Cullen Bunn Looks Back on Writing Magneto's First Solo Series
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Magneto has been a fixture of the X-Men mythos and the Marvel Universe since his debut in 1963’s X-MEN #1. Villain and hero, victim and oppressor, the man alternately known as Erik Lehnsherr, Max Eisenhardt, or simply Magnus possesses a complex backstory and ever-shifting motivations for his larger than life actions. However, it took over 50 years for the Master of Magnetism to gain his own ongoing series, and when MAGNETO finally launched in 2014, it had a devotee at the helm.
“I’m an X-Men fan from way back, and Magneto has always been, in my mind, the perfect mutant villain,” shares Cullen Bunn, writer of the MAGNETO series that ran from 2014 to 2015. “A bad guy, yeah, a ruthless guy, but someone who has had everything taken from him. He would do anything to protect his people, and that’s the thing that makes him a villain, not just to the world at large but to the people he was trying to protect.
“Aside from his early appearances, I think back to X-MEN: GOD LOVES, MAN KILLS and the Trial of Magneto [from UNCANNY X-MEN #200] and even [the original] SECRET WARS [from 1984]. I think back on [Chris] Claremont’s '90s X-MEN series, which portrayed Magneto as such a monster. The 'Fatal Attractions' story. I mean, there are so many great renditions of the character who helped shaped my version. Of course, I wanted to take him in some new directions.”
Coming off the helm of FEARLESS DEFENDERS (2013) and VENOM (2011), Bunn saw a regular focus on Magneto as both an enticing opportunity and his foot in the door to the X-Men corner of the Marvel Universe. With the ostensible lead somewhat de-powered due to recent events and on the outs with Cyclops and company, a chance to do a different take on a classic character loomed.
“My pitch was to present Magneto as a kind of Punisher figure, a rogue vigilante out there preemptively striking at threats to mutants,” recalls the writer. “I wanted Magneto to come across almost like a serial killer, someone that the general populace feared the way they might fear a comet striking the Earth. Sooner or later, Magneto was going to snap in a very bad way. And, obviously, I wanted to dig into the things that made Magneto tick.
“Especially in the early issues [it was important] that you’d see Magneto as this force of nature, this ever-present threat that everyday people would discuss and dread.”
Moving Magneto away from the familiarity of the other X-Men allowed Bunn to use a new supporting cast as a way of getting into his central figure’s darkness and light from a fresh perspective. Briar Raleigh, a would-be human ally, carried the secret of a tragic past with her new compatriot. S.H.I.E.L.D. represented the order side of the equation against the relative chaos.
“At first, I planned on having no existing characters in the book,” Cullen explains. “I intended to keep the series very lean and mean. Briar Raleigh, in one form or another, was always going to be in the series. Originally, she was planned as a character who was monitoring and guiding Magneto, supporting him in his quest. But I scrapped that idea early on for something a little more sinister. Leaning into the idea of Magneto as a natural disaster and serial killer, I wanted to create a weird sub-culture of people who were 'fans' of world-threatening villains, fetishists who loved the carnage and the destruction. Briar became the window into that world. She was much more, of course. She became one of my favorite characters.”
As the story became established, two slightly more recognizable faces popped up in the pages of MAGNETO. Polaris, estranged daughter of the titular star appeared as a source of support while Hitzig, an SS officer and tormentor from Magnus’ youth introduced briefly by Rick Remender in UNCANNY X-FORCE (2010), continued his evil into the present.
Bunn guided Magneto through two major Marvel crossover events, beginning with AXIS, where the mutant played a central role opposing the Red Skull and rallying former villains. The 2015 incarnation of SECRET WARS provided a chance to tell “the last Magneto story,” with the world coming to an end around him.
“I wanted to show Magneto, who had been de-powered throughout the series, put his indomitable will to use for a singular purpose—save the Earth from destruction,” says Bunn of the “Last Days” tie-in. He did whatever he could to regain enough power to turn back the tide of destruction. His ruthlessness served not just mutants, but all of mankind. He gave his life, not as a villain but as a hero.
“I wanted to continue my Magneto story while connecting the tale to the bigger picture. I wanted to make sure that readers who were following the series felt as if the book was continuing on its on, despite the ‘interruption’ of the events. That was a creative challenge for me with this series.”
Ultimately, MAGNETO ran for 21 issues, all written by Bunn with the bulk illustrated beautifully by Gabriel Hernandez Walta. To date, it’s the only ongoing solo series to star the Master of Magnetism, though the writer would bring the character along in a featured role for both UNCANNY X-MEN (2016) and X-MEN: BLUE (2017).
“I was proud of the book I wrote,” he reflects. “I like to think that readers [felt] as though I gave them a deep dive into Magneto’s thoughts and motivations and desires. I never approached him as a hero. That wasn’t him. But I wanted him to be a villain whose motivations could be understood, even though he’d always take things too far. Look, I’m my biggest critic, but I’m very proud of each and every issue of this book. I really feel like I presented a version of Magneto that readers will remember.”
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