NOTE: Today we begin a series of comics reviews that ran in the early days of the Bronze Age Babies. This was our first review (and second post overall), originally published in early July 2009. There were no comments on the post at that time.
Doug: I have a love for comics, specifically men in spandex (insert whatever joke you want here!!). Super-heroes, you know.
Anyway, I occasionally (although not often) get out of the box and read other genres of comics. Of particular note are comics that deal with another passion of mine, and that is study of the Holocaust. In my spare time, I am an educator with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and I travel the country (and beyond at times) teaching teachers how to deliver this subject matter to secondary-aged students.
I use Art Spiegelman's Maus with my own freshmen-level classes, and I've cited that graphic novel as well as Will Eisner's The Plot (an extensive look at the writing and desemination of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion) in my senior-level Social Injustice class. I just finished reading Magneto: Testament, and I want to recommend it to you. The edition I read is hardcover, runs $25 retail, and reprints the five issues of the mini-series that was published in 2008. It also includes historical endnotes and a teacher's guide. While I didn't wholeheartedly agree with all of the lesson suggestions, it would still be a welcome resource for many educators.
If for some reason you aren't up on your X-Men lore, or if you haven't seen any of the three X-films, Magneto is the main bad guy in the mythos. He is a tragic hero, bent on making the world safe for those with mutant powers. He is quite militant, and is opposed by Charles Xavier and his X-Men; think Malcolm X's means vs. Dr. Martin Luther King's means and you get the basic story. Make no mistake -- just above I stated that he is a "tragic hero". That's somewhat of a new characterization, as throughout the Silver and Bronze Ages Magneto was one of the premier do-badders in the Marvel Universe. He left a body count, to be certain. But, around 30 years ago, Chris Claremont (and subsequent writers) decided that a way to explain Magneto's militancy in the mutant vs. non-mutant conflict was to set his origins in the Holocaust. Magneto: Testament is the definitive origin/backstory of the character.
This graphic novel could be used in any high school classroom, and is a serious and straightforward look at a German-Jewish family and their lives before and during the Shoah. As a boy in this tale, Magneto exhibits no powers, so this truly is a Holocaust story and not a superhero story in any way. The author and artist (Greg Pak and Carmine Di Giandomenico) were edited by scholars at the Simon Wiesenthal Center; I can say that everything they wrote/drew is accurate to the best of my knowledge -- the Auschwitz I and II scenes are outstanding. I was able to travel to Warsaw and Krakow, Poland last October -- my journey included a tour of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. The author/editor of this graphic novel use the book's endnotes to offer specific support for many of the scenes in the story. I felt good that what had been presented was rooted in actual events, a danger that historical fiction often faces (and often loses, in my opinion).
Magneto: Testament is a much shorter read than Maus, and probably more accessible to youngsters than The Plot. It is graphically violent in spots, but then I would add that no student of the Holocaust would be surprised at any of the situations depicted. I'd rate the book PG-13 I suppose, but there is more than that implied at times. Of course, with as much violence as generally makes its way in between the pages of the standard 20-page comic these days, perhaps no one will be surprised. I'd offer, however, that "real" violence -- that based on historical fact and in real-world events -- carries a bit more weight, even shock value.
So, if you have time to waste someday at a Barnes and Noble or Borders... or if you will actually part with your hard-earned cash, I'd recommend picking up this collection. I wanted to also give you a head's up that this could prove to be an exciting new resource for secondary teachers.
Note: There is a trade paperback collection available, as well as the hardcover edition.