Marvel Comics: Diagnosing Magneto’s Madness

Magneto is a well-known villain from the Marvel Entertainment comic books. His primary enemies are the X-Men. Magneto is a mutant with the superhuman power to control magnetism. He can shape and manipulate magnetic fields that exist naturally or artificially. Magneto’s magnetic abilities augment his power to the Class 100 level, allowing him to lift 100 tons. He also has minor psychic abilities, such as the ability to create a psychic shield against “psionic” attack and read minds on a basic level.

Magneto, who called himself Erik “Magnus” Lensherr, spent his teen years imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. The only member of his family to survive the camp, Magnus here learned how brutally human beings could treat minorities whom they considered different. He was appalled at humanity’s lack of humanity. As his powers developed, he came to believe that mutantkind must ensure its survival by enslaving mankind. Magnus swore that he would never let such oppression happen again.

After World War II Magnus married a woman named Magda and they had a daughter, Anya. When a mob prevented Magnus from rescuing Anya from dying in a fire, he used his powers to destroy them all in revenge. Terrified by her husband’s powers and threats of vengeance against humanity, Magda fled, never having revealed to him that she was pregnant. She apparently died soon after giving birth to twins, Wanda and Pietro.

Eventually Magnus went to , where he worked as a volunteer orderly at a psychiatric hospital and where he first met and became friends with Charles Xavier, a.k.a. Professor X. Magnus and Xavier frequently debated the subject of mutants’ coexistence with the rest of humanity. Magnus disappeared and reemerged years later as Magneto, who was determined to conquer the human race to prevent their oppression of mutants.

Xavier’s original team of X-men thwarted Magneto’s first public move in his war with humanity. When they next clashed, Magneto was leading his original Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, which included Wanda and Pietro (the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, respectively). Not until years later would Magneto learn that they were actually his children.

Magneto has superhuman speed (111-115 miles per hour), normal agility, above average stamina, above average intelligence, and is very difficult to injure. In addition to his mastery over magnetism, Magneto’s true danger comes from his deep convictions and willingness to use any means necessary to achieve his goals. Ultimately, the only way to truly stop Magneto is to kill him, for even powerless and imprisoned; he’ll find a way to advance his cause.

Strain Theory:

While deviance is inevitable in all societies, Robert Merton argues that excessive violations arise from particular social arrangements. Merton’s strain theory says that humans are strongly influenced by the attitudes of the society in which they live. The theory argues that excessive violations arise from particular social arrangements. Specifically, the scope and character of deviance depend on how well a society makes cultural goals accessible by providing the institutionalized means to achieve them. Inequalities of wealth, status, and power could be the underlying conditions that produced Magneto’s criminal behavior. Magneto experiences a high level of strain between the goal of power and the means for reaching it; therefore he chooses to violate laws and norms to attain power. He terrorizes human authority figures, citizens, and other mutants that get in his way. Magneto displays innovation (he holds mutant equality in high esteem, but he sees no legitimate way of reaching his goal). He is included in a group in society that is more disadvantaged simply because they are different. For this reason, Magneto rebels. His high crime rates can be expected when the goals that people internalized (equality) are dictated to him by a society that at the same time erects barriers to the attainment of those goals by approved means.

Social Learning Theory:

Social learning theorists place great emphasis on internal processes we commonly call thinking and remembering. The assumption is that we learn primarily by observing and listening to people around us. Albert Bandura agrees with the fundamental thrust of behaviorism in that he believes that personality is largely shaped through learning. He maintains that people actively seek out and process information about their environment to maximize favorable outcomes. Magneto has his own version of the world. He has observed violence in the concentration camps, and knows how minorities have been treated. He wants humans to endure the pain and suffering that he has experienced and witnessed. Magneto has been surrounded by violence his entire life, whether he was the criminal or not. He is an intelligent man, who knows consequences and knows what happened to the Nazis at the end of World War II, so he uses this to his advantage. His social environment growing up was the most important factor in the inheritance of his behavior. He was hated as a minority before, and humans won’t look down upon him anymore. Magneto has high self-efficacy-one’s belief about one’s ability to perform behaviors that should lead to expected outcomes. He feels confident that he can execute the responses necessary to earn reinforcers.

