Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch: the comic book history of her powers

Marvel’s Wanda Maximoff (AKA the Scarlet Witch) is… complicated. Her evolution in the MCU is nothing compared to her complicated heritage in comics, but above even that is her superpowers – sometimes referred as her ‘hex’ powers.

Examining how the comic book Wanda Maximoff got from “hexing” or cursing her enemies with bad luck to totally rewriting reality may shed some crucial clues on the to her future, in comics and in the MCU.

With her MCU future beginning to be spelled out in the first Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness trailer, we’re diving into what makes her comic book powers tick.

Reality Bites

In her earliest days first fighting the X-Men as part of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and then joining the Avengers alongside her brother Quicksilver and their fellow reformed villain Hawkeye, Wanda Maximoff’s powers fairly hard to pin down.

Image of Scarlet Witch using her powers

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

In X-Men #4 (opens in new tab), Wanda’s first appearance, Pietro says whoever Wanda “points her finger at” will suffer “disaster.” This is illustrated through scenes of Wanda causing rubble to fall on Angel of the X-Men in X-Men #4 by lashing out to protect Pietro.

Then, in Avengers #17 (opens in new tab), her first adventure with the team, she shows some greater control over her abilities, using them specifically to “slow” a giant robot that is grasping Captain America by making it stumble.

With Wanda’s early uses of her powers – later manifested with magical energy through so-called “hex bolts” and “hex spheres” – her intent seems to come through when she strikes out, though the results of how her “hex” powers manifest seem to be almost at random, based on the environment and timing.

Image of Scarlet Witch using her powers

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

As Wanda’s time with the Avengers rolled on, the scope of her abilities began to expand, with the “hex” power now described as “probability alteration,” a form of subtly altering reality within her immediate vicinity to cause unlikely, almost impossible occurrences that turn the odds of a given situation in her favor in unexpected ways.

Wanda’s early “hex” powers reached their zenith in Avengers #118 (opens in new tab), when Dormammu (arch-enemy of Doctor Strange) and Loki (arch-enemy of Thor) come into conflict over a bizarre artifact called the Evil Eye, leading to the Avengers and Defenders teaming up in the unfettered magical realm of Dormammu’s Dark Dimension.

Image of Scarlet Witch using her powers

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Turning to mud under Dormammu’s spell, Wanda is the last Avenger/Defender standing, with Dormammu unable to rob her of her mutant power like he robbed her allies of their abilities. As she desperately lashes out, she causes the Evil Eye to activate, defeating both Dormammu and Loki with its terrible power in a flash. Even Doctor Strange is impressed with Wanda’s abilities to resist Dormammu’s magic and overcome his power over the Dark Dimension.

Wanda also received steady upgrades to what her “hexes” could do over the years, with more and more Avengers creators leaning into her consistent creep toward being one of the team’s powerhouses.

Image of Scarlet Witch using her powers

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

In Avengers #161 (opens in new tab), she manages to defeat Ultron, whose computer mind can’t cope with the probability altering nature of Wanda’s powers, leading to multiple instances of Ultron specifically attempting to defeat Wanda before fighting the rest of the team, and her proving to be his undoing.

Mistress of Magic

In Avengers #186 (opens in new tab), Wanda takes a trip to the mystical Mount Wundagore, a magical location with deep ties to her past. Under the influence of the evil wizard Modred, the son of Morgan le Fay (another magical Avengers villain who manipulated Wanda’s powers over the years), Wanda discovers that her powers go far beyond what she’s always believed about her mutant probability alteration abilities.

Image of Scarlet Witch using her powers

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

It’s revealed that Cthon, a god of chaos from Marvel lore, sensed Wanda’s connection to chaos and random chance on her birth, and imbued her with a portion of his power – making her a font of “chaos magic” (a Marvel Comics term unrelated to the modern occult practice) and a “nexus” of magic in Marvel’s multiverse.

In that story, Wanda became possessed by an evil force for the first time, with Cthon essentially hijacking her body with his mystical essence, and capturing the Avengers. Though Cthon was defeated, and Wanda freed, this incident became a dark harbinger of what Wanda would eventually learn as the cost of her great power – that she’ll always be a target for manipulation by outside forces looking to harness the magical energy within her.

