Secret Empire Just Set the Scarlet Witch Back in the Worst Way Imaginable

Marvel
Marvel

This week’s issue of Secret Empire was the best in the series so far because it challenged its characters to own up the many mistakes that led up to the event. But, in a single panel, Secret Empire also undid years of work that Marvel put into healing one of its most important and misunderstood heroes: the Scarlet Witch.

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Illustration for article titled iSecret Empire /iJust Set the Scarlet Witch Back in the Worst Way Imaginable

In Nick Spencer, Leinil Francis Yu, and Rod Reis’ Secret Empire #4 we get our first good look at the Scarlet Witch since Secret Empire’s Free Comic Book Day issue, in which Steve Rogers was inexplicably able to overpower her and every other Avenger who attempted to stop his invasion of Washington, D.C.

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Rather than explaining how exactly Steve was able to overpower one of the most powerful people in Marvel’s comics, we’re told instead that Wanda was possessed by the demonic elder god Chthon at some point off-panel and Steve convinced the demon to do his bidding.

And that’s it. When Quicksilver tries to reason with the person he thinks is his sister, whomever is inhabiting her body responds that Wanda’s no longer there.

Illustration for article titled iSecret Empire /iJust Set the Scarlet Witch Back in the Worst Way Imaginable

Considering that this is Secret Empire, a series that’s been known for its plot holes and emphasis on shock over substance, Wanda’s possession is no more surprising than Steve’s sudden ability to pick up Thor’s hammer.

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But in so casually neutralizing Wanda by literally giving her body over to a demon, Secret Empire is undoing much of the important work Marvel did in rehabilitating her image in the Scarlet Witch solo series that wrapped up back in February.

Since her first appearance in 1964's X-Men #4, the Scarlet Witch has gone from being a C-list criminal with the ability to “hex” people with bad luck to being one of the most powerful Avengers in Marvel history and one of the first Romani characters to appear in comics. While it’s been interesting to watch Wanda’s evolution over the years, the growth of her powers coincided with a number of writers deciding that mental instability would also become one of her defining traits.

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Illustration for article titled iSecret Empire /iJust Set the Scarlet Witch Back in the Worst Way Imaginable

Depictions of people living with mental illness are important, yes, but in Wanda’s case, she was most often depicted as having psychotic breakdowns that caused her magical, reality-warping powers to flare up dangerously. The sizable powers that made Wanda such a fascinating, sizable presence in Marvel’s books eclipsed who she was as a person.

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Wanda became a mentally fractured time bomb and for a while, the Scarlet Witch was a study in the misogynistic idea of female hysteria. House of M may have been one of Marvel’s more riveting events in recent memory, but it all started because Wanda was taken advantage of by Quicksilver and Magneto during one of her episodes. In that moment, she was less a person and more of just a convenient plot device.

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James Robinson and Vanessa Del Ray’s Scarlet Witch series was an answer to over 50 years of different writers bending and twisting Wanda into various forms to suit the needs of the stories they wanted to tell. Rather than treating Wanda’s past as a series of problems for others to fix, though, Scarlet Witch focused on Wanda’s person path to mental and spiritual recovery. If in the past, Wanda was defined by her willingness to follow those around her, Scarlet Witch gave us a Wanda sure of her ability to piece herself back together by embracing and trusting herself.

Illustration for article titled iSecret Empire /iJust Set the Scarlet Witch Back in the Worst Way Imaginable
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Scarlet Witch was primarily a story of Wanda’s personal healing, but the series’ overarching b-plots centered on Wanda traveling across the globe on a journey to heal the very essence of magic. Scarlet Witch gave us a Wanda Maximoff who sought out more information about her Romani ancestry and also tackled her literal (and emotional) demons head-on in a way that the character rarely had before. By the end of the series, Wanda was re-established as one of the most formidable magical forces in Marvel’s many universes and her sense of self and stability is stronger than ever.

