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Monday, April 20, 2009

A look at Holocaust comics on Yom HaShoah

Today is Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), a day to memorialize the victims of that horrible genocide and to remind ourselves that we must do everything possible to combat racism and injustice, no matter who is being victimized or where.

At such a time, it seems an appropriate time for the readers of this blog to take a look at websites which make reference to comic books & graphic novels which have represented the Holocaust, as well as to recognize an especially noteworthy miniseries about a Holocaust survivor published recently by Marvel Comics.

In Sept. 2008, Mike DeLisa wrote a post on his blog entitled "Comics Exploring the Holocaust". In it, he made reference to Judenhass, "The Liberators" from Fightin'Army #119, "Master Race" from Impact #1, and a 2-pager titled "Masterpiece" from Harvey Hits #6. He also reproduced 3 panels from the latter example.

Mike DeLisa notes that he could think of just a few 'pre-Maus' stories". However, I could list several of them, including :

* "The Butcher of Wulfhausen" Kent Blake of the Secret Service #14 (July 1953)

* "City of Slaves" Battlefield #9 (March 1953)

* "'Thou Shalt Not Kill'" Weird War Tales #8 (Nov. 1972)

* "Totentantz" Star Spangled War Stories #158 (Sept. 1971)
cover of Star Spangled Stories #158

cover of Blitzkrieg #2

* "Walls of Blood" Blitzkrieg #2 (March-Apr. 1976)

In a recent article in The Canadian Jewish News (Jan. 14, 2009, pop culture writer Shlomo Schwartzberg reviewed both Judenhass and Goodbye Marianne. The latter is a graphic novel adaptation of the award-winning young adult novel by Irene Watts.

The recently-published anthology The Jewish Graphic Novel : Critical Approaches includes the essay "Witness, Trauma, and Remembrance : Holocaust Representation and X-Men Comics" by Cheryl Alexander Malcolm, which discusses the ways Marvel has portrayed the character Magneto, both before and after Chris Claremont revamped him into a Holocaust survivor.

Alas, the essay was written before the launch of the miniseries X-Men : Magneto : Testament, which showed Magneto's childhood in Holocaust-era Europe.

The Testament miniseries has been mentioned or discussed at several websites and blogs. I'm listing them below, along with selected quotes.

Comic Book Resources.
Republication of the Comic Book Resources interview with miniseries illustrator Greg Pak.
"1) I read the letter you put in at the end of the story. So how much research did you put into studying this time period?

I have a six-foot stack of histories and memoirs from the time period that I've been going through for the past three years. I've watched every Holocaust-related feature film and documentary I could get my hands on, and, of course, read every Holocaust-related comic book I could find. It's the most harrowing and emotionally draining research I've ever done, but I've never felt so responsible for getting a project right.

Did you learn anything that truly surprised you?

I'd read about the Holocaust before, in middle school and college and beyond, so I was familiar with much of the history. But every day I'd read something that shocked me to the core all over again."

Impulse Creations.
Impulse Creations interview with miniseries writer Greg Pak, in between issue #1 and issue #2.
"Impulse: You handle the oppression and rise of the Nazis with such finesse in the comic. It's subtle at some points (even though the reader is certainly aware, from knowing about what Magneto went through growing up and also the historical context), and dramatically strong at others. Why did you feel this route would work, and how does it play into the overall story, especially regarding Max as a character? Was there anything that influenced you in the way you chose to tell it?

Greg: I wanted to begin the story relatively early so that we could get to know Max and his family as human beings before the full gravity of their situation sank in. And I knew we should see almost everything from Max's point of view. That would let us discover things bit by bit at the same time he does and help us understand how the Nazi rise and the Final Solution crept up around and then swept away their victims."

Karp, Lauren. Ich bin Magnus: (Re)writing Magneto’s Origins & Culture
"What I’ve seen of Magneto: Testament seems to warrant it a place both in comic history and in future Holocaust media and literature studies. Who knows if it will happen, given that this is a superhero comic—given that Magneto has the power of magnetism, one can expect to see metal bullets flying around wildly at the very least—but with a comic so rooted in history (comic history, cultural history, and ideological history) I believe it certainly deserves it."

Marvel Comics. WW Philly 2008: Magneto: Testament
Official PR announcement of the series at the Marvel website. Includes character sketch designs.
"Like so many classic Marvel characters, [Magneto] has to grapple with the typical problems of any scrawny outsider: family problems, schoolyard bullies, and first crushes," Pak explains. "But every little conflict takes on a terrifying, new dimension as the scope and inexorable advance of the Nazi menace becomes clearer."

