Moira MacTaggert Did Not Brainwash Magneto,
How The Heck Do You Brainwash a Baby, Anyway?

Alara Rogers

Okay, I'm annoyed. I put up with Lobdell having Magneto spout off about Moira brainwashing him in UXM #304 because Magneto was delusional at the time. I put up with Beast spouting the same idiot stuff in The Xavier's School Yearbook because Hank is one of the original five X-Men and it's well documented that they think Magneto is the anti-Christ. But when Marvel's own website gets this simple fact wrong, I decided to step into the breach.

The trouble with this very confusing concept is that it was, well, poorly written. It was Chris Claremont's swan song, written under heavy editorial interference, and it shows. X-Men #1-3 have good concepts, and good art, but a lot of the details are hopelessly confusing, and this is one of them.

1. Let's go to the tape!

First, the setup. XM #1. Magneto is on Asteroid M, brooding and in despair, when a bunch of mutants turn up on his doorstep, fleeing SHIELD. They are the Acolytes, who pledge themselves to his service, despite the fact that he insists he has no more cause. When a SHIELD agent shoots one of them, Magneto gets pissed off, declares Asteroid M a sanctuary, and goes to Earth to get nukes out of the Leningrad, to defend Asteroid M and the mutants he believes it will house. The X-Men go to talk to him, things get out of hand, and Wolverine cuts him badly. When Magneto returns to Asteroid M, terribly injured, Fabian Cortez offers to "heal" him. Then, while Magneto is sleeping, Cortez takes the Acolytes down to Genosha and starts attacking people. The X-Men move to stop them, and a fight ensues.

In XM #2, Magneto comes down to bail out the Acolytes (and punish them personally for disobeying him), and the X-Men lose. Magneto carts them and the Acolytes off, and tells Cortez that he has failed to demonstrate his worthiness, implying that he will mete out some sort of punishment for Cortez's behavior. Cortez then says, "Before you pass judgment, Lord, I have uncovered some information I believe you ought to know."

Back on Asteroid M, Cortez says, "I noticed the anomaly when I healed you of your wounds, Lord. A discrepancy between the genetic codes in the master files, and what I sensed in your own body." Magneto identifies it-- "A piece of genetic engineering, an artificial alteration in my DNA codes. And I know of only one way it could have occurred."

Magneto then goes to Xavier's mansion and kidnaps Xavier and MacTaggert. He subdues them and demands answers. "I have found some... intriguing anomalies in my DNA matrix. I was wondering what you might tell me about it."

Xavier replies, "I haven't the foggiest notion what you're talking about."

Magneto: "I hope that's true. Because we were friends once. And when one friend betrays the other's trust, it leaves a wound that never truly heals." He speaks of the time he was reduced to infancy, and asks Moira what happened to him when he was in her care. She says she doesn't know what he means, so he throws Charles outside the building-- which is, by now, in space, leaving him to choke to death unless MacTaggert talks. She does.

"There were indications of an instability throughout your central nervous system, as though yuir body could'na quite handle the energies you were processing through it. Akin to a power line unable t'cope wi'loads far beyond its design capabilities. There was a possibility of a progressive degradtion that could in turn affect the electrochemical balance of yuir brain."

"What," Magneto says, "with great power comes certain madness?"

"Explain to me then how the man Charles knew and respected in Israel could turn into the master of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants?"

"I need explain nothing, woman. That is your task."

"I thought... if I could modify the genetic matrix... eliminate the instability... perhaps, I thought, I might use the same process to save my son."

"How seductively noble. An end that surely justified any means, no matter how foul."

"You were a child again, an innocent... with a second chance to live your life over again."

Magneto flips, grabbing Moira physically and shaking her. "And who gave you the right to play God with my soul?! By the Eternal, by tinkering with the foundations of my being, you took from me the dimsneions of moral choice! Every decision I've made since my rebirth is now suspect thanks to you-- every fiber of my being thrown into chaos. How else did you tinker, Doctor, did it amuse you to see how easily I might be manipulated?"

"It wasn't like that!"

