A likely jew: Magneto, the holocaust, and comic-book history

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This article examines the appropriation of the Holocaust as an “origin story” for the character of Magneto from the X-Men comics. The traumatic origin is a common trope in superhero comics, but the case of Magneto is significant for several reasons. The X-Men comics in the late 1970s and 1980s used the legacy of the Holocaust as a means to transform the Magneto character from villain to hero. This inclusion of the Holocaust was partly a response to contemporary developments in American observances of the Holocaust (creative and institutional). Even though this conflation of history and fiction was meant to facilitate a new identity, it yielded a vexed identity politics that endured in the comics for decades. Magneto had originally been a villain, defined by his notions of genetic supremacy and his willingness to employ mass violence against those he deemed genetically inferior. These early associations remained in the character even as they were insistently overwritten by his (new) past as a Holocaust survivor. At the same time, the comics refrained from identifying Magneto as a Jew—that identity was suggested but never stated. The result was a controversial paradox, a character who was both Nazi and Jew.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-39
Number of pages39
JournalStudies in American Jewish Literature
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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