Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, is one of the most important characters in Marvel Comics history. Her power to alter probability and rewrite reality has had a profound impact on Marvel continuity, and has been the catalyst for some of the publisher's most consequential events ever. But at the same time, since her debut in 1964's X-Men #4, Wanda has rarely been in charge of her own fate, with an ever-growing list of villains manipulating her and attempting to seize her power for their own nefarious ends.
Starting with her adoptive father Magneto, Wanda has nearly always been subject to the machinations of villains who have a greater understanding of her power than even she does, with most of her major stories revolving around the various ways Wanda's control over her own abilities has been negated with often nightmarish outcomes.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has followed the trend, with Wanda first gaining her powers as a result of volunteering for Hydra experimentation and debuting as a villain in Avengers: Age of Ultron, while being manipulated by the titular evil android. Even WandaVision, which directly grapples with Wanda's trauma and her power to decide her own fate, did so with a storyline based on Agatha Harkness attempting to control Wanda and manipulate her magical abilities.
Now, on the eve of Marvel Comics' Darkhold event, in which Wanda takes the lead in a series of one-shots focusing on the tome of evil magic, she's actually dead in current comic book continuity - meaning she's not even technically around to enjoy the success of her own lead story.
How does that work? According to Marvel, Darkhold takes place before Wanda's murder, which happened in the X-Men line's summer 'Hellfire Gala' crossover - itself almost a footnote at the story's end, designed to lead into The Trial of Magneto, in which Magneto is accused of killing Wanda.
Noticing a pattern here? Wanda Maximoff is central to three major Marvel stories this year - and yet none of them, even the one that focuses on the way her death impacts the Marvel Universe, bears her name.
Contrast this with the upcoming Death of Doctor Strange event, which puts another MCU star front-and-center in the story of his own mysterious death, and it starts getting tough not to wonder why, since her earliest days in the Marvel Universe, Wanda has been so often relegated to being more of a plot device than a protagonist - even as her powers and personality have been driving forces in Marvel continuity.
Wanda Maximoff, born as Scarlet Witch
Wanda Maximoff's Marvel Comics career began as a villain alongside her brother Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver, part of Magneto's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But Wanda and Pietro's story quickly became one of the early Marvel Universe's most complicated narratives, painting a picture of mutant outcasts taken in by a manipulative villain promising relief from the evils of a world that rejects them.
When many of the founding Avengers left the team in Avengers #16, Wanda and Pietro were among the new recruits (along with fellow ex-villain Hawkeye) brought in by Captain America to round out the team. Under Cap's guidance, the formerly villainous members of his so-called 'Kooky Quartet' not only reformed into heroes, but became staples of the Avengers even after some of the founders returned, and more new recruits were added.
Wanda in particular found a place among Earth's Mightiest Heroes, quickly becoming the heart and soul of the team for a generation. And when the synthezoid Vision joined the Avengers cast and began a relationship with Wanda, their romance became one of the title's core narratives.
This era of Avengers marks Wanda Maximoff's golden years, both in terms of her place in the Marvel Universe and her ongoing narrative. Her powers consistently escalated, making her one of the team's biggest powerhouses, and the ultimate deciding factor in many of their key adventures. But this wasn't to last, as Wanda's trajectory, both in terms of her power levels and in her character arc, inevitably caught the attention of darker forces.
The Yesterday Quest
That's a bit of a joke on some level - Mark Gruenwald, the writer who inadvertently began Wanda's next chapter as a hostage to her own power and those who would possess it, was a famously kind person. On the other hand, the villains he introduced as new enemies for Wanda and the Avengers, and the new elements of Wanda's history and powers he established more than qualify as bad influences on the burgeoning Scarlet Witch.
It all started with Chthon, a demonic entity who created the aforementioned Darkhold, and who instilled a portion of his power over chaos in her at birth, making her not just the most potent wielder of the Marvel Universe's version of 'Chaos Magic,' but an intended vessel for his own essence to return to Earth.
Wanda became possessed by Chthon and took down the Avengers, though she was eventually freed, banishing Chthon with her boosted powers. But this boost in magical ability (and her subsequent tutelage by Agatha Harkness in the ways of witchcraft) brought the attention of at least three more of the Marvel Universe's worst villains, all of whom wished to control or destroy Wanda and her abilities.
The Vision Quest
First there was Mephisto, whose dark influence was secretly instrumental in allowing Wanda to magically manifest her and Vision's twin sons - with Wanda having her first major breakdown when Mephisto revealed his plot and her children faded along with his magic.
Throughout Mephisto's manipulations, the Avengers' old enemy Immortus (one of the primary variants of Kang the Conqueror) also bedeviled her at every turn due to her status as a 'Nexus Being,' a being of unique power in the Marvel Comics Multiverse. Immortus' schemes resulted in the death and rebirth of Wanda's husband Vision without emotion, effectively ending their marriage, and saddling Wanda with yet another cloud of deep psychological trauma.
Many of these stories were told outside of Avengers in a pair of Vision and Scarlet Witch limited series. Though this marked her graduation from simply being an ensemble player, Wanda still wouldn't get her own solo starring title until 1994's Scarlet Witch limited series.
