Evan Peters’ appearance as “Pietro” in episode five and six of WandaVision has opened the door to a lot of possibilities. Internet theorists frequently throw around words like “multiverse” and “mutants.” And it certainly seems like this is just the beginning of a much bigger Marvel Cinematic Universe. But what interests me more is the implications Peters has regarding Wanda and Pietro Maximoff’s religion and culture.
The MCU has entirely rewritten their backstory, and in doing so has erased their heritage. The Fox/Disney studio dispute could be to blame. However, Marvel Studios took this as an opportunity to omit their background and rewrite it to fuel Tony Stark’s characterization. In a time of rampant xenophobia—where elected officials believe in Jewish Space Lasers—positive and prominent representation is more important than ever. Let’s dig into the Maximoffs’ comics backstory, their MCU rewrite, and how the Fox/Disney situation could be the chance to reopen the door on Wanda’s full story in WandaVision and beyond.
Wanda and Pietro Maximoff first appeared in X-Men #4 in March 1964 as villains alongside Magneto in his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. After about a year, they joined the Avengers in Avengers 16 and remained primarily on the good guy team. Slivers of their origin story appeared from time to time. But it often changed due to many of their memories being traumatic and therefore repressed. In Vision and Scarlet Witch #4, released in February 1983, Magneto revealed himself to be their true father.
Magneto, born Max Eisenhardt, was Jewish, and their mother, Magda, was Romani; both were survivors of the Holocaust. These heritages played a part in the intergenerational trauma that fueled much of their motivations and actions. It meant, for instance, that Jewish and Romani nerds around the world had some pretty cool superheroes to look up to.
20th Century Studios
The Comics Retcon and X-Men Reboot
With almost 40,000 comics produced by Marvel over 80 years, it’s no surprise that they have retroactively changed the continuity of some of their characters and stories over the years. In Avengers & X-Men: AXIS #7, released December 2014, Wanda finds out she is not actually related to Magneto, and never was. But six months earlier, Pietro—nay, Peter Maximoff—made an appearance in X-Men: Days of Future Past, played by Evan Peters.
Peter was all but confirmed to be the son of the X-Men franchise’s Magneto. But Wanda did not make an appearance in the X-Men world. She was too busy with Pietro #3: MCU Pietro. (In case I lost you, three Pietros exist at the same time. One in the comics, related to Wanda but not Magneto. One in the X-Men movies, related to Magneto but not Wanda. And one in the MCU, related to Wanda, where Magneto doesn’t exist.)
The Fox/Disney Dispute
Multiple studios have owned Marvel characters’ movie rights throughout the years. And this causes problems when you want big team-up movies. In 1993, facing financial trouble, Marvel Studios (then Marvel Films) sold Fox the rights to the X-Men characters, including Wanda and Pietro. However, because the siblings fought with the X-Men and the Avengers, when both wanted to use them in a film in the mid 2010s, each claimed to have the right to do so. Eventually, they struck an agreement so that Fox kept the X-Men but Marvel Studios got Wanda and Pietro. But neither could acknowledge the existence of the others’ universe. Peter Maximoff didn’t know about the Avengers, and Wanda and Pietro Maximoff were not mutants.
It could have been as simple as Wanda and Pietro’s fictional, offscreen parents being Romani and Jewish. Sokovia, their home, is a fictional city with no preexisting ties to the comics. The writers could have filled the city with whatever cultures they wanted. But they chose two white actors, and have never discussed their heritage. Their backstory involves their parents being killed by Stark Industry bombs, and volunteering to be experimented on by S.H.I.E.L.D. (not realizing it was really HYDRA). Not only that, but Wanda’s room in Captain America: Civil War has crosses on the wall and a cross necklace on her dresser. No other character is seen with religious paraphernalia (that I know of), and yet the historically Jewish character gets… crosses.
Whether this was intentional or the result of a misinformed set dresser, this is erasure in a fandom and cinematic universe with minimal representation of any kind.
WandaVision and Beyond
We are over halfway through WandaVision and so far there has been no indication of Wanda’s religion or heritage. She even uses an American accent most of the time. That being said, the show is modeled after sitcoms like I Love Lucy, Leave It to Beaver, and The Brady Bunch. All of which had Christmas episodes. Including Wanda’s culture could be quite simple—a line about latkes or a mezuzah on the door. Having the confirmed most powerful Avenger be a badass Jewish and Romani woman could mean so many fans seeing themselves on screen in a way that rarely occurs. And with Evan Peters’ introduction, seemingly as Pietro, and mutants quite possibly on the way, the absence of Magneto isn’t a good excuse anymore.
So please, Marvel, no more crosses. No Christmas special. We have plenty of those. Although I can’t imagine Elizabeth Olsen being recast (and someone of Romani heritage should have been cast in the role in the first place), there are ways to incorporate her Romani culture and ancestry into her character that would only add to her depth and dimension. Honor the founders of Marvel and the necessity of the time and use this time in the spotlight of pop culture to shine a light on Judaism and the Romani’s coolest superhero.