Always the Weird Girl, Ever the Witch: Wanda Maximoff’s Unearned Reputation

I have so much love for Wanda Maximoff. There is a long and detailed history between Scarlet Witch and myself that I’ll make very short and sweet. Wanda Maximoff was the one who introduced me into the world of Marvel Comics. I know there are so many characters to choose from, but for some reason, I gravitated to this girl in red. She’s the one who I immediately self identified with and created my love for all things magic and mutant. She showed me that strength is really what you make of it. There is no one way to be and there are so many ways to become stronger and better, even if you fumble and mess up along the way. There’s a special place in my heart for Scarlet Witch. It’s bigit occupies half of my heart because she means a lot to me in the ways her character design and her mental capacities reflect my own struggles with mental illness.

When I found out they’d be introducing Wanda into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I was thrilled. I was ecstatic. I’d finally get to see what they’d do with my favorite witch! Even more exciting, they found the perfect embodiment of her in Elizabeth Olsen (forever my woman crush). My heart went crazy. I waited and waited for Age of Ultron to come and gathered up all the knowledge that I could. I kept speculation about the characters of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch and how Marvel would introduce them, but remained optimistic about how they’d characterize her until the big day.

Now, watching Age of Ultron was hit or miss. There were a couple of scenes that didn’t belong and there were a couple of characterizations (Black Widow and Hawkeye) that threw me really off course. The one thing I was ultimately happy with was Scarlet Witch … at first.

Scarlet Witch TWSElizabeth Olsen not only made my dreams of any big-screen Scarlet Witch a reality, she became the character who satisfied my need to see my superhero on the screen. She was the one character in all of Joss Whedon’s mess that actually uplifted and held the movie for me personally. It was a big deal to finally see Scarlet Witch hex and mix in with the MCU world. There was a scene, however, in Age of Ultron that stung. It’s right in the beginning, so it stung even more watching the rest of the movie. When Maria Hill briefs Captain America on what happened with the attack in the forest, he wonders who had attacked them in the first place. Marie explains the twins to Cap, “He’s got increased metabolism and improved thermal homeostasis. Her thing is neuroelectronic interfacing, telekinesis, mental manipulation.” When he looks at her like WTF, she says, “He’s fast and she’s weird.”

This one statement made me claw my seat. Even knowing what this version of the twins have been through (because she just told the heartbreaking story), as a person who has investigated their life for S.H.I.E.L.D.and seen some of the most out there stuff on the planetshe still seems to have no sympathy for Wanda and Pietro. However, that isn’t the pointshe considers them a threat without knowing who they really are; threat evaluation is a part of her job, but this is also a sign of ignorance. What’s bothersome is that she considers Wanda “weird” because she doesn’t understand the powers of mental magic, automatically the word that humans have been known to cling to in the face of the ineffable. The “weird” word has been tossed around when it comes to talking about Wanda, and I will not accept it any longer.
Bova delivers Wanda and Pietro to their adoptive father below Wundagore, Marvel

To explain why this word stings, we have to go back a little into Wanda’s comic history. Wanda was born really not knowing where she belonged. She was born to the Maximoff’s at the Wundagore base with her twin brother Pietro, but the both of them were abducted and experimented on by the High Evolutionary and disguised as mutants because of their enhanced powers (Uncanny Avengers Vol 2 #4). After figuring out they had superhuman abilities later, Pietro had to take Wanda and flee from an angry mob that had started to attack their family. This was the start of Wanda blocking out harsh memories that would be too hard to handle. Throughout her life, she has dealt with her power in both good and bad ways that led her to becoming apart of the Avengers, but also to becoming an asset and liability of the X-Men as well. She started to become powerful with her apparent mutant powers, tapping into a different kind of magic (genuine magic) that she didn’t know much about, but let her do extraordinary things.

In The Vision & The Scarlet Witch #3 she even channeled magical energy to gestate and later birth sons Tommy and Billy Maximoff, later known as Wiccan and Speed. Think about that for a second. Wanda gave birth to not one, but two sons using magical energy only. It had to take some kind of advanced sets of skill and magic to conjure and give birth to two sons with basically no skin on skin contact with Vision (a robot). It was willed from what her mind wanted at the time.

When they “had to be” destroyed (or absorbed) by Mephisto because they were spawned by manipulated magic, Wanda was completely heartbroken about the revelation that her children weren’t real (Avengers: West Coast #52). Her mind went into a deep suppression, separating herself from the memories of her sons and bringing back her mentor/mother figure to ease her pain.

