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If the cinematic version of Marvel’s Scarlet Witch introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron ends up with a life as filled with epic emotions, calamitous events and multiple nervous breakdowns as her comic book counterpart, then Elizabeth Olsen should probably start preparing as soon as possible. Because if Wanda Maximoff’s history on the page is anything to go by, she’s in for one of the most difficult roles of her career.
For a character best known as an Avenger, it might be surprising that the Scarlet Witch’s first appearance came in 1964’s X-Men No. 4, where she showed up as a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants beside her brother, Quicksilver (Pietro Maximoff). Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Scarlet Witch was a reluctant femme fatale, if also an entirely generic one; not only did her personality lack definition, so did her powers. She was, as her name suggested, a witch with “hex powers” that could do whatever the plot demanded of them — something that would have made her a true threat had the plots not also demanded that the good guys win at the end of each story.
A little over a year after her debut, the Scarlet Witch changed sides and sought asylum with the Avengers, joining the team in 1965’s Avengers No. 16 (again, accompanied by her brother). The move to another series — and to leading lady status — opened up new avenues for Wanda; when writer Roy Thomas took over the writing of the Avengers series, he decided that a romance would give her some much-needed character development, and placed her into a relationship with the Vision that would not only power much of Avengers‘ soap operatics for years to come, but also define the character for the next few decades.
Indeed, before too long the Vision and the Scarlet Witch were inseparable. They married in Giant-Size Avengers No. 4 in 1975, and co-starred in two series titled The Vision & The Scarlet Witch in 1982 and 1985, where they explored wedded bliss and started a family in between dealing with threats from their expanded family — which included not only the homicidal robot Ultron and xenophobic Quicksilver, but also a villain with the subtle name “Grim Reaper,” none of whom supported the union of a human and a robot — and beyond.
That marriage came to an end in 1989, when writer and artist John Byrne took over the West Coast Avengers series, which at the time starred both Wanda and the Vision. In his first storyline on the series, he rebooted the Vision into an emotionless android who no longer loved his wife, and things continued to get worse for the character throughout his short tenure on the book: Wanda was subsequently brainwashed into attacking the Avengers, told that her children were not only magical constructs but actually parts of a demon’s soul, and then manipulated by a time-traveling villain into temporarily reclaiming her supervillain role once again.
For the next decade, the Scarlet Witch — now separated from her husband, but romancing Simon Williams, the man whose brain patterns formed the basis of the Vision’s artificial intelligence — remained with the Avengers in one form or another, before the events of the 2004 storyline Avengers Disassembled changed everything for good… or, at least, so it seemed at the time.
Avengers Disassembled, and the subsequent event 1005 series House of M, were both storylines built from the retconned idea that Wanda’s “hex power” was actually a form of reality manipulation that wasn’t entirely under her conscious control. In the case of Disassembled, that meant that subconscious trauma from years earlier had resulted in her creating a scenario that almost killed the Avengers, with House of M taking that a stage further: she literally rewrote history and created a world in which mutants were the dominant life form, and humans the ones looked down upon and hated. When “reality” reasserted itself, Wanda depowered the majority of Earth’s mutant population and disappeared, not to be rediscovered until 2010.
That year saw the launch of Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, a miniseries by television writer Allan Heinberg and artist Jim Cheung that revolved around attempting to restore the Scarlet Witch to a heroic position, and in the process, return her to having some agency as an independent character beyond being manipulated by others. The plot revolved around Wanda being discovered as an amnesiac in Eastern Europe by two teenage superheroes who were, in fact, resurrected versions of her children who had survived due to magical thinking best left unexplored at this time. Although she had become involved with Fantastic Four villain Dr. Doom during her absence, her return allowed her the chance to triumph over one of Marvel’s greatest villains and cement her place as a superhero once more.
The theme of Wanda re-emerging as a vital force for good continued in the 2012 crossover event Avengers vs. X-Men, in which Wanda proved to be pivotal to saving the world against the threat of cosmically-powered X-Men intent on despotic rule. Her success there led to her being one of the leads of Uncanny Avengers, the flagship book of the publisher’s 2012 line-wide relaunch “Marvel Now.” After many years in the wilderness — or, at least, the unexplored, undeveloped back benches of the Avengers roster — the Scarlet Witch was taking center stage at last.
While it’s unlikely that the cinematic Scarlet Witch will have quite as dramatic an existence as her comic book predecessor — if nothing else, imagine the number of movies necessary to adapt all of the above — it’s likely that at least some of her four-color misadventures will make it to screen. After all, Olsen has already said that the House of M storyline is her favorite Scarlet Witch story. Maybe 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War can work a little reality-warping in somewhere along the way…
Avengers: Age of Ultron is in theaters now.
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival