Sister of Quicksilver. Wife of Vision. Daughter of Magneto (or not). X-Man. Avenger. We know these facts about Wanda Maxmimoff, but really, who is Scarlet Witch? Ahead of her first-ever solo series, we sat down with writer James Robinson to discuss how he’ll explore what makes Wanda really tick.
As well as speaking with James and Marvel Editor Emily Shaw about re-imagining Scarlet Witch for her new series, we can also exclusively reveal the cover for Scarlet Witch #3, by David Aja, below —as well as the first lettered preview for the issue, written by Robinson, and with art from Vanessa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire.
io9: Wanda has been through a lot after her time in Uncanny Avengers. Where do we find her when Scarlet Witch begins, and what is she up to?
James Robinson: I, Emily [Shaw, Marvel Editor], and Marvel made the choice that, as opposed to starting the book with all that continuity—which obviously I can go add that back in as I need to—it was probably better to sort of start somewhat fresh. I think we took as part of our inspiration, Hawkeye by [Matt] Fraction and David Aja. That it’d be a good place for new readers—female readers, readers that are perhaps interested in her due to her appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron, or just readers that just wanted a fresh take.
I think one of the things that I remember saying when I was pitching this to Marvel a long time ago is that you, me, most anybody who’s somewhat conversant with comic books can tell you Tony Stark’s personality, or Wasp’s personality, or Thor’s personality. I’m sure you could probably tell me, I don’t know, Foggy Nelson’s personality! But when you go to Wanda, it’s interesting that she doesn’t really have a locked-down personality—what she has is a series of incidents that have befallen her in her life, with the Vision, the High Evolutionary, with Magneto as her father, then Magneto wasn’t her father. All of this stuff is going on, but who is she as a person? What is she like? What are her interests, does she have wit, does she have moods, etcetera, etcetera?
So that ‘s really what we’re trying to do, sort of make her into a three-dimensional person, a three-dimensional woman, and set her on a path and a different identity within the Marvel universe that is distinct to her, and isn’t a Scarlet Witch who is an Avenger, or a Scarlet Witch who is the daughter of Magneto, or even a Scarlet Witch who is the sister of Quicksilver, you know? She’s always been a supporting character in stories that were featuring her.
I think this is giving her a time to shine—she isn’t The Vision’s wife, she isn’t this character surrounded by other people, more superpowered men. She’s out trying to fix things for herself, and do her own thing. So when we first meet her, she’s bought an apartment. She isn’t in a Sanctum Santorum [Doctor Strange’s mystical home in New York] with lots of creepy corners and nooks—it’s a cool New York apartment. She’s striking out on her own. But she’s also... although I refer to it fairly vaguely so the specifics don’t bog the book down, but she’s aware of some of the things that have happened to her in the past. And there are vague references to Avengers Disassembled or Uncanny Avengers, but she wants to sort of clean up her act and make people realise that she’s a hero, and she’s someone they can trust and rely on and not somebody that they need to fear. That’s where she is at the start of the book.
Image credit: Scarlet Witch #1 preview page 1. Written by James Robinson, art by Vanessa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire.
Like you said, most readers are familiar with Wanda as a supporting character or in relationship to other Superheroes—who is Wanda to you, as a writer, going into this series?
Robinson: I mean basically, as I’m writing it I’m sort of finding her character. She’s always been somebody that hasn’t allowed herself to shine enough, and as you’ll see she’s realizing that she needs to step away from the Avengers—having that Avengers card isn’t the most important thing. She’s an independent person in her own right: she can get the job done by herself. She doesn’t need her brother [Pietro, a.k.a. Quicksilver] to protect her, she doesn’t need Iron Man’s repulsor rays to take care of things.
She can do things herself. In the first issue, she sort of finds out that witchcraft—which I’m sort of making into a specific kind of magic to differentiate it from Doctor Strange, and quite frankly to make it so that she isn’t just a hot female Doctor Strange. I was actually talking to Jason Aaron [writer on the Doctor Strange series] about this, and just giving her her own area of the magical world, where literally—or hypothetically I should stress, there’s nothing planned—but if they were to meet, there would be aspects of their adventure where only she could take care of them, things that [Doctor Strange] couldn’t touch because of the kind of magic he practices, and that’s also because he’s a man, and not a woman.
So I’m trying to give her that aspect, which it is still witchcraft, it goes hand in hand with Wicca and with the worship of women, mother Earth—magic was a very female-centric thing. Before Christianity it was respected, women were respected, and their wisdom was often a thing that drove the people around [women] for guidance and for everything else. I’m getting into history a little bit but drawing on that aspect—that she’s a strong person with a whole skillset of hexes and spells, and knowledge of magical lore taught by Agatha Harkness, who is a strong supporting character in the book. So for me, she’s this person that’s trying to show people that she’s a lot more than they ever thought she was. As the book unfolds and you see that she has this calm confidence, and a sort of dark wit that I’m trying to bring to her as well—and I’m also going to be trying to get into her Romani heritage and really exploring that.
But all of these things are aspects of her that I’m still discovering myself. So the short answer to the question that I’ve sort of rambled around is that she is someone I sort of have a handle on, but what’s fun is that I’m finding interesting aspects of her even as I write that I hadn’t thought about as I was going in. So she is ever-developing, and growing, and becoming a more interesting person, even as I write her—which I think a character should be when you’re creating [them], if they can sort of surprise you, even though you write them.
Speaking of Wanda’s background—earlier this year Uncanny Avengers revealed that she and her brother were never actually Mutants. Will you explore anything about that part of her in the series?
Robinson: I’m definitely going to be exploring her past, and her relationship with her mother, and the history of her mother, and quite honestly the history of the term “The Scarlet Witch,” and that’s stuff we’re going to learn more and more about as the book unfolds. So yes, I will obviously be getting into her Romani past, who her father is, but secondarily there is this aspect with the High Evolutionary which I may touch on down the line, but that you scratch that High Evolutionary itch, you get to Wundagore [Ed. note—where Wanda and Pietro were raised], you get to things that unfold with the Fantastic Four. It just becomes a lot of backstory.
One of the things we’re trying to do is make each issue a succinct, single issue adventure, so that we can utilize a lot of different artists. There’s a metaphor to be made with that, with artists—people can be very complex with different traits and characteristics, so there’s a nice parallel to [having multiple artists and styles], and the single-issue format really helps that. So getting into all of that backstory, I think there is a High Evolutionary/Wundagore story down the line, but I think for now we’re exploring who she is and where she is in the universe without all of that stuff being gotten into specifically. Quite frankly I’m much more interested in her Romani heritage and how that relates to witchcraft—the fact that red is a unlucky color in Romani lore, so why would a Romani girl call herself “The Scarlet Witch”? There’s all these little interesting aspects that I want to play with. So yes, we will get to the change in her status and that came about, but that’s a little bit further on.
You touched very briefly on the Scarlet Witch’s costume there—you’ve got this amazing new look for her, designed by Kevin Wada. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of that design coming together?
Robinson: The only thing I should say—this is more of an Emily question—but the only thing I would say is that the look you’ve seen, there’s actually more than that. We’ve really designed a lot of things that tie together that’s more of a Scarlet Witch wardrobe. For instance, there’s an adventure that takes place in Russia, with all the snow and everything else, I see her having a whole different look. If there’s sand, it’ll be different. Emily was aware of his work, she has a very particular eye on new talent. [Kevin] has had a very successful time doing the covers for She-Hulk, so when he was offered the chance to design Wanda’s costume, or what became this wardrobe of different looks that come together, he jumped at the chance.
The whole idea of her headdress, which was always very superhero-y, has become this sort of tiara—Emily, that was your idea, wasn’t it?
Emily Shaw: Yeah! I think there were a lot of ideas going into the initial redesign of Wanda’s costume, and one of the key elements that I really wanted to tap into was making her look very distinct from the other women who exist in the Marvel universe. Within the superhero costumes, especially for females, if you’re going for a “red spandex” look there’s only so many variations of that you can do to really make a character look distinct. What we wanted to do discussing this internally and talking with Kevin and James was leaning into Wanda’s darkly romantic side, her almost gothic side, and I think what Kevin did totally speaks to that and makes her look very different from any other female character. So designing her look was very much a part of re-casting her as her own unique, full person in the way James was just talking about.
The headdress specifically, her headdress has always been an interesting thing to me, it’s sort of a mask for her forehead. If it’s about making that headdress feel like something someone would actually wear—and we took inspiration from these sort of headpieces that have become more popular in the last couple of years—I was interested in taking something that was like a beaded piece that she could slip on over her head, and look like something someone would really wear. Kevin totally just ran with that and did something incredibly gorgeous. Like James said, he designed so many different looks for her that are just beautiful and vintage, with incredible lines that remain consistently of the same tone. So you’ll see a lot of awesome outfits coming up in the future.
The big focus of this series is Wanda being on her own—can you tell us if any other Marvel heroes appear in the series?
Robinson: Well, at present, I’m really focusing on her, so I don’t know if there will be that many other heroes. We are planning an issue that focuses on the relationship between her and her brother, but we’ll kind of have to wait on that one.
Funnily enough, the only heroes I know for sure we’ll be meeting are the Russian Super-Soldiers—which I know is an odd choice. You’d expect Captain America, or the Wasp, or someone. Oh, and there’s one story I have in mind involving S.H.I.E.L.D. and Jim Hammond, my favorite Marvel character. But really primarily we’re really focusing on her, and bringing in some new characters—new heroes, new characters that I can’t really talk about yet. But I’m very excited about the that, who they are. And also giving [Wanda] a rogue’s gallery, giving her own life and her own cast outside of the Avengers universe. So I’ve kind of worked around your question, haven’t I? The short answer is no.
