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Marvel Explained: Elder Gods & Genetic Experiments – Who is the Scarlet Witch?

9 Minute Read
May 06
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Is the Scarlet Witch a mutant or a monster? Things are never what they seem when it comes to the history of Wanda Maximoff.

The Scarlet Witch is certainly one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel comics universe. Her ability to warp reality has been felt on a massive scale on more than one occasion. But this witch has an exceptionally complicated backstory. I mean we’re looking at the result of genetic experiments on infants, repressed memories, several resurrections, and a whole lot of suffering. Who is the Scarlet Witch?

Created by: Stan Lee & Jack Kirby

First appearance: X-Men #4 (1964)

Who is Wanda Maximoff?

The twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff were raised by their ventriloquist uncle and his wife, Marya. They were hardly in their care for long before they were kidnapped by the High Evolutionary. This guy was a Mister Sinister stan whose genetic exploits are also responsible for turning Jessica Drew into the Spider-Woman. Evolutionary used Wanda and Pietro as his young subjects in an effort to further evolve the human race. And it definitely worked.

X-Men #4, courtesy of Marvel Comics

Cthon the Elder God

The High Evolutionary altered Pietro and Wanda’s genes in such a way that would make it appear as though they were regular mutants, which is why it’s commonly believed that Wanda has the X-gene. But his genetic experiments couldn’t be done in any ol’ lab. Oh no, he had to go to Marvel’s spookiest mountain to do his baby-experiments!

Evo set up shop within Wundagore Mountain, the former home of the Elder God Chthon. Chthon was an ancient chaos god who created the famous book of dark magic known as the Darkhold. In the 6th century, Morgan Le Fay and her cult of Darkholders summoned Chthon. When they were unable to control him, they captured him and imprisoned him inside the mountain.

So Evo’s experiments plus massive amounts of ancient chaos energy imbued Wanda with reality-warping mystical powers. Once the poking and prodding was done, the babies were given back to their aunt and uncle Django and Marya.

Scarlet Witch and the Darkhold

Wanda checkin’ out books from the no-no library, courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Magneto & the Brotherhood of Mutants

Growing up, the twins travelled with thier adoptive parents through Central and Eastern Europe. But when Django had trouble making ends meet, he resorted to stealing from other members of the tribe. When he was attacked, Pietro and Wanda were able to escape – but being banished from their tribe in this way caused sever trauma. This caused the twins to repress their memories of those years for a long time.

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Together they wandered the wilderness until Wanda used her powers and accidentally burned down a village. Once again, Wanda was set upon by angry villagers. But this time, Magneto came to her rescue.  Afterward, Wanda and Pietro joined Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants, where they would go head-to-head with the X-Men on several occasions.

During one battle, Magneto proved he was willing to sacrifice Pietro’s life to achieve his endgame. Namor had big feelings for Wanda, so he stepped in and stopped Magneto at her behest. When all was said and done, Professor X agreed to release Pietro to the care of his sister.

Scarlet Witch with Magneto and Quicksilver

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Scarlet Witch & the Avengers

Not only did Wanda and Pietro eventually switch sides, the two eventually joined the Avengers. They fought alongside Captain America and Hawkeye for a little while, but there were some bumps in the road. One such bump saw Wanda lose her powers, and in her quest to find them again, she discovered that Magneto was her real father. She also discovered just how enhanced her powers had become thanks to that wacky Chthon energy.

It was during her time with the Avengers that Wanda met Vision, a synthezoid created by Ultron. While it seemed that Wanda had found happiness, the two were under the influence of a dimensional being known as Immortus. He believed that the Scarlet Witch was a nexus point in the universe. This meant that if she had children, they would be immensely powerful. He assumed that if she fell in love with a synthezoid, she wouldn’t be able to have children. But where there’s a Wanda-will, there’s a way! Wanda used her powerful magics to create two twin sons, Billy and Tommy.

Wanda and Vision from the comics

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

JUST KIDDING! It was Mephisto all along! No really. It was his energy that allowed her to create her sons. And as Mephisto giveth, so he taketh away. He basically dissolved the boys back into nothingness, leaving Wanda devistated. To ease her grief, the ancient witch Agatha Harkness cast a spell to remove them from her memories. But between the machinations of Immortus and having her unalived sons scraped from her memory, Wanda and Vision grew apart.

Over the years, the Scarlet Witch collaborated with Agatha Harkness again and learned to gain better control of her chaos magic. She also found alongside the Avengers off and on. That is, until the mental strain of her grief caused major damage to the team.

House of M

One day, a teammate’s casual comment about her sons unleashed Wanda’s grief, and she suffered from a nervous breakdown. And when your reality is shadowed by grief, your reality-altering powers can get pretty dangerous. Wanda turns against the Avengers. Her actions resulted in multiple deaths, including Hawkeye, Scott Lang, Agatha Harkness, and even Vision. In an attempt to heal her using the Eye of Agamoto, Doctor Strange accidentally pushed her into a catatonic state. Her father arrived to take her back to Genosha, hoping Professor X could heal her.

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Scarlet Witch breaking down in House of M

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Unfortunately, Xavier couldn’t do the thing. Xavier (what a jerk!) called a meeting with the Avengers to decide if Wanda should be allowed to live due to her powers being so dangerous. Pietro horrified, convinced her to use her powers to create a world that he thought would make everyone happier. At his suggestion, Wanda altered reality, making mutants the majority species and humans the minority. Her reality put Magneto in charge of the world, and attempted to placate other heroes by giving them realities that would keep them complacent.

