Comic Book Characters, A Sign of the Times?

1939. The year in which Nazi Germany invaded Poland marking the comeuppance of World War II. It was on this year our titular Jewish boy, Erik Lancaster, lost a mother and was instead exposed to something no child should ever. One could point to this moment in time and say this is it. The moment where Magneto creeped out of his womb and seeded himself into the young one’s mind.

War is a plague unleashed at the innocent. Erik was the victim. His worldview was born in which he’d continue to abide by today. It’s who Magneto is. A man who fights against the sickness of discrimination for he knows it’s unmerciful fate. Now imagine a world where this moment in time didn’t happen.

If this….
….changed to this.

Would it matter? Does a possibility exist where he would have stayed the same character? From one perspective, backstory and drive for motivation tumble. From another, it’s a needed update for a character that’s repurposed to fit more with the modern times.

These will be the important questions Marvel will soon have to start asking. It is said Erik was born in the mid to late 20s, but let’s be generous and say we’d have to push the mark up to the 30s. For Magneto to have had remembered anything we’d need him at the age of 8 when Hitler’s Third Reich rose to power. This brings him to the age of 87 in 2018. The man is approaching his nineties and now: will Marvel let Magneto go? What do you do with a character, one with the track record of financial success that’s equally bound to a historical event? This isn’t a Captain America scenario where pushing up the date in which he awoke from suspended animation works. This is where the true enemy of comics shows its teeth, time.

Comic books struggled with this issue for decades. Spider-Man went to high school in the 60s, yet fifty years later he finds himself in late twenties/early thirties. It’s truly an awkward thing. When a reader goes back to read a classic and a very much in-continuity tale like Avengers #4, they’re told Steve Rogers awoke in the 60s, only twenty years apart from WWII. The character there has lived through experiences in which would differ from the ones if this had happened in the 80s or early 2000s.

How can writers retcon out details if they’re indispensable to the experiences and time periods of a character they’re writing? As seen with Crisis on Infinite Earths or the New 52, reboots, remakes and soft reboots equally complicate things more. And they still don’t fix our Magneto issue.

This question will have to sit with Marvel. Do you kill Magneto or let him live? It’s already a miracle someone his age can look the way he does. The only plausible explanation would be to retcon in the ability to live longer, form a clone with transferred memories, thoughts, and emotions, or think of cartoonish explanations infamously identified with comics. All of which sound ludicrous or unapologetically money driven. Some may call retcons, reboots and over the top explanations the quirk of the medium. But the charm rubs off when it goes on to devalue something so meaningful.

This topic will go on to touch every character in realms of Marvel and DC Comics. As times goes by this loophole will continue its thrive in smaller or bigger doses — depending on whom it pertains. But if death can be so negligent to the readers, time too is not of the essence.

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