Roth, Matthue. Magneto in the Holocaust
"All told, we’ll have to see how Testament fares before we officially accept Magneto’s Jewishness as X-Men canon. Pak is an able writer who’s been able to balance emotion and plot extremely effectively in 'Phoenix: Endsong' and less so in 'World War Hulk.' I don’t trust him absolutely, but I trust him."

Shinefeld, Mordechai."X-Men mutant survives the Holocaust in new Marvel Comics miniseries" Haaretz July 6, 2008
"Part of the goal of this story is to explore religious identity, and history, through fiction," said Warren Simmons, 'Testament' editor. "I'd say [Magneto] is one of the single richest and most intriguing characters in our medium. I think to Jewish kids, he's a very important, complex character. I know that he was to me."

The above article is reprinted as Comic Explores Shoah in The Forward, June 13, 2008.
Image of the cover of issue #1. Image of the cover of issue #2

reviews of issue #1
Summary: Magneto Testament #1 opens in the city of Nuremberg, in the year 1935. The young Magneto's family is trying to live as normal a life as possible, in this Bavarian city that was so central to Nazi ideology and propaganda. The young hero is only nine years old, and still attending school, when we first meet him. We see a brief glimpse of what it's like to be the outsider, the alien, a physically average boy who is emotionally abused by his teachers as well as his fellow students. We also see a young girl, a Gypsy girl, named Magda, forced to clean the trash off the streets with her mother. Since the Gypsies of Germany were overwhelmingly Sinti, we now know that Magda was a Sinti. The young Magneto becomes smitten with this girl, and she with him. (from Rivka Jacobs' review)

Borzelli, Brandon.Brandon Borzelli's Geek Goggle Reviews
"The issue is very powerful. The whole story has such a serious and dark undertone that it has that sickening feeling to it. Personally, I felt Max’s story could have been any number of young Jewish kid’s stories during the mid to late 30s in Germany.
... 5 out of 5 geek goggles"

comicinsight. Comic Reviews
A review of issues #1 and #2
"We all knew that Magneto came from some terrible hardships in his life, but this story . . this story gives you a feeling of what he and his family and his people were forced to endure. [...] This is one of those stories that's really going to make you think . . think about history . . and think about how you feel about things."

Hayman, Mark J. X-Men: Magneto Testament #1
{rating : 2.5 bullets out of 5}
"One doesn't expect to be emotionally sideswiped by a book with "Magneto" stamped on the cover. I had no problem with the actual presentation, despite not being overly taken with the illustration, but the where and the what actually had me getting a little angry. When I reached the final page, there was an afterword by Greg Pak which helped to redeem the intent but only to the extent that I'm reasonably certain that he intends no offense and, given the credit to the Wiesenthal Center, has done the sort of homework one would expect from a Rhodes Scholar in history. Still, I'm not satisfied that this could well be the first exposure of a young mind to these horrors, despite the best of intentions."
Includes 6 page scans with the dialogue & captions.

Huqueriza, Chris. Le.Writers.Block
"Writer Greg Pak does extensive background and it shows ... I have high hopes to see what happens to Magneto. 5/5."

Jacobs, Rivka. X-Men: Magneto Testament #1 Review
Review by the author of the Magneto is Jewish FAQ
"X-Men: Magneto Testament, is not only the definitive account of Magneto's origins, but a sincere and careful attempt by the creative team to portray Magneto's Jewish youth and the Holocaust with accuracy and respect."

Jim & Rhonda.A Groundbreaking Series: X-Men: Magneto Testament #1
"Just because this is a super-hero comic, don't assume this terrible and tragic period of history will be treated lightly. The creators have clearly tried to portray this era in a realistic, truthful, way. Readers will almost certainly find themselves emotionally involved and angry as they read this tale."

Rapin, Mike. Weekend Whiz: Reviews so fast you’ll pee your pants
"It was all very well done [a]nd I’m very much excited for this true origin of Magneto."

SuperSearnold. Magneto - Testament #1/
"I absolutely recommend this issue. To EVERYONE. Magneto - Testament #1 does such a good job of examining the character of this Jewish boy growing up in Nazi Germany that you’ll still enjoy this issue even if you aren’t an X-Men fan or have absolutely no idea who Magneto is. The content is dark (the only way to deal honestly with Nazis’ persecution of Jews) - so the book isn’t for children."

