The Scarlet Witch has been one of Marvel’s most prominent characters for over fifty years, first appearing as a villain in the pages of X-Men before joining the Avengers not long after. Wanda Maximoff is a great character, who unfortunately has always been defined by her relationship to other characters, usually men. First she was defined by her relationship to her overprotective brother Quicksilver, who shielded her from an angry father figure (Magneto). Then she was defined by her long marriage to the android Vision, to the point where all the series she appeared in with him gave her second banana status. It was always “The Vision and the Scarlet Witch” and not the other way around, despite the fact that she appeared in comics first. She was “the sister” and then “the wife.”
And then things got worse for poor Wanda over the years. On the plus side, the writers at Marvel recognized that her magical “hex” ability, originally said to be a mutation, could actually bend reality to her will. This made her one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel universe. But like Jean Grey of the X-Men, for some reason that much power and that much estrogen must always lead to insanity and an inability to control her own abilities. When it happened with Jean Grey it was unique and unexpected. When it happened with Wanda (twice even!) it felt cliche and stale. Writers kept deciding that Wanda couldn’t be trusted with her own power, despite her years of hero experience. It makes you wonder why the Silver Surfer and Thor never had this problem. It must be because they have penises (although, I’ve never been entirely sure the Silver Surfer does).
In any event, the Scarlet Witch’s mental breakdowns and horrible actions have recently been attributed to a possession instigated by Doctor Doom (when in doubt, blame Doom), letting Wanda off the hook. It’s too bad she’s in a separate universe from Green Lantern Hal Jordan, I imagine those two would have a lot to talk about together. Now she’s free to be a hero again, but the question remains… what kind of hero does the Scarlet Witch want to be?
And that’s exactly what James Robinson’s new series is attempting to answer. Issue #1 of Scarlet Witch finds Wanda Maximoff living in a creepy yet fabulous new high rise building in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which she shares with the ghost of her witch mentor, Agatha Harkness (whom Wanda actually killed while possessed, during the events of Avengers Dissasembled). I appreciated that the first few pages clearly make it a point to point out that Wanda is older now (“a few more wrinkles, a little more gray”), something mainstream superhero comics never do, because no one is ever over 29. This is someone who has been through the hell, and come back out the other side. From her rooftop view, she can make out the magical auras of the people of the city, both the good and the bad. It’s a great device for Wanda to become the New York’s magical protector.
Wanda’s first assignment as a solo hero is to investigate a series of murders. In one instance, a bus boy in a fancy restaurant suddenly flips out and kills a patron for no reason. This follows several other instances of rich Manhattanites being offed by their maids or drivers for no apparent reason. Wanda quickly realizes it’s a magical virus that’s spreading, causing insane, bloodthirsty envy.
And this is where things get interesting, and where James Robinson’s love of history and his ability to tap into current events, both come into play in a lovely way. When Wanda asks a police officer if there has been a rash of dead cats in the city, she makes a connection to a similar situation in 18th century France. Back then, peasants killed cats all over Paris, which were seen as the pets of the idle rich. Some believe this was an event that ultimately led to the French Revolution. Back then, she believes it was a sacrifice, a mass spell, a seed of negative magic that was planted, and she thinks it might be one again. After all, Manhattan has become a giant gated community where only the wealthy can live, where the not so wealthy have been priced out. All they might need is one good magical push to revolt.
This first issue is, to me, an example of James Robinson at his best. Robinson made a name for himself with the excellent Starman series in the ’90s, as well as great runs on Superman and JSA. But not all of his output has been on that level since (although his run on DC’s Earth-2 was amazing, and the book has been terrible since he left it). Robinson has taken a character that has always had potential to be more than just “the token girl” in the Avengers and finally given her a chance to shine. She’s not just an appendage to her brother or the Vision, or the cause of everyone’s problems.
The approach to the art in this series is going to be interesting since each issue is set to be drawn by a different artist. This first issue is drawn by Vanessa Del Rey, who gives the story the right kind of spooky ambiance, something that would have felt at home in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Nothing against whoever is following her up in issue #2, but I kind of wish I was seeing more of her work in this book. It’s too soon to know if the “different artist every issue” approach will work, although it probably means the book will always arrive in a timely fashion. And special kudos have to be given to artist Kevin Wada, who gave Wanda a fierce costume redesign, and David Aja, whose cover is striking.
From just this first issue alone, you get the sense that no one is going to mess with Scarlet Witch ever again, and her days as the tool of some villain are now firmly behind her. In that way it reminded me of the recent Jessica Jones series on Netflix (if you’ve seen that series, you know that is high praise indeed). The Scarlet Witch is done being a victim, and I can’t wait to see where she goes next.
RATING: 3.5 OUT OF 5 BURRITOS
IMAGES: Marvel Comics