In the Marvel Universe, everything is supposed to be “canon” – everything that’s happened did happen and is supposed to count. And yet — and yet — some events have much more staying power than others, as if their gravitational pull on the fabric of the Marvel Universe cancelled out or diminished the effects of any later story that was supposed to amend their course. Brian Michael Bendis’s “Avengers: Disassembled” and “House of M” are such stories for Wanda Maximoff, whose blame for those events has never been absolved despite many attempts.
But before we get to that, let’s travel back to 1989: In John Byrne’s West Coast Avengers, the twin children of Wanda and Vision were revealed to have been purely magical creations of Wanda, brought to life with pieces of Mephisto’s soul yet maintained in existence solely by Wanda’s will — so much so that, whenever Wanda wasn’t thinking about them, they vanished from reality. (Incidentally, this happened just after Scarlet Witch had essentially lost her husband Vision, who’d been disassembled by the AI-fearful governments of the world and reassembled into an unfeeling machine.)
At the end of this sad turn of events, Mephisto gets his soul fragments back and little Tommy and Billy cease to exist. Wanda’s trauma is such that Agatha Harkness, her mentor in witchcraft, decides to erase all knowledge of the boys from her mind. Even at the time, it’s clear this is probably not the best idea this old Salem witch ever had.
Previously on The Great Pretenders!
Inevitably, in Bendis and David Finch’s 2004 “Avengers: Disassembled
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,” Wanda finds out the hidden truth about her long-lost children and “loses her mind,” causing the violent dissolution of the Avengers. It is a shocking, entertaining, and consequential story; what it isn’t is a treatise on mental health issues, or even just a sensitive and thoughtful depiction of them.
Soon enough, in 2005’s “House of M”, this leads to Wanda being manipulated into altering reality into a world ruled by mutandom — by her supposed father, Magneto, no less (hence, the House of M.) Predictably, things don’t go well. They go terribly, in fact. At the end of the conflict, she appears to do a 180 about the whole thing and brings reality back to its original state, with a key alteration: by uttering a now infamous phrase, she depowers most mutants in the Marvel Universe.
Love it or hate it, “No More Mutants” is memorable and left an indelible mark on one of the most popular Marvel franchises, the X-Men, for more than a decade. The effects are still felt today: in the new mutant nation of Krakoa, the Scarlet Witch is “the Great Pretender,” the false daughter of Magneto who almost destroyed mutantdom. In Jonathan Hickman’s House of X, she is listed among all other mutant-hating genociders, and that’s mostly how she’s been regarded.
If you merely pick up a trade paperback of Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel’s House of M and read it, you’ll find those charges to be apparently substantiated. More or less. Truthfully, it’s revealed by the end of the event that Wanda’s brother Pietro, the silver-haired speedster Quicksilver, was as much (if not more) responsible for the creation of the House of M, and consequently all that came after. When Magneto finds out the world he rules over is a lie and that his son is responsible, he kills Pietro, and it is the anguish and anger over this act of violence that leads Wanda to end this reality and go the opposite direction in her next attempt at a world she can live with.
But most readers, even those who remember Pietro’s machinations, don’t seem to blame Pietro in particular, because though it is very much canon, it doesn’t stick — Quicksilver being terrible is par for the course; “No More Mutants” is iconic, for better or worse. It’s what you’re left with, emotionally, when you finish House of M and see the effects of Wanda’s decimation on mutandom.
And so, Wanda’s “No More Mutants” sticks.
A few years later, another story addressed Wanda’s culpability much more directly and went even further than that by finally resolving (if not necessarily absolving) John Byrne’s original sin, the ultimate cause of all this tragedy. 2010’s “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade” was, in part, Alan Heinberg and Jim Cheung’s continuation of their marvelous 2006 Young Avengers creation, which included a dark-haired teen sorcerer by the name of Billy and eventually a boy named Tommy who, despite coming from a different family, looked exactly like Billy… except with distinctive silver hair and the powers of a speedster. This coincidence did not escape the attention of many readers, but it wasn’t properly addressed until “The Children’s Crusade,” in which the reincarnated sons of Wanda finally get to meet their original mother, who’d been in apparent hiding ever since she undid the House of M reality.
