The Scarlet Witch within the Multiverse of Misogyny

In 2021, Jac Schaeffer, creator of the Marvel streaming sequence “WandaVision,” informed Total Film journal that the present — wherein magical heroine Wanda Maximoff, a.ok.a. the Scarlet Witch, by accident traps a complete city in her grief-fuelled fantasy after a psychological breakdown — wouldn’t be a sexist portrayal of a strong lady.

“It was extremely important to me that we not do the lazy thing of having a superpowered lady who can’t handle her powers and goes crazy,” she mentioned.

The present gained breakout success and a number of award nominations for avoiding that trope, presenting Wanda as a well-meaning however flawed one that made horrible errors however discovered to course of her trauma.

But when Schaeffer gave that interview, Marvel was already filming “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” out in theatres this weekend. The movie has Wanda turning into a villain after utilizing energy she will’t deal with — and whereas “WandaVision” ended along with her accepting the lack of the household she created in that present, the film makes her keen to harm anybody and everybody to get them again.

It could seem unusual (no pun supposed) that Disney, which likes to domesticate a popularity for progressive illustration, greenlit a narrative wherein a strong lady turns into abruptly unstable as a result of she will’t suppose straight the place her kids are involved. To clarify it, we now have to go to an much more miserable supply: the comedian books that impressed producer Kevin Feige and his staff.

As Schaeffer’s feedback hinted, the highly effective heroine who turns into a menace is a well-recognized presence in superhero comics. The most well-known is “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” a storyline from Marvel’s “X-Men” wherein the staff’s longest serving heroine turns into a mass assassin as a consequence of an enormous quantity of energy that warps her thoughts. Readers grew to become so fascinated that the storyline impressed not one however two dangerous X-Men films (“X-Men: The Last Stand” and “Dark Phoenix”).

But no highly effective lady in comics has suffered extra from the trope than the Scarlet Witch. For most of her comedian guide profession, she was the first heroine on the Avengers staff and one of the standard within the firm’s comparatively small variety of heroines. True, she had a nasty time for a spell. In a improvement that can be very acquainted to viewers of “WandaVision,” she used magic to conceive twin sons along with her non-human husband, the Vision; Canadian author/artist John Byrne, greatest recognized for drawing “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” selected to kill the kids off and make her undergo a short breakdown. But she quickly recovered and went again to utilizing her powers for good.

That all modified with “Avengers Disassembled,” the 2004 Marvel comedian guide story by which the Doctor Strange sequel is closely influenced. Writer Brian Michael Bendis, attempting to pep up the sagging gross sales of the Avengers comedian with some large, attention-getting shocks, revisited the lack of Wanda’s kids by revealing that her thoughts had snapped utterly. She alternates between hallucinating her kids and attacking her teammates for no clear cause, blowing up their headquarters and killing a number of heroes — together with Vision — till Doctor Strange stops her and explains that she was dropped at this second by her trauma and her incapability to inform actuality from fantasy.

The story impressed a 2005 followup, “House of M,” wherein Wanda has develop into so harmful that the heroes — amongst them, Charles Xavier, the character Patrick Stewart performed within the X-Men films — talk about the thought of euthanizing her. After that, she was largely absent from comics for a few years.

Even on the time, some commentators observed that the premise was largely based mostly on sexist clichés about girls who can’t be trusted with an excessive amount of energy and are made irrational by their attachment to their kids. Television author John Rogers (who went on to create the present “Leverage”) wrote a weblog publish known as “Womb Crazy!” wherein he identified that Wanda is made to go insane for “specifically weak-ass girly reasons. Wanda kills because she wants babies.”

Rogers pinpointed a bigger drawback with the portrayal of ladies in comics. Some franchises have a behavior of portraying girls as robust provided that they match sure stereotypes about what a powerful lady must be: Carol Danvers, the heroine of “Captain Marvel,” is within the navy, whereas Black Widow is a spy.

Wanda, however, is a extra old style kind of character who needs a traditional suburban household life and infrequently finally ends up being portrayed as weak-minded due to it; the truth that she needs kids turns into proof sufficient that she would homicide to get them. If a personality is portrayed as heroic for doing something to guard their household, it’s often a person, particularly if Liam Neeson is enjoying him.

Wanda’s transformation right into a murderous mother was so clearly incongruent that comedian guide characters would often lean on the fourth wall to level it out. In “Young Avengers,” a comic book sequence created by Allan Heinberg (co-developer and govt producer of the upcoming Netflix comedian adaptation “The Sandman”) and artist Jim Cheung, a bunch of younger superheroes decides to seek for Wanda and attempt to rehabilitate her. When she’s discovered, one of many characters, Wanda’s son Billy — as a result of nobody stays useless in comics both — wonders how she may have executed one thing so out of character, since killing harmless individuals is “something the Scarlet Witch would never do.”

Why would the MCU take a lot from a storyline that was known as out for misogyny even on the time and which was criticized as nonsensical by the characters themselves? Some of this simply could also be that the whole franchise is influenced by the comics of the 2000s, when Feige and his colleagues have been getting the MCU up and operating. Even the thought of casting Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury comes from a 2000s comedian wherein the character was redesigned to appear to be Jackson. If you suppose that period of comedian books is gospel, even a personality’s worst story could seem definitive.

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” might also be yet one more validation of the rising standard knowledge that an all-male artistic staff (the film was directed by Sam Raimi and written by Michael Waldron) is extra more likely to stumble in its portrayal of ladies. In his publish about “Avengers Disassembled,” Rogers fumed that its understanding of ladies’s motivations “was supposed to have died out in the 1910’s” and questioned, “are there no female editors?”

Something comparable could apply to the MCU. Jac Schaeffer was capable of create a nuanced portrayal of Wanda and her strengths and weaknesses in “WandaVision” the place her film-world counterparts could have failed. It may very well be that to get inside the pinnacle of a strong lady, you want a lady with energy.


Jaime J. Weinman writes about tradition. He is the writer of “Anvils, Mallets & Dynamite: The Unauthorized Biography of Looney Tunes.”


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