Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch and Her Parallels To The Real World
There are very few Marvel characters, or any comic book characters for that matter, who are as powerful as Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch. She is one of a couple of Nexus beings who can change the course of time and space without so much as breaking a sweat. She is one of a couple of beings who can erase other beings from existence. And she’s one of a couple of beings who makes the Gods quiver with fear. Wanda is, for lack of a better description, the definition of power.
But it wasn’t always this way.
When Wanda first appeared, she was nothing more than a mutant who could cast hex spells. This meant that she was capable of changing the probability of things happening. How she did it was kept a mystery and as such, she never garnered the interest of readers in the same way that she does now.
Even though she’s a great character, her sudden surge in popularity is a result of her various appearances in television and movies. Since she debuted in Avengers Age of Ultron, she has transformed from a misunderstood and obscure character into a well-known household name. Her increased popularity has resulted in her receiving the first of many Marvel Studios television shows and co-starring in the Doctor Strange sequel movie.
Wanda was created at a time where superheroes and supervillains were pushing themselves back into the hands of children. The 1960s was arguably the most pivotal decade for comic books in the 20th Century. Before it, comic book superheroes were cast aside for western, horror, and romance books. Children of the 1950s weren’t interested in superhero vs supervillain stories. They didn’t care if their once-favorite super-powered heroes saved the world from certain doom. They cared about the Wild West, love, and gore. Superhero books, which came in like a lion during the 1940s, came out like a lamb in the 1950s. For over a decade, the superhero genre scrambled to stay alive. Thankfully, in the 1960s a couple of pioneers couldn’t and wouldn’t accept this fate.
Martin Goodman was in control of the once Timely, now Marvel Comics during the 1960s. Sensing that superhero comics might once again be profitable, he asked the unknown Stanley Lieber to create a book to test the market. Leiber (eventually Stan Lee) accepted and created a book of superheroes that nobody had ever seen before. With the Fantastic Four, he created a team of superheroes who were also a family. Their leader, Reed Richards, was the husband to fellow teammate Susan Storm and she was the sister to Johnny Storm. In addition, Reed was also the longtime best friend of the final member, Benjamin Grimm.
The book was a hit with the readers but not for the reasons you might be thinking. Sure, it focused on a group of super-powered individuals who used their power for the betterment of society. That, however, wasn’t what made it work. What made it work was that it was very relatable to the reader. It was a book about a family trying to be a family all-the-while struggling to be superheroes. Even though being a superhero wasn’t something that readers could relate to, the family was.
The Fantastic Four argued just families argue. They paid bills, bought groceries, cooked meals, cleaned the house, and more. The Fantastic Four showed that being a superhero doesn’t necessarily mean escaping the everyday challenges of life.
With a hit on their hands, Goodman ordered Lieber to create more real world based superheroes…so he did.
The X-Men, more than any other team of superheroes, challenged the reader to look around them. Because the book was heavily influenced by the discriminatory culture that plagued the 1960s, the X-Men made readers second guess their own thoughts.
At the center of the X-Men was the world’s foremost telepath, Charles Xavier. Xavier had a dream that mutants (those born with the ‘X’ gene which granted special abilities) and humans could live in harmony. He believed that all people, no matter their background, should be accepting of one another. While theoretically a good idea, there were those who thought differently.
Humans, for example, tend to fear that which they don’t understand. As beings who possessed genes that granted special abilities, the X-Men were something humans didn’t understand. Because of this, humans hated and acted violently against mutants…no different than the racism that’s still around today. This interaction has resulted in some of the best comic book stories ever written.
But humans weren’t the only ones who thought differently. There were also fellow mutants who challenged Xavier’s dream. At the center of these mutants was Magneto. Magneto believed that the only way that mutants and humans could live in harmony was if mutants controlled humans. He believed in mutant superiority.
Although Magneto is one of the most powerful mutants alive, his first encounter with the X-Men (X-Men issue 1) didn’t go so well. At the end of it, it was Charles Xavier and his team of teenagers standing tall while Magneto fled. By issue 4, Magneto made his return to the title. This time, however, he wasn’t alone. Magneto recruited the help of Toad, Mastermind, and two other obscure characters. Those characters were named Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.
Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, or Pietro and Wanda Maximoff added a certain flair to Magneto’s team. Not only were they brother and sister (a Fantastic Four influence), but their powers were unlike anything seen in Marvel Comics to date. As his name implies, Quicksilver was able to move at speeds undetectable to the human eye, and Scarlet Witch, well, was able to alter the probability of the world around her.
If you’re thinking that Quicksilver was Marvel’s answer to DC’s The Flash, you’re right. Both are Speedsters and both are the best at what they do. Scarlet Witch, however, was different. What she could do was something not seen in comics before. Even with Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch at his side, Magneto and his now named Brotherhood of Evil Mutants fared no better against the X-Men.
Introducing new characters was risky. It could’ve easily been seen as a gimmicky marketing ploy by Marvel. Thankfully, it wasn’t. More than Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch showcased just how creative Marvel could be.