Scarlet Witch: Disassembled
The proverbial straw to break Wanda's psychological back came following the Avengers being trapped in a pocket universe and presumed dead in the core Marvel Universe for a brief period. When they returned (in what became the storyline 'Avengers Dissassembled'), their old enemy Morgan le Fay (mother of Mordred the Mystic, a servant of Chthon and enemy of Wanda) kidnapped the Scarlet Witch and used her own magical power to steal Wanda's reality writing ability, making the Avengers her servant in her new universe, with Wanda trapped in the villain's dungeons.
This led to another major power upgrade for Wanda, after she brought the deceased Avenger Wonder Man back to life to save her from Morgan le Fay's power and later channeled pure 'Chaos Magic' to banish a horde of dead Avengers who were resurrected as zombies by the evil Grim Reaper. But it also led to Wanda's brief, cataclysmic return to out-and-out villainy and the biggest manipulation of her person and power yet.
In what appeared to be a series of random attacks, the Avengers Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Scott Lang/Ant-Man, and Wanda's own ex-husband Vision were killed. But the apparently unconnected events, which also involved attacks on other Avengers, were revealed to be the doing of the Scarlet Witch, who was lashing out and manipulating reality all around her while blaming her involvement with the Avengers, and the members of the team themselves, for all she had endured since joining their ranks.
When it was all over, Wanda unleashed the full potential of her reality-warping abilities, creating the House of M reality and rewriting the entire Marvel Universe. But even this wasn't entirely on Wanda's shoulders, as it was soon revealed that her brother Pietro had convinced her to create the new reality.
Wanda's rewritten reality was eventually unmade by the Avengers. But with the world returned to normal, and the manipulation of Wanda's psyche and abilities laid bare, Wanda found a new target for her ire - the whole of mutantkind, especially her adoptive father Magneto (then still believed to be her biological father - more on that in just a moment). Casting one more reality-bending spell, Wanda uttered the phrase "No more mutants," and eliminated the powers of all but 198 of the thousands and thousands of mutants in the Marvel Universe.
After that, Wanda disappeared. But in the wreckage of the Avengers, her twin sons Billy and Tommy, whose magically created souls were born into true physical forms, helped form the Young Avengers, eventually embarking on a quest to find their mother.
And find the Scarlet Witch they did, along with the truth behind her attack on the Avengers in 'Avengers: Disassembled.'
Wanda's children's crusade
As it turns out, even in a story meant to somewhat redeem Wanda and reckon with the damage of her actions, she's not spared from being someone else's pawn. In the story which brings Wanda back into the fold, Avengers: The Children's Crusade, it's revealed that Wanda was - you guessed it - magically manipulated into her attack on the Avengers by none other than Doctor Doom, himself one of the most powerful sorcerers in the Marvel Universe.
What's more, Doom is revealed to be planning to marry Wanda, whom he's magically brainwashed, in order to - you guessed it again - fully steal her power over reality and 'Chaos Magic.'
In the end, Wanda is freed from Doom's influence, but ultimately rejected from any reunion with her ex-husband Vision till many years later, and handled with kid gloves by the other Avengers, who can't bring themselves to allow her back on the team. Then, when she finally is allowed back on an Avengers roster, it's the so-called 'Unity Squad' of Uncanny Avengers, whose mutant members take their grudge against Wanda's "No more mutants" spell out on her directly, constantly reminding her of all she's done and been forced to do.
And if that's not enough, her time with the Uncanny Avengers also led to the reveal that, not only are Wanda and her brother Pietro not even actually mutants but genetically engineered super-beings created by the High Evolutionary. By that stunning reveal, Magneto isn't even actually their father, but apparently just some old creep who liked bossing around teenagers back in the day.
Scarlet Witch and the Witches Road
But there is a silver lining in this era for Wanda, as her return eventually led to her first solo ongoing title, James Robinson's Scarlet Witch, which finally made her not just the main protagonist of her own story rather than someone else's pawn. The story, told through a series of one-and-done issues drawn by different artists to suit each issue's tale, also carved out a niche for Wanda in the magical corner of the Marvel Universe, defining her as the primary wielder and guardian of a unique type of sorcery qualified as 'Witchcraft.'
WandaVision or a Wanda mirage?
In fact, for a little while after WandaVision, which puts the MCU Wanda on a trajectory to join the film Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it was starting to seem like Marvel Comics was positioning Wanda as the new Sorcerer Supreme following the positioning opening up in the impending Death of Doctor Strange limited series.
Then - immediately after Wanda reconciles with her estranged, adoptive father Magneto - it's revealed that she's in fact the person he's accused of murdering in The Trial of Magneto, pulling the rug out from under the idea of Wanda becoming Sorcerer Supreme and turning Darkhold, her own event, into more of a memorial service (though not like the one Strange will apparently receive after his own murder).
It seems like Marvel Comics is once again piling on poor Wanda Maximoff, building her up only to tear her back down again. But if the recent history of Marvel Comics tells us anything, it's that characters - especially those with leading MCU roles and major guest-starring appearances in other films - don't stay dead for long.
What that means is, Wanda is now in a place where, if Marvel Comics and the Trial of Magneto creative team Leah Williams and Lucas Werneck play their cards right, Wanda could return with something of a fresh slate, poised to take the place among the greatest heroes of Marvel Comics that has been just out of reach as a series of dark manipulators drags her back toward her villainous roots.
And frankly, it's high time Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, fully took control of her own destiny and the level of power at her command in a real, uninhibited way.
Here are the best Scarlet Witch stories to date.