Those are some pretty amazing powers…so why doesn’t Magento use them?  Why not control others, move at insane speeds, build a magnetic-goo army, or destroy modern society with a giant solar flare?  Using any of these additional powers would certainly make it easier for Max Eisenhardt (a.k.a. Erik Lehnsherr) to achieve his goals, but thus far he’s stuck mainly to moving metallic objects and levitation.  Is it out of the writers’ concern for the story (whether in a single storyline or the overall X-Men universe) or the character?  Do they hold Magneto back for reasons such as tension and excitement or to keep the beloved Magneto as complex a character as he ever was?

The Story

There’s a huge risk that, if Magneto can use all those powers, the story pretty much ends before it truly begins.  All he’d need to do is exert enough energy to end the world and that’s it, the story’s over in the first few panels.  Boring!  Even if you try to draw it out – maybe he needs to do something specific or use a particular tool to build up that energy – the end result would still be something akin to an unstoppable and irreversible move.  The point isn’t to watch Magneto easily win, it’s to watch the X-Men work together to stop him.  The conflict, not the result, is and should be the focus.

Frequently Magneto is pitted against Professor X as what’s known as an Equal or Mirror villain.  One whose abilities and power is comparable to the hero, but morals and ethics contrast significantly.  They become, essentially, two sides of the same coin, which can be endlessly fascinating to audiences.  It’s thrilling to watch two individuals with similar characteristics, but very different world views, go head-to-head.  Yet, if Magneto has every (or even most) of those additional powers that science lends him, they cease to be balanced in abilities and power.  The tension fizzles.  True, writers can make Magneto more of a Goliath type, but with such a precedent set across years (both in comics and films) it risks disrupting the set-up audiences have grown to appreciate.

There is a third reason writers may be hesitant to give Magneto all these additional powers…because sometimes he’s the hero.  And, just like an all-powerful villainous Magneto would quickly grow dull, so too would an all-powerful heroic one.

The Character

Magneto is a Holocaust survivor who witnessed first hand what humans are capable of doing to one another as the result of ignorance, prejudice, and fear.  Because of this, as mutants are revealed to the rest of the world, Magneto quickly determines that normal people will never be able to understand or accept them; furthermore Magneto believes mutants are the next step in evolution and it would be best if humans were destroyed in order to make room for this newer, greater, species.  While still something of an outlandish thought-process, the basis is understandable…He wishes to prevent another Holocaust, this time against his fellow mutants.

Because of his past and underlying motives it’s not hard to see the humanity of Magneto.  He’s not an evil, power-hungry, guy; he’s angry and (understandably) concerned for others like him.  He’s determined to do whatever he deems necessary to protect his kind, which sadly includes killing those not like him and/or who might get in his way.  With that in mind it’s somewhat understandable that the writers wouldn’t give Magneto all those other powers.  If able to use them he becomes something closer to an all-powerful being, like Apocalypse, which makes it far too easy for him to lose his humanity…one of the aspects of his character that’s so compelling.

It is possible that the writers are less refusing Magneto these seven bonus powers as they are having him hold back on them in order to keep the heroic aspects of the character.  If Magneto has them, but chooses not to use them, it shows that he does have empathy, a moral code, and limits on what he’s willing to do to others.  …Consider the fact that these specific powers would require a great amount of concentration, power, and will for Magneto to use, meaning they aren’t things he could do in the heat of the moment.  Pulling Wolverine’s skeleton from his body is vastly different than melting it – and thus cooking Wolverine – from within.  It’s relatively easy for Magento to do the first, but (as the video explains) the second requires Magneto to build up tremendous speed between Wolverine’s adamantium atoms to get them to melt; one can be done in a rage, the other requires the specific desire to torture and kill.  Once you get into the second territory Magneto becomes someone very different and his potential for heroism dwindles.

Like many in the X-Men universe, Magneto is a compelling character.  His beliefs are rooted in understandable emotions even if his goals and methods are ultimately questionable.   He can be a heroic figure just as easily as he can be a villainous one.  It is this complexity that makes him so intriguing and beloved…and it’s likely in effort to preserve this wonderful complexity that keeps the writers of his stories from giving him almost godlike powers.

Notes: The video is from Nerdist’s Because Science with Kyle Hill, which you should totally check out.  I wrote this as a fan of X-Men who’s read various X-Men comics, seen a number of the films, and watched the ’90s cartoon in my youth, but I do not consider myself any kind of expert on the universe.

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