Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the Scarlet Witch has been a part of the Marvel universe since all the way back in 1963’s The X-Men #4. In all that time, there have been very few characters with as nebulous a past as the hex-bolt shooting, sometime-daughter of Magneto. In early X-Men comics, she was an enigma, largely defined entirely by her love for her speedy brother Pietro (aka Quicksilver) and her status as "the girl" in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Even as later writers changed bits and pieces of her origin, her powers, and her family, the major throughline would always be her love for her brother — even when that bordered on uncomfortable territory.
While you might know her best as one of the leads in Avengers: Age of Ultron or just know her as one of the West Coast Avengers, there’s much more to Wanda Maximoff that meets the eye. From her status as a Romani sorceress to her android ex-husband, here is the untold truth of the Scarlet Witch.
What even is Chaos Magic?
Scarlet Witch started out as a mutant who had "hex powers," which basically meant that she could do anything that the writer desired. Even in a comic book series that featured mutants with the powers of eye lasers or being a toad man, her powers were incredibly ill-defined. Beyond wearing all red, Wanda Maximoff really wasn’t much of a Scarlet Witch at all until writer Steve Englehart had her study under Agatha Harkness — an actual witch — in 1974’s The Avengers #128. While tutelage under Harkness gave the Scarlet Witch access to powers that skewed closer to Dr. Strange than Jean Grey, she was still technically a mutant whose main power was "hexes."
As it turned out, the reason for her magical talent was due to a Cthulu-esque Elder God named Chthon who gave her a natural affinity for magic in order to shape her to be the perfect vessel for his physical form after her birth. Writer Kurt Busiek would later retcon Chthon’s influence to be the entire reason behind the Scarlet Witch’s ambiguous hex powers in 1998’s Avengers #10. In the story, Wanda learns that if not for the Elder God’s involvement, her mutant power would be standard energy blasts.
At this point, you may be asking what these new magical powers actually allow her to do. The answer is basically anything the plot demands, in a surprisingly faithful evolution of Kirby and Lee’s original conception of the character. In various stories, she’s brought people back to life, subconsciously made children out of portions of the Devil’s soul, overwrote all of reality into an alternate reality of her choosing, and completely erased the entire mutant genome from the universe. We’ll get to that later.
Who’s your daddy?
While Wanda and her brother Pietro are popularly known as the children of Magneto, that hasn’t always been the case. At first, they were children of the Whizzer and Miss America, superheroes from Marvel’s Golden Age. In 1974’s Giant-Size Avengers #1, Robert Frank, the Whizzer, shows up to battle the Avengers and warn them of the coming of his son, Nuklo: a Hulk-like beast that emits constant radiation. Over the course of the story, Wanda learns that, years ago, Frank had brought his pregnant wife to Wundagore Mountain where she had died after delivering twins. Notably, this delivery occurred under the watchful eye of the High Evolutionary, a geneticist obsessed with evolution, and Bova, a talking cow woman who delivered Wanda and Pietro. As for Robert Frank, he’d fled in his grief leaving the newborns, revealed to be Wanda and Pietro, to fend for themselves.
This would be retconned in 1979’s The Avengers #185, which established that Wanda and Pietro were actually raised by a traveling Romani family, the Maximoffs. In this version, a pregnant woman named Magda appears at Wundagore Mountain to deliver twins, Pietro and Wanda. After she disappears, the High Evolutionary gives them away to the Maximoffs, who raises them until the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver lose their memory of the Maximoffs after getting separated. After that, Wanda draws the ire of a mob in Eastern Europe which leads to their rescue by Magneto, which leads into their villainous appearances in The X-Men #4. Considering they’ve both been chased by mobs in Eastern Europe before getting saved by a paternal figure, it’s strange that she’s never bonded with Nightcrawler.
Seriously, who’s your daddy?
As Marvel superfans might know, Wanda and Pietro’s father is definitely Magneto, the master of magnetism. Well, sort of. He was officially confirmed to be their father in 1983’s The Vision and Scarlet Witch #4, finally answering the five year lingering question of who Wanda’s biological father was. This latest development seemed to be the most permanent, finally giving the Maximoffs a more or less lasting patriarch that would remain for the next thirty years.
