Image: Marvel

Vision and the Scarlet Witch have had one of the most difficult, complicated, on-again off-again relationships in comics history. Their love, like most, has at times been fraught with dysfunction, but the connection between them has been sustained by a potent blend of passion, understanding, and respect. Until Secret Empire, that is.

Vision and Wanda have repeatedly dealt with the kind of struggles that can both tear relationships apart and forge deep, powerful emotional bonds between people. Over the years they’ve spent together outside of their duties as Avengers, the couple have both worked through multiple identity crises, the birth and deaths of their children, and coming to terms with the fact that they’re two of the most powerful, dangerous, and feared people in existence.

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Simultaneously beautiful and horrifying, Wanda and Vision’s relationship has never been a picturesque ideal of happiness, but instead a dramatic rendering of the soaring heights and shadowy depths that people can be pushed and pulled to by love.

Unfortunately, their relationship is Secret Empire’s latest victim.

This week’s Avengers #10, written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Mike del Mundo, opens with the Scarlet Witch and Vision passionately kissing in the engine room of a Hydra quinjet, which is on its way to inspect one of the generators responsible for maintaining the force field currently surrounding the Earth. As the two of them join their fellow Hydra-aligned Avengers in the cockpit, Otto Octavius silently muses about the nature of their relationship and how they both came to become part of Steve Rogers’ master plan for world domination.

Wanda, Octavius recalls, is currently (and inexplicably) possessed by the demonic elder god Chthon, who’s attempted to take control of Wanda a number of times in the past. We also learn from Octavius’ reflection that Vision was corrupted by a specially crafted virus that not only overrides his own will, but in fact manifests itself internally as a sort of prison trapping the Vision’s actual consciousness.

Chthon-as-Wanda confirms that their suspicion that something was off about the engines—a “vibration”—was correct, and Vision assures the rest of the team that the quinjet’s “main thruster” is still operational. The entire team knows that the pair weren’t actually inspecting the jet’s engines, but when Taskmaster openly acknowledges the heavily-implied sex that they were having, Chthon-as-Wanda comments that they are “particularly sensitive to consent issues.” (Note: the emphasis here is from the comic itself.)

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Given the circumstances that are explicitly laid out in this issue itself, there’s really no way to interpret this scene as anything other than a very, very insensitive “joke” about sexual consent. Neither Vision nor Wanda are in full control of their bodies currently, meaning that neither of them is able to consent to any sort of sexual activity.

I struggled and am still struggling to understand what exactly to make of this exchange and what Waid and Marvel by extension are trying to get at. While I am hesitant to label what happens in this issue as a form of rape or sexual assault, there’s much about it that echoes the things we talk about concerning rape and sexual assault.

We know that despite her appearance and use of her powers, Wanda is not in the driver’s seat of her body. Chthon explicitly states that it is in control of her every action. Similarly, we see that the part of the Vision that resisted Hydra is conscious somewhere within his own mind, unable to control his own body. The specifics of how much either of them are aware of what they’re being made to do is left unclear, perhaps purposefully, but whether they’re privy to that information or not, there’s something incredibly distasteful about all of this.

Before Secret Empire, the Scarlet Witch and Vision were coming back from their own respective solo series that saw them both trying to get their lives back together after facing down personal demons that have plagued them for years. While the two haven’t been a couple in quite a long time, there was something very heartwarming about seeing the two of them reuniting as Avengers, having grown individually. Wanda and Vision were in the process of reckoning with their tumultuous history in a healthy way that sent the important message that the end of a relationship doesn’t have to turn people enemies.

Neither Secret Empire nor Avengers #10 erase the fact that, when written with a high level of emotional intelligence and empathy, the Scarlet Witch and Vision’s relationship can make for fascinating and gripping stories. At the same time, though, this latest plot development is both an insult to what the characters have stood for and an abhorrent narrative choice that does little more than emphasize just how bad a story Secret Empire continues to be.