Since Wanda Maximoff’s introduction in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel Comics fans have been waiting for the character to reach the universe-shaking power of her incarnation in the comics, Scarlet Witch. And WandaVision has been making good on that, what with Wanda taking control of an entire New Jersey town from the molecules up.
But this week, the Disney Plus series gave Scarlet Witch fans one more reason to celebrate, and opened up the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a host of possibilities.
[Ed. Note: This piece contains spoilers for WandaVision through episode 8.]
You could say that episode 8, “Previously On,” was also a tribute to classic television, if you could reimagine This Is Your Life as This Is Your Trauma. Under duress from Agatha Harkness, Wanda relived the moments of tragedy that lead to her current inner turmoil, starting with the day her parents died, continuing with how she got her powers from the Mind Stone in a Hydra laboratory, and concluding with her growing close to and then losing the Vision.
It was all because Agatha had a hunch that Wanda was a real witch, not just a Hydra experiment, and a burning need to find out how she had become so powerful. Agatha has been practicing dark magic for over 400 years, but had never come close to the power or skill necessary to mind control and transform an entire town for weeks.
The episode concludes with Agatha announcing her realization. “You’re supposed to be a myth. A being capable of spontaneous creation [...] This is Chaos Magic, Wanda. And that makes you the Scarlet Witch.”
She said Scarlet Witch!
Until WandaVision, the Marvel Cinematic has refrained — some might say shied away from — presenting Wanda’s powers as having their origin in magic. Her psychic and telekinetic abilities were just gifts from the Mind Stone during Hydra’s experiments, and nobody ever said the words “Scarlet Witch,” her superhero name from the comics. But episode 8 of WandaVision finally closes the loop, and funnily enough it’s almost a mirror of how the Scarlet Witch’s powers evolved over time in the comics.
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as an X-Men villain, the first explanation for Wanda’s powers was that she was a mutant with control over “probability.” With her “hex” power, she could cause incredibly unlikely outcomes to occur, which is to say that she could do just about anything the writers wanted, from causing bullets to fall out of the air to rupturing gas mains and collapsing whole buildings.
It wasn’t until a decade or so after her first appearance that Avengers writer Steve Englehart decided to make good on the “witch” part of the Scarlet Witch’s name, by having her study magic (including under the comics version of Agatha Harkness). Wanda isn’t the only example of Marvel mixing mutant powers and magic in a single character, but she certainly helped to make that combination a core pillar of X-Men continuity, so much so that Marvel’s current line of X-Men books contains a series all about mutant magic, Excalibur.
Eventually, other writers gave Wanda’s brand of magic a specific source: The God-of-Chaos-turned-ancient-demon-turned-Lovecraft-style -creepy-force-of-darkness-locked-away-in-an-alternate-dimension Chthon. Chthon’s place of power was Mount Wundagore, a fictional place in Eastern Europe where Wanda just happened to have been born. That’s probably not going to make it into WandaVision, but it does put Wanda among the Marvel Universe’s foremost wielders of Chaos Magic.
Chaos Magic holds the power to change the very fabric of reality. Don’t ask how this is different from magic that makes fire or flowers or bunnies where there weren’t any before: it’s comics, and it’s magic. The rules are not very specific. All you need to know is that Chaos Magic is very powerful, very rare, and very dangerous.
The episode also gave viewers a glimpse of what could be an updated version of Wanda’s Scarlet Witch costume, featuring a long skirt and a headpiece with two tall crown-like spikes. In the glimpse of Agatha’s backstory that we got in episode 8, when you use magic really hard, it seems to give you a bit of a crown:
Between that and a vision Wanda saw in the Mind Stone of a crowned figure in a long skirt, it looks like WandaVision is making its own explanation for the Scarlet Witch’s characteristic two-pronged headpiece. The odds that we’ll get a new costume revamp for Wanda before the season is over seem solid.
The Scarlet Witch was given another comics origin story tweak when she stopped being a mutant entirely. Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox cut a deal to share custody of the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, owing to how the two occupied an overlap area of X-Men and Avengers continuity. But the deal rested on Marvel Studios keeping all mention of mutants away from Wanda and Pietro, and so Marvel Comics followed suit. The same year that Avengers: Age of Ultron introduced Wanda and Pietro to movie audiences, an issue of Uncanny Avengers revealed that the twins weren’t mutants at all, but normal humans who had been experimented on and then disguised as mutants.
But it does mean that in modern Marvel Comics continuity, Wanda’s powers are entirely magic derived. And it looks like the same applies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was a long road to a character finally saying “the Scarlet Witch” out loud, but we hope that some Wanda Maximoff fans out there today are celebrating.