Wanda Maximoff has always been a controversial character. Her first appearances in the X-Men were as a villain alongside her brother, reluctantly in cahoots with the villainous Silver Age Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Later, she appeared in the Avengers. In an unprecedented move, creator Stan Lee made the decision to replace most of the former lineup of the team with characters that had initially appeared as villains, including Wanda, her brother Pietro, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. This threw fans into an uproar, although now it is considered simply to be canon backstory for the team. Although many of them teetered on the line between good and evil on various occasions, the story of the Avengers would be quite a different thing without their presence.
Still, one of the most controversial aspects of Wanda Maximoff’s character is one of the easiest to dispel: her claim to the title of “witch.” Over time, questions about her right to refer to herself via such a term have arisen semi-regularly in letters columns. In the MCU, this might be a valid complaint, but in the comics, Wanda has been a witch for many years now, and rates among the most powerful mystic characters. Vacillating between her life as an Avenger and her dedication to witchcraft, she is easily one of comics’ most prominent witches.
The Scarlet Witch’s background is notoriously complicated, and it’s difficult and generally unnecessary to explain at length. Her parentage has been called into question multiple times, and what exactly happened to her and her brother in their childhood remains mysterious, although both of them grew up to possess an edginess and a moodiness typical of adults that have underexplored past traumas. Despite their uncertain and rocky foundations, it is known that the eugenics practitioner The High Evolutionary played a significant role in their development, and a cow-human hybrid was perhaps their most important emotional bond besides each other as children. When they were ultimately separated from Bova (the aforementioned cow-human hybrid), they were taken in by a couple that lived in abject poverty before they were apparently destroyed by villagers that feared the twins. Alone again, they were saved by Magneto, which led to their uneasy alliance with him in their first appearances.
Regardless of their origin story, Wanda and Pietro are both Romani, although there has been the discussion of the whitewashing of their characters in many portrayals, notably the Avengers movies. The erasure and stereotyping of Romani people in fiction is serious and has been proven to have real-world consequences. The complexity of Wanda’s connection to her culture has made her a favorite for many, but overall representation has been spotty at best. In some ways, the cultural erasure of the Romani people and Wanda’s own shaky origins parallel one another.
In the beginning, Pietro was overprotective of Wanda for obvious reasons, considering their highly traumatic background. She would often allow him to control the narrative, and he was considered to be the more explosive, wilder twin. After he left the Avengers to be with his wife, the Inhuman Crystal, Wanda’s personality developed more. While Pietro was presumed to be more volatile, audiences were exposed to the lightly condescending, depressive, and moody side of Wanda in his absence, and she ultimately proved to be just as prone to emotional outbursts as he was.
Wanda developed a relationship with the android Vision in hopes of finding something even remotely consistent to hang onto in her life. The Avengers provided her with a chosen family, and her marriage to Vision and their attempts at starting a family with one another were promising if ultimately tragic. Her tumultuous life and need for stability combined with her tendency to be surrounded by highly unstable people explained her attraction to an android who was seen as cold and distance in the eyes of others. When Vision lost his humanity and alerted her that he had no feelings for her and their marriage was therefore annulled, Wanda was shattered. Even worse, it was discovered that her children had simply been a figment of her imagination, which left her reeling and unable to regain a solid grip on reality.
How She Became A Witch
When she had first appeared, Wanda's powers were loosely defined, which was typical for superheroes of the time. It was writer Steve Englehart during his iconic Avengers run that first introduced the concept of her powers being magic-related. Recently, there have been signs to indicate that she was not the first witch nor even the first woman that went by the moniker Scarlet Witch in her family, as it is believed her mother also went by that title. As with everything in Wanda's past, this is open to change.
In her lowest moments, Wanda was approached by the centuries-old witch of Salem, Agatha Harkness. Although Harkness was, like most people in Wanda’s life, of questionable morality, she offered to train Wanda to use her inherent magical abilities. During this time, Wanda became infinitely more confident and certain of herself and developed a strong friendship with Wonder Man. The first Scarlet Witch mini-series addressed her growth and the development of her newfound abilities, and her character was on an upward trajectory for some time, although much of it occurred off the page as she left the Avengers to study with Harkness. Even up to the modern age, when Wanda needs guidance, it is Agatha she reaches out to rather than any of the other Avengers.
When Wanda returned, she and Vision continued their complicated affair, although it was ill-fated and quickly soured when he again refused to acknowledge his own feelings. For her part, Wanda generally failed to give Vision space to work things out, instead of utilizing demands and ultimatums when he couldn’t give her what she needed emotionally. Although their relationship was always complicated, the two of them have established something of an understanding in the years since their divorce. Wanda’s relationship with Wonder Man is arguably healthier but has also been off-and-on over the years. Wanda is openly distrustful of his declarations of love for her, another sign of her longstanding trauma and struggles with mental illness.
No More Mutants
As others attempted to convince her that her children with Vision had never existed, Wanda continued to cling to and search for them, which led to a breakdown. In turn, this caused the temporary deaths of several Avengers. Professor Xavier worked with Wanda for months, attempting to help her regain her mental health, but it was to no avail. Terrified, Wanda threw the entire planet spiraling into an alternate reality in which mutants were supreme, hoping that it would appease Magneto, the man who she then believed to be her father. As that reality showed its own flaws and began to fray, Wanda again lost her patience and lashed out once more, whispering the words, “No more mutants.”
The fallout from Wanda's actions is impossible to sum up in one article, but her memory was wiped clean and she went deep into hiding, appearing only occasionally. Eventually, she rejoined the Avengers, developing an incredibly hostile rivalry with Rogue in Uncanny Avengers. Wanda’s natural power combined with her mastery of magic made her a terrifying, imposing figure for many characters, and even former villains like Rogue had increasingly little patience for her catastrophic choices.
In the more recent Scarlet Witch series, we were introduced to a take on Wanda that allowed her to finally mature. The discipline she learned with Agatha and their intertwined destinies came under focus as, even in ghost form, Agatha continued to advise and influence her. This Wanda was a welcome change for fans who had been exhausted by several years of oversimplified takes on Wanda’s struggles with mental illness, and she succeeded in finally drawing boundaries in her life and seeking real help for her problems.
There are a lot of witches in comics, but of them, all Wanda Maximoff remains one of the most fascinating. The storytelling potential of a Romani witch and mutant who has gone through the ringer and made a seemingly endless list of enemies along the way is compelling, and she remains one of the most underutilized Avengers. Often only calling on her to exploit her mental instability for storytelling shortcuts, writers would do better to focus in on her history with witchcraft, the way her best-intentioned moves seem to go horribly awry, and her complex knowledge of humanity’s dark side. For many of her fans, those are the things that ultimately define her.