*Some WandaVision discussion & possible spoilers through episode six follows!*
Most people’s only exposure to Pietro Maximoff, better known as the speedster Quicksilver and brother to the Scarlet Witch, is the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s depiction in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and of course the much quirkier (and popular) “Peter” version from FOX’s later X-Men films. In fact, X-Men actor Evan Peters can now be seen now on Disney+’s WandaVision playing a warped version of the MCU’s Maximoff twin, somehow (what’s up with that, anyway?). These portrayals of Pietro have very little in common with each other, and yet they’re all miles apart from the original comic book character that inspired them. And isn’t that fascinating? Whatever changes the MCU makes in the characters’ origins, they usually maintain the personalities of major characters relatively intact in the process of adaptation. Why didn’t they with Pietro?
So. Let’s talk about Pietro Maximoff. That slippery bastard.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I love Quicksilver. I really do! Honestly. But I love him like I do a great, complex villain or antihero, not like an aspirational hero. I’m sure others can appreciate the character from that perspective, and admire Pietro warts and all, especially if they’ve mostly read a few key, relatively modern stories with the character (which I’ll get to.) However, my personal exposure to the silver speedster has most often been defined by his relationship to his sister: Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. And oh boy, let me tell you about that relationship.
From their very first panel in their first issue in Marvel, 1964’s X-Men #4 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the twins’ early dynamic is firmly established: Pietro is protective of his sister, often to the point of becoming paternalistic and controlling. Of course, this sexism is partly a product of the era, but even taking that into consideration it’s pretty clear that Pietro was meant to be overbearing from the go. When later writers took on Pietro, this facet of the character didn’t disappear — instead, it was amplified a thousandfold.
Some time after the twins join the Avengers, Wanda and the synthezoid Vision fall in love, as pretty much everyone is already aware of thanks to the MCU (what a crazy world we live in!) However, unlike in the silver screen, the comics’ Quicksilver is still very much alive during the courtship, and you may be shocked to learn that dear old Pietro doesn’t take it very well.
The circumstances in which the speedster learns that Wanda and Vision are together are complicated, as comic book storylines so often are, but we’d better establish the basics to truly understand Pietro’s hypocrisy as well as his bigotry. Absent from the Avengers since he mysteriously disappeared in an explosion trying to save his sister from mutant-hunting Sentinels, Pietro returns one day with great news: he was narrowly saved from certain death by Crystal, the princess of a genetically modified off-shoot of humanity appropriately dubbed “the Inhumans.” During his convalescence, Crystal took care of him and they fell in love — you know that classic tale. And not only is Pietro alive and in love, but he’s about to get married! Wanda couldn’t be happier for his brother, who she’s never seen this relaxed and happy. Sadly, this doesn’t last.
Rejoiced at his brother’s news, Wanda shares her own: she has found love as well! In her Avenger teammate Vision, no less! Oh, such merry synchronicity! Well, I won’t beat around the bush: obviously, Pietro doesn’t react well. Not even a little bit. His immediate reaction is to explode in anger and chastise her for falling in love with “that thing.” To boot, he then disinvites her from his wedding to Crystal in Avengers #127. Just a class act all around, our Pietro.
The next few years are tricky for Pietro as a character, as his moral compass is radically shifted twice, neither time wholly of his own accord. First, fellow sometimes-Avenger Moondragon (who’s never been bothered by little details like “consent” when using her psychic powers) gets so tired of Pietro’s bigotry that she actually erases it from his mind in Avengers #176. Not long after, once his marriage to Crystal has fallen apart (due to his constant neglect of her and their daughter Luna as well as Crystal’s own infidelities), Pietro takes a decidedly villainous turn for a while, partly because Maximus, essentially the Loki analogue to the Inhumans, is secretly fanning his anger: in short order, Pietro vows vengeance on Crystal, frames the Avengers for treason and, when that fails, masterminds several villainous teams against his former teammates.
To be honest, these aren’t good years for Pietro. I don’t mean for him as a person — though that’s the case too, obviously — but as a fictional character. It’s pretty clear no one quite knew what to do with him at this point. He’d been introduced as an abrasive, controlling villain who then turned hero while remaining just as much of a bastard, which is what made him compelling, in that way one loves to hate a character. But what’s there left to do with him after that? According to most writers at the time, the answer is apparently… nothing much, except using him as a plot-driving puppet. So, is there more to him or not? Are there any depths to plumb in Quicksilver’s psyche?
Well, if there are, we might need a trained psychiatrist to get to the bottom of it…
Pietro starts to have a proper role in comics again (and in his own life, for that matter) when he joins X-Factor, which at the time was a sort of US government-sanctioned X-Men team. Under the pen of Peter David, Pietro regains that spark that once made him captivating in his unpleasantness. But there’s more to it than that. David is the first writer who truly gets into what makes Quicksilver this way, thus making us empathize with him as an actual person.
