X-Men: The Trial of Magneto was an interesting moment for Krakoa. To begin with, it was published more or less alongside Jonathan Hickman’s departure from the X-Men franchise; however, the events in Inferno primarily occur in the aftermath of Trial. Each story is equally vital in establishing what will come next for several central characters, but tonally they couldn’t be more different. Despite creative crossover and both mini-series being game-changers for how the story of Krakoa will unfold going forward, there is a surprising lack of overlap between them. Indeed, Xavier and Magneto are often at odds here, while in Inferno they appear as a much more united front.
In this way, Trial can seem inconsistent at first glance, but to declare it so would be to neglect decades of continuity. Many characters that appear are under serious stress, and some of their more negative traits from days gone by are on display. In that way, Trial becomes a story that is not inconsistent, but about both growth and how we at times fail to grow, reverting to toxic behaviors that we thought we’d placed far behind us.
Discussing The Trial of Magneto #1-5
THIS IS NOT ABOUT MAGNETO SO LET GO OF THAT
One of the biggest criticisms around Trial is that it has Magneto’s name in the title but barely features him. That’s because this is not a Magneto story. It’s not even a Scarlet Witch story. It’s a Krakoa story. It deals with Krakoan forgiveness and punishment, and the often arbitrary nature of both. As the Scarlet Witch is despised, she is also forgiven. These are major themes that have laced through X-Men stories at least as far back as the early days of Chris Claremont’s run, but as the X-Men now control their own nation, these questions are becoming more centralized.
Since the Scarlet Witch nearly caused the complete annihilation of mutants in House of M, we’ve had several years of cyclical, no-resolution confrontations that pop up in most significant crossovers any time Wanda comes into contact with most any mutant. These low-stakes face-offs never got the attention they needed to get to a healthy place for either Wanda or the rest of mutantkind. Perhaps it goes without saying that the resolutions of Trial come a bit too late in the game for it to have the impact it might have once held. Still, we’re finally going to get a new kind of Scarlet Witch story after all this time, and, after years of walking in circles with the character, that’s for the best.
Functionally, Trial is here to cleanse palates so that the Scarlet Witch can move on as one of a handful of Marvel’s most bankable female stars. Regardless of your feelings on Wanda, her association with mutant genocide is going to very much fade into the background in regard to her interactions with the larger Marvel Universe. At this point, love her or hate her, most of us are more than ready for her to move on.
KNIVES OUT: KRAKOA EDITION
Trial kicks off as a murder mystery. Pulling in the most recent X-Factor team, the story shows a level of animosity between the other X-Men and those in X-Factor, which is immediately apparent as Northstar’s team views their presence as an interference in their investigation into the murder of the Scarlet Witch. Though the events are in question, her death is not, as Rachel uses her chronoskimming power to reach into the past and “see” Wanda dragged into the bushes and struggling against her attacker.
As Northstar immediately points out, this death makes little sense. The Scarlet Witch is easily one of the most powerful mutants on the planet, so a simple attacker getting the better of her in a fight seems unlikely. The case goes to The Five, who piece together the specifics of her demise while the Quiet Counsel discusses whether or not to resurrect her. The proposal to do so is downvoted, and Krakoa celebrates the death of “The Pretender” as those that cared about her watch on in horror.
Invited to Krakoa to collect Wanda’s remains, an Avengers team consisting of Iron Man, the Wasp, Captain America, and Vision arrive on the island. The X-Men are just as weird to visitors as they’ve always been, but the visit is cordial and even friendly. Quicksilver is on hand, and though he acts out in anger and grief, his friendship with his fellow impatient speedster Northstar shines.
Magneto is suspected of murdering the Scarlet Witch due to the use of metallic manipulation discovered to have been present at the time of her death, and he likewise acts out in some fairly wild ways throughout the story. However, he also generally has a point. The Quiet Council’s refusal to resurrect Wanda is questionable, and he reads them for this moral failing. He has a fight with Lorna in which he says a number of horrible things, attacks the island, and ultimately confesses to the murder and turns himself in to avoid further violence.
YOU MAY HAVE GUESSED THAT THINGS ARE NOT AS THEY SEEM
Back in HoxPox, Magneto swore to Charles that their animosity would be forever laid to rest. Likewise, going forward into Inferno, the two work in tandem. Here, Charles votes against resurrecting Wanda, who he spent months attempting to help during the lead-in to House of M. The callousness in most of Krakoa’s attitude toward Wanda is chilling, and Magneto seems to be the only one absorbing it. He acts out in ways reminiscent of his pre-Krakoa self, but then, those personality traits never wholly vanished. Showing that a relatively small amount of pressure or questioning in a time of grief can send him into full-blown attack mode may be disheartening for fans of the character, but it can’t be said to be against type. By the end, we learn that he is covering for something, and his outbursts are intended to distract.
Ultimately, we discover that Wanda actually asked Magneto for his help assisting her death, which, by the end of this arc, results in the possibility of resurrection for the mutants that died on Genosha at the beginning of Grant Morrison’s run. Having flipped from “The Pretender” to “The Redeemer,” Wanda has finally made amends for an act that has hung over us all since the mid-2000s. Oh, and Toad is imprisoned for attacking her along the way, but we won’t need to worry about Krakoa’s bizarre interest in incredibly cruel methods of carceral justice until the Sabretooth mini-series, so let that go for the moment.