Differential Association Theory:

Learning any social patterns-whether conventional or deviant-is a process that takes place in groups. Any person’s tendency toward deviance depends on the relative frequency of association with others who encourage norm violation. Edwin Sutherland’s theory of differential association asserts that criminality is learned through frequent direct or indirect association with people who are already engaging in such behavior. Magneto internalizes the values of his surrounding culture of criminal behavior, and his environment includes frequent contact with criminal elements and relative isolation from non-criminal elements. Magneto has a following of criminals who believe in what he says. They are called the Acolytes, and they worship Magneto. At one point, he was an X-Men ally when he was stranded with them in a foreign, unoccupied land. As soon as he returned to the Acolytes, he carried on war with the X-Men. His reduced exposure to antisocial and illegal activities created a viable and conforming social order for a while. Magneto embraces criminal activity as he receives praise (worshippers) and other rewards (notoriety). The basic principle of differential association is that a person becomes deviant because of the excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of law.

Frustration-Aggression Theory:

At one time or another most people feel frustrated. They want something, but because of events or other people they cannot get it. Some theorists have argued that violence is a form of aggression that results from frustration. It was proposed that aggression is always caused by frustration. However, Leonard Berkowitz concluded that there isn’t an inevitable, one-to-one correspondence between frustration and aggression. Magneto’s unfulfilled need of equality produces frustration, and the frustration is vented in aggression. The strength of his impulses, needs, and wishes that are blocked determines the amount of frustration experienced, which in turn determines the degree of aggression. Freud theorized that behaving aggressively could get pent-up emotion out of one’s system and thus be adaptive. But the balance of evidence indicates that aggressive behavior does not reliably lead to catharsis-the release of emotional tension. Magneto’s interpersonal conflicts that often emerge from aggressive behavior may increase rather than relieve stress. Each time he fights the human race and the X-Men, he creates new stress for himself because he has made matters worse or made new enemies. Magneto is unable, like most people, to vent his anger on the real source of his frustration. Instead, the aggression is directed to a more convenient target. When this displacement is not limited to a particular person but is extended to include all similar people, it may produce a more or less permanent prejudice.

Social Control Theory:

Related to the frustration-aggression theory is the control theory, which states that a person’s ability to restrain or control impulsive behavior is correlated with the existence of close relationships with significant others. In his control theory, Travis Hirschi claims that the essence of social control lies in people’s anticipation of the consequences of their behavior. Hirschi assumes that everyone finds at least some deviance tempting. Magneto is an individual who has little to lose from deviance. In this view, people may resort to violence when their attempts to relate to others in their own fashion are frustrated. Magneto is an overcontrolled person who inhibits aggressive impulses almost completely and represses his anger or hostility to the breaking point, until he suddenly and unpredictably explodes. He sits back and remains unseen for so long. Then the government will find a new way to restrict mutants, hatred will spread even more, and people will die. As a result, Magneto emerges from nowhere to seek revenge once more on the human race and their supporters. Magneto’s ties to the standard order are weak and nonexistent. He grew up in a concentration camp, was hated because he was a mutant, therefore he was surrounded by violence. He was taught violence.


Many factors have contributed to Magneto’s criminal behavior. He has lost important people in his life and seeks revenge. He is a minority in his world and blames humanity for his pain and suffering. Magneto started out as a normal child, but his world was turned around during World War II. He knows how merciless the human race can be and fears that he will once more be confined in a death camp. Magneto is a scarily sane villain. He doesn’t seem to have any personality or mental disorders (one must read comic books to come to that conclusion). He’s just had some bad experiences in his eventful life. He didn’t start out as criminal, humankind and their lack of humanity turned him that way. He’s lost all of his family except for a son and daughter who are now his enemies. Magneto has acquired a following and calls them his “children” and they refer to him as “Father.” Although his best friend, Charles Xavier, has also turned against him, the two have been known to engage in friendly conversations. At one point, Magneto even served as the headmaster of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters when the professor was believed to be dying. Nevertheless, Magneto remains the X-Men’s number one villain and is yet to be dethroned.

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