I love the Scarlet Witch.
Okay, let’s back it up a bit. A little more than a year ago, I made the questionable decision to read every Avengers comic on Marvel Unlimited in as close to chronological order as possible. As a massive fan of the X-Men, I wanted to understand what made people fans of the Avengers. And while it started off dull, I was soon engrossed in the most compelling workplace drama I’d ever read. Once the series started focusing on characters who didn’t already have their own solo series and it was able to develop those characters instead of just throwing Iron Man and the Hulk at each other like action figures, it got really good. And a major, major part of that was the Scarlet Witch.
Under the pen of Steve Englehart, Jim Shooter, David Michelinie, and more, Wanda Maximoff went from the character whose backstory managed to be more convoluted than Cyclops’ to being one of my favorite Marvel characters. She was kind, strong, and wracked with guilt for her misdeeds in her youth. She fell in love with a synthezoid, sees something in him that no one else could, and fights against anyone who tried to get in the way of their love.
And sadly, she’s a character that hasn’t been treated well since the 1980s. From John Byrne to Bendis and beyond, writers began repeatedly drawing from the well of “Wanda has gone craAaAazy” stories – escalating until the only thing she’s known for in the greater comic book consciousness is a genocide of mutantkind. It’s incredibly frustrating, and made worse by the fact that no one seems interested in moving her past this one plot point or rehabilitating her.
Of course, I haven’t read everything with the character. Having become a fan so recently, I hadn’t read much of her story from the last few years. So imagine my pleasant surprise stumbling upon James Robinson’s run – a solo series that promised a focus on Wanda as a character and a route to move her beyond “House of M.” With art from a lot of talented artists – a different one each issue – and covers by the incredible David Aja, this book promised to be a gorgeous look at Wanda that would show the world what I loved about the character. I got really excited over even a sliver of potential, just something modern that I could use to show people that Wanda is much more than a “crazy” character. Sadly, James Robinson had other plans.
Before I get into the story I do want to focus on the art, and each artist who worked on this series. Each issue has a different primary artist, with 2 artists switching primary and secondary roles for a two-parter, and Vanessa Del Rey doing the first and last issues of the series. Each artist on the book is fantastic, and brings a unique style and tone to the issue they work on, which helps the one-and-done format of the book. This series introduced me to a lot of new artists that I am now a loyal follower of.
Now let’s get into the whole book. Each issue is intended to mostly stand alone, by virtue of the artists changing, so I’ll focus on each one individually.
The first issue of the series is… okay. Vanessa Del Rey brings a style that lends itself very strongly to dynamic layouts and storytelling within the issue itself, and Jordie Bellaire colors her work incredibly well to evoke a strong tone that, ignoring the story, makes this book feel stylish. But the problem is, the writing is dull throughout. I love looking at each page, but when it comes to reading dialogue it feels like I’m hitting a brick wall. There’s dry narration about the nature of Wanda’s powers, and the moral of the story boils down to “resenting the ultra-rich is just as bad as bigotry,” which lands poorly in any era. Not the strongest start.
The following issue is a bit more interesting – the artist is Marco Rudy, who delivers one of the best-looking issues I’ve read all year. His use of color and contrast makes each scene unique and the way he lays out each page is a sight to behold. Seriously, I can’t sing enough praises of this issue visually. Once again, the problem stems from Robinson’s writing not being very good. This one’s an info dump that’s brightened up by having the walls of text broken up by gorgeous splash pages. The story takes place in Greece and focuses on a Minotaur, and it’s fun enough, but the amount of time it spends setting things up for the future of the run is a real downer that hurts its quality.
Steve Dillon and Chris Visions take the primary role on the third and fourth issues respectively, although they both do also work on a few pages in the other. Dillon and Frank Martin are a classic art team that doesn’t bring the visual flair of Del Rey or Rudy, but make up for it with a strong handle on facial expressions and body language. They’re an especially strong team for the story set in Ireland. Visions draws the Witches’ Road, a new realm created in this series, and imbues it with all the magical and mysterious energy it deserves. Unfortunately, these two issues bring the problems of the run to the forefront.
This two-parter introduces a new villain for the Scarlet Witch – the Emerald Warlock. Yes, that’s his real supervillain name. Yes, it’s not clever at all. And yes, the character is dull as bricks. When I got to the splash page introducing this moniker, I just sighed deeply and questioned why I was reading this book. I’d come to this book familiar with how Robinson’s Wonder Woman left the main character of the book to focus on her brother, defining Diana more as “Jason’s sister” than as her own person. This revelation did the same for Wanda – she’s defined more by “The Emerald Warlock’s enemy” than being herself. If Robinson doesn’t want to write women, he just shouldn’t take on female-led books. What’s arguably worse than this new character, though, is the revelation of Wanda’s “true mother,” the original Scarlet Witch. This is a creative choice that adds nothing and stifles the stories that can be told with Wanda, especially since Robinson doesn’t seed it with any interesting ideas.
Next, Javier Pulido draws a mostly silent issue which serves as a showcase of his storytelling skills. He’s been one of the best for a while, and it’s great that he gets to show it here. This is also ironically the best issue of the series – the fewer words by Robinson I’m forced to read, the better. I spent a long time just looking at each silent page, taking in the layout and story that was being told. I feel like this series would have been so much better if each issue was more like this, a one and done artist-led story with no greater aims to tell an overarching story. Alas, that is not the case.
The next issue is drawn by Marguerite Sauvage, whose paneling makes each page look like stained window art. Everything feels biblical, which works really well in an issue about a man with wings. This was another strong issue – it feels episodic and disconnected from everything else going on.
