As Black Panther roars through the theaters, people are just as fascinated by Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger as they are by Chadwick Boseman’s King of Wakanda. While Tom Hiddleston’s roguish Loki has charmed audiences and Michael Keaton’s blue collar heist-man the Vulture have been high points of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the franchise has been plagued by one-dimensional villains like the cartoonishly greedy Obadiah Stane and the flatly genocidal Malekith. Killmonger has managed to achieve a rare status as a comic book movie villain: complete empathy for his goal while never wanting him to achieve it. The Verge has crowned him the successor of the only other Marvel foe to do likewise: Magneto.
As an X-Men character, the cinematic Magneto was up until recently exclusively a Fox property. Alongside Doctor Doom (also a Fox property), Magneto is who many consider Marvel Comics’ greatest villain. As a Holocaust survivor and persecuted mutant, Magneto has all the reason in the world to bring the sins of his oppressors back upon him. Conversely, Killmonger is a product of the socially segregated system of urban America and wants to burn it all down. Both of their foes attain righteous through fortune: Xavier is a pampered rich kid while T’Challa is literally royalty.
Both Killmonger and Magneto represent an extremist response to systematic injustice and the threat of becoming that very injustice. Killmonger is fueled by outrage over centuries of dehumanization and exploitation upon people of African descent but is itching to murder his oppressors’ children. Likewise, for all his wrath upon Nazis and racists, Magneto is essentially a genocidal maniac fighting for the “superior species” to come out on top. Ultimately, both manage to improve on both their foe’s resolve and the narrative’s nuance. Killmonger, The Verve hopes, will return.