In 2014’s AXIS, a Marvel crossover event that featured the moral alignment of various heroes and villains getting reversed, Wanda discovered that Magneto wasn’t actually her father. In addition, she discovered later that she and Pietro weren’t actually ever mutants at all, but regular humans who had been experimented on by the High Evolutionary at birth to create superpowered siblings. In this most recent retcon, Wanda’s biological father is currently settled to be Django Maximoff, the traveling Romani who had raised her. Coincidentally, that revelation happened right around the time that Twentieth Century Fox had established conclusively that they owned the film rights to both Magneto and "mutants" as a concept … but there’s probably no connection. If there was a connection, we might expect her to once again be revealed to be Magneto’s daughter just as soon as the rights revert back to Disney.
While her biological family is as subject to retcons and complications as just about every other family line in X-Men comics, at least her dating life is simple. Well, not quite. Her most famous romance is with the "synthozoid" man, Vision. Originally built by the robotic villain Ultron in The Avengers #57 to destroy the Avengers, Vision became one of their staunchest allies instead.
He and Scarlet Witch pursued a romance that eventually led to marriage. The catch is that Vision’s heroic brain patterns were based on the former superhero Wonder Man (no relation to DC’s Wonder Woman). When Wonder Man came back from the dead (as superheroes often do), he had to confront both the fact that he had a robotic doppelganger walking around and that his robotic "twin" was dating the woman he was in love with.
Fortunately for him and unfortunately for Wanda, Vision’s programming was wiped by a mass military agency composed of secret agents from every single nation in the world united in their fear that Vision would destroy the world. In fairness, this was a few months after he briefly went insane, took control of every computer on Earth and threatened the planet with nuclear annihilation. Either way, Vision’s programming wipe erased his emotions, and eventually led to the dissolution of his marriage to the Scarlet Witch. In one of the more awkward rebounds in comic book history, Wanda started dating Wonder Man shortly after, before eventually returning to Vision’s robotic arms.
Her kids were made out of the Devil’s soul
While Vision and Wanda were married, they even managed to have children: twin boys, Billy and Tommy. If you’re asking how a "synthozoid" and a mutant witch can have children, that’s a very good question. The answer is obviously magic. Unfortunately, Wanda’s children would be as vulnerable to retcons as the rest of her family: it turned out that while the children technically existed, they only existed while Wanda was actively thinking of them. Any moment that they weren’t on her mind, they ceased to exist. To make matters worse, they were stolen by the demonic Master Pandemonium while they were existing in Avengers West Coast #51.
Master Pandemonium absorbed the twins, giving him the unintentionally hilarious visual of a man with babies for arms (this is not a joke). In actuality, the babies were pieces of Mephisto’s soul (the Marvel Universe equivalent to Satan) that had been blasted off in an issue of Fantastic Four. When Wanda wanted children, she subconsciously siphoned off parts of Mephisto’s broken souls to create her children. Agatha Harkness (the literal witch who taught Scarlet Witch magic) was able to banish Mephisto by erasing Wanda’s memory of ever having children, which, thanks to her subconscious reality warping abilities, meant that they stopped existing.
Unlike many of Scarlet Witch’s insanely complicated and tragic family stories, this one actually has a happy ending, though! The souls of Billy and Tommy were reincarnated into new families, where they grew up and eventually joined the Young Avengers. Billy took after his pre-reincarnation-mom by wielding magic as the young hero Wiccan, while Tommy took after his "uncle" Pietro with his white hair and speed powers (he took the more unoriginal name Speed).
If it sounds like the Scarlet Witch has been through the ringer, that would be an understatement. Between all of the retconned familial relationships, demonic children, and alive-dead-alive again boyfriends, it’s a wonder it took until 2004’s Avengers #500 for her to really go insane. In the Avengers: Disassembled story arc, Scarlet Witch hits her breaking point after the Wasp accidentally reminds her of her memory-wiped children. The psychotic break that follows features her going on an incredibly violent (and largely subconscious) rampage against the Avengers.