Then, we get a short story in an anthology drawn by Mike Perkins and a full issue drawn by Annie Wu, both showcasing a new character named The Wu. She’s like the Scarlet Witch but for Chinatown, and generally feels like she has a lot more potential than Robinson imbues her with. The Wu doesn’t appear again, but her existence serves to build the world of magic and mysticism that Robinson is aiming for. That world is still pretty dull, but I do hope we can get The Wu under someone else’s pen – hopefully someone with a bit more expertise with Chinese mysticism.
Tula Lotay draws and colors the following issue, which has a good setup – it’s a therapy issue that’s supposed to let the readers see more into the psyche of Wanda Maximoff in addition to recapping her history. I love these kinds of stories; therapy is a good framework to delve deeper into a character’s mental state. Unfortunately, this particular issue is one of the most boring of the series. It spends more time telling the reader about Wanda’s history than showing us her feelings about it. Lotay does the best with what she’s given but honestly it feels like Robinson was far more interested in the therapist than in Wanda herself – a recurring problem with this run.
Up next is an issue focusing on Quicksilver drawn by Joelle Jones. While there’s been plenty of great artists on the book already, Jones just absolutely knocks it out of the park. The way she draws both Wanda and Pietro is fantastic and works to this issue’s benefit. Unfortunately the stellar art is once again hindered by the writing which decides to diagnose Quicksilver with mental illnesses, blithely using terms meant to demean neurodivergent people in an attempt to characterize Quicksilver as a bad person. What’s ironic is the way Robinson portrays Quicksilver in this issue is incredibly similar to how most writers have portrayed Wanda for the last few decades. It’s not good when it’s done to either character.
The tenth issue of this series is drawn by Kei Zama, who is a personal favorite artist ever since her time working on Optimus Prime for IDW. Ian Herring’s colors bring a great vibrancy to her work, especially in the outdoors. It might seem strange to compliment the way snow is colored, since it’s just supposed to be white, but Zama and Herring use this white background to great effect, letting it draw attention to smaller details within. The story is once again boring, as Wanda needs to fight some Japanese demon before leaving. I appreciate that Robinson is trying to work Zama’s own culture into the story being told, but his writing just makes it seem flat, which is the worst disservice of all.
The next two issues are drawn by Leila Del Duca and Annapaola Martello, and while I really enjoy the flashback scenes in Del Duca’s issue, the main artwork just isn’t great. On the other issue, Martello’s artwork ends up feeling like a weaker version of Joelle Jones’. The dip in visual quality is especially disappointing because this issue is important to the greater story Robinson’s telling. This is focused on Wanda’s mother, the original Scarlet Witch, who just winds up feeling more lifeless the more we get to see of her. Wanda was not improved as a character by this addition, and her mother isn’t even usable as a separate character beyond this series. It’s frustrating.
Jonathan Marks-Barravecchia draws the thirteenth issue, and brings the quality of the artwork back up. There’s some seriously gorgeous renditions of the Witches’ Road in this one, and he manages to make demonic entities look unique. While he’s not the best at drawing actual people, that’s not really a problem here as it focuses much more on monsters and mysticism. But again, this issue just doesn’t do anything meaningful with Wanda. She’s confronted by visions of people in her past and how they view her, and there’s so much potential for her to confront her sins and get a new start. Instead, Robinson has her essentially close her eyes and ignore them and say she doesn’t care about the past at all. This is the worst way to try and move a character forward, especially one whose entire conflict centers around mistakes that she made. But that work wasn’t done here, and it causes further harm to Wanda as a character.
Shawn Crystal draws the penultimate issue of the book, with Chris Brunner on colors. Where Barravecchia drew the Witches’ Road as a nightmarish landscape, Crystal’s artwork evokes a pleasant dream. Crystal’s style is a fantastic choice for this issue, which is supposed to be the final battle between Wanda and the entity of Chaos, but (I feel like I’m repeating myself ad nauseum) Robinson takes so much away from what should be a major climax by just… dropping the ball. There’s some weird mythology about Chaos and Magic thrown in here that feels entirely unearned, and a big reunion with Quicksilver that feels equally unsatisfying. I mean, Wanda called him a sociopath and said that she was better off without him in her life, and they both just make up as if there was no conflict to begin with. It’s rushed and doesn’t fit either character or meaningfully progress their arcs, and I can only question the intent behind it.
At last, the final issue of the book is drawn by Vanessa Del Rey, coming back to close out the series. It’s a one-shot about Wanda helping out a family struggling with some demonic possession problems, and it’s used to recap the series through narration so Wanda can talk about how much she’s grown over these last 14 issues. The problem is, she hasn’t grown at all. She’s the exact same person she was before, with no real introspection or fire from which to be reborn. The issue ends on Wanda asking to be an Avenger again, which from a fanservice perspective makes me happy, but once again feels unearned.
I legitimately don’t understand why this series exists. It spins its wheels for over a year, but somehow seems to think that there was some significant character growth within. This is an ultimately toothless run that feels disinterested in its own premise and the artists seem to be putting far more work into making each issue interesting than the writing. I’ll admit that magic and mysticism has never really been my thing, but Robinson doesn’t even make a bid to convince me it’s interesting. There’s no love for Wanda’s history, and there doesn’t seem to be any interest in engaging with any other aspect of the character either.
Robinson chooses to redefine Wanda to fit the story he’s telling rather than craft a story around her and the series suffers tremendously for it. It’s not helped by the fact that the mold he’s forced Wanda to fit into isn’t very good on its own, either. While the art is interesting, varied, and at times incredible, the writing does it such a disservice that I almost feel bad about not recommending this run. But at the end of the day this run is a bad Scarlet Witch comic, and a bad story by itself. Maybe one day Wanda will get the spotlight she deserves, but it’s certainly not this series.