The Scarlet Witch has been a controversial figure in comics since House of M. The MCU version has seen a smaller-scale rise to infamy with her actions in both Captain America: Civil War and WandaVision. But is she as bad as some people seem to think?
Some Context, For Those Who Need It
Scarlet Witch aka Wanda Maximoff was introduced alongside her twin brother Quicksilver aka Pietro Maximoff as reluctant members of the very first incarnation of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants introduced in X-Men #4 in 1964. Magneto rescued the siblings when people in a fictional eastern European village called Transia wanted to burn Wanda as a witch when her then-mutant power (later retconned to not being mutant power, but legitimate witch power from the start, thus making the village correctly want to burn a witch, but I digress) activated and scared the villagers. Feeling indebted to Magneto, they agreed when he asked them to join his Brotherhood.
This is all to say that from the very beginning, even if out of duty, Wanda was introduced out the gate with a villainous past, one which would be counted against her from time to time even when she became a legitimate hero. Wanda and Pietro left the Brotherhood after a short time among them and joined the Avengers under Captain America. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and a then-recently-villainous Hawkeye had all been very questionable additions to the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes but were vouched for and under the direct supervision of golden hero Cap. This would most assuredly rehabilitate the reputations of all three former villains and most people would see them as heroes and Avengers first and foremost, but Wanda and Pietro would also be the token mutants (pre-retcon) who would need to stay on the beaten path or else mutant-kind could be painted in the worst possible light. Hence we get into…
Wanda’s Children, Their Deaths, and The Avengers Hiding It From Her
Perhaps the main thing to know about Scarlet Witch is that she has suffered greatly in both the MCU and the comics. But here we will continue discussing the comics version. Wanda has always been strange. She was seemingly a normal mutant with strange probability-altering powers, who later learned real magic from the witch Agatha Harkness, revealing Wanda had a talent for chaos magic. It only made sense that the great love of her life would be the synthozoid (a very human-like android) Avenger known as Vision, a being of pure order (many call Wanda and Vision’s love the ultimate union between chaos and order). The two married, but as he is not a biological being, it was scientifically impossible for the couple to conceive a child. But the whole deal of the Scarlet Witch and her powers, even back then, was to make the impossible possible. Using her hex powers, Wanda made herself pregnant with two healthy twin boys.
Unfortunately, happiness for the family would not last. It was later revealed that as Wanda could not create life from nothingness, she had inadvertently taken fragments of wayward souls to then be created into her children. The seeming owner of those souls is the sorcerer known as Master Pandemonium who reclaimed the boys as fragments of his soul. It was later revealed that the souls were fragmented portions of the essence of Mephisto, Marvel Comics’ answer to the devil. Mephisto had led Master Pandemonium to believe the fragments were his own so that Mephisto would save the trouble of getting them himself as he was fractured and didn’t want to expend the energy. Long story short, Wanda’s twins were reabsorbed as if they never existed, and Wanda couldn’t cope. Her mentor, the witch Agatha Harkness, cast a spell to erase Wanda’s memory of the children and warned the Avengers not to mention the children to her ever again, to which they agreed. The Avengers at some point before or after this also allowed a horrible thing to happen to Carol Danvers in Avengers #200 which has since been retconned (trigger warning for SA if looking into that storyline), so they allowed Wanda to live life not knowing she’d given birth to and subsequently lost children was not out of the realm of possibility for them.
Avengers: Disassembled and House of M
During the events of Avengers: Disassembled a tipsy Wasp (Janet Van Dyne) accidentally told Wanda about her children, restoring her memories. She was furious that her friends and teammates let her children die and let Agatha tamper with her memories of them, and so she killed Harkness and secretly plotted devastating attacks against them with simulated enemies that led to the deaths of Vision, Hawkeye, and Scott Lang the Ant-Man (it is later revealed he had been saved, teleported away by a future Scarlet Witch). It was Doctor Strange who intervened and put Wanda in a coma to stop the threat just as she was revealed as the culprit of the attacks. It was here that Doctor Strange declares that chaos magic does not exist and that Wanda’s powers had merely grown to reality warping.
While Wanda was comatose the Avengers had a meeting with several other Marvel heroes including the X-Men to decide the fate of Wanda and what should be done about a threat of her caliber. Several Avengers, though angered at her actions, still thought of her as a friend and thought she should be helped somehow while Emma Frost of the X-Men voiced that if the public found out that a mutant had been responsible for the deaths of celebrated figures such as three Avengers that human-mutant relations would go back decades and it would be over for the mutant race as they knew it, basically saying Wanda needed to be put down. Before anything could be done, Wanda warped all of reality and created a world where mutants were the majority and the heroes got what they wanted. But when that reality came down, Wanda, angered that her father Magneto (who had been made leader of that reality) had taken his anger out of Pietro and prioritized the mutant race over his children, who were revealed to be the person who convinced Wanda to do what she did, uttered: “No more mutants” which depowered ninety-nine percent of the entire mutant population. Many mutants died as some lived in environments that relied on their mutations to survive in, others took their own lives after losing their powers, and others were maimed/disfigured/or otherwise hurt from being depowered. It was the single worst day in mutant history, and many blame Wanda in particular.