This could’ve simply been a story of a mother finding her long-lost sons. But there was more to it than that. When Billy and Tommy go seek Wanda with the help of their grandfather Magneto, they surprisingly find her in Latveria, the kingdom of the villainous Doctor Doom, who she is engaged to — and with no memories of her past as the Scarlet Witch. This soon changes when meeting her now grown boys, and Doctor Doom reveals he amplified Wanda’s power years ago so that she could help him essentially become a god. According to Doom, he is the ultimate cause of Wanda’s out of control reality manipulation that led to the dissolution of the Avengers, the creation of the House of M reality, and the decimation of the mutants.
And yet… didn’t Wanda still utter the words “No More Mutants” on her own? The full context is that her mental instability was cruelly taken advantage of by Doctor Doom and Pietro for their own ends, and she had essentially little to no agency of her own when she created the House of M or when she unmade it without most mutants. Yet, when you go back and read House of M, a much more popular and well-read book than “The Children’s Crusade,” there it is: she still says it.
And so, Wanda’s “No More Mutants” still sticks, its gravitational pull so powerful that seemingly no attempt to absolve her, or even share the blame (in the case of Pietro and partly Magneto not even retroactively, but in the text of the original story) can possibly rid her of being the main culprit in the eyes of the readers, whatever the canon may say.
“No More Mutants” cancels out anything else partly because “House of M” is a more famous story; so much so that it’s often the only book many have recommended to read before WandaVision (which is a bad idea, as Sara Century has already argued on this site). But there’s more to it than that: the ensuing Decimation era of mutants was and remains incredibly controversial, and X-Men fans are nothing if not passionate. There were some great stories in that period (especially around the Utopia era in which the X-Men moved to an island nation near San Francisco and gained some respite for a time,) but there’s no denying it was a grim time for the X-Men, who were up against the wall for almost 15 years until they were freed by the current era of Krakoan sovereignty and their mutant ability to resurrect their dead millions.
More than that, if I may be a bit self-reflective about our X-community, there is also some truth to the notion that many — not all, perhaps not most, but definitely many — X-readers are largely readers of X-books and little else in the vast Marvel Universe. After all, that universe’s X-corner comprises no small part of it, with many books in circulation at the same time since the eighties, so you could easily only read X-books and get a whole universe’s worth of stories, characters and ridiculously convoluted continuity. And many readers do just that. So when other events and characters intrude into their largely cordoned-off X-world, with little to no history or setup in their own books, there are bound to be a lot of pissed off mutant fans. That’s just the way it is.
And I get it. I really do. But having recently read and re-read anything and everything Wanda and Vision (and Avengers overall) from 1963 to 1990, and having revisited some of the more modern stories I have discussed here as well, I wonder if those X-exclusive readers truly got the opportunity to experience Wanda. True enough, she was introduced in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s X-Men, as part of the at-the-time absolutely villainous Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants, but she and Pietro swiftly abandoned the group and joined Captain America’s so-called “Kooky Quartet” in the pages of Avengers. From 1965 to 2006, with incredibly rare X-Men / Avengers crossover exceptions, Wanda has been an Avenger with no real presence in the world of mutants.
And yet, she was a mutant, until that was undone by a 2015 retcon that will probably be in turn retconned soon enough, because that’s how it goes. For most of her history in the Avengers, Wanda deals with the same “minority metaphor” issues the X-Men do — except on her own. It’s been only recently, with Rick Remender’s Uncanny Avengers (which ended with the aforementioned controversial retcon that made her and Pietro not mutants), that Wanda has been written to not really care about mutantdom as a part of her identity. Considering Remender’s infamous “M word” speech which he put in the mouth of mutant and former X-Men Alex Summers, this clearly says more about Remender than it ever did about Wanda Maximoff. Sadly, Uncanny Avengers, as the name implies, was an attempt at an “unity squad” between Avengers and the Uncanny X-Men, so this was many X-readers’ first taste of Wanda since House of M. Not exactly a strong second impression, was it?