IN THE END, WHAT MATTERS MOST
There are a lot of reconciliations happening in this book, so the aggression of the opening pages and the periodic outbursts from various characters along the way are generally in the service of a peaceful conclusion. The X-Men and the Avengers are ideologically opposed in all the same ways they always have been, but when a number of kaiju are summoned as physical manifestations of Wanda’s psychic guilt, the team immediately offers its help to Krakoa, which moves the often-cantankerous Northstar. Indeed, the two teams are on better terms than usual here, and they leave off on a positive note.
Northstar’s husband Kyle doesn’t get much to do here, but his charm is very much on display as he invites the Avengers to dinner and forms an immediate affinity for Wiccan due to his wine-uncorking abilities. Likewise, the bond between the men shines when Magneto threatens to kill Kyle and Northstar tells everyone to leave, making it clear that he’d choose Kyle over the island and everyone on it. When Magneto says, “He’s human,” Northstar screams, “He’s Krakoan!” Later, the two are granted perhaps the most genuinely sweet moments of the series when Northstar’s deceased adopted daughter is placed on the resurrection queue, meaning that he and Kyle are now parents-to-be.
Hope has a significant character beat in which she defies the decree of the Quiet Council and enables the resurrection of the Scarlet Witch after feeling uncomfortable with Xavier’s attempts at a forced confession from Magneto. Indeed, when she calls Charles out for this, his response is that he is sorry to have involved her, not sorry for what he’s doing. She chooses to help Magneto, continuing her arc as one of the most morally complex among the X-Men.
The rest of the Five and X-Factor appear only briefly as their mutual importance to the island is affirmed. There is a solid comedic effect when the methodical approach of Prodigy and Eye-Boy leads them to be completely surprised by Wiccan’s observation that Wanda’s death might have been through magical means, which it turns out it very much was. Having not even considered this, Prodigy curses under his breath and they begin their investigation anew.
THIS CREATIVE TEAM IS DOING THE WORK
Williams has proven adept at communicating the nuances of long-term trauma and reconciliation through a number of books, including What If…? Magik and parts of X-Factor. When Williams turns that need for understanding and self-forgiveness to Wanda, we see her split into different forms of herself, including an older version who assures her that they live a long life and there’s a lot left to go. It is in these moments with Wanda that the creative team truly shines. Artists Lucas Werneck and Edgar Delgado capture the expressiveness of Wanda perfectly, and the need for reconciliation between her many selves could only work with the level of consistency and wonder they give her. Clayton Cowles lettering does some heavy work here, with Wanda’s inner monologue spiraling and changing to communicate the cyclical nature of her story. Beautifully rendered, this approach helps to confirm that Wanda’s mental state is emerging as something new and much more grounded than ever before.
As noted, this is a story of self-forgiveness, but it doesn’t ignore the things that have gone before. Williams’ take on Wanda shows her very much at odds with herself, and wondering if there’s even a point in going on, while much of the world around her is slammed with complicated feelings of grief or relief at the thought of her passing. Werneck and Delgado take a trip down memory lane with her, portraying memories of her past in the style of their time, while often juggling the mix of anger and love so many characters feel towards Wanda.
SO, WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE WANDA?
Overall, Wanda is a character that has been used to broach larger mental health subjects that would require substantial follow-up and much more consistency than it has ever been given. Instead, we often get repetitive stand-offs meant to escalate tension and wrap within a few pages. A reality warper who has a loose grip on what constitutes reality presents several story possibilities. Still, a need for a tidy moral conclusion generally overrides these conversations. Even in the Wild World of Krakoa, with its broadened horizons and expansive storytelling, Wanda would need her book to explore the complexities of her role in the world of mutants. Yet when she had a book before the Krakoa Era, it meandered and even actively avoided many of these issues.
The reconciliation of Wanda is always a tricky one because while she the character generally seems willing to undergo exile and has made many genuinely-felt attempts at redemption, story convenience paired with her status as one of the foundational characters of the MCU tend to dictate that these story beats be rushed to the point of feeling hollow. There is seldom any on-page acknowledgment of what exactly was so terrible about nearly annihilating mutantkind. Indeed, the decision comes across as if it were made without acknowledgment of consequence in House of M, and the catastrophic fallout is felt almost entirely in the X-Books, far away from Wanda. Story after story has zipped through any of the justifiable negative emotions people feel toward Wanda in favor of more over-the-top feuds like her against Exodus or Rogue.
Trial of Magneto might leave you questioning some of its conclusions, but the fact is that most of those conclusions occurred outside of the pages of this book. The series juggles several plot developments while leaning into meaningful character interactions, and it opened the door for Krakoa, and more importantly the Scarlet Witch, to move on. It may have been mostly in service of rectifying mistakes made with a single character whose star power has risen significantly in the past several years since her heel turn in Disassembled, but that only makes it all the more necessary. In the end, this is another piece of the overall story of Krakoa, and it needed to happen.