Agatha Harkness takes Wanda's memories of her children, Marvel

The Avengers and X-Men went years trying to keep Wanda’s “chaotic” powers under control. Her mental mind overflowed with her powers, leading to breakdowns (caused by various comments and actions of her teammates, as well as her own), including House of M (where Wanda de-powered most of the mutants) and more. They understood her, but at the same time, she was an outsider in her own world. Wanda’s chaotic magic was unstable at times and her mental mind was just as chaotic as her powers. Her mind and powers combined were a force that could either build or destroy, they could heal and make a mark on the world.

Age of Ultron gave us a little bit of this comic history when it came to Wanda. They gave us the close bond that she has with her brother, they gave us the her mental capabilities, and they gave us a brilliant character that we’ll like for a long time.

Wanda is so much more than a “weird” girl. Even though she is apart of the Avengers now, Maria Hill’s branding of her as such will colour how she is perceived for the rest of her time there, just as she has been in the comic for too long. There has always been a feminine stigma to Scarlet Witch in the comics. Everyone either sees her as a powerful source of energy who is protective and full of life or as an emotionally unstable woman who can’t handle her emotions.

When I personally explain Scarlet Witch, in a comic sense, to friends they go as far as to call her “bat-shit crazy” and as much as I love her it stung a lot to hear people close to me say it. Scarlet Witch being apart of the MCU was a way for Marvel to break out of the stereotype and name-calling that has plagued her career. It was a way to bring the kind of Scarlet Witch, who is beautiful, protective, and powerful, to the big screen. As much of the hype of Scarlet Witch got me excited, that one word coming from Maria’s lips brought all of the prejudice the character has weathered in comics to bear on her cinematic self.

Peers and readers have looked at Wanda as this girl who is so unstable that she needs to be “dealt with.” I’ve heard people refer to her as “weird,” “crazy,” “unimportant,” “idiotic” and much much worse. She is ridiculed and picked apart just because her mental landscape is overflowing. She continues to learn and command with her own sense of understanding and intuition but she is almost always looked at as overly distraught, easily manipulated and not in charge of her own emotional state or magical abilities.

avengers disassembled

The biggest example of this is Avengers Disassembled leading into House of M, where she is put into a coma after snapping at Wasp’s comments about her children. Xavier, Magneto, Pietro, X-Men, and Avengers in House of M now have to decide her fate: too crazy to live or too powerful to die? No one from the Avengers or X-Men asked Wanda why she did what she did, no one asks what she thinks about or what she has to go through because they don’t trust her. To them, she is a ticking time bomb because of her instability, but can you honestly blame her? Shouldn’t someone want to sit down and HELP her instead of exile or even destroy her?  She’s a woman with emotional depth, fierce loyalty to whatever team shes on and her family and tries to do right by any means necessary. What’s so “weird” about that? What’s so “unimportant” about being loyal to your family? What’s so “idiotic” about having a character that is just the right kind of emotional and unstable at the same thing?

Wanda’s House of M situation goes back around to women not having a choice or a say in what they do or what they know best. If anyone stopped and actually listened to Wanda, she’d probably tell them so much information that would help them unlock her secrets and in some way, give herself a path for herself to get better as well. Wanda is an innocent: again, she is still slowly coming to terms with powers that she has YET to fully master. She is doing it in the only way that she knows how and with only a couple of people who believe in her by her side, like her brother. Other than him, the power that she has, both as a woman and as a magical wielder, is completely misunderstood and misinterpreted as it is uncontrolled. Xavier even took a glimpse of inside of her mind. She wanted a family, mainly something to call her own, she wanted her children and her husband to live a life that she could only dream of. Instead of seeing that and telling the houseofm01-p03others, Xavier deemed her still too unstable to everyone on both sides and even blatantly telling her that her children aren’t real to bring her back. This is one way not to handle your women. If they are in a fragile enough state where they are making their own world, do not be any circumstances flat out tell them that their universe isn’t real. At least let them down gently so they can figure it out themselves. The way Xavier handled it was very blunt and honest, which is his personality, but you have someone that powerful. You might want to down a little bit more kinder than that.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Wanda can be an unreliable source to herself and to others. Whenever her powers become out of control and unstable, she forgets everything she’s learned (New Avengers #26), but when she does, she rebuilds herself from the ground up each time. Even wiping out most of the mutant population is going a little bit overboard, but wouldn’t you want to know why she does the things she does? Wouldn’t it be better to actually speak to Wanda, believing her or not, and just trying to figure out any best recourse for action? Instead we cast her, and heroes like her aside and immediately call them crazy. We don’t give them the benefit of a doubt because mentally overwhelmed characters never get a benefit of the doubt. Writers have to understand that people with mental illness are flawed, they are fragile, but they are also people at the end of the day. They deserve to be listened to, to be respected, and to be written with respect. They deserve the same treatment and character arcs as other important characters. They don’t deserve to be called “weird” or “unimportant” just because they aren’t like other character and their actions might seem odd to some people. That is the way they’re wired and that’s the way they know how to express themselves. Marvel has done a lot of a lot of re-shaping their heroes in both comics and movies and Scarlet Witch is not an exception to the rule when it comes to these updates.