But Wolverine’s preternatural senses made him aware that something wasn’t right with this world. Alongside a resurrected Hawkeye, Cloak, and some other heroes whose memories were returned, they went to Genosha to confront Magneto. All of this must have been his idea, right?

But when Magneto’s memories were returned, he realized that Quicksilver has devised this plot in his name. In his wrathful rage, Magneto killed Quicksilver. Of course, the Scarlet Witch brought him back to life. And in her anger at the whole mess, she came for Charles Xavier. Using her reality-warping powers, she uttered three infamous worlds and once again pulled the rug out from under reality.

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

“No More Mutants”

With these three words, the world returned to its previous state. Except that 90% of the mutant population no longer had their powers. This event, dubbed “M-Day”, resulted in the death of countless mutants. Afterward, Wanda goes into hiding in a small village near Mount Wundegor. There, she’s found by Doctor Doom and taken to Latveria. Doom leaves a robot in her place so as not to arouse suspicion should anyone comes to the village looking for her.

The Children’s Crusade

While the world adapted to a world without the Scarlet Witch, the hero Wiccan and his Young Avengers teammates crossed paths with the hero Speed. Wiccan and Speed were shocked to see that they looked almost identical, leading Wiccan to suspect that they’re the reincarnated sons of the Scarlet Witch.

The team, alongside Quicksilver and Magneto, go on a search for Wanda. They eventually track her to Latveria, where they find her engaged to Doctor Doom. They learn that Wanda sought Doom’s help in order to bring her children back to life. But the magic he gave her increased her powers exponentially, which caused her previous breakdown and assault on the Avengers.

The Young Avengers find the Scarlet Witch

Courtesy of Marvel Comics

When the Scarlet Witch regains her memories, Doom attempts to take responsibility for the attack on the Avengers. But Wanda still decides to go into seclusion for a while to work through her experiences.

The X-Men, AXIS, and Beyond

Some time later, Cyclops is taken over by the Phoenix Force. Wanda jumps in to help the Avengers in an effort to regain their trust. Then Hope Summers, the first mutant born after M-Day, inherits the Phoenix Force. Together,  she and Scarlet Witch combine their powers to banish the Phoenix Force. In doing so the unpowered mutants all over the world get their X-genes back.

From there, Scarlet Witch joins a mash-up team of Avengers and X-Men in an effort to ease tensions between mutants and humans. She’s unalived then she’s back-alived. She’s even turned into a villain when some magic shenanigans reverse the morality of all heroes and villains. When and evil Wanda places a curse on her bloodline to take out Quicksilver and Magneto, she’s surprised to discover that Magneto isn’t actually their father.

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Wanda’s quest to figure out her past leads to her reuniting with her mother’s spirit. After that, the Scarlet Witch has continued to fight alongside the Avengers while trying to atone for the effects of her reality-warping powers.

Scarlet Witch in the MCU

In 2015’s Age of Ultron, MCU fans were introduced to the on-screen versions of Pietro and Wanda Maximoff. The two twins willingly submitted themselves for genetic experiments after their childhood home was destroyed and their parents killed by a Stark tech missile.

But when Ultron comes knocking, the twins ally themselves with the villain. That is, until it’s made clear that he considers their lives unimportant. The two villains quickly become heroes, helping the Avengers save the residents of a large Sakovian city. Pietro sacrifices his life to save Hawkeye, and Wanda is left to grieve the loss of her twin brother.

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

During the events of Civil War, Wanda chooses Captain America’s side. As such, she’s temporarily imprisoned after the fight between heroes. Next, the events of Infinity War see the Scarlet Witch helping the heroes to prevent Thanos from getting the Infinity Stones. Wanda and Vision have spent a good deal of time together living in Avengers tower. The two are falling in love, and go into hiding together after the events of Civil War. But Thanos kills Vision and takes the Mind Stone. And before anyone can catch a breath, Wanda is suddenly snapped out of existence.

After the blip, she returns to a world without Vision. Her grief causes her to steal Vision’s body and unknowingly use her reality-warping powers to hold a town mentally captive. She and her new forged family, including new twin sons Billy and Tommy, live out a sitcom pastiche. Monica Rambeau has to break through the hex grid and help bring Wanda back to reality to save the people of the town. When Wanda realizes what’s happening, she has to face off against the MCU’s Agatha Harkness. And in the MCU, Harkness isn’t such a wise mentor.

The Scarlet Witch in The Multiverse of Madness

Past this point, there are spoilers for ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’! Haven’t seen it yet? Feel free to skip this last bit.

Now, Wanda has taken possession of the Darkhold. She’s using its magic to try and find her sons, who dissolved with the rest of her reality in WandaVision. In this spring’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Wanda is heavily under the influence of the book’s dark magic. She uses her massive power set to send creatures after the multiverse-traveller America Chavez in an attempt to steal her power. With those powers, Wanda plans to  pop across the multiverse and find her sons again.

The film concludes with Wanda facing an alternate version of herself – and a terrified Billy and Tommy. She uses her powers to destroy the Darkhold and topple Mount Wundegore around her.

Is she dead? Probably not. I’m hopeful she’ll make an appearance later down the line. Maybe in a Young Avengers show I will shut up about. Here’s hoping that the next time we see her, Wanda will have found some kind of solace. Uatu knows she deserves it. Geez.

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Courtesy of Marvel Studios

 

 

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