In the celebrated “X-Aminations” eighty-seventh issue of X-Factor, by Peter David and Joe Quesada, the entire team is made to attend a counseling session by Dr. Leonard Samson, psychiatrist and gamma mutate extraordinaire. Pietro opens up in a way he normally doesn’t, and explains why he is the way he is, cleverly tying his abrasive personality to his powers.
This issue, and that run in general, provides Pietro with dimensions he’d lacked before, which he largely maintains as he returns to the Avengers for a brief period. Unfortunately, his character wasn’t used much after that for a long time, and things would get quite bad again the next time he had a role front and center, in 2006’s infamous House of M event comic by Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Copiel. As I explored in an earlier article on how Wanda is often blamed for wrongdoings that weren’t of her making alone, Pietro, in a misguided attempt to save his twin sister’s life, manipulates her into transforming reality so that mutants —in particular their father Magneto— rules most of Earth. Needless to say, taking advantage of his near-omnipotent yet mentally vulnerable sister in such a way doesn’t go according to plan: this debacle ends with most mutants getting depowered at the hands of a grief-stricken Wanda. Neither Wanda, Pietro, nor their relationship has ever been quite the same again — they still aren’t, fifteen years later.
In the aftermath of the Decimation of Mutandom, of which he is a victim himself, Pietro tries to commit suicide and, when that doesn’t work, steals the Inhumans’ sacred Terrigen crystals that give them their powers and experiments with it on himself as well as on his own infant daughter, against her will. In an attempt to “heal” the depowered mutants, he lies and tells them he got his proper mutant powers back and can help them regain theirs too, causing at least one of them to die due to exposure to the crystals, and giving them only temporary powers in the process. Soon after, the shape-shifting Skrulls invade the Earth, which doesn’t sound great but turns out to be perfect for Pietro, who, in the aftermath, lies to anyone and everyone, telling them that all of his recent actions were perpetrated by a Skrull impostor. Isn’t that convenient! Look, the aughts just weren’t a good decade for Pietro in terms of likeability.
Eventually, Pietro owns up to his mistakes and regains the respect of his family as well as the superhero community. His most recent story, 2018’s Quicksilver: No Surrender by Saladin Ahmed and Eric Nyugen, was a much-needed rehabilitation of the character, as Pietro is forced to confront his temperament and the damage he’s done to his sister and others. It’s also the first time any writer has tackled the fact that the Maximoff twins are Roma in any sort of nuanced way. But what it mostly does is take great pains to reinforce his self-awareness and his relationship with Wanda going forward. Whether this will last when other writers start using Pietro again is still up in the air.
Having gone through all of Pietro’s history in the comics (well, in the main universe of the comics, anyway — I won’t touch the incestuous Pietro and Wanda of the Ultimate universe with a ten foot pole!), I hope it’s become crystal clear just how much the MCU’s interpretation of the character differs from the original: he is protective of his sister, but not controlling; many find him a tad too sardonic and annoying, but not insufferable; and… he’s dead, not alive.
And here we arrive at the crux of the matter: the MCU’s Pietro, with that single Age of Ultron appearance and whatever the hell is going on in WandaVision right now as of the time of writing, hasn’t had much of an opportunity to grow or be developed into a deeper character. If Wanda’s unfiltered messing with reality in that show results in Pietro returning to life in the MCU in some way, that’ll give Marvel Studios an opportunity to develop the character further than, you know:
“Bet you didn’t see that coming!” *Immediately dies from taking a bullet for Clint as, somehow, despite being a speedster, he couldn’t have come up with a better option there*
If he is not to return for good, well… we’ll always have the bad twin in the comics.
My point being: yes, the Quicksilver of the comics is an asshole, but he is MY asshole (metaphorically speaking). As many terrible things as he’s done (and the list is longer than I could fit in this text,) he is a complex character, compelling in a way that the MCU’s Pietro just isn’t… or the Peter of the FOX movies, for that matter, whose claim to fame is mainly due to the VFX folks doing absolutely wonderful things with the depiction of his powers. If I had to choose one, I’d keep the bastard twin of the comics without a second’s doubt. Nevertheless, as simple as the MCU’s Pietro is in comparison, and as wasted as he was (literally,) there’s no denying he’s just a better brother for Wanda. They could learn a bit from each other: the MCU’s Pietro can teach the original article to be less of a dick to anyone and everyone, including himself, and he in turn can teach the adaptation to have more of a personality. And how to dodge bullets.
Or he would be able to learn, anyway. If he was alive. Wait, is he? Or is that “Pietro” in WandaVision actually Mephisto? What a plot twist! Well, at least maybe the MCU is finally approaching comics-levels of convoluted continuity — which I love, of course. Let’s hope a willingness to tackle trickier, less likeable yet no less engaging characters comes along with it.