Originally a submissive second-tier villain, Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch) is now one of the most powerful heroes in the entire Marvel roster.
With the MCU, Scarlet Witch has become a top-tier Marvel character, now recognised the world over by comic fans and non-comic fans alike.
Often used as an example of the strong woman archetype, she’s had a rough time of it in the comics.
She’s gone from being a fairly unimportant side-character to a literal goddess, able to destroy and reform entire universes (yes, plural, universes) in the blink of an eye. Much like DC’s Superman, she’s considered hard to write satisfying stories for, due to her godlike powerset. Unlike Superman, however, she’s often used by writers to explore re-created universes (albeit temporary ones), thereby deconstructing the characters used in those universes.
But it wasn’t always like that.
Scarlet Witch: Real-world origins
Scarlet Witch was created in the early 1960s by industry legends, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Her personality was passive and compliant, which was unfortunately the standard for female Marvel characters of the time. She first appeared in X-Men #4, as a villain in Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Her twin brother, Pietro Maximoff (Quicksilver) also first appeared at this time.
Her ‘costume’ was essentially little more than a swimsuit with some leotards – also common for female Marvel characters at the time.
The fact that there isn’t a lot of information available about the process of her creations speaks volumes about how unimportant she was considered to be. However, she was often used (sometimes with her brother, sometimes not) to shake things up, which would later become a defining trait of of her story arcs.
For example, when Stan Lee wanted to remake the Avengers (which he was writing at the time), he got rid of all of the Avengers except for Captain America. Interested in deconstructing what it means to be a hero, Lee then filled the Avengers roster with former villains: Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver (naturally), and Hawkeye (who was originally introduced as an Iron Man villain, believe it or not).
Over the years, there have been many changes to the Avengers roster, but this was the very first time it had ever happened. It would be like if Batman fired everyone from the Justice League, and invited Mr Freeze, Bane, and Sinestro to join instead.
Consider this: That villain-filled version of the Avengers asked a lot of the same question as the currently-popular comic/TV series, The Boys – over 50 years earlier!
Still considered mutants by the Marvel writers, Scarlet Witch and her brother would eventually join the X-Men while retaining their Avengers membership, so they could still be used by Avengers writers. Not long after that, Wanda and Vision’s relationship began to appear in the pages of the Avengers comics.
When writer Steve Englehart took over the writing duties on the Avengers, he took the opportunity to flesh out her character, possibly due to this being around the time that second-wave feminism was reaching its peak (to be clear, this is just conjecture).
Englehart gave her an actual personality (assertive without being abrasive), removed Quicksilver from the team, and had her undergo actual spellcraft training so that the ‘Witch’ part of her superhero identity was meaningful. Before too long, she and Vision were married.
No longer a second-tier character, the revamped Scarlet Witch would go on to have more impact on the Marvel universe than the rest of the Avengers combined.
That’s not too shabby, considering that the terms ‘Scarlet’ (as in ‘promiscuous’) and ‘Witch’ (as in, well, ‘witch’) were often both used to dehumanize women in the past!
Scarlet Witch: In-universe (comic) origins
Please note: This is also briefly covered in our article ‘Superhero Breakdown: Scarlet Witch’.
Similar to pre-2010s Wolverine, Scarlet Witch doesn’t have much access to her past memories due to people manipulating her.
Unlike Wolverine, however, this has never changed. In fact, it’s only gotten worse as time goes on.
Here’s what she does remember:
Wanda and her brother grew up in Eastern Europe. They believed they were mutants, and were born to a Romani family with the surname Maximoff. Their childhood was simple until the family was broken apart by meddling locals. This meant that she, along with her brother, were constantly on the run.
As the general populace of the area hadn’t heard of mutants, Wanda was careful not to be caught using her powers. Sadly, this couldn’t last, and she was almost lynched by an angry mob, replete with pitchforks. One of the mob referred to her as a ‘Scarlet Witch’ (which, in modern terms, literally means ‘magical thot’). She took the name on the spot, and wore it as a badge of honour.
However, she and her brother were still in immediate danger – but they were soon saved by the X-Men’s archnemesis, Magento.
Wanda, feeling grateful to Magneto (who she though was a simple mutant activist), joined his group, The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (perhaps the thought the name was supposed to be ironic). Her brother Pietro, however, saw Magneto for the terrorist that he was. He still joined Magneto, but only so he could look out for his sister.
Ironically, Pietro’s heart would soon harden towards humanity, while Wanda eventually saw through Magneto’s self-righteous facade. After facing off against some of her fellow mutants, the X-Men, she realised that they worked together while the Brotherhood constantly got in each other’s way and seemed to actively avoid teamwork.
This made her realise that Magneto’s isolationist principles weren’t ideal for mutant-human relations. Considering leaving Magneto’s Brotherhood, she approached Pietro to discuss it, but he was already sick of his life being defined by the word ‘mutant’ and was ready for a change anyway.
They wrote a letter asking to join the Avengers, and Captain America was happy to give them a chance to reform themselves.
Then she found out that she and her brother were Magneto’s children. Then she found out they weren’t. Then they found out they weren’t even mutants, but forcefully-evolved humans who’d had their memories wiped.
She never really recovered from the emotional trauma this caused her. She eventually found solace in her egalitarian relationship with the android named Vision, who she had two children with.
Her two children died, and this broke her heart – and her mind.
She began re-writing the universe to bring her children back to life, and the rest of the Marvel superhero soon worked this out and tried to stop her. Pietro told her of this, and suggested that she create a universe where everyone is happy, so they won’t stop her from bringing her children back to life.
Because it was a universe where everyone is happy, that included her as well. This meant that she had no memory of restructuring the entire universe (because it probably caused trillions of deaths). Certain heroes, such as Wolverine, still had their memories of the previous universe. They confronted Wanda, and ultimately convinced her to do the right thing.
She was back where she’d started, childless and feeling alone. Everything she did – all her sacrifices – were for nothing. Broken, sobbing, and completely forlorn, she wished she had never been born. She wished nobody would ever have to deal with what she’d dealt with.
She wished for no more mutants.
And that’s why, to this day, there are very few mutants left in the Marvel universe.