So here is my plea to those X-exclusive (eXclusive?) readers: I’m not here to convince you that Wanda is great; I’m here to convince you to give Wanda a chance… but mostly when she’s not written by Rick Remender or by writers who insist on her as mind-controlled or manipulated by villainous entities again and again. And again. Yes, that’s gonna be a recurring problem, but delving into that mess is beyond the scope of this text — suffice it to say, Wanda lacks agency in many of her most famous story lines, which is why those aren’t her best.
You can see her bravely defend her relationship as a mutant with the synthezoid Vision against human bigots in Avengers #113. You can see her strike back against sexist and mutantphobic men in the very next issue, Avengers #114, and in Avengers #119. In the 1982 “Vision and the Scarlet Witch” miniseries and 1985 maxiseries, you can see Wanda and Vision learn about their heritage as they try and build a life in the suburbs — a life often interrupted by (some) neighbors who are none too happy about a mutant and an artificial man living in their midst, particularly in the second series’ fourth issue, as well as in Avengers #252, Marvel Fanfare (1982) #58 and Marvel Super-Heroes (1990) #10 set during the same era.
And there’s much more where that came from, as there is much more about Wanda than the most infamous times she’s crossed-over with the world of the X-Men.
Just give the Scarlet Witch a chance.
Hello to you LUKA NIETO GARAY (and anyone else who bothers to read this post)
I think you are spot on in suggesting that Marvel fans (in general), and X-fans (in particular) should give Wanda a far less hostile look. I also think you are correct to point to the unfortunate insularity of X-fans (in regards to the rest of the MU) and your deduction that this insularity has (in large measure) been encouraged over the decades by creators who sought (and still seek) to to put up an impenetrable wall around X-continuity that needlessly isolates and unfortunately limits the role X-continuity has played/plays in the larger MU. This segregation (both in-story and within the Marvel business model) has long been one of my (many) disappointments with Marvel’s approach to their publishing empire. Nevertheless, I feel it’s worth noting that no matter how far into the past one looks the “Wanda-problem” existed long before Bendis used her as a plot device to launch his own Avengers title. This “Wanda-problem” (as I’ve taken to calling it over the years as I’ve fretted and groaned about it) is much larger than the fact that Wanda is (or isn’t) a mutant. Wanda’s character & continuity woes over the decades since her first appearances revolve (to my mind) around two, larger, related issues. Her first “problem” is just that, Wanda is a female character in a medium primarily (still, I would argue) written BY males FOR males. Like dozens of other female characters (at Marvel & DC) Wanda is used as a plot device all too often by male writers who either don’t know what to do with her, don’t know (and aren’t interested in learning) how to write powerful female characters in positive ways, or simply cannot (and hence do not) relate to females (superheroes, mutants, or otherwise). All of these weaknesses on the part of male comic book creators are shared (to a great extent) with the comic book audience itself. This long existing (and frequently addressed) feedback loop has been a problem in Wanda’s development from the start, but there is a second “problem” with Wanda that has (it seems to me) gone largely uncommented upon by fans and/or creators (regardless of their gender) and this less frequently discussed “problem” lies in the second half of the name Stan assigned her. Wanda, on top of everything else is a “Witch.” She doesn’t just play a character endowed with “mystical” and/or “magical” powers, like say, Dr. Strange, or Zatanna, Wanda’s entire character is defined not by the color of her dress, but by a species of beings that are almost universally reviled around the planet. American and European history abound with stories (and actual histories) concerning the burning, the drowning, the beheading, and all the hysterical horror that so-called “witches” inspire. Obviously, anyone who knows anything about Marvel’s mutant population knows that mutants have always suffered from non-mutant “hatred & fear,” but it is my contention that from the very beginning Wanda’s character arc and continuity have suffered even more significantly under the burden of her gender and her identity as a “Witch.” Most folks (including comic book creators and fans alike) are loathe to admit any actual (personal) bias against women (and yet we see it all around us every day, inside and outside the world of comics) nevertheless it seems self-evident to me that the “Wanda-problem” is at heart a manifestation of an all too real Patriarchal hostility to women, a hostility compounded by the fact that even an Avenger as storied and celebrated as Wanda clearly finds it very difficult to convince the males in her world (and in ours) that she really is a “good Witch.”