WHEN CULLEN BUNN was asked by Marvel Comics editors what his take on Magneto for a solo series would be, he knew there was only one word to describe the tonal approach he wanted to take:
Bunn submitted a proposal that, in just two pages, returned the Master of Magnetism to his fear-instilling ways. “I wrote the script for that [proposal] just to give the [editors] sort of a feel for what I envisioned for the tone of the series,” Bunn told The Post’s Comic Riffs, “and that’s pretty much how I came onboard the book.”
That tone involved Magneto going back to his “by any means necessary” approach to life, including the use of lethal force — as Bunn set the X-Men friend/foe off on a new mission.
Four issues into Marvel’s new ongoing series, Bunn has the titular Magneto – quite possibly the most likable bad guy in comics — on the run in search of what might imperil the mutants. Magneto “is proactively going after what he sees as threats to mutant kind, and he is taking them out with extreme prejudice,” said Bunn, who is so well-known for his work with Deadpool and Wolverine at Marvel and Sinestro at DC, as well as on his creator-owned series for Oni Press, “The Sixth Gun.”
Magneto “has gone down paths that have led him into almost full-blown terrorist mode, and I think he’s sort of on a slippery slope leading to that again,” Bunn told Comic Riffs. “Magneto knows he’s a few steps away from doing something terrible, but he also feels like he’s the only person who is willing to take those steps. He sees an extreme threat facing his people, and he’s willing to take extreme measures to eliminate it.”
Prior to the March debut of his solo title, Magneto had most recently been seen within the pages of Brian Michael Bendis’s “Uncanny X-Men,” aligning with Cyclops and a group of mutants who appear to have gone rogue, but who are far from evil. Bunn realizes that readers of this series will have frequent debates as to whether Magneto is an antihero or a flat-out villain.
“I like that [Magneto's action] was actually something that readers could debate,” Bunn said. “Opinions may change over the course of time.”
Bunn says that Magneto is still not at full power — something the character has been dealing with in the pages of Marvel comics for quite awhile. But despite Magneto not being able to perform the heavy lifting that readers are used to seeing from him — and the mutant’s acknowledgment that he’s weaker than he’s ever been — Bunn says this current, and possibly not permanent, situation might actually make Magneto more dangerous.
Magneto “may be even a little more frightening, because he’s not as powerful as he once was, but he’s making up for that in sheer ruthlessness,” Bunn said. “He’s a little darker, a little more violent, and I think that makes him a more frightening figure.”
So how can a “bad guy” receive so much favorable attention from comic-book fans and not receive calls from the fanboy public to have the cavalry take him away? Bunn said that Magneto’s unique background makes him an exception to the rule. “Magneto was always given a very identifiable back-story,” the writer said. “He’s gone through these horrible events. I think readers can see how that’s shaped him.
“Whether or not [readers] agree with his actions, it’s easy to see why he’s doing what he does,” Bunn continued. “Even when he’s doing really bad things, I think he’s been given a history that makes him not completely sympathetic, but at least enough to see where he’s coming from.”
Bunn’s version of Magneto is somewhat influenced by the performance of Michael Fassbender in “X-Men: First Class,” the writer acknowledged. Fassbender’s Erik Lensherr (not yet Magneto) walks into a bar and uses his powers to take revenge on a group of old Nazis who were part of his torturous childhood. That scene left an impression on Bunn.
“We discussed that scene a lot — it’s related,” said Bunn, who is collaborating with artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta. “Our series, we want it to have that feel of that Magneto a little bit. I would watch a movie of Magneto going across the country killing Nazis, but we wanted to have that flavor to this book, as well.”
Diminished powers, lethal force, walking on both sides of the law, as well as the fear among the masses, will remain key points in this title for quite some time, said Bunn, who notes that he has yet to address what is possibly the character’s biggest “controversy” to date: Magneto’s current lacking of a chalky-white mane of hair. Some say the new look is a self-made tribute on Magneto’s part, honoring the falling of his friend/foe Charles Xavier. It remains a hot topic with fans.
“I expected a lot of people to comment on [my] approach,” Bunn said. “I was really surprised how many people jumped on this bandwagon of Magneto needing his hair again. I’m so much like Magneto in real life [laughs] — I have no hair. Maybe that’s why I want to keep Magneto bald for a while.”
Follow David Betancourt on Twitter at @adcfanboy.