"Of course not. You worked for the betterment of the world and the race. I heard those same rationales as a boy, in the Auschwitz death camp, from Dr. Josef Mengele himself!"

He summons metal and coats Moira with it, saying "Very well, then. As you sowed, so shall you reap. By replicating your process with the X-Men."

She has time only to scream "No!" before he's covered her mouth, making it impossible for her to speak (or breathe.)

"My dear," he says, "you speak as though you have a choice. Consider the alternative-- shall I return you home atop a chariot made from their broken bodies? To live forever knowing that you could have saved them, but for pride? You will ensure that they come to see mine as the one true path. And that they follow me willingly. Indeed with all their hearts. You cannot resist me, Moira, or the tide of history I represent, for you are only human.

He frees her mouth at this point. "I grow impatient for your answer. And do not bother lying. That metal skinsheath not only gives me absolute control over your body, but a total awareness of it as well. I will sense the slightest attempt at deception and respond accordingly. Do we understand each other, Moira? Will you behave yourself, and do as I command?"

She gasps, "Yes."

2. Analysis

Firstly, I hope everyone noticed that Moira never had the slightest opportunity to say anything like "If I replicate my process with the X-Men, it will have no effect, because it was designed to correct an instability in you, that they don't have." Or "The process I performed corrected an instability, it didn't change your belief system." Moira doesn't realize the extent to which Magneto is misunderstanding what she did until he starts screaming at her and shaking her, and from that point she has no opportunity to correct matters. He's screaming and shaking her, and when she starts to try to explain that he's gotten things wrong, he shouts over her, accusing her of being like Mengele, then covers her in metal, depriving her of speech. He suffocates her for a little while, insists that she brainwash the X-Men or he'll kill them, and says that if she lies to him he'll know it and punish her. There's no point at which she can tell him he's gotten things wrong.

Secondly, notice how irrational and on the edge Magneto is. He was severely depressed at the start of the arc, claiming that he had no more cause. Then he went back into the fray and a former ally gutted him. He's now on the ragged edge, slipping into hysterical fury easily. And he's not processing any of this rationally. If you read what Moira says, she's making perfect sense-- there's an instability in his body causing insanity, and she tried to correct it. Then, when we refer to what Magneto says, he's talking as if she performed a process to brainwash him to Xavier's cause, since he says that he wants Moira to "replicate your process on the X-Men" and that she should "ensure that they come to see mine as the one true path." If he actually understood what Moira had said, he would realize that this is like saying you can brainwash someone to your cause by feeding them Prozac.

His argument that she removed his moral choices only works if you assume, as he apparently is, that what she did was to implant him with a specific moral system, rather than than try to correct a mental illness through physiologic means. When you give a mentally ill person chemicals to balance their brain chemistry, the result may be the loss of their delusions, but that doesn't mean that you are brainwashing them to be no longer delusional. Magneto, clearly, doesn't understand that, and is hearing exactly what he wants to hear, what he's afraid he'll hear. Otherwise he would never make a stupid mistake like telling Moira to replicate her process on the X-Men. I mean, okay, so she alters their genetic code so that they can handle their magnetic powers without going insane. Since they don't have magnetic powers, what possible use could this be?

But Moira doesn't dare challenge Magneto on this. He's obviously bordering delusional himself again, he's already tortured her... she has no choice but to give him what he's actually asking for, a means to brainwash the X-Men, rather than what he thinks he's asking for, which is for her to replicate the process. I mean, if she replicates the process and the X-Men aren't brainwashed, Magneto will kill her. But if she does something different, and the X-Men are brainwashed, Magneto won't care. His goal is to make her brainwash them, as punishment for what he thinks she did to him.

3. And how do you brainwash a baby anyway?

But, is it possible that Moira did brainwash Magneto?

Well, let's look at the facts:

1. She didn't know he was going to be an adult again. She says she thought he would have a chance to live his life over again. There's a very simple, tried-and-true way to brainwash an infant. It's called "raising them." Had Magneto been raised to believe in Xavier's dream, he would have-- at least until he got to be a teenager and started questioning. There is no point to performing a brainwashing operation on an infant.