Hawkeye is killed, Vision is killed, Agatha Harkness is killed, and Doctor Strange declares that Wanda’s mental break has unleashed in her the ability to reshape reality itself. After a superhero scuffle, the storyline ends with Magneto promising to give Wanda the help she needs to recover from her violent mental break, while the surviving Avengers members agree to permanently disband.
House of M
In 2005, the Marvel crossover event House of M showcased an entirely new continuity for the heroes of the Marvel Universe. Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben was alive, Mutants were the dominant life form on the planet while humans were the minority, and Wolverine regained his entire memory after decades of amnesia. The twist turned out to be that the Scarlet Witch completely overwrote reality to give everyone in the universe their dearest wish (or near to it). Since Wolverine’s dearest wish was to remember his true past, that paradox allowed him to keep his memories of the original universe. Thinking that Magneto had orchestrated the reality rewriting in order to accomplish his long-time goal of mutant superiority, Wolverine got a team together to convince Scarlet Witch to turn the world back.
In one of the most shocking moments of Marvel history, Wanda responded to the stress and guilt by erasing the mutant genome and turning almost every mutant in the world into a powerless human. Of course, most of the named X-Men kept their superpowers, but it was still a radical departure from the massive number of mutants that existed in the Marvel universe prior. As for Scarlet Witch, the storyline had two major effects: it effectively removed Scarlet Witch from any ongoing comics (aside from an occasional cameo or line of dialogue) for the next decade, since her magic-based genocide basically made her a mutant Hitler. Secondly, it ratcheted up her power levels to ridiculous amounts. Both her culpability in the story and her literal ability to perform the reality warping would be retconned away in later stories. Which is fair; once a character becomes powerful enough to create their own alternate realities, it’s hard to really justify any sort of conflict.
Speaking of alternate realities, Scarlet Witch didn’t fare much better in Earth 1610. The "Ultimate" imprint was launched in 2000 in order to do away with the complicated continuity and constant tie-ins of the main universe. Fans would be able to follow the new imprint through only four titles: Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four, and The Ultimates. That last one was an update of The Avengers, but each series presented an entirely clean slate with similar but distinct characters in remixed versions of old storylines and new stories alike.
In The Ultimates, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s co-dependent relationship was rewritten to be almost explicitly sexual between the twins. Worse, in Ultimates 3, the Wasp even chides Captain America for expressing his judgement of their romance by telling him that his World War II sense of morality is outdated in this modern world. Gross. While Scarlet Witch has undoubtedly been ill-served by plotlines in the main universes, at least she never had sex with her brother while their possible dad Wolverine (who also slept with Magda in this universe) watched from the bushes. It seems like Wanda’s got complicated family issues regardless of what reality she lives in.
Remember above when we mentioned that it was strange that Scarlet Witch had never bonded with Nightcrawler over getting chased by a mob in Eastern Europe? Well, it turns out they did bond over it, just not in the main 616 universe. In Earth-2182, they got together and had a daughter, Nocturne, who would eventually become a part of the reality-hopping super team the Exiles. While on the team, Nocturne made good use of her mutant power to possess other people and fire hex-bolts; although these bolts were more like energy blasts than the magical sort that her mother used. Nocturne would eventually end up in the main 616 universe, where she would join New Excalibur, get reunited with her thought-comatose lover, and suffer a stroke. That list kind of makes it seem like Wanda’s bad luck is genetic, but at least she wasn’t made out of the devil’s soul.
To Avengers: Infinity War and beyond
With all the storylines mentioned above, you might be thinking that the Marvel Cinematic Universe made the right decision to simplify both her origin and her superpowers. The Scarlet Witch of the MCU might flirt with Vision, but Quicksilver’s early death and the absence of Magneto make her a significantly different character than the one featured above. A Scarlet Witch not bound by constant family revelations and a codependent brother has a lot of story potential, but we’ll have to see how that changes as Disney starts to incorporate Twentieth Century Fox concepts with the planned merger. Whether that means leaning into the magical angle like Dr. Strange or reincorporating her into the mutant world, just about anything can happen.
Well, almost. It is probably fair to assume that we won’t be seeing Master Pandemonium and his baby arms or Bova the bovine midwife get adapted to the big screen anytime soon.