Mental Illness and the Scarlet Witch

We got another guest post; this time, friend of the site Marcus breaks down some of the story arcs from the comics that talks Scarlet Witch and her “mental illness”. He posted this in a series of comments on Facebook and allowed me to reprint it here.

I got asked about the long history of mental illness and the Scarlet Witch.

This is kind of complicated, because comic book insanity is not real life insanity and I don’t want to pretend that reading a few comic books makes me an expert in real life diagnosis.

That said… Wanda’s mental instability comes primarily from the work of exactly two creators who decided that in order to change or explain story conceits they’d have to fuck with her powers. Most creators with the witch didn’t bother, and some (like rick remember who was the triggerman for the “not Magneto’s kid” reveal) even avoided using her own powers for the rationale of changes they made. Say what you will about High Evolutionary meddling, but the straightest line to “God Wanda deciding she isn’t Magneto’s kid” would have been using her powers to make it so, or bringing back her OG origin. Anyways…

Essentially, John Byrne wanted to retcon the vision and bring back the Human Torch (OG version) and as a side effect he heel turned Wanda (and face turned Pietro) by the end of the arc. This year long story had Wanda manipulated by “everybody” in rapid fire succession claiming a long series of plots that never actually happened before and “clues” he seeded an issue before he started the arc. Wanda’s long history of mental instability comes from exactly this year of West Coast Avengers, and pretty much only this run of WCA, barring the occasional mind control plot run of the mill story and a two parter with Cthon.

Decades later. This arc is like 30 years old, and the Scarlet Witch eventually comes on back, and eventually leads a team of Avengers castoffs, but effectively becomes a pillar of the team. No different than any other old cool character dusted off and utilized by a creator who likes them or sees story potential in them. Her old baggage is mentioned, but not really as important as the love triangle stuff, or the surprise punch of the mainstay.

She gets a treatment in the Ultimate Universe, but unless you count that thing with her brother or the thing with Wolverine, insanity isn’t really part of it. Separate character altogether.

Brian Michael Bendis decides to overhaul the Avengers into Marvel’s biggest property and uses the Scarlet Witch as his device to do so. Suddenly she warps reality to her whim, suddenly she doesn’t have training, she has intuition. Suddenly Dr. Strange is less powerful than she is and is biding his time to step in. Handwaving. She’s driven insane upon learning she had “imagined” kids she already knew about years earlier and subconsciously wrecks the Avengers.

Almost exclusively under Bendis pen is unstable modern Wanda. Busiek never wrote her insane. Gruenwald didn’t. Lobdell didn’t. Priest didn’t. Bendis wants her crazy, so she is batshit crazy, and she was always crazy. Just like Squirrel Girl beat Thanos that one time on her own, with no help in canon. Wanda was always crazy.

The whole time. Because chaos magic isn’t a thing. And stuff.

This is writer prerogative. This is Firestorm suddenly having a body that can be punctured and exploded. This is Ollie telling us that the boxing glove arrow needs a foot of distance right before someone next to him knocks him the fuck out. And eventually, during the Young Avengers mini in Latveria, chaos magic gets put right back into the playground it was taken out of. So Wanda was always insane and always manipulated.

In House of M, Pietro tries to save her by urging her to give every hero what they want (to distract them from coming to kill her) and she eventually snaps out of and strips most mutants of their powers to get back at her then-dad Magneto. So Wanda is always crazy and always manipulated.

Except until she wasn’t. By Uncanny Avengers, Wanda is less about causing problems and more about resolving them. Her solo book is very good, if not the game changer that the Vision’s was.

Whatever the MCU has cooked up, it’s not from a Scarlet Witch comic book-so far.

John Byrne is accomplishing a lot in the WCA run. He has to juggle Iron Man’s book revealing and taking away his secret ID. He’s got to transition Hawkeye and Mockingbird out of the book for an unlikeable U.S. Agent, and he’s got a thing in his craw for how normal and well liked the Vision is, and how nobody said anything when “Wanda married the toaster”.

Nobody noticed Wanda’s secret breakdowns because of all the stuffs, JB tells us – via Immortus. Immortus is so interested in her that he sets her up for all of this only to fail getting her and then she becomes evil and tries to give Wonder Man oral on panel.

All of this reads really quickly and poorly in modern books, which probably explains the distance and pains ever writer after Byrne and before Bendis that picks the character up walks away from this kicking and screaming.

“Wanda married the toaster” is in infamous JB quote about the character. In the MCU, episode 1 of WandaVision, we see an ad for Stark’s toaster.

Bendis is a contradiction. For a guy that loves deep dives, he’s also going to ignore whatever the fuck he wants. This is the proper writer/creator take even if the fanboy in me HATES it.

He ignored everything after JB because his story required it to, “its magic bitches” sums up the OMD/Chaos era at Marvel.

Aside from these two creators, there is no “history or tendency towards mental illness for the Scarlet Witch”. That narrative doesn’t exist without these two arcs. Kissing Cap isn’t a clue, it’s just a shrugged off story beat that ended up not mattering because THE MAGICS ARE BEING ABUSED and we’re throwing all this shit out anyways.

The funniest example of this in recent history is the Wasp showing up to dump Tony Stark in two panels. “I think we’re done here Tony, bye loser!”

But Marcus – this nobody creator followed through with crazy Wanda after Bendis.

Gosh, I wonder why? Where can I, inventory writer, undo the work of the guy changing the entire line? Moon Knight was accidentally resurrected for a splash page for this story in the Avengers and they turned around and re-killed him and reinstated Quasar’s Earth banishment. Details don’t matter yo. There’s no nuance. And Bendis ultimately did more good than harm to the line overall even when he was harming, it could be argued. Busiek loved Wanda, but possibly to the point where he wasn’t sharing her, and wasn’t really doing a whole lot with her except washing the JB stink off her. And the Vision kind of existed in the same spot.

You don’t get to undo BIG THING until they undo big thing or they ask you to undo big thing.

MCU Wanda is touching some of these doors, but they seem to be going to a different place.

So if you’re looking for crazy Wanda, you’re looking for Avengers West Coast around issue 43 or so. Or you’re looking for a Bendis Avengers book. And none of them are going to be what you see in WandaVision, unless Agnes suddenly has baby hands.

If you want to see Wanda at her best, the solo book by James Robinson is probably the highpoint, and the Avengers run with Busiek is my favorite team version of her.

I wanted to like her in Uncanny, but the endless squabbling with Rogue really irritated me on both characters.

Marcus can be found at his podcast page: Deadpan Fury.

One thought on “Mental Illness and the Scarlet Witch

  • Great article! I really enjoyed your analysis of the portrayal of mental illness in the character of Scarlet Witch. It’s refreshing to see a nuanced exploration of her struggles and how they contribute to her depth as a character. The way you highlighted the importance of empathy and understanding when discussing mental health is commendable. Keep up the fantastic work! – CinemaHDV2

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