But before we get to that…
The origin and history of Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch is one of the most confusing and convoluted in all of comic books.
Scarlet Witch first appeared in X-Men #4 back in March of 1964. Although the reader didn’t know it at the time, they had just been introduced to one of the most powerful characters ever created.
The ending of X-Men #4 left readers wondering two things. First, why did Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver join Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants? Second, where did they come from? Unfortunately, those two questions took years to be answered and those answers only led to more questions.
The origin and history of Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch have changed over the years. When first told, she and her brother Quicksilver were the offspring of a gypsy named Magda and a man named Max. Unbeknownst to the children, Max was actually Magneto. Unwilling to put up with Max’s volatility, Magda fled with the unborn children for Wundagore Mountain. When she left him, Max wasn’t aware of her pregnancy.
Once on Wundagore Mountain, Magda was helped and attended to by a half-human and half-bovine creature named Bova. Shortly after their birth, Magda abandoned them and left the two in the care of Bova. Realizing that the children must be raised by their own kind, Bova took them to a nearby village. Once there, she asked a couple (Django and Marya Maximoff) if they would be able to raise the children as their own. They said yes and Wanda and Pietro took the surname Maximoff.
Mutants (which is what the twins were) appear and act as humans. Typically, once they reach puberty, the ‘X’ gene responsible for their dormant abilities is triggered and they mutate. The result of the mutation isn’t always gifts and abilities. Sometimes, as in the case of Nightcrawler, Mystique, and most of the Morlocks, the mutation causes a physical transformation as well as a given ability. Even though it would be ideal to predict the precise moment the mutation happens, it’s often not the case. Wanda’s mutation happened in and around the time a woman from her village found herself in danger. She, rather than letting the woman die, used her power to save the woman’s life.
This is very important. Remember, I stated that humans often fear that which they don’t understand. Mutation is something they don’t understand. Human’s fear of mutation is the foundation on which the X-Men book was built on.
Even though Wanda saved the woman’s life, the villagers became afraid of her. As a result, they formed a mob and ran her and her brother out of town. While on the run, Magneto (still unaware that he had children) appeared and put a stop to the mob from harming the twins. This small act caused Wanda and Pietro to feel they owed a debt to Magneto. This debt became the basis for their joining his Brotherhood.
As with almost all comic book stories, their origin has been retconned over the years. Although Marvel hasn’t come out and admitted their reasoning for this, many, myself included, believe it to be a reaction to Fox casting Quicksilver in their x-Men movie franchise.
In 2016, writer James Robinson rewrote the history of Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch in a new and exciting way. At the center of this story was the notion that Wanda was not a mutant. Instead, she and her brother were born with innate abilities. Shortly after their birth, the two were kidnapped by the High Evolutionary who then strengthened their power. As the story unfolded, we learned that Wanda had come from a long line of witches and warlocks.
The High Evolutionary, for reference, is a human geneticist. Through his own evolution, he has become as intelligent as many cosmic entities in the Marvel Universe. He’s a leading mind in biology, physics, medicine, chemistry, computer science, psychology, cybernetics, and engineering. Similar to Mr. Sinister, he has a love for human experimentation.
As a result of the High Evolutionary’s experimentation, the already powerful Wanda Maximoff was transformed into a homing beacon for mystical energy throughout the Marvel Universe. Wanda’s power was so great that she was now a Nexus Being.
Nexus Beings are extremely rare beings in the Marvel Multiverse. So rare, in fact, that only one exists in, and two cannot take form in the same reality. Each Nexus Being is viewed as the mystical cornerstone of their reality and the entirety of the Multiverse is held together through them. Their power allows them to alter time and space itself. Because they’re so powerful, they’re watched over by some of the most powerful cosmic entities in existence.
Once the experimentation was complete, Django and Marya Maximoff took the twins. It was later revealed that the Maximoff’s were the sister and brother-in-law of Natalya, who was the birth mother of the twins. Furthermore, Natalya was the Scarlet Witch before Wanda and she had died attempting to save the twins from the High Evolutionary.
Robinson then explained that although red was traditionally thought of as bad luck by the Romani culture (ethnic background of Wanda and Pietro), the witches and warlocks embraced it. They did this so as to change the perception of the color. Whereas red was considered bad luck for any who wore it, the witches and warlocks made it that red was bad luck for any who challenged it.
This seemingly small change ushered in a new era for Wanda.
Wanda, who, up to this point, was unsure of herself, suddenly became very sure of herself. The color red brought about confidence, pride, and an incredible amount of power. This, more than any other symbol in the history of Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch, is the symbol that changed Wanda’s character for the better.
And then, there’s chaos magic…
“I’ve often heard the spells I cast referred to as chaos magic…but in actual fact, they’re far from ‘chaotic’ – – their power and intensity are linked to the energy of the Earth and Womankind – – revered by ancient pagan faiths – – feared by men.”
