The past few years have been challenging for WANDA MAXIMOFF. Following appearances in several Avengers movies, the character finally earned the spotlight in Disney+’s first original Marvel series, WandaVision, and again in this month’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
She finally gets some recognition after being the fifth, sixth, or seventh superhero on the call sheet for years. Just one hitch: She has gone from a heroine who understands the weight of her abilities to one who has lost all self-control, making something far worse than her comic book versions as she has risen to the forefront of movie posters.
For others, Wanda’s onscreen journey from 2014’s Avengers: Age of Ultron to Multiverse of Madness is a suitable one. After all, she was first presented as a member of the terrorist group Hydra. Maybe it’s not so surprising that she turned “evil,” as the reasoning goes. But these explanations overlook the reality that the foundation of the Marvel mythology is redemption, the story of ordinary people who overcome extraordinary odds to become heroes.
Why shouldn’t Wanda become a hero if Bucky Barnes can be manipulated by Hydra and still fight alongside the Avengers? Why would one of the most potent witches in the known world change into someone easily influenced by Hydra, Agatha Harkness, or the Darkhold? There will be many who argue it’s because she’s still grieving the loss of Vision, but that’s a worrying way to explain away the weakness of one of the MCU’s most powerful characters.
Numerous commentators have noted the similarities between Wanda’s MCU arc and that of another well-known Marvel heroine, Jean Grey of the X-Men films, whose tale has also been adapted for the big screen (more than once).
Grey, one of the original members of the fan-favorite team, has the skills of a god, loses touch with her humanity, and transforms into a villain that needs to be dealt with by her fellow X-Men in what has become known as “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” Though not Wanda’s narrative per se, the message rings true: you can never predict what a powerful woman will do.
However, the Wanda Maximoff storyline in the film is based on the character’s own comic book history, specifically the work of writers John Byrne and Brian Michael Bendis, and not on the events of Dark Phoenix.
Much of what Wanda in the MCU has been through in the past few years is based on Byrne’s run on West Coast Avengers (retitled Avengers West Coast midway through). In the span of two years, Byrne destroyed Vision and ruined Wanda’s marriage, revealed that her children were fictional creations destroyed by a demonic monster, and had her possessed or influenced by two different entities to make her nasty.
Byrne has later stated that this was all part of a broader plot he was preparing, but that he was forced to abandon the series due to creative differences with Marvel’s editors and management. Wanda’s life fell apart, and her personality was scarred as a result.
How damaged? As such, let’s look at “Chaos,” Bendis’ first story for the Avengers, which he wrote in 2004. (The publishing event this story inspired is also called “Avengers Disassembled,” hence the story’s several titles.)
True Story – Wanda Maximoff
In this story, Wanda’s buried memories of her children are brought to the surface, forcing her to lose her sanity and try to kill all of the Avengers. She’s vanquished by the team and is put into a magical coma by none other than Doctor Strange, then dragged away by her then-father, X-Men villain Magneto. (Wanda’s parentage is a long-running, immensely complex, frequently revised plot line in comics; don’t ask.)
She doesn’t reappear until the House of M crossover event the following year, again masterminded by Bendis, in which she is tricked into rewriting reality into a world dominated by mutants before “regular” reality reasserts itself, albeit with the lasting difference that the mutant gene has been extremely restricted, transforming mutantkind into an endangered species. That’s a happy ending, I guess.
Although Bendis’ portrayal of Wanda Maximoff as a distraught woman willing to kill superheroes in her grief has arguably more thematic impact, the MCU’s adaptation of Byrne’s contributions to Wanda Maximoff’s history are the ones more faithfully adapted (WandaVision even introduced a new, emotionless Vision not unlike the reboot of the hero he introduced during that West Coast Avengers run).
The MCU In the end, Wanda had it worse. Not only does she personally choose to murder other heroes—as opposed to the indirect slaughter of “Chaos”—as the result of the Darkhold’s influence, but her single-minded obsession with reuniting with her children has, it’s alleged, led to destruction across the multiverse on a scale unknown.
Wanda’s hands are so filthy that not even the sacrifice she seemingly makes at the film’s conclusion can clean them up. Furthermore, her current behaviour significantly nullifies the development depicted in WandaVision, in which she was shown to confront the anguish she had caused by manipulating people’s minds and the suffering she had inflicted on the village of Westview.
Instead of incorporating any of that into the picture, the creators of Multiverse kept and even emphasised the worst aspects of Wanda’s comic book origin.
That’s too bad. From “Avengers: The Children’s Crusade” to “The Trial of the Scarlet Witch,” it took many years and several writers to redeem Wanda in the comics.
Over the past nearly two decades since House of M, nearly all of the mess has been cleaned up. Perhaps Marvel Studios is considering something similar. But they could have left her be the hero she’s proven to be, so it seems pointless.