Given enough time, every comic book character ends up needing some form of redemption. It’s not all that different from politics. Give the talking heads on TV and radio enough slow news days and they’ll find a new scandal to exploit.
Wanda Maximoff needs no help when it comes to scandals. While most comic book fans can’t agree on the color of the sky, they can probably agree that the Scarlet Witch is in need of some redemption.
James Robinson is tasked with doing more than a redemption story for Wanda in Scarlet Witch #1. As part of Marvel’s post-Secret Wars eight-month skip, Wanda is set to establish a new role for herself. She can’t keep being the genocidal, mentally unstable, ex-mutant retcon whose powers act as a never-ending mulligan to Marvel’s continuity issues.
At one point, Wanda Maximoff was a respectable member of the Avengers. It seems so long ago, requiring a trip back to an era when the Backstreet Boys were still relevant. Then, the events of Decimation made her entire character revolve around cleaning up the messes that she herself makes. Like the first Hangover movie, her story had its moments. Also like the Hangover sequels, it got old fast and the rectons of her origin story didn’t help.
Now, more than ever, the Scarlet Witch needs to move forward as a character. The story Robinson tells in Scarlet Witch #1 makes a solid and long overdue case that Wanda Maximoff has more to offer the Marvel universe besides being a walking retcon device. In fact, this story gives her a new role that she’s uniquely qualified to handle. It’s a role that feels pretty vital in a world where demons, goblins, and deals with Mephisto are uncomfortably common.
Whether she fell into it or just embraced it during the eight-month gap, the Scarlet Witch is now the top cop for witchcraft in the Marvel Universe. She’s like the Roger Goodell of the mystic arts, minus the obscene salary and having to deal with the Jerry Jones of the world. It’s a component of the Marvel Universe that has been poorly explored, despite having a Sorcerer Supreme and a Dr. Doom running around. Robinson makes it a point to establish witchcraft as something unique and his attention to detail would make any Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast proud.
This world of witchcraft is explored in the form of a CSI-style mystery, minus the drug cartels and car bombs. Wanda, with help from the ghost of Agatha Hawkins, explores a series of murders that may or may not have a basis in witchcraft. It’s not long before the importance of the Scarlet Witch’s new role becomes apparent; after all, the NYPD has a hard time justifying parking tickets. What hope does it have of responsibly investigating murders caused by witchcraft?
The Scarlet Witch demonstrates both the need for her services and her competence in delivering. She effectively coordinates with the authorities, which is no small feat in a city that has a history of trying to arrest Spider-Man. She also gives the detective involved a crash course in the history of witchcraft. It’s not enough to rip off The Wizard of Oz and most Disney movies made before 1980. She has to provide a context for the forces involved, and it’s a vital context for the story as a whole.
Robinson puts a great deal of effort into highlighting the unique challenges that come with witchcraft. He makes it a point to ensure that the Scarlet Witch isn’t just a female version of Dr. Strange. That story is best left to perverse fan art.
The story Robinson tells in Scarlet Witch #1 establishes a very different set of forces and a very different set of challenges that Wanda must confront. None of them involve Magneto, Dr. Doom, or sexy male androids, either. It makes for a wholly new and deeply refreshing narrative for a character who needed it.
There’s no team this time for the Scarlet Witch. There’s no personality clashes, romantic tensions, or family drama either. While it might be jarring for those used to seeing Wanda butt heads with Hawkeye every other day, it still works because it puts her in a unique role that she and she alone is qualified to handle. Adding someone like Hawkeye to the mix would add comic relief at best and bad Lethal Weapon-style jokes, at worst.
As adept as the Scarlet Witch is in her new role, the story of her first day on the job isn’t going to get anyone’s heart racing. This is a story that’s heavy on exposition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Exposition is needed to establish this new role for Wanda and to assure readers that it doesn’t involve her having another mental breakdown. However, it does leave little room for action or even that much of a struggle.
Granted, there’s only so much struggle that’s possible for someone who spits in the face of physics and warps reality like a piece of tin foil. This makes the Scarlet Witch’s clash with the mystical creature she uncovers feel somewhat muted. But hey, it’s just her first day on the job. In the same way a rookie cop can’t be expected to take down Pablo Escobar, she can’t be expected to sucker punch Mephisto.
While Scarlet Witch #1 is heavy on the details, it succeeds in giving Wanda Maximoff’s character exactly what she needs. It’s jarring at times, but in a good way. An entire generation of Marvel fans has come to see the Scarlet Witch as a ticking time bomb whose actions usually require a retcon down the line or several. Now, she’s here to show that generation that she’s not just some walking Deus Ex Machina who looks good in a red dress.
Wanda Maximoff now has something to contribute to the Marvel Universe. She has a unique set of skills to take on a unique set of challenges. In a world that’s populated with clones, robots, and aliens, she can forge her own path and not go crazy in the process. Anyone who has ever had to work retail during the holidays can respect that.