This issue sees the Avengers called in on a very special case dealing with Magneto, the mutant master of magnetism, but all is not what it seems—although Captain America didn’t know that as of the time of the cover shoot! (It is a very striking cover by Barry Windsor-Smith, isn’t it?) There’s a lot going on in this issue, resulting from the New Mutants’ appearance in Secret Wars II #9 as well as the eventful Uncanny X-Men #200, and I’ll try to provide the essential background without getting too weighed down in X-continuity (to which I am not exactly well-attuned).
You might think this was an issue of Avengers judging from the opening page (with “starring the New Mutants” in very small letters under the story title), but how many Avengers stories begin with the team in their underwear?
Wow… I’m sure many of us in 2021 wish that Zoom had that feature!
The sheriff tells the team that Emma Frost—still with the Hellfire Club at this point and training little “Hellions” in the Massachusetts Academy, a prestigious private school—called to warn him that Magneto was on his way to kidnap some of her students.
As Dane alludes to below, at this point Magneto had just begun his transformation to the side of angels, having worked alongside the X-Men during the first Secret Wars, and more recently was anointed the leader of the X-Men and mentor to the New Mutants by none other than Charles Xavier after Magneto’s trial in front of the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity was… suspended, I guess? Steve is not surprised but disappointed to hear of Magneto’s alleged return to evil, which Hercules admires (before getting in a dig at their Asgardian teammate).
Cap reveals that his opinion of Magneto is more nuanced, hopeful and reserved at the same time… and the same applies to the X-Men themselves.
Unbeknownst to the Avengers, Magneto is actually trying to rescue the New Mutants after being tricked by Frost into sending them to her school to be treated for the mental damage done to them by the Beyonder at the end of Secret Wars II, after which she secretly planned to indoctrinate them into joining her Hellions.
As Magneto flies to Frost’s school in a copy of the X-Men’s jet Bluebird formed by the techno-organic New Mutant named Warlock, the Avengers apprehend them and force them out of the sky, engaging with Magneto on the ground, where it takes the entire team to subdue him.
Magneto, wanting desperately to live up to the promise Xavier saw in him, is worried most about his young charges, but finds the Avengers have little trust in his word. He points to Namor as a former villain now embraced by the heroes, and when Cap defends Namor on the basis of his time fighting Nazis during World War II, it’s too much for the concentration camp survivor to take.
Bonus points to Cap for surmising how Magneto was able to break Hercules’s mighty embrace.
Cap also has his suspicions about the malevolence of Magneto’s intentions—based, in part, on the same generosity cited earlier—but still acts quickly when he senses the mutant behind him (so quickly that Magneto himself notes it, as well as the strange composition of his shield).
Meanwhile, at Frost’s school, one of the New Mutants senses that Magneto is nearby, and another one, Magik, decides to investigate…
…not that Cap seems to remember her (after they met briefly in Secret Wars II #9). She does, however, start Cap thinking about how Magneto’s behavior, both here and earlier, paints a very different picture of him than Cap had before (especially based on their earliest meetings in Avengers #110 and Captain America Annual #4).
If he’d remembered who Magik was, maybe he wouldn’t have done that.
When Magneto tries to get away, the Wasp sets him up for Namor, who takes him for a dip… and forces Wasp to reveal that she still has her doubts about him living up to the Avengers code.
As the Avengers debate what to do with Magneto, Warlock comes to and immediately defends his teacher, and Magneto finds himself in the difficult position of having to defend his attackers…
…which is more evidence for Cap that Magneto has in fact changed.
Just then, the New Mutants suddenly appear to rescue Magneto and Warlock… and return Cap’s shield.
Above, we see that Cap wraps up the Avengers’ appearance in this issue by sharing with his teammates his newfound respect for Magneto, comparing him to past Avengers who began as wrongdoers—without looking at Namor, which would have been awkward—and suggesting that they might want to give him, and his “baby brotherhood,” the benefit of the doubt.
Not yet collected.