Marvel Comics is fresh from the conclusion to its “Childrens Crusade” mini-series in which the mutant former Avenger Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, regains her memory after the traumatic events of another mini-series “The House of M,” in which she used her reality-altering ‘hex’ power to virtually eradicate her fellow mutants from the world. At one point in “Childrens Crusade” a character sarcastically asks what the X-Men and the Avengers are supposed to do with the revived and repentant Scarlet Witch – she proved more deadly to the good guys than any super-villain in their history, and now she just says she’s sorry and what? Rejoins a team to fight bank robbers on the weekends? The question is left hanging at the end of “Childrens Crusade,” which makes Marvel’s decision this week to offer its latest graphic novel, Darker Than Scarlet, downright odd.
Not odd from a business point of view, of course – after all, the Avengers are Marvel’s #1 hot property at the moment, with a hugely-hyped new movie set to open early next month … it makes sense that Marvel would keep up a very high Avengers visibility in the comic shops every week until that opening weekend.
But from a creative point of view, it’s an odd decision to remind Marvel readers just how often – how comically regularly, really – writers have used the easy device of the Scarlet Witch going crazy. In David Michelinie’s Wundagore Mountain storyline, she’s possessed by the supernatural being Ch’thon and attacks her teammates; in “House of M” she’s pushed over the edge by the apparent loss of her two children and attacks her teammates; and in between those two stories is this one from 1990’s “West Coast Avengers,” written and drawn by fan-favorite John Byrne, in which a distraught Scarlet Witch (who’s recently been brainwashed by a mutant-worshipping cult, to top things off) becomes outright malevolent and attacks her teammates. She’s encouraged by her father Magneto, long-time supervillain arch-nemesis of the X-Men, but for most of Byrne’s story, he’s actually restraining her blood-lust and calming her down. For her own sake, she gets a new hairdo, a new costume, some new lipstick, and a whole new interpretation of her powers. It’s a very common maneuver for Byrne – he did the same thing with Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four, and of course he helped to do the same thing to Marvel Girl in the X-Men’s most popular story.
In order to do it here, he has to lay the groundwork for the Scarlet Witch to become something close to all-powerful. In the past, her mutant ‘hex’ power was basically the ability to point her hands and cause micro-bursts of random happenings – bad guys’ guns misfired, walls collapsed, that sort of thing. At one point in this “Avengers West Coast” arc, the Avengers’ resident scientist has her concentrate on a pristine titanium rod in order to document precisely what happens when her ‘hex’ shatters it, and the subsequent computer play-back seems to show that not only did her hex shatter the rod but it re-wove reality so that the rod was never pristine, so that it was in fact full of fractures to be exploited. The implications are staggering, even though we’re told “but that’s impossible! we know your powers don’t work that way!” It’s all classic Byrne: throw a monkey-wrench into some title’s continuity, deny that’s what you did, then move on to some other title. And despite all protestations to the contrary, some vague idea has remained in place that the Scarlet Witch’s powers distort the very nature of reality itself.
Marvel’s calling it the prelude to “House of M,” but that ignores the long-box of issues that came in between, the many ‘normal’ adventures the Scarlet Witch shared with the Avengers under the direction of many other Marvel writers. And it dramatically underscores the anticlimax of “Childrens Crusade,” where after yet more mucking around with reality, the Scarlet Witch is left … just fine, mentally balanced, decked out in her old costume, and ready to get back to super-heroing at Avengers Mansion. It leaves the door wide open to repeat the same old device the next time a writer (my money’s on Byrne) wants to do something big and very, very unoriginal.
But in the meantime, these are fun issues being reprinted! So there’s that.