Which is what makes her appearance in Secret Empire so disappointing. The optics of making a Romani character do the bidding of a fascist overlord who is literally rounding up minorities and killing them are bad on their own. But also, this choice just doesn’t seem well thought out. 

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There are few characters better suited to deal with the rewriting of reality than the Scarlet Witch, but rather than explore that element of who she is, Secret Empire instead just tossed her into hell and called it a day.

io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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DISCUSSION

chickcounterfly
Chick Counterfly

I think there is a completely valid writing aspect to be made about Scarlet Witch, in general and in this issue, suffering one the effects of psychological and recipient of abuse issues (in an issue that also dealt with PymTron’s pyschological and purveyor of abuse issues).

There are a lot of female heroes in the Marvel universe who are great modern representations of women, such as Kamalha Khan (Ms. Marvel). Not every female character needs to fit into the role of being psychologically healthy, and exploring a character like Wanda as she deals with many, many years of psychological abuse, is and can be a powerful thing.

I reject the premise of Wanda (in the current character iteration of the last couple years) being typecast as a “hysterical woman” via misogynistic portrayals. While that was true in too many stories in the past, having her explore life and handling the many absuses she has suffered and learning ways to not just cope but to grow and change, is a very important and unique story telling challenge.

And on the male side, in the same issue, we have PymTron, who in this issue totally gets harsh truthed by Stark (well the Stark AI because of comics). Like Wanda, Pym of PymTron, was a misogynistic A-hole in his stories in the past. HIs story also is psychologically complex as he has to get over being the abuser, after assaulting his wife Janet (The Wasp), seeing if a world of archetypal heroes can allow for someone like him to have a second chance in life. Did he completely suck as a human being? Absolutely. But he has spent much of his life since then dealing with his own abusive and misogynistic behaviors. Yes. (Maybe.)

I don’t know if you remember the halcyon Marvel days where the X-Men and Avengers (separately or together) would simply spend most of an issue playing pick-up baseball or lounging around the pool on their down time. AI Stark referred to those days in this issue, and pointed out that Pym himself ruined the original Avengers iteration because he was such a shitheel, causing the heroes to “choose sides” in a lot of ways (stick with Pym or defend Janet), thus destroying the trust and confidence among these heroes. The Avengers, and Marvel, really never were the same.

Now, if we had nothing but strong female and male (and trans) characters, that would suck. Heroes have flaws. It’s great to see the ones who are constantly upstanding members and leaders in their communities. But it’s also great to see the ones with behavioral and psychological issues because we get to see them deal with those problems and grow. This is much more representative of real life, and it lends a lot of credibility to Marvel’s stories.

No one wants to read a “hysterical woman” portrayal of a female super hero. Or a straight up misogynist male hero. There are stories that are badly written where these things occur to characters like Wanda (and Pym and Janet). But to ignore the issue, or to neatly tie up her lifelong emotional baggage of dealing with sexism and abuse, to me seems to be a cheap way out simply to “fix” the character so they she is now more in line with our 2017 ideals. Ideals in 2017 are different that 2010 ideals, and they will be different again in 2024. Who we want our hereoes to be, how we want for them to inspire us or represent us, changes as society and individuals change over the years.

So yes: Marvel, give me Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) and Spider-Man (Miles Morales). But also give me Wanda and Pym(Tron). Let’s not stick to narrow personality types and psychologically fit heroes. Let’s explore the heroes (or not even heroes but just super-powered characters in general) who have to spend a good deal of time working with their truly serious problems. Just like us, it takes time, and it takes living through many stories, to change and to grow.

For one excellent example, please read the current “Hulk” series, which is all about She-Hulk dealing with a lot of her pesonal issues, such as PTSD and anger. That puts it too simply because this is an excellent example of what I’m discussing. It’s a complex character in a complex story, and it’s wonderful writing. The character work is excellent. We need more of this, these stories, not less.