Tung, Chris. Magneto's Testament #1 - A Review
"It was good. Maybe not great. But a good way to start a new series. ... The art was definitely lack luster for me. I was immediately drawn to the cover of the series because Djurdjevic did a fantastic job at introducing an adolescent Eric as well as displaying the inevitable end for the young boy's character, but the interior art could definitely be better. I wish they had chosen a grittier direction. "

reviews of issue #2
Summary : This issue takes us from 1936 through September 1, 1939, the Nazi invasion of Poland that started WWII, stopping briefly on November 9-10, 1938 for Kristallnacht, the infamous Night of Broken Glass when Germans rioted against the Jews, destroying homes and property, looting what they could and savagely destroying the lives of their neighbors. As this issue closes Max and bears witness to the German tanks rolling into Poland we can’t help but understand, through all Max’s troubled life, how Magneto’s character was formed and the rage and pain that drives his actions. (from Sam Wilson's review)

Borzelli, Brandon. Brandon Borzelli's Geek Goggle Weekly Rankings
"it takes the every day lives of one family, Magneto’s, and illustrates point by point how their livelihood, home and country (and presumably their lives) where taken from them. The story uses real timelines and actual events to show the chaos around the family. This issue focuses on the events of Kristallnacht and the immediate aftermath. With three issues to go you know this is only going to get worse and worse. This is a fantastic, but horrific and emotional story."

Rosenblatt, Rob. Cream of the Crop
"Max and his family’s flight from Germany as the Nazis raid homes and businesses was heart-wrenching. I don’t know if this story will make Magneto any more sympathetic, but it’s very interesting to see what this mutant figurehead witnessed and lived through as a boy, and we see why he is so militant about not being persecuted again."

Wilson, Sam. Sam Wilson’s Reviews
"Greg Pak, one of comics’ top writers and a man who needs no introduction at this point, has worked painstakingly with the Simon Wiesenthal Center to insure he’s accurately retelling the Germans’ rise to power and the steps they took in their private little war against the Jews. The beauty of this story is that we get to see world history unfold through the frightened eyes of a young boy, knowing the fictional villain this boy will become but seeing his origin unfold against the back drop of some of the most horrendous evil in human history. Beautifully rendered by Carmine Di Giandomenico, the same artist who drew the Marvel Knights’ Daredevil: Battlin’ Jack Murdock series, Magneto Testament is powerful and engrossing. A must read even if you’re not an X-Man fan."

reviews of issue #3
Summary : Magneto and his family barely survive the Polish countryside by seeking refuge in Warsaw, where they end up as prisoners of the city’s infamous ghetto. The Germans escalate their violence against the Jews and their true intentions become increasingly more transparent. Faced with little options, Magneto and his family sneak out of the Warsaw Ghetto, hoping for safety and shelter. Unfortunately, they find neither. Magneto’s mutant power remains untapped and his unrealized potential to “save the day” is a continuous haunting frustration that is effective in capturing the pity, anger, desperation, and sadness that pervades this book. (from Rob Galinsky's reviw)

Borzelli, Brandon. Brandon Borzelli's Geek Goggle Weekly Rankings
"This historical account could be more gruesome but it restrains (for now) from being too vulgar. Still, I find myself bracing for the worst page after page. It’s an excellent story."

Galinsky, Rob.X-Men: Magneto Testament #3 (of 5) - Review
"What’s Good: Pak lets historical events tell this story, which allows Magneto to be a passive but effective character. Pak shows a few key details about Magneto’s personality, such as his selflessness, his ability to lead, and his courageousness– characteristics that fit in with the Magneto that Marvel readers have gotten to know over the past few decades. The art is solid and has an indie feel to it. The coloring revolves between pale and hopeless to dark and terrorizing.

What’s-Not-So-Good: I understand that this book has a pedagogical aspect to it, but it goes a little overboard when text boxes full of facts, numbers, and dates appear. I think the encyclopedic side of the Holocaust would be better served if it were reserved for a page at the end of the story. Besides, the story is so powerful, educational, and realistic even without the cold, dry facts.
Grade : A"

Rules, Samuel. Where My Money Went - Nov. 12th
"A Magneto origin story cleverly masks this powerful Holocaust historical narrative. Trying to protect his family, young Magneto becomes a smuggler and attempts to save his family but pushes them closer and closer to the camps. I have a hard time reading this comic because as much as I want his powers to manifest in that issue, once I start reading I only worry about his well being."

Wilson, Sam. Wktf’s Reviews
"This comic series is absolutely frightening. I’m not sure what fictional story could be more harrowing and horrific than the actual events of The Holocaust. We all know Magneto is a child of The Holocaust; however, placing young Max, the boy who grows to become Magneto, in this setting amidst the horrible slaughter of this shameful moment in human history, and tracing his life as he experiences the actual events leading to the death camps creates a story of fear, pain, anger and hatred such as probably could not be communicated as well any other way."

reviews of issue #4
Summary : We get to see the atrocities Magneto experienced in Auschwitz, and "atrocity" cannot summarize the things that happened there. Sadly, they are all too realistic. Just when you think there's a glimmer of hope for Max, writer Greg Pak snatches it all away. Even the ending to this issue is a sign of hope, until you realize the rest of Magneto's origins. (from the review by fatherjeff)

"An excellent read, yet again. Pick up this entire series, and you won't be disappointed. An amazing read, from the moment you open the cover. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK!"