2. When Magneto was re-aged by Davan Shakari, he was immediately just as delusional and crazed as before, doing such things as torturing the X-Men (who weren't there, and most of them weren't even the same X-Men as then) to pay Charles Xavier back for having been present when Magneto's own creation Mutant Alpha turned on him and made him an infant. I mean, there is no logic in this chain. Magneto slowly started reality-checking his beliefs after this event. He was not instantly transformed into a happy believer of Xavier's Way-- it took the impetus of Kitty Pryde's death, months later, to even shake his worldview. So in what sense, exactly, can we believe he was brainwashed?

Now let's look at how the X-Men handle Moira's process. Immediately after the process is performed, Cyclops tells Xavier, "The plain fact is that while your dream of peaceful integration was right for its day, times have changed. We have to change to match it, same as Cable and his X-Force. Magneto is the right man for this era, sir, and we mean to stand by him to the end." Reality checking? Slow growth of the belief that Magneto may be right? Naah. They're just instantly brainwashed.

And, easy come, easy go. Not long after the X-Men first start using their powers, the brainwashing wears off! Within less than a day, actually. Minutes after the fight starts, Cyclops and Rogue:

"Wait-- this is insane-- what am I doing?"

"Ain't alt'gether sure myself... 'cept we're sidin' with our deadliest foes against our nearest an' dearest... an' that ain't natural!"

And then, after Magneto collapses, Moira explains it all. "My process was a failure, Magneto... effective only so long as the subject never used their mutant power. The structures of mind and body have t'be aligned a certain, specific way for those powers t'operate, in harmony so t'speak wi' yuir essential character. That's why you all have such indomitable wills. No matter how deeply ye're "brainwashed", each use o' yuir power reverts you to yuir natural, "default" state.

"You were never deprived of anything by me. The choices you made were the ones y'would have made, regardless."

4. So what exactly did Moira do?

Moira's speech at the end implies that she did in fact try to brainwash Magneto, and it didn't take. This is why I say the issue was very confusingly written, as if Claremont and Lee couldn't agree on whether or not Moira did brainwash Magneto, and it didn't take, or if she did no such thing.

However, we know that whatever process she performed on the X-Men, it broke down immediately. And it couldn't have been a genetic alteration, because in the Marvel Universe, you can't change someone's beliefs by altering their genes (see AOA, where events lead Magneto to become good and Havok to become evil, without any genetic manipulation of either man.) Also, the genetic alteration performed on Magneto is still around, else Cortez couldn't have found it. But the thing done to the X-Men immediately stopped working-- meaning it was never a permanent alteration to their genome at all, but a temporary thing (whereas what was done to Magneto was not temporary.)

So, we have to reinterpret Moira's statement in that light. She's referring to her brainwashing process when she talks about her process being a failure. When she says "You were never deprived of anything by me," she's referring to the process she performed on him, which, despite what Magneto believes, bears no resemblance to what she did to the X-Men. (Perhaps she used the same carrier media-- a retrovirus to alter the DNA, for instance, which in the case of the X-Men was supposed to modify the brain to induce a state of suggestibility, in which Magneto could tell them the sky was green and they'd believe him, and in the case of baby Magneto was supposed to alter his neurochemistry to allow him to access power without frying his brain.) Either way, however, her process on Magneto was a failure, or at best a temporary success. She may have set the stage for him to recover from his mania, several months after his re-aging, in UXM #150, but she did not permanently facilitate recovery, judging by his insanity in Fatal Attractions.

Now, when Magneto continues to accuse Moira of brainwashing him in FA, we can assume this is because he is insane and in denial. He wants to believe Moira tried to brainwash him, because the truth is that she tried to heal his insanity, and if he had insanity to heal he might have to face the idea that he's insane now, which he can't handle. And Beast, very likely, was not actually present when Moira gave her explanation-- he was probably still fighting the Acolytes-- so his reference to Magneto being brainwashed by Moira in the Xavier's School Yearbook came about because he never cared enough to check the research, and he's taking Magneto's word for it. It is, however, not true, and if Marvel claims it to be true, it's because they did not actually check their facts, or their logic.