MCU Wanda, Some Context
Wanda and Pietro Maximoff were introduced in the MCU in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Wanda’s complex origin and powerset were simplified to a telepathic/telekinetic young woman who assumed Stark weaponry was responsible for the bombing of her village of Sokovia (apparently the MCU equivalent of Transia), killing her parents. Wanda and a much slower-paced Pietro (he was killed by gunfire, of all things) became radicals, protesting Stark Industries and later joining HYDRA to oppose Tony himself and the Avengers where they seemingly got their powers. Powered by the Mind Infinity gem (yes, I refuse to call them stones, they’re infinity gems), Wanda got souped-up Jean Grey powers which admittedly looked cooler than anything Jean’s done in live-action, but were Jean nevertheless. She also went by her civilian name and wore a minidress as Jean has. Keep in mind Joss Whedon, the writer-director for the film was also a massive X-Men fan and a fan of the Dark Phoenix saga, so the similarities are far from coincidental.
But getting back to the subject at hand, Wanda, like in the comics, began as a villain in the MCU and decided to join the Avengers partway through her film debut. Her life had already been marked with tragedy when she lost her parents but also lost her brother in the middle of their first foray into heroism. Later falling in love with the MCU version of Vision, she lost him as well when she had to kill him to save the universe, only for her sacrifice to be undone and being forced to witness an even more brutal death for him before she herself was killed along with half the universe.
Westview and MCU Wanda’s Version of the House of M
Wanda had been revived via time travel and a new infinity gauntlet along with the rest of the half of the universe that had been snapped away by Thanos. After she almost killed him by herself in battle, even before finally learning of her magical roots, Wanda would attend the funeral of Iron Man and later search for Vision’s body. During this time none of her so-called friends never thought to check on her or even recover Vision’s body made of priceless resources (also, you know, the body of a fallen friend). Wanda found where he was held, discovered there was no essence left in the lifeless husk, and left. In her grief, she unleashed her power in an empty lot for a house Vision had bought for them premortem that they would build. Wanda was able to create a house from nothingness as well as recreate Vision himself, also inadvertently taking over the surrounding town to create an idealized world for her to live out an idealized sitcom life with Vision and their eventual family. When Wanda was a child she watched American sitcoms with her family on DVD as a respite from their otherwise humdrum and stressful lives.
During this situation, Wanda unwittingly attracted the attention of a powerful witch named Agatha Harkness who wanted to know what witch could unleash such power without any real spells or even basic knowledge of witchcraft or magic. Agatha posed as Wanda’s friend and neighbor Agnes and did a bunch of underhanded things to try and provoke a magical response from Wanda and learn more about her magic, later deducing that her power is a nigh-unlimited form called chaos magic, even greater than that of the sorcerer supreme’s. Agatha reveals herself to Wanda as a witch, teaches her some basic witchcraft principles which later prove her undoing, and travels with Wanda into her memories to reveal that Wanda was born a witch who might have unwittingly cast a probability hex (a nice callback to her comic version’s original powers) to disarm the missile that landed into her family’s apartment as she and Pietro hid under their bed and they waited days for it to ignite but it never did. The mind gem had merely awoken what might have died out inside, for not all witches have their power to grow and mature, many have their magical potential die if unnurtured or cultivated. Wanda finds herself as a magical being, a witch, and the Scarlet Witch, but she also knows that she had enslaved and mind-controlled an entire town. She had to free the town and undo her hex, and in the process lost her husband and children, thus experiencing loss once again.
But Is She Bad, Or Nah?
Many feel that Wanda more so than Tony is responsible for the creation of Ultron. She planted the vision in his mind of the dead Avengers and a quickly dying Cap telling him he did not do more. So Tony decided to do more and created a global sect of Iron Man armor to patrol the world, controlled by a new A.I. called Ultron that would run them. Ultron gained sentience and the rest was history. However, Wanda had no idea that Ultron would threaten the entire planet, she just assumed he might take out Tony, the man she assumed had bombed her village and killed her parents. Once she learned of Ultron’s true plan, she and her brother joined the heroes. And while Tony may not have personally bombed anything, he was a weapons dealer and the existence of that missile as well as other weapons is his fault.
While training under Cap, Crossbones tried to explode himself to kill Cap and several civilians on the ground. Wanda encased him in a telekinetic bubble and tried to move him into the air to let him explode away from people safely. As she rose him up she couldn’t hold the explosion and it took out the upper floors of an occupied building, killing civilians. Some fans blame her for this action as well. But clearly, the girl was horrified and distraught. And what was she supposed to do? If she did nothing, everyone on the ground would have died too, including many of these same fans’ favs such as Cap or Black Widow. It was an impossible situation no one could have anticipated or properly prepared for, and Wanda was the only one with the power present to do anything about such a high-stakes situation with no time to deliberate. It was the only thing she could do with the power at her disposal at the time. The fact of the matter was that Crossbones should bear any blame for the bombing, but people like to have someone alive to blame and pass judgment on.