Duin, Steven. Comic Review: Magneto: Testament
Review by a writer for The Orgonian
"Greg Pak has done a commendable job on the back story of the young Magneto, struggling against the passivity of his elders as the Nazi's noose slowly tightens around the Jewish community. Understanding that the Holocaust is little more than a barbaric number -- six million -- to many in this generation of comics' readers, Pak has provided a valuable and restrained history lesson."


"Yet when I open the fourth issue, pictured above, to witness Max Eisenhardt's arrival at the camp, the initial shot from the train platform -- "Men to the right! Women and children to the left!" -- is set next to an ad for "Prince of Persia." When the Jews are ordered to strip, I turn the page to hear Honda screaming that I should "Avoid Gas Hogs!" And the scene in which Max, now working as a Sonderkommando at the camp, shoves the body of his mentor into the oven is placed, gruesomely, beside an in-house promo for "The Dark Avengers."

I know Marvel has comic books and video games to sell, but I find it absolutely appalling that the company doesn't recognize the indecency of interrupting a tale of the Holocaust with ads about "gas hogs." At a crucial point in this story, Pak simply turns the lights out and lets the panels go black, knowing there is no way to illustrate the horrors that a survivor of the camps describes. I only wish Marvel understood that some stories are too dark, and too important, to serve as just another pack mule for the company's ad sales."

fatherjeff. X-Men: Magneto Testament #4
"This is one of the best series Marvel has put out in...ever. Carmine Di Giandomenico's art is just wonderful, especially that double-page spread of the glasses that is just haunting. You can tell the detail these creators are putting in which shows their hard work. My only hope is that this series will lead to a Magneto ongoing with the same creative team."

George, Richard. Magneto: Testament #4 Review
"Sometimes a series is so good that you effectively run out of things to say about it. That's pretty much the case with Magneto: Testament, a product which not only once again affirms the value of the Marvel Knights line but is easily one of the best products Marvel has put out this decade. Just as it has the past three months, this series defies conventional origin story trappings, delivering a tale that isn't just moving and mesmerizing but historically accurate as well."

Huqueriza, Chris.le.writers.block
In the penultimate issue, there's more shocks and atrocities as Max witnesses them in Auschwitz. Max['s] hope fades as he commits a sin. Max doesn't look like Magneto, but a great tale about the Holocaust with the last issue tying up everything. 5/5"

*** note : There is a 7-page preview of the comic online at

reviews of issue #5
Summary : Max Eisenhardt has reached the lowest point in his young life. Separated from his family, Max is eking out a living in Auschwitz. Even as he helps the Nazis dispose of their thousands of dead bodies, Max is busy bribing guards and helping plan an uprising against his oppressors. And through it all, Magda provides a lone ray of light in an otherwise dark existence. (from Jesse Schedeen's review)

Borzelli, Brandon Brandon Borzelli's Geek Goggle Reviews
"The finale of this story caps off what has been a tremendous account of the holocaust from a single character’s point of view. Max proves to be both lucky and crafty. It seems his ability to find gold was his biggest contributor to staying alive. However, the realism used in this story almost makes the character involved here kind of irrelevant. I think this story would have been just as good without the X-Men tag or Magneto as the central character. The issue discusses what kind of extras will be included in the collected edition and it makes this story worth picking up in trade if you missed the mini series. This was a terrific mini series."

"So, I came into this series expecting not much of anything; I came away feeling overwhelmed and moved by the emotional clarity and intelligence conjured up by something so simple as a mixture of words and pictures. Yes, there were only a couple of fleeting indications that this was the tale of the boy who would one day become the X-Men’s greatest nemesis, but that didn’t matter. The seeds are sown here. What does matter is that the creators didn’t dumb down their work to make it more palatable, rather they acknowledged the intellect of their audience and understood that a single image or a single sentence are sometimes all that’s needed to convey a multitude of thoughts and feelings.

It’s not an easy read, it’s not a fun read, but it’s probably the bravest thing Marvel have published over the last few years, and it’s powerful enough in both the subject matter and the telling that, although the sales figures may not have been stellar, it’s going to have a shelf life that will far exceed many of its contemporaries. 10/10"

Schedeen, Jesse. X-Men: Magneto Testament #5 Review
"I've been feeling more and more like this book was conceived as a Holocaust story first and foremost and the Magneto elements were thrown in to make it more commercially viable. Granted, it's not an ignoble pursuit to use comic characters as a vector to historical education. I just feel that, if Greg Pak went through the trouble to write a story about Magneto, he should have offered him a more complete character arc. With a few switched names, this series could just as easily dropped the "Magneto" moniker."

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