Wanda’s powers have dramatically changed over the years. When we first met her, she was able to change the probability of events around her. It wasn’t explained how or why this happened. Instead, it forced the reader to simply accept it. As Wanda’s power inexplicably grew, writers scrambled to explain why. That is, until the Elder God, Chthon was brought into the mix.
When Wanda was just an infant, Chthon, the God of Chaos, sensed her presence. Feeling that she could be a host for his return to reality, he attempted to take over her body. This didn’t work as he hoped. As a consequence of his failed attempt, some of his power was left inside her. His transfusion went unnoticed for years. Finally, Agatha Harkness learned of it and took Wanda under her watch. With Agatha, Wanda became one of the most gifted spell-casters in Marvel.
You might be asking yourself why, with the addition of Chthon’s chaos magic, is Scarlet Witch considered one of the most powerful beings in Marvel? The answer is surprisingly simple. A wielder of chaos magic has the ability to rewrite the world around them. It’s often considered the most powerful form of magic in the Marvel Universe. What makes it so special is that very few beings are capable of using it. With it, Wanda is able to bend reality and not actually be aware she’s doing it…and that’s a scary thought.
Look no further than her children, Billy and Thomas.
Billy and Thomas were brought into existence only after Wanda and Vision married. Longing for a life of normalcy, Wanda unknowingly created the two boys from a sliver of Mephisto’s soul. Although she believed them to be real, the boys ceased to exist when Wanda wasn’t around. This meant that the two only existed when Wanda was thinking about them. Fearful for what could happen should she realize that the boys didn’t actually exist, Agatha Harkness cast a spell on her. The spell temporarily made Wanda forget about her children. Unfortunately, years later the boys (now Wiccan and Speed) were reintroduced as members of the Young Avengers. Their reintroduction triggered Wanda’s memories and sent her down a terrible path of destruction.
This path of destruction is what makes her such a great character.
Wanda’s frailty is a reminder that even the most powerful heroes have their breaking points. Superheroes are supposed to be infallible. They are supposed to strong. And they’re supposed to be without flaw. Wanda proves all of these wrong and does it in a way that makes the reader sympathize with her. As she:
- Created imaginary children
- Altered reality and created a world where Magneto ruled
- Reset the mutant population from millions to 198
- Destroyed Namor and Atlantis
we, the reader felt pain for her. We wept when she wept and cried when she cried. If Stan Lee and Martin Goodman wanted relatability, Scarlet Witch gave it to them.
Wanda’s frailty lies in the fact that she can’t stand up for herself…a trait all too familiar with too many in the world. The entirety of her life was spent listening to others and doing as they wished. Remember, her most famous event, House of M, happened because Quicksilver told her to make it happen. Wanda did what others wanted her to do because she was too afraid and emotionally weak to stand up for herself.
Sadly, this is an all too common theme in the real world.
Just as Wanda struggles, so too, do many people reading her stories.
And the list goes on.
Although the struggle is real, the history of Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch shows that even the worst situation can be overcome with the right help and a willingness to take action. For Wanda, it was the realization that she came from a long line of witches and warlocks. For Wanda, it was the acceptance and use of the color red. And for Wanda, it was the willingness to not let others make decisions for her.
Wanda: “The way you talked to me – – If you weren’t my brother, I’d kick you off the balcony. I’ve let you treat me like an idiot for too long now. There was a time where I was shy and young, sure. I was nervous of my powers – – our powers – – and how we’d fare in the world.
Pietro: “You know…I miss the little girl you used to be. The meek little follower.
Wanda: “Well, she’s gone and never coming back… Now. You can leave of your own volition…or I can throw you off the balcony…
Pietro: “I’m sorry Wanda.”
Wanda: “For what? Almost killing me just now? Or for everything you’ve ever done to me?”
This simple set of exchanges show Wanda’s growth in a way that’s never been shown before. She’s no longer dependent on the wishes of others, nor does she require their approval before taking action. They show that she has learned to trust only those who have her best interests at heart…and the list of those individuals is very short.
Robinson cleverly creates a story that allows Wanda to come to terms with who she is. While she references her past troubles (mental health and instability), she refuses to let them control her. Through his words, she steps into her own and begins to understand that her silence is not ok. Instead of allowing it (her past) to continue to defeat her, she uses her culture and the history of Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch as a source of inspiration and strength. This is something that we all can do.
Jeffrey Holland famously said, “The past is to be learned from but not lived in.”
Wanda epitomizes this quote. She has learned to take what’s given to her and not allow it to hold her back. Where the history of Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch differs from many other hero histories is that hers is filled with finding herself and learning what it means to be unique.
As I do with all of these in-depth articles, I’m going to leave you with this. Comic books are the gateway to understanding the world just a little bit better. So, may they be around forever.
What do you think? Is the history of Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch a fair one? Do you believe that the history of Wanda Maximoff, Scarlet Witch is equal to, let’s say, the history of Magneto?