In the pages of Marvel Comics, Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, has a history of villainy going back to her very first appearance. Something her MCU counterpart just did in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Of course, her decades as a heroic Avenger far overshadow anything villainous she’s done. A good 90% of the time in fact, she’s on the side of the angels. But her falls to the dark side, to use Star Wars terminology, are always memorable and color her otherwise heroic career.
The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants
When Wanda Maximoff was first introduced in 1964’s X-Men #4, she was part of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But she and her twin brother Pietro, a.k.a. Quicksilver, were Romani teenagers whom Magneto saved from a mob of angry villagers. At the time, and for decades after, the Maximoff twins thought they were mutants. Wanda’s probability-altering hexes mimicked magic. Only later did readers discover it really was magic.
But in these early days, despite working for Magneto, the Scarlet Witch only engaged in criminal activities because she felt she owed Magneto a debt for saving her life. Only a year or so after her introduction, she and her brother became heroes, in Avengers #16. And for the next decade and a half, Wanda had a heroic career with very few hints at any kind of dark-sided future. But that would soon change. All because of a powerful and evil Elder God called Chthon.
The Power of Chthon and the Darkhold
The essence of Chthon lingered in Wundagore Mountain in Eastern Europe, near Wanda’s birthplace. It observed the birth of Wanda and Pietro, and Chthon infused the newborn Wanda with mystical power. Multiple times, he caused her hex powers to weaken, in the hopes she would turn to studying witchcraft. After spending time as the witch Agatha Harkness’ pupil, she was the perfect host Chthon to possess her.
All of this was done using the Darkhold, Wanda’s first brush with this ancient tome. She wreaked havoc on her fellow Avengers, before resisting Chthon’s influence and breaking free. This was her first, and most short-lived, bout with uncontrolled darkness. But we can definitely chalk this one up as a straight-up possession.
“Darker Than Scarlet”
The next time Wanda went dark, it was after a period of extreme happiness in her life. She married her great love, the android Vision, and they moved to the suburbs. After magically giving birth to twin boys, Billy and Tommy, they retired from the Avengers to live a life of domestic bliss. But soon after Wanda lost the Vision to a government experiment, and she discovered her children were not real, merely figments of her imagination come to life.
It is here that Wanda really snapped. Her father Magneto returned to her life, and the Scarlet Witch was darker than he ever was. (This occurred in 1990’s Avengers West Coast #56.) Wearing a new costume, this version of Wanda tortured her Avengers teammates, and even scared her own father. They ultimately blamed this slip towards darkness on Immortus, a variant of Kang the Conqueror. They revealed that he manipulated the tragic events in Wanda’s life as a way of weakening her so that he could control her. The Avengers ultimately defeated him, but Wanda’s peace of mind was shattered.
Wanda’s mentor Agatha Harkness wiped her memory of her own children, hoping to spare her the pain of their loss. She soon resumed her life as an Avenger. And for a solid decade, no one really talked to her about her ever having had children, nor her slip into the dark side and rejoining with Magneto. But that would all change when Wanda’s fellow Avenger the Wasp accidentally let something slip by mistake.
In 2004’s “ Avengers Disassembled,” Wanda’s biggest and most famous turn to the dark side took place. While chit-chatting with Wanda one day, Janet Van Dyne, a.k.a. the Wasp, accidentally mentioned Wanda once having had kids. This sparked a memory of Billy and Tommy in her, and she investigated what it meant. She soon discovered that Agatha Harkness had mind-wiped her of the knowledge, and her fellow Avengers were in on the deception. To say she got revenge afterward is putting it mildly.
Unleashing her hex powers, Wanda altered probability so just about every enemy that could attack the Avengers did. Vision was ripped apart, and Hawkeye and Ant-Man were killed. Sensing the extreme danger to reality if they left Wanda unchecked, Doctor Strange used the Eye of Agamotto to force her to live her worst memory, putting her in a catatonic state. Her father Magneto returned and took her away to Genosha, where he and Charles Xavier would try to help her.
“House of M”
This was all just a temporary fix, however. Eventually, Wanda emerged from her catatonia and reshaped reality to suit her needs, giving herself the life she wanted, with Tommy and Billy alive again (and mutants ruling the Earth). This was the famous House of M series, which was the loose basis for WandaVision. Eventually, Wanda reset reality, but not before de-powering 99% of the mutant population, an event that left hundreds dead. In the aftermath, Wanda vanished for years. During this time, they revealed her kids to not have truly vanished, but reincarnated as the teenage heroes Wiccan and Speed.
The Bride of Doom
Eventually, Wiccan discovered his mother in Eastern Europe, with no knowledge of who she was. After awakening her memories, they revealed that Wanda’s most recent bouts of madness were the result of the manipulations of yet another great Marvel villain, Dr. Doom. In the wake of discovering the truth about her children, Wanda turned to the ruler of Latveria to help her find her missing kids.
Doom used her as a conduit to channel the Life Force, a power that rivaled that of the Phoenix. Doom hoped to wield this power for himself, but it proved too much for Wanda to control. Hence, the events of “Avengers Disassembled” and House of M. Because of Doom’s involvement, the Avengers absolved Wanda of her crimes, and ask her to return to the team. And she’s remained an Avenger ever since.
Is Wanda More Hero Than Villain?
In all three instances, powerful men manipulated Wanda for their own ends. Starting with Magneto, then Immortus, and finally Doom. Not to mention the elder god Chthon. Of course, Wanda can’t go totally blameless here. She went to one of the worst men on the planet in Doom for help in bringing back her kids, without thinking about the consequences. And even young Wanda could have walked away from Magneto much earlier than she did.
Ultimately, Wanda’s most heinous acts have all been walked back, to a point. (She also manipulated reality to bring Hawkeye and Ant-Man back to life). And she has saved far more lives than she’s taken. Whether or not she can ever fully be absolved for some of the things she did is up to the reader. But her fellow Avengers have forgiven her, and so has the mutant community. Now, let’s see if MCU Wanda will have a similar redemption arc.