REVIEW: The Scarlet Witch Gets It Together in The Trial of Magneto #4

The Scarlet Witch figures out who she is, and how she came back to life, and how to stop the monsters she’s created (well, at least some of them) while Krakoa’s A-list mutants try to figure out who killed her. But what if she already knows?

The Trial of Magneto #4

Leah Williams (writer), Lukas Werneck and David Messina (artists), Edgar Delgado (colors), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer)
Marvel Comics
December 1, 2021

Ignore the title: this second-to-last in a five-issue miniseries is a book about Wanda Maximoff, The Scarlet Witch, the supposed enemy of all mutantkind. Put through the wringer by 50-odd years of retcons, Wanda has been killed on Krakoa and then restored to life in magical triplicate: one in a youthful body without its memories, one as an adult trapped in a dream dimension, and one as an older adult who intends to keep here there. (If you’re thinking Freudian id, ego, and superego, you’re not entirely wrong.)

By the end of the comic, Wanda has learned how to solve her own problems and re-integrate her personalities, while mutantkind looks on. As to who killed her—

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Last issue I wondered aloud whether Leah Williams could bring this tangled would-be-whodunit to a satisfying conclusion: there were kaiju fights and an astral battle and a disoriented Wanda and a broody Magneto (albeit a Magneto pushed to the edge of the stage) and not enough connections among the subplots. Now they’re connected, and Wanda’s somewhat wordy narration explains how and why. Using her own magical will to live in connection with the powers of the Five, Wanda “resurrected herself,” to the astonishment of Hope Summers and the rest. Big, populated panels that remind me of the Pre-Raphaelites show Wanda climbing back into the world and narrating her uneasy rebirth: “Some mornings, my body wakes up before my mind does.” (Mine too, Wanda. Mine too.) Leah Williams began as a novelist, and she has a novelist’s prose skills: I love that she gets to use them here, without slowing down the visual medium that comics, always, is.

You might say this comic moves too fast. We get three pages of Prodigy, X-Factor Investigations, and Wanda’s kids Billy and Tommy chatting first about the mystery of her death and then about how they can help her. Good kids, they are. Inside this comic about a traumatized mom there’s another comic about young people trying to help their traumatized mom. Given just how much fanfic involves Young Avengers already I’d love to see somebody (someone not professionally involved with comic books! they’re not allowed!) fanfic the issue from Billy’s POV.

Williams adopts Wanda’s POV whenever she’s on page, and middle-aged Wanda whenever she’s available: ego-Wanda in the astral plane has to learn to listen to white-haired superego-Wanda explaining, in a way that feels super-real, how she has to master her trauma response and integrate her personalities, not for herself (she’s in charge of herself) but because in acting out her uncontrolled trauma response she’s “endangering everyone you love! Endangering your children!”

Do it for the children, Wanda. (Andrea and Charlie at CXF have more on this issue, and Williams’ writing in general, as trauma-informed psychology.) When you’ve got this much power and this many links to others there’s an important sense in which your life is not your own: if you stay self-destructive you’re going to bring others down with you, and please don’t do that. On the other hand, when you’ve got this much unresolved trauma, and this much uncertainty (as Wanda’s had in the past) about what’s real and what’s in your head, the people around you will blame you for decisions that weren’t really decisions, imposing a framework of guilt and repentance that doesn’t fit and doesn’t help. That’s what Krakoan dogma has done to Wanda regarding the Decimation: a figure driven by serious mental illness, manipulated by others who should have known better, is Krakoa’s public enemy number one.

Williams and Werneck and Wanda are having none of it.  “I’m not to blame!” Wanda shouts directly at the reader. “I didn’t do all those terrible things.” She’s talking, literally, about the kaiju that the A-list X-Men have been fighting, the ones who ate up half the page count in that frustrating issue #3, and of course she uses her magic– in beautifully paced and sublimely colored later pages– to get those kaiju under control: they emerged, you see, from her psychic divisions, from her wish to lash out. (Alas, that makes these kaiju unrelated to the kaiju released by the High Evolutionary and friends over in adjectiveless X-Men right now: I was hoping for a sub rosa connection.)

