In June, Marvel released a number of installments under Timely Comics, a tribute to their original publishing name, as a way to engage longtime Marvel fans and new readers alike with the All-New, All-Different Marvel series that debuted in 2015. While I was browsing one of my favorite comic book stores, I happened upon the first three installments of Timely Comic’s Scarlet Witch and said to myself, why not?
Full disclosure: I knew relatively nothing about the Scarlet Witch prior to reading this series. The most noteworthy information I’d gathered about Wanda Maximoff came from the Avengers movies, and as you probably know, you can’t judge much about a character’s personality or backstory from what you see on the big screen.
In the movies, she is essentially characterized as a supernatural twin who can use mind control and telekinesis with some wispy red smoke. She is even portrayed as childlike and not in complete control of her own powers. When actors Elizabeth Olsen and Anthony Mackie were on The Late Late Show with James Gordon back in May, Mackie and Gordon even joked about Olsen’s “stunts” as Wanda, encouraging the misconception that the Scarlet Witch does not possess much badassery as a superhero.
After reading Scarlet Witch #1-3, however, I have a newfound appreciation for Wanda and her wispy red smoke. Taking place after her stint as an Avenger, writer James Robinson gives Wanda a feminist edge and introduces her relatable and surprisingly light personality in the midst of a darker world and solo storyline. Timely Comics’ Scarlet Witch is a reprint of the first three installments of the 2015 series and it is a must-read. As Robinson told Marvel.com, his plan for this series is to give readers a better way to characterize the Scarlet Witch than by her past. He wanted to establish Wanda as an individual separate from her team-player backstory with a fresh personality and new adventures.
And thank goodness Robinson did what he set out to do. We can now experience her as a unique superhero and individual, and here’s what officially makes the Scarlet Witch a badass:
She is feared by men
As Wanda explains to the reader in the first installment, her powers and the spells she casts are not “chaotic” as they are often referred, but rather are “linked to the energy of the Earth and Womankind, revered by ancient pagan faiths, feared by men. Its name is Witchcraft.”
This description alone sent chills up my feminist spine. And the art by Vanesa Del Rey that goes along with it — Wanda, chin up, strutting in heeled boots down a busy New York sidewalk with her horned crown pointing at the sky and her blood-red cape flowing out behind her — is a potent picture with her confidence.
She is haunted by Agatha Harkness’ ghost
Here’s where we get a glimpse of Wanda’s dark past. In the first scene of Scarlet Witch #1, it appears Wanda is talking to an unseen character. The reader is then introduced to Agatha, Wanda’s dead mentor (I learned after a quick Google search) who appears as a silvery ghost to just her. Agatha is not a personification of Wanda’s subconscious, but she does lend advice and company to our otherwise solo protagonist, regardless of whether it is solicited.
She also hints at her own backstory and relevance to the Scarlet Witch a couple of times throughout the three installments by passively accusing Wanda of having killed her. At first, Wanda re-iterates to Agatha that she wasn’t the one who killed her, but the second time Agatha brings it up, Wanda doesn’t argue. Although she might not have been Agatha’s killer, we can infer that these little details foreshadow a more complex storyline further down the road about why Wanda is being “haunted” by Agatha.
She is a vegetarian and a cat-whisperer
OK, maybe the vegetarian thing is more of a relatable bonus for me personally than for the masses. Whatever.
But she does have an interesting relationship with cats, as witches are classically known for. While attempting to solve her first murder mystery in the comic book, Wanda mentions she’s noticed cats are mysteriously dying in lower Manhattan and links this odd detail to the cause of the murder. She describes the history of The Great Cat Massacre in Paris to the lead investigator of the murder and explains how cats were used as sacrifices. The recent deaths of numerous cats were a sign that someone had conjured a “Sonneillon” hex in lower Manhattan, causing innocent poor people to become murderers (of both wealthy humans and, um, cats).
Aside from being a history buff on cat-related events, this detail seems to foreshadow that Wanda will probably have more adventures dealing with cats in further installments of the Scarlet Witch comics.
She values the greater good more than her own life
A story centered on the Scarlet Witch not only gives us a well-rounded look at Wanda Maximoff’s personality but also offers us a more in-depth description of her powers — and her weaknesses. Some of the background characters in the comics illustrate a misconception about Wanda’s witchcraft powers, wrongly assuming that she must be able to control whatever she wants whenever she pleases.
This is far from the truth. Every time she conjures a spell, the power and intensity of the magic ages the Scarlet Witch and brings her dangerously closer to death. She looks young on the outside, but when Wanda looks into a mirror, she sees the otherwise-invisible toll magic has taken on her body and features. More powerful spells are especially dangerous. In Scarlet Witch #3, Wanda conjures up a particularly large spell to reveal evil spirits in Dublin, Ireland, and she fears it could be her last.
However, Wanda has taken it upon herself to fight evil and restore a positive and respect-worthy reputation for witchcraft and for herself. As she concentrates to cast the large spell on a pub in Dublin, she says to the reader, “I begin to shape the Triquetra with my gestures and try not to think of my own peril. For I am a witch. A good witch! And this, the world will know…”
Even if none of these qualities make Wanda a little bit more relatable to you, you can at least check out the amazing artwork throughout the three installments by David Aja, Vanesa Del Rey, Marco Rudy, Steve Dillon and Chris Visions.
But seriously, Wanda Maximoff’s fresh characterization in her first official series is written to perfection. Timely Comics’ Scarlet Witch tells a story no other comic has, and it tells it well.