The Multiverse of Madness Gave Scarlet Witch the History She Can’t Escape

A possessed Scarlet Witch holds the Avengers Captain America, Ms. Marvel, Falcon, Quicksilver, and the Wasp captive on the cover of Avengers #187.

How sanity is the Scarlet Witch, if not persevering tropes?
Picture: John Byrne, Terry Austin and Gaspar Saladino/Marvel Comics

In a medium where long-lived superhero characters have roller-coaster ups and downs over the course of their careers, few have experienced downs like the scarlet witch. Even ascendant as part of the avant-garde in the The Fourth Phase of Marvel Movieversehis last appearance in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness disappointingly proves that, just like in the comics, putting Wanda on the altar of insanity is a trope her creators just don’t seem to want to avoid.

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The surprise “twist” of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness– insofar as one can really have a twist 20 minutes into a movie that’s still two hours beyond that – it’s that Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff isn’t the vengeful ally that Stephen Strange thinks he has when America Chavez multiversally lands on his proverbial doorstep. Instead, Wanda is truly the villain of the room, corrupted both by the Darkhold’s use of dark magic and by her own mental trauma, anguished over the loss of the sons she had imagined in the town of Westview, New Jersey – products themselves created by Wanda’s newfound grief over the loss of the man she loved, the synthezoid Vision.

Suffice to say, the reaction to his place as the MCU’s latest villain has been… mixed, to say the least. After Wanda Vision presented his grief as both destructive and yet somewhat understandable – insofar as one can understand a reality-distorting witch dominating an entire town of people against their will so that she can play the housewife of the 1950s –Multiverse of Madness catapults Wanda into a gruesome status quo villain, a casual killer, and a relentless, unstoppable force that’s willing to do anything to the chance to get her children back. The madness of the film’s title is less about the cross-reality journey that Doctor Strange and his allies undertake to try to stop him, but about Wanda herself, driven to this unknown and terrible place, still presented as an unbalanced and demented evil. until the time comes for her to realize the extent of what she has done in her madness and to be punished for it through self-sacrifice rather than rehabilitation.

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Screenshot: marvel studios

Taking on one of the most powerful, important and beloved female figures in the MCU around at this point and turning her heel annoys, especially following a (not entirely flawless) attempt at a wiser twist on Wanda’s heartbreak in Wanda Vision. But it’s not just because she’s a fallen hero who’s been given the “heroine can’t handle the power, goes crazy in the process” trope storyline, but because she’s a trope that defined and influenced the Scarlet Witch for years, long before her premiere was adapted into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Well, first of all, it’s true who the comic book version of the character is and what she does in the comics,” Multiverse of Madness and Loki writer Michel Waldron said of the decision to cast Wanda as the film’s big bad in an interview with rolling stone this week. “It was always where Wanda was headed in the MCU, even though I inherited the movie. The question just became, when would that happen?

This seeming inevitability that Waldron believes – that Wanda Maximoff must simply become this corrupt, insane evil – is a shadow that has dogged the character through decades of her comic book history, and has now been introduced into the MCU as well. From the time she was captivated by Cthon and the powers of the Darkhold at Mount Wundagore (which Multiverse of Madness himself is inspired) in the pages of avengers #187, to the infamous “No More Mutants” from House of M– and that complex mutant legacy that lingered beyond, only recently beginning to heal in the pages of Magneto Testtime and time again, Wanda’s story has turned into a dark power within her, or within her reach, that transforms her not just into something wicked, but into a woman driven mad by her inability to do so. control. And, more often than not, this was accompanied by forcing the character to cope with the trauma to lose her children Billy and Tommy, and her husband the Vision.

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Picture: John Byrne, Paul Ryan, Bill Oakley and Bob Sharen/Marvel Comics

We really see it for the first time in “Darker than Scarlet”, in the pages of the 1990s west coast avengers #56, when Wanda, corrupted into an evil version of herself by her father Magneto, vehemently lashes out at her former allies for the loss of her family – it’s telling that the issue opens up with the capture by Agatha Harkness, US Agent, Wasp, and Wonder Man all reflect on Wanda having gone mad with her grief, and even more so that this is the story where we first learn that Wanda’s hex powers don’t do not alter probability, but distort reality itself. Time and time again, the connection between the extent of Wanda’s superpower and her apparent lack of willpower to control it is drawn throughout the lowest moments of her life in the comics, perpetually forced to re-face trauma. of the loss of Billy and Tommy. This sadly happens decades later in 2004 disassembled avengerswith Agatha Harkness’ an equally nefarious way of keeping Wanda docile—by erasing her memory of her children—collapses, and Wanda seemingly, simply, can’t help but mentally unravel and turn to evil again.

And then, of course, there is the most famous of all, House of M just a year later, when Wanda awakens in response to the assembled X-Men and Avengers seeking to stop her destructive madness, and twists all of reality to create an idealized world where she has always had her children by her side. Although outwardly here, Wanda acts less on a wicked impulse than she is an overwhelming plot, House of M always ends with one of his most horrible acts in the comics, the near-extermination of the mutant race when itpowers all but about 200 species – a darkness that is only just beginning to be addressed in the Krakoan’s current era of X-comics. And even then, Wanda (who, thanks to cinematic ambition-induced retcons, is no longer a mutant these days) had until Magneto Test been seen as a metaphysical boogeywoman for the resurgent mutant genre, the “great pretender” who tried to bring down her kind.

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Picture: Joe Quesada/Marvel Comics

Wanda’s seeming capacity for power and evil has gone hand in hand across generations of storylines for the character, time and time again reducing one of the most important female Avengers in the team’s entire existence to a deranged being to confront and control, lest his powers harm more than they help. And now with Multiverse of Madness, the MCU turned to that same well with its own version of Wanda Maximoff. But did he really need it? Was it necessary when Wanda Vision before him, by engaging with this idea herself, managed to present a scarlet witch who was, at the very least, more naturally sympathetic instead of the bloodthirsty villain we face in Multiverse of Madness?

Time will tell us how much the MCU is looking at the Scarlet Witch going forward, even though Multiverse of Madness ends his arc with an apparent sacrifice, death (apparent or otherwise) is rarely permanent in the world of superhero movies. But as the MCU tries to push Wanda down the path to rehabilitation, one question will always linger for fans of her as a character: Does it really always have to be that way?


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