Implicitly Wanda’s shout —– “I’m not to blame!” —– speaks to her whole disastrous history, and to the framework of fault and blame (and punishment, and repentances) that in real life as in Marvel comics keeps dysfunctional families dysfunctional and impedes people who need help from helping themselves. Older Wanda, and magic-wielding, empathy-wielding Billy, are on the case: “It’s time to forgive yourself, Wanda! Stop beating yourself up!” yells the former on a page that consists almost entirely of magical, Tarot-ish, moon-dominated Wandas. “We’re gonna die if you don’t!” adds Billy, who later explains to the Krakoan throng, “It’s not her fault.” (Magma responds, thoughtlessly, “It’s always her fault.” Hey, Amara: remember when you dated Empath?)

It’s not her fault because fault is a terrible paradigm: “what should I do now? What should our society, or the state, or our friend group, or our family, do next?” is a much better paradigm, and with it, Wanda reintegrates herself and makes the kaiju easy to defeat. (The X-Men still have to fight them, though. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a fight, and in a Marvel comic in 2021 there has to be a fight.) The moral and emotional center here remains Wanda, who literally takes center stage and shows “how hard it is being reborn.” And if you’ve been reading X-comics all along you might see the way her fight to integrate her personalities, to attain a fully self-aware life, resembles what other mutants go through in the Crucible: nothing’s more Krakoan than choosing to die and be reborn. Werneck and Messina absolutely get the religious gravity in this scene, which plays as a stage debut and then as a three-generation reunion, as the Scarlet Witch embraces Magneto at last: the guy whose name is in the title says exactly one word the whole issue: “Wanda!”

If you think Wanda’s reintegration feels pat, or like a too-easy victory, I challenge you to tell the same story in fewer pages of a superhero comic book about a figure like Wanda, a figure whose psychology is so bound up with magic and anything-goes powers that fans can never predict what she can and cannot do. (Same problem with Dr. Strange.) She’s a bad choice for stories that come close to realism: if you want trauma and guilt and realistic, slow-burn conflict, Matt Murdock and Jessica Jones are right there. If you want psychomachia, don’t change that channel: read this comic. Last issue I wondered whether Leah Williams could possibly bring it home after the mess that was issue #3. This issue she does it: I’m thankful.

I still wonder who killed her in the first place, though. Maybe you do too. Wanda knows. Next issue, we’ll find out.

One thought on “REVIEW: The Scarlet Witch Gets It Together in The Trial of Magneto #4

  1. A fanfic might be desperately needed with how enormously out of character Billy was in this issue. It seems like Williams hasn’t read anything with the character in it…ever? I suppose he is an Avengers character, so an abrupt shift to out-of-character is to be expected when he’s showing up in an X-men comic. Bizarrely, he claims that he’s lived his whole life defending Wanda-he didn’t know she was his mother until he was sixteen.

    It’s fascinating, actually-Williams’ take on the character of Wanda is so vastly different, essentially infantilized. The only similar take is the appearance in X-men: Empyre, which Williams contributed to-a persona of guilt and misery constructed by the X-men writers, ignoring any progress the character has gone through and fueling the X-men fandom’s racism, misogyny, and ableism. An eternal scapegoat, as the Roma so often are.

    But Avengers characters turning into different characters in X-books is to be expected. The white minority metaphors need their bigots, even if the Avengers are, amusingly, more diverse than the actual minority metaphor at this point (though this is less an achievement and more the Avengers clearing the X-men’s incredibly low bar). What’s really interesting is the way that characters in this story blink from one moment to the next, appear and disappear-what happened to Quicksilver after issue #2? When did Billy get here, and why is he threatened by the monsters when he can teleport? Why does Prodigy, whose explicit power is knowing what everyone else in the room knows, need to be lectured by Billy on the magic implications? It has the impression of rushed, hasty work-as if Williams is trying to get through a checklist.

    I should also point out that Wanda’s current boyfriend, with whom she lives, Jericho Drumm, is nowhere to be seen, but perhaps that’s to his fortune-he doesn’t have to deal with whatever would be projected on him as a black character in a comic by Leah Williams.

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