‘Scarlet Witch’ #1 Spins a Story of Witchcraft and Redemption [Review]
Scarlet Witch #1 opens with a flashback to the press conference from Avengers (vol. 1) #16, in which Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch officially join the team. It’s hard to imagine now, but this was the first time the Avengers ever had a new lineup. Wanda doesn’t always get the respect that this deserves, but she's been an Avenger since almost the very beginning. In fact, she’s only the second female member after the Wasp.
But in this fractious post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe, being a longtime Avenger doesn’t necessarily mean what it used to. Many things have been cast into doubt. For decades, being the mutant daughter of Magneto was a huge element of the Scarlet Witch’s story, and now it seems that she’s neither his daughter nor a mutant. That may be frustrating for her longtime fans (it certainly is for me), but it doesn’t feel important to this story. This isn’t a story about mutants, or Inhumans, or people who’ve been experimented on by the High Evolutionary. This is a story about witchcraft.
This is the story of a witch named Wanda, who lives high in a tower in the city of Manhattan, where her only apparent friend is the ghost of her teacher. She’s been a hero, and she’s been a villain, but now she’s just a witch. But she’s trying very hard to be a good witch, which might not be the same thing as being a superhero, but it’s not far off either.
This story is very self-consciously a new direction for the Scarlet Witch. She even calls that out explicitly in her first-person narration. She mentions that she’s had trouble in the past — lost sight of herself at times and grossly misused her powers — and she's determined to make amends by using her abilities to right wrongs. She also dismisses the concept of “Chaos Magic” in a way that I very much like, and I hope Marvel sticks with in the future.
This leads her to “take a case” that starts with meeting a police detective at the scene of a heinous crime where they discuss what happened. It’s a scene we’ve read a million times before with characters like Batman and Captain America, but seeing Wanda in that position immediately feels unique. And then things go in an entirely unexpected and more demonic direction.
This book wears the shape of a superhero comic, but it’s something else — something more supernatural in its focus. It might even be a horror comic, but only future issues will really make that clear. One thing it's not, happily, is joylessly grim. It's not a humorous book, but there's fun to be found in Wanda's adventure.
One of the clearest signifiers that this isn’t a superhero book is the artwork. Vanesa R. Del Rey’s art is all inky blacks punctuated with expressive faces, which colorist Jordie Bellaire surrounds with moody purples and blood red. It’s a beautiful book, although it may not be to every Marvel reader’s taste. From cover to cover, it looks like a comic about a witch. And a very stylish witch, thanks to Wanda’s new outfit (designed by Kevin Wada), which is more street clothes than superhero costume, but doesn’t actually resemble anything an ordinary person would wear. Which is appropriate, since the Scarlet Witch is far from an ordinary person.
The other thing that might not be to everyone’s taste is that this book is written by James Robinson. The Scarlet Witch comes with a built-in queer fanbase, but Robinson alienated many of these potential readers this past summer when the second issue of his Image series Airboy was at best mind-blowingly tone deaf in its depiction of the transgender community, and at worst rabidly transphobic. As a member of that community myself, I was pretty grossed out. But Robinson apologized, and ultimately my interest in a Scarlet Witch solo series won out. However, if you never intend to buy or read anything he writes again after the Airboy mess, I’m certainly not going to argue with you. In fact, I respect your conviction.
But if you’re on the fence, know that I’m very impressed with both the plot of Scarlet Witch #1 and the voice he gives Wanda. I’ve got my eye on Robinson, but I want to see him do better than he’s done in the past. Wanda’s also done horrible things, after all, so perhaps they can find redemption together.