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Wanda Maximoff and the cycle of unrealized redemption
In the years since Avengers Disassembled and House of M, Wanda Maximoff has been in a state of constant flux. This is a character who was always at a loss to understands her own power, and she’s been working to stabilize since her very first appearance in X-Men #4 all the way back in 1964. Though Wanda is good-intentioned, more often than not, she ends up a pawn in other people’s schemes.
Despite her extraordinary, reality-shifting power, Wanda Maximoff spends most of her time trying to balance the complexities of her own personality. Ever since she whispered “No more mutants” at the end of House of M and very nearly wiped out the mutant race, she has worked towards a redemptive arc that never quite seems to come. On Krakoa, among the X-Men, she is now known as The Great Pretender, considered to be a traitor, a murderer, and a liar. Yet, as always, Wanda’s story is a lot more complicated than that.
NO MORE MUTANTS
Wanda began as a villain, working alongside her brother Pietro for Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants out of a distorted sense of loyalty to him for saving their lives from an angry mob. They quickly left Magneto’s ranks due to his murderous actions and they were taken in by the Avengers. While they both served on the Avengers for a long time, Wanda made a home with the team, ultimately marrying her synthezoid teammate, the Vision.
The couple had two sons despite the seeming impossibility of this. Soon after, the Vision returned to an almost entirely robotic persona, and he no longer loved Wanda. This was obviously devastating and became only worse when it was discovered that the children they had together were only figments of Wanda’s mind given life by the machinations of the demon Mephisto. Agatha Harkness attempted to erase their existence from Wanda’s mind to keep her from experiencing a total mental collapse, but when Wanda discovered all of this many years later and found herself under the power of yet another demonic entity, she went rogue and killed several teammates, including Agatha and the Vision.
Professor Xavier attempted to work with Wanda, but she refused to let go of what was assumed to be a fantasy of having children (later, it was discovered that both her sons were very much alive). When the X-Men and the Avengers met up to discuss the possibility of having to kill Wanda to prevent her from killing again, Pietro convinced her to create an alternate universe in which everyone would have their heart’s desire. This caused only pain and suffering as she discovered that giving people what they want couldn’t ever truly fix all their problems. It was when Magneto killed Pietro by crushing him to death right in front of her that spurred Wanda whisper those infamous words: “No more mutants.”
THE RETURN OF THE SCARLET WITCH
After the events of House of M, Wanda no longer remembered her life as an Avenger, which led to her being taken in by Doctor Doom. Of course, it wasn’t long before the Young Avengers discovered this and stepped in, finally giving Wanda the catharsis of knowing that both her sons were indeed alive and always had been.
Wanda’s solo series saw her trying to take control of her own life. Living alone and avoiding superheroes, she discovered that witchcraft itself was fading from reality, and worked to end the threats against it. She began taking medication for her bipolar disorder, and in the end, declared that she finally felt ready to return to the Avengers. Yet, in Uncanny Avengers, her ongoing feud with Rogue, who refused to forgive Wanda for her actions, served as a constant reminder of her crimes.
Wanda made some appearances in relatively minor roles in other titles. In Doctor Strange: The Last Days of Magic she works alongside other mystical Marvel characters like Talisman, Shaman, and Illyana Rasputin to try and restore the rapidly depleting source of magic to the universe. In Avengers: No Road Home, she teams up with none other than Conan the Barbarian. In Quicksilver’s solo series, she helps her brother when he finds himself disconnected from reality, and they seem to make amends. In stories like Axis and Secret Empire, however, Wanda spent most of her time either possessed, brainwashed, or otherwise under the influence of outside forces.
When Wanda said “No more mutants,” she was grief-stricken and desperate, having just gone through a series of tragedies that are difficult to even fathom. While Magneto is completely absolved of his wrong-doing and praised as a great mutant savior, Wanda, on the other hand, is almost universally despised. The guilt of her actions, as well as the ensuing hatred of others, has worn on her. She continues to make increasingly desperate attempts to make amends, which have mostly all gone sour.
Most recently, in Empyre: X-Men #1, Wanda met with Doctor Strange to discuss striking her actions from reality entirely, but Strange confirmed that doing so would require the erasure of her existence from the universe, which is not something either of them was capable of doing. He urged Wanda to work towards acceptance and peace rather than trying to change the past. Wanda was unable to do so, and she attempted a resurrection spell in Genosha that unleashed an undead horde on the world.
The thing is, Wanda had already come to peace with her actions several times over in the interim years between Disassembled and Empyre. Her entire solo series specifically dealt with her coming to grips with her mistakes and making active attempts to change herself from the inside out. In Uncanny Avengers, she already battled with her legacy and even met her own (temporary) demise. She traveled through time and helped save magic and witchcraft. She stood up to her brother, discovered Magneto was likely not actually their father, started seeing a therapist and taking medication, and reconciled with the profound sense of utter rejection that defined her existence from an early age.
Wanda has been beyond and back more times over than even the most tragic X-Man, so it’s strange to watch the significant work she’s done towards building her own redemptive arc be consistently undermined by company-wide events that insist on placing her in the position of attempting to unwrite her own actions to assuage her sense of guilt. What could be a salient story about taking responsibility for one’s actions and moving forward towards forgiveness is constantly derailed by events that utilize Wanda as a plot convenience, and in that way, her attempts towards catharsis come across as misguided or even impossible.
Wanda has done terrible things, but so have most of the X-Men. Mainstream comics, in general, could stand to add some nuance and empathy to their stance on redemption, but the X-Men especially have repeatedly failed when it comes to establishing consistent views on the subject. Wanda is perhaps the most glaring example of their inability to create solid guidelines for rehabilitation, which is kind of a big deal when half of your main council is made up of mass murderers like Magneto, Mister Sinister, and Apocalypse. Accepting them with open arms while ostracizing others leads to an incredible imbalance in who the X-Men find redeemable, and nowhere is that clearer than with Wanda Maximoff.