I’m focusing on doing more clever—hopefully!—stories with her, and not tying it into whatever characters you might think of. Make it clean, satisfying, so that you can pick up issue two and if, for some reason, you miss [issue] three you can pick up four and enjoy that as well.
Image credit: Scarlet Witch #1 preview page 2. Written by James Robinson, art by Vanessa Del Rey and Jordie Bellaire.
You’re collaborating with a lot of different artists on each issue, and the series’ format will revolve around standalone stories so people can jump in any time. Can you tell us about some of the artists you’re working with on Scarlet Witch, and what that process has been like?
Robinson: In terms of who we’ve got, Emily should say that, but I will say this: Actually working with different artists in this way is something I have a lot of experience in from doing the “Times Past” stories in Starman, there were so many, and when I did The Shade miniseries DC a few years ago, there were six artists on that book, and I was having different time periods, different characters and all of that.
So I actually really enjoy that, when you have the artists sort of in your mind, you can shape the story around them. Each story has a slightly different feel because you know the artist is good at shadows, or has a very classic style or a very unorthodox style—so that isn’t a problem for me, and it’s actually one of the things I’m most enjoying about this book. In terms of the artists we have, Emily?
Shaw: Sure! The first couple of artists we have are Vanessa Del Rey doing our first issue, Marco Rudy is drawing our second issue, and Steve Dillon is drawing the third.
I think the really awesome thing about this series that makes it so incredibly unique is that James can completely write to these very different, equally beautiful and unique artstyles. And with every issue, [Wanda] is going to a different country, a different city, a different environment, so it really does work on a story level changing the look. There’s a lot of really cool research that James has done with each site that Wanda visits looking into into the particularly history of witchcraft in that place and looking at them through a historical lens.
We also did a kind of unique thing when we were casting the series in that, we knew people we wanted to work with, and when we were at the formative stage we just sent emails out and said “where in the world do you want to draw? What is your dream location for a story?” and tried to work with people based on what they actually wanted to do, so that makes it feel unique in its own way as well.
We’ve got a lot of things coming up in the mystical side of the Marvel universe—Doctor Strange and his movie, Wanda in Age of Ultron and Civil War, and now her own series. What’s been your favorite part of getting to explore this side of Marvel’s universe?
Robinson: Well, I mean part of it is the research, which I love to do. I really enjoy that. But I also have sort of a reputation from when I was around at DC, I was doing books that, while not necessarily within the world of Vertigo [DC’s adult-oriented comic imprint], where they were so mature, but they still had a bit of a kiss of that slightly darker, more horror-ish sort of elements in them. Even Starman, to some degree.
After I came to Marvel very happily, and did what I think was a quite successful run on Fantastic Four, I was very proud of it and my work with Leonard Kirk [Ed. note: the artist on Robinson’s Fantastic Four run]—and you can’t get more “Marvel Superhero” than either the Avengers or the Fantastic Four. So going back to that slightly more darker and more adult—and I’m a little wary of using that word, because it has the connotation that that [Scarlet Witch] is not for children, and it’s definitely the sort of book anybody could read—but that slightly more sophisticated feel of those more interesting stories that are often at the corners of the Marvel universe. I’m really, really enjoying that, and it’s definitely something that suits my writing.
With a single character, the introspection is there—as much as you might want to, it’s very hard to do it in a team book unless you’re on it for years and years, where you can just add little pieces to the mosaic of each person’s personality over a long period of time. But when you do a single character book you can really show who they are, and what they think, and how they react to things so quickly. And so adding that—the shade of Wanda’s need to prove herself, to redeem herself to some degree, and moving through her life as an independent woman without the backstory of all the stuff that’s been in her past, which is a bit new for her, in a way—that’s what I’ve been really enjoying, and making her into a character that people who know her well can give her a re-appraisal, and perhaps people that have never encountered her before, it’s an interesting approach to her that won’t be daunting.
If there was one thing that you could tease coming up in Scarlet Witch for our readers, what would it be?
Robinson: Yes, the one thing that I will say is that although we’ve stressed singular issues and different artists, in the first issue [and beyond] each one is a building block that is moving the story forward, to a very big conclusion where so many different interesting aspects of the Marvel universe will combine and collide. I think watching that unfold through the books to get to that point will be something people are fascinated by and will be something they can really enjoy and follow.
Oh, and the ability to perform magic comes with a price to whoever does it. I can’t wait for everyone to learn the cost Wanda has to pay each time.
Scarlet Witch #1 is available December 9th, 2015.
[Editor’s Note: After this interview was conducted, Marvel contacted us to reveal a list of artists working on Scarlet Witch. Aside from the three mentioned in the above article above, the series includes work from Annie Wu, Javier Pulido, Joelle Jones, Tula Lotay, Marguerite Sauvage, and Chris Visions.]