedure secret from Hope’s resurrection team, Polaris asks Jean Grey to keep the entire resurrection process secret from the Avengers. Lots of secrets. Too many secrets to keep, though none get blown quite yet: when Jean’s reluctant to extend the coverups, Emma Frost and the Cuckoos show up instead, showing the Avengers only what the Krakoan government wants the Avengers to see.
Again, this comic looks beautiful, and it moves fast, especially compared to the other X-comics operating at this high a level. Vita Ayala’s magnificent New Mutants has time for pages of talking heads with feelings. Trial doesn’t and can’t; we get visual analogues for the speed at which things happen– aircraft land and take off! Scenes change almost every page! Mutant speedsters show up, and they speed! We also get multiple would-be masterminds (masterminds, lowercase; Jason Wyngarde’s not involved). Charles, Emma, and Erik himself try to control everything around them, directing or misdirecting inquiries into the Scarlet Witch’s death.
X-Factor, meanwhile, wants to find the truth. They’re a forensics team first and a combat team second, and while I still hate the way the ongoing (drawn by David Baldeon) had to end, I love the way the team looks in Werneck’s hands. Northstar’s handsome, Prodigy’s finally self-assured, and Polaris… well, Polaris, after what must be fifty years of comics publishing, finally tells us she’s earned her Ph.D. Her thesis involved creating a sentient structure — the Boneyard, X-Factor’s DNA-shaped, towering HQ — that could take down her dad.
Could and nearly does, because Magneto’s been…. driven mad? Taken over by a psychic entity? Something’s gone wrong, in any case, first in her head and then in his: the fonts in which they speak get bigger and bolder, and they acquire a shared secret agenda that Hope Summers likely would not have embraced on her own. She even seems to ensnare Mags in a mind-control field, indicated by glowing gold energy. Is Onslaught involved? Or Cassandra Nova, or the Shadow King? Or some kind of magic, rather than mutant, mind-energy? What does this entity want, in any case, other than keeping Avengers away from what we still take to be Wanda Maximoff’s body?
We won’t find out in this issue. Instead, the entity in question starts a good-old-fashioned me-against-the-lot-of-you superhero fight in which the X-Men and the Avengers take the same side: when was the last time that happened? And here, at last, we get something like a big theme, something the comic’s about, apart from the larger story arc to which it belongs, and apart from its own deliciously crowded, tour-de-force pace: who belongs on Krakoa? Who belongs to Krakoa? Who counts as family?
For Magneto, Krakoan family includes the Scarlet Witch, despite her crimes against mutantkind. For Northstar, Krakoan family includes his husband. In my second favorite moment here (the first is Lorna explaining her Ph.D.), Quebecois star athlete, mutant speedster, former cad, and sometimes current cad Jean-Paul Baubier tells Jean that he “would kill you all in an instant if that’s all that was required to save Kyle.” When Magneto objects that Kyle is human, Jean-Paul shouts, in a jagged-edged speech balloon, “HE’S KRAKOAN!” It’s like the Book of Ruth, except with mutants, and it warms this mutant heart.
Speaking of hearts, Wanda’s is beating. She’s back. Werneck does fine with the panel-after-panel combat earlier in the issue, but here he lets rip: there’s a classic romance pin-up pose, a full-pager where Wanda flies right into the stunned Vision’s arms. It’s all red and green, like Christmas in the tropics, with her red cape and his green one billowing out in the evening winds. It’s a beauty. And– given the pace of the twists and turns in Williams’s plotting so far– it’s a moment of happiness that probably won’t last long.
Some fans will be sad that neither her Roma identity nor Erik’s Jewish history has come up so far. I’m OK with those omissions, not because real-world identities don’t matter, but because we’re looking at complex characters with fifty-odd years of backstory, and you can’t hit all the character beats each time out. Should Romani writers do something with Wanda’s background? Absolutely. But they need not do it here and now.
The Trial of Magneto #1 showed Williams’s– and Werneck’s– feel for these characters. Magneto’s big on attachment and grief and ego and repentance, not so big on self-control. This second issue puts spotlights, briefly, on Jean-Paul and on Pietro, which is lovely, but overall it can’t do as much with character because– between the X-Factor-driven whodunit, the Avengers fight, the drama with Erik’s intentions, and the magical mysteries around Wanda– there is just so dang much speedy plot.
And that’s OK. Even the who-knows-what magic plot feels OK: in it, the Scarlet Witch emerges from some sort of Dr. Strange-ish Great Beyond, with help from the graphics pages, whose multiple arrows emphasize magic’s unfathomable nature. (I trust Leah Williams with hand-wavy weirded-out magic almost as much as I trust her with Magik: after her What If: Magik, that means a lot.) This book tells stories so strongly and clearly– and with such self-consciousness about how their moving parts work and where everyone goes– that I left the issue confident that Williams would be able to bring the plot home.