What Wanda Haters Love To Overlook in the Comics and MCU
Wanda Maximoff in both the comics and the MCU is a figure marked by tragedy and mental illness. While even mental illness could never completely excuse or erase unethical or, yes, evil acts, many haters of the Scarlet Witch act like the woman just wanted to watch the world burn. In the comics, she wanted to punish her friends, rightfully so, for letting her children die (no matter how or where they came from, they were her children), and for allowing her mind be tampered with rather than letting the woman properly grieve. The thing about grief is that even if it is suppressed, it still affects people in ways that can’t be anticipated even if one does not fully understand why. People can be hurt even if they have amnesia and can’t remember the details as to why something affects them. The Avengers just wanted to have Wanda be useful to them and go on business as usual instead of accepting that allowing her to grieve might very well mean she might not be of any use to them anymore or want to hang out with them. While murder was a bit much, she deserved retribution from all responsible parties in other ways. As for House of M, it was established that Pietro was the actual mastermind of the reality shift and it was Magneto’s temporarily brutally killing him (which was instantly undone by Wanda) that was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to her speaking those infamous words and undoing the majority of mutant-kind.
But a few things here must also be recognized: as Wanda is going off on Magneto, she says he only loves mutants and then calls them and herself (again, pre-retcon when she was also a mutant) freaks. One can read this as a self-loathing of the coon-ish variety but with mutants instead of Black people. But one might also remember that Wanda and Pietro, and then mostly Wanda by herself once Pietro left the team, were token mutants on a world-famous team of superheroes in a mostly anti-mutant world. There had even been some people in the story who seemed unaware Wanda was even a mutant at all, which suited the Avengers and Wanda fine. And those who knew Wanda was a mutant tolerated her because she was an Avenger, one of Earth’s Mightiest and surely someone worthy enough to be a part of their ranks isn’t all bad, right? It is quite likely that Wanda had developed a complicated relationship with her (assumed) mutant status, coupled with the fact that her (assumed) father was also Magneto, a known frequent mutant villain and terrorist.
We must also remember that Wanda had said no more mutants. Not “mostly less” mutants. So why did her spell fail to depower all mutants instead of the majority of them? To my knowledge, no storyline explored why this was, but it is possible that Wanda’s intentions were not to truly end the entire mutant race in a way that they would die. In real life the reason is obvious, we still needed most of the key X-Men characters to retain their powers so we could keep having X-Men adventures, sure enough, many X-Men members and related characters who were thought to, or, indeed, be depowered got their powers back somehow later on.
In the MCU, Wanda had lost her parents at a very young and tender age, lost her brother, her only remaining family the moment she joined forces with the man she grew up hating, and never got any counseling or therapy for any of that before she was being trained to be a part of a new team. Then she found solace, the only solace in her strange synthozoid teammate with whom she fell in love and had to watch die, twice, and once by her hand! Then she was robbed of her rightful chance of vengeance when the purple villain cheated to survive. Finally, everyone was so absorbed over Tony’s death that nothing and no one else was even considered. That goes for Black Widow who couldn’t even get a photo at the memorial. That goes for Wanda and everyone else who had experienced extreme loss. But no, only Pepper and Tony’s friends as well as Hawkeye with his family for the bulk of his arc in the movie (he even gets them back and couldn’t be bothered to show up for his so-called “friend” Wanda who was one of the only ones who did not get her loved one back!).
And then… Yeah, it didn’t end there. Wanda finds Vision’s mangled body being torn apart by scientists, and none of the Avengers thought to look for or claim his body and give it to Wanda for burial. Wanda then, in a fit of uncontrollable grief, brings back the love of her life and creates a slice of sitcom paradise by enslaving a town. Was it wrong? Yes. But as far as she was aware, they were in an idealized world with her and were fine until it was clear they weren’t and then she let the hex go, resulting in the loss of her love once again… as well as her children that she gave birth to, just like in the comics. So while Wanda did terrible things in both continuities, many other people played their parts. It was not all her, and others did horrible things that fans often ignore: Tony in the MCU (and possibly the comics, but I don’t know much about comics Tony) was a weapons dealer pre-Iron Man, Cap went back in time to live his best life with Peggy Carter instead of helping end Jim Crow with knowledge of the future as well as a super soldier-enhanced body (he also undid Peggy’s marriage and children as well as grandchildren with her original husband she married after losing Cap the first timeline, as well as all of her character development detailed in the Agent Carter series), Doctor Strange risked the fabric of the multiverse just to do a solid for Peter Parker’s identity and his friends’ college futures, and Widow and Hawkeye had red on their ledgers. Not to mention Tony was out here not paying his Avengers despite all those billions! Share the blame people! Wanda is not the only one doing bad things!