Yes, Wanda is flawed. She cannot be a precious cinnamon roll all of the time. Yes, her magic is unstable and it can do some pretty deep damage on both X-Men and Avengers in Avengers Disassembled, House of M (Secret Wars, 2015 and House of M, 2005) and even to Rogue in Uncanny Avengers. Yes, she has served on “evil” teams. But she is still a person. Is it so rare for an X-Man or Avenger to have dark or dangerous moments? Characters will come with stigmas, there are no doubts about that, but give Wanda a chance before you call her “weird.”

qyglfsaz9ew29qvzhpzjWanda is so important to almost every universe that in Earth-616, she is the “nexus-being” in this world. A character like that deserves better than “weird” or “crazy.” Weird is the first description you have of her in Age of Ultron. It is the first weird we cling to in association when we watch her use her powers for the first time. It is the word that will attach itself to Wanda’s personality; it’s the word that introduced her to a whole new group of fans. This word will be a stigma and it will never go away. Whatever happens with the future relationship Vision, the events with The Avengers and all other plots in her arc will all reflect off of this one word. If there is a hope of Wanda becoming the woman that she deserves to be. Don’t let this word muddy the character that is so loved and dear to a lot of her fans.

There is no one else like Wanda Maximoff. She is one of the single most important characters in the Marvel Universe. She still struggles with the powers she’s had forced upon her. She’s unstable, sure, but there is still a lot about her that no one gets and if someone dove deep into this character, Wanda could be one of the most difficult and brilliant stand out characters in Marvel to date. She is powerful, but she is also beautiful, protective, loving, and a brilliant person to have a part of your team. The Avengers wouldn’t have made her Deputy Leader of the Avengers if she wasn’t very good. I feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t see this side of the Scarlet Witch because you are truly missing out on one of the best characters you’ll ever know.

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Insha Fitzpatrick

Insha Fitzpatrick

Moving Image Columnist + Teacher of Cartoon Academy. Insha is a freelance + comic writer, film nerd and Crystal Gem from NJ. She enjoys cartoons, comics, b-movies and has very strong feelings about Kylo Ren. Stay Weird. ♡

3 thoughts on “Always the Weird Girl, Ever the Witch: Wanda Maximoff’s Unearned Reputation

  1. i love wanda but the thing about wanda is that she is weird that whats makes her so unique i have no idea what a nexus being is

  2. First off, I’m a big fan of Wanda and I’ll be a vehement shipper of Wanda and Vision till the day I die. That said, two things. I think you’re proceeding under the false assumption that Hill uses “weird” as a pejorative to describe Wanda when she’s clearly using it offhandedly to describe her powers so as to avoid the need to waste time on what would undoubtedly be five paragraphs of dialogue to adequately and coherently describe her powers. Describing Wanda as weird immediately after describing Pietro as fast is pretty much an indicator of how weird is being used. In that context at least.

    Also, I think you do a disservice to Wanda and mental illness by glossing over the devastation that Wanda’s illness has as wrought. While we have to sympathize with Wanda’s lack of control, we also have to come to terms and own up to the very real victims of her lack of control. For example, I love my autistic brother but I didn’t love how he beat me and my parents when he would go into fits of rage before he was finally given help by doctors who understood how to help him(which wasn’t easy in the late 70s when there was rampant misdiagnosis of various mental illness and thyroid disorders that caused emotional instability). The inability of those suffering from various forms of mental illness to even get a proper diagnoses let alone get the proper medication and the fact that a third of the US homeless population suffers from serious forms of mental illness unfortunately doesn’t negate the harm they often do to family, friends and even total strangers.

    While I agree that Wanda’s circle of friends have dealt with her problems poorly, I also think that Wanda has dealt with her relationships poorly during those times she is emotionally level and self aware of what she’s done to others. She tends to make grand gestures in an attempt to make things right, as those who have trouble controlling emotional highs and lows often try and fail to do rather than having a one on one discussion to sort things out as the latter is often the more difficult and uncomfortable a proposition for someone like Wanda.

    But I enjoyed the article. I’d like to see this explored more in the comics and I’m looking forward to seeing how they handle Wanda in her new comic. I hope, perhaps in vain, for a rekindling of a Wanda/Vision romance as I think, ultimately, the Vision is the only person that can handle the emotional pain in a way that family members and friends of those suffering various mental illness disorders are often just incapable of doing.

  3. I love this essay so much. Wanda has been one of my favorite characters for a long time, and the reputation she’s gotten since Disassembled is really frustrating. She’s so much more than “weird” and the way her mental illness and breakdown was treated (by both canon and fans) was extremely frustrating. So this essay is aces.

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