(You may notice Wanda is referred to as “Wanda Frank” in the captions. Wanda and Pietro’s parentage has been the subject of many retcons and rewrites over the years, and they didn’t always use the surname Maximoff).

Image of Scarlet Witch using her powers

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Following her encounters with Dormammu and Cthon, Wanda comes under the magical tutelage of the witch Agatha Harkness, an expert in Chthonic chaos magic, who teaches Wanda to harness and control her connection to Marvel’s magical forces.

Wanda’s magical prowess then becomes a key part of her adventures with the Avengers, with her abilities and her access to new spells and aspects of the magic of the Marvel Universe always growing to fit new stories – but almost always then culminating in Wanda falling prey to the manipulation of magical villains and entities.

In one of the biggest blows to Wanda’s psyche, she magically manifests a pair of twin boys, William and Thomas, as her children with her then-husband Vision (this should all be somewhat familiar to WandaVision fans – we go more in-depth on the comic book nature of William and Thomas right here). But, as it turns out, the children are constructs tied to the demon Mephisto (sort of Marvel’s answer to the Biblical devil), and eventually disappear, leaving Wanda bereft, and eventually resulting in Vision losing his emotions and trying to conquer the Earth.

Image of Scarlet Witch using her powers

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

In the late ’90s, Wanda’s connection to Chthonic magic strengthened once again. In Avengers (vol. 3) #10 (opens in new tab), the Grim Reaper (brother of Wanda’s teammate Wonder Man, whose mind formed the basis of Vision’s original personality), uses necromancy to resurrect dead Avengers to fight the team – including Wonder Man, who had appeared to Wanda in an energy form since his death.

In Avengers #11 (opens in new tab), under Agatha Harkness’s guidance, Wanda uses her Chthonic magic to understand her connection to Wonder Man, who she realizes she is deeply in love with. 

With Agatha pushing her, Wanda harnesses the full potential of her magical ability, not only returning the undead Avengers to the grave, but fully resurrecting Wonder Man into his original physical form – actually bridging the gap between life and death for the first time.

And it’s this move that seems to push Wanda past altering the probabilities around her and casting spells, to full-on rewriting and remaking reality.

Image of Scarlet Witch using her powers

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

A few years later, in the story ‘Avengers: Disassembled,’ (opens in new tab) under the influence of the megalomaniacal Doctor Doom, who (once again) seeks to use Wanda’s power for his own ends, subverts Wanda into destroying the Avengers, apparently killing Vision, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and others in the process.

As a result, Wanda’s mind shatters, and she uses her now nigh-omnipotent abilities to rewrite reality to a place where mutants are the dominant people on Earth, the House of M reality. On her return, Wanda cast one final spell, robbing many of Earth’s mutants of their powers, including, seemingly her, and disappearing.

Mutantkind later recovered (it’s comics, after all), and so did the dead Avengers, and, more or less, Wanda – though she’s never really been the same, both in terms of her personality and her relationship with her fellow teammates.

Whatever Wanda Wants

In WandaVision, some of this played out similarly. Age of Ultron essentially described Wanda’s Infinity Stone-granted abilities as “telekinesis and telepathy” – reading minds, and psychically moving objects. 

Avengers: Disassembled

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Even in that film, she’s shown altering people’s perceptions, giving Thor and Tony Stark bizarre visions and subverting the Hulk to her control, similar to what she’s ultimately doing to all the people in Westview.

WandaVision episode 5 even revealed that she’s actually remaking the clothing her Westview victims wear, remaking them into new forms that fit her narrative.

Page from House of M

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

If all that is leading to the place comic books led, it could mean that Wanda will ultimately be able to fully, truly resurrect Vision. And, given that Wanda will play a role in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, it’s possible to theorize that her powers will evolve in a way that resembles her comic book history, perhaps even adding actual magic to the mix (Wanda was even once a candidate for Sorcerer Supreme in comic books).

Wanda Maximoff may have had her heel turns, but she usually stands alongside some of the best female superheroes of all time.

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