Before I go into the details, let me say this: Magneto: Testament is not about superheroes, though it does deal with the history of one of the most well-known villains in the Marvel Universe. Magneto: Testament is about the early years of Max Eisenhardt (who later became Magento) during the years 1935 and 1944 in Germany and Poland. It is a historical work that describes the life of a jewish family during the Nazi regime in Germany. The reason for Marvel publishing this book is bound to the story of Diana Babbitt. Here is a quote from the book:
The story you are about to read was conceived in the summer of 2006. when Holocaust historians and comic book creators joined hands for a special cause. Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, began working with comic book veterans Neal Adams, Joe Kubert, and J. David Spurlock to mobilize the comic art community against a terrible injustice: the refusal of a Polish museum to return a series of portraits to an artist who had been forced by the Nazis to paint them in Auschwitz.
The artist, Dina Babbitt, has been waging a lonely battle to regain her artwork. She is alone no longer. More than four hundred cartoonists and comic book editors, writers, and artists from around the world have rallied to her side. signing petitions and lending their talents to additional projects supporting Dina. One result of these efforts is the comic which follows, which was written by Rafael Medoff, penciled by Neal Adams. and inked by Neal together with Joe Kubert. Stan Lee has authored the afterword. Marvel is proud to showcase this unique comic.
The reason for this comic is astonishing. The fact, that Dina Babbitt had a problem getting back her artwork was a surprise, but the response from the comic artists made me happy to be a comic book reader and to be able to support this industry. Neal Adams has been an advocate to strengthen the rights of comic book artists for many years. Most notably his effort to secure decades-overdue credit and financial remuneration from DC Comics for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the creators of Superman*.
Magneto: Testament tells a story of a boy by the name Max Eisenhardt. Unable to change the flow of events, he has to witness his family being roped into the everyday humiliation during the Third Reich. It takes a couple of years until he takes actions into his own hands and convinces his family to flee to Poland, only to be captured by the Nazis. Ultimately, Max ends up in Auschwitz, where he became part of the Holocaust killing machine.
Magneto: Testament is a staggering character story, unveiling a lot of the motives of the man known as Magneto. The trauma of watching his friends and families being crushed and eventually annihilated is the driving force behind his political views that are expressed for example in the movies. Stan Lee described Magneto with:
[I] did not think of Magneto as a bad guy. He just wanted to strike back at the people who were so bigoted and racist... he was trying to defend the mutants, and because society was not treating them fairly he was going to teach society a lesson. He was a danger of course... but I never thought of him as a villain.
The book is a fine mixture of a character study and a historical book. The last couple of pages add background information and teacher notes, to encourage to use this book in classes. The historical details are accurate, well-researched, and brilliantly incorporated into a thrilling story. Again, this is not a superhero book; you only get subtle hints and the powers that Max possesses. And he's only using them subconsciously. The focus of the book is on historic events that led to the Holocaust.
To be fair, the protagonist of this book could easily be someone else. This isn't an X-Men nor a Magneto comic. Greg Pak avoids any supernatural elements. And for me, this seems like the right decision. By leaving all mutant powers out of the comic, everything stays connected to the reality of that time, and nothing seems made up. So don't expect to see Magneto tear down the gates of Auschwitz with his magnetic powers. This is only about Max Eisenhardt, trapped in a tragedy, unable to change the fate of his family. Jesse Shedeen said it best: "Holocaust historians always warn us to never forget. Thanks to books like this, I can't imagine I ever would.".
I cannot talk about Magneto: Testament without at least mentioning Maus. Maus is a comic that transforms an interview with a Holocaust survivor into one of the most acclaimed graphic novels in our lifetime. So if you like Magneto: Testmanent and want to learn more about the history in Germany during that time, you should definitely get a copy of Maus. But be aware, Maus is not as easy to read as Testament.
* Siegel and Shuster received a mere 130 US$ back in the late 1930 for all the rights to Superman. It was not until 1975 that they received an additional 20,000 US$ per year, as well as the guaranteed credit to the Superman character (created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster).