When Magneto first appeared in the first issue of the X-Men in 1963, he looked like just another megalomaniac trying to destroy mankind. Fast forward nearly 50 years and Magneto is one of the most popular of all Marvel villains. He has been the main adversary in all three of the X-Men movies and will play a major role in the prequel X-Men First Class. In the years since his first appearance, Marvel has come up with a back-story that changes the audiences perception of Magneto from villain to anti-hero to, in some cases, a hero. It is this harrowing back-story and the empathy it inspires that has made Magneto so popular.
Throughout their time together the main battle has been of two polar opposition views. Charles Xavier's X-Men who want a harmonious world where humans and mutants co-exist and Magneto's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants who want to destroy the human race which continues to persevere them.
Magneto was born in Germany to Jewish parents and suffered persecution at the hands of the Nazis. He was captured many times by the Nazis and, following the Nazis murder of his mother, father and sister, he was imprisoned in Auschwitz. After the war, he fled Germany with his childhood sweetheart Magda but tragedy was not far away. A mob burned down Magda and Magneto's house with his daughter trapped inside. The same mob stopped Magneto from even trying to save his daughter. It was at this time that Magneto's powers manipulated them and he took revenge on the mob, destroying them all and half the city in the process. Magda was appalled by Magneto's power and fled, leaving him heartbroken. The surviving inmates threaten to kill Magneto and chased him out of town. It was at this time that Magneto first met Charles Xavier and they spent many hours debating whether mutant powers should have used the good of humanity or to destroy it. They never saw eye-to-eye on this subject and went their separate ways, only to be reunited in a battle over the same argument.
In the early X-Men comics it seemed easy to pick the X-Men as the side of good but when you begin to empathize with Magneto's life, you begin to understand his point of view. It was the persecution by the human race that led to the murder of his parents, sister and daughter. It was their bigotry that led to his exile and the loss of the love of his life. I'm sure that a really great man would take all of this in their stride and forgive their employers but, for the rest of us, I suspect that when the opportunity to wreak revenge on our users presented itself then the temptation to exact that revenge would be too great. It is this very human fallacy that makes Magneto stand out from many other Marvel villains. Of course, we know what he is doing is wrong but there is a part of us that thinks "I do not blame you".