The Scarlet Witch and Outsider Trauma
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Especially since YouTube is not super excited about propoting queer content. So like and subscribe. Comment below. And now let’s get to the video. Ever notice that the LGBTQ community seems to really gravitate toward Marvel’s The Scarlet Witch? Yeah me too. We can assume it’s because she’s a fabulous dresser and diva supreme, but I think it goes a lot deeper than that.
And goes a lot further back in time than just the birth of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. It goes back to the Bronze age of comics. Something comics, or at least western superhero comics, are not exactly known for is subtlety and nuance. They’re known for the BANG, SPLASH, WHAM, not the meditative and contemplative. But it hasn’t always been this way. In the olden days, especially in the Bronze Age of comics, about 1970 to 1985, comics were like long running printed soap operas.
You still had all the action any kid could want, but you also had more mature, drawn out character interactions that older readers, who had grown up reading comics, wanted. When it comes to the Scarlet Witch, Marvel spent a great deal of time in the Bronze age examining that character. This is why, in spite of how bad the writing could be, I have such a love of that age of comics because they were driven by character. Not events. I find modern comics are built around characters reacting to the plot and not being given time to develop.
And this is an industry problem — editors demand flashier and flashier books with an emphasis on action panels. Resulting in comic books with a fraction of the dialogue that they used to have. For instance, I can clear through a contemporary comic book in about 5-10 minutes, depending on how I read the sparse dialogue. Older comic titles take me about half an hour to read, though. Stan Lee’s old writing style was to write the outline of what happens in sequence, a sort of plot outline, hand the outline to Steve Ditco or Jack Kirby.
And then the would illustrate the whole thing, and then Lee would go back over it and write the dialogue to fit what was going on. For good measure, there’d also be a persistent narration describing what was going on too. You can skip a lot of the narrator writing in older books for this reason and not miss a beat because Ditco and Kirby were just… that good at visual storytelling. These days, and this is in no way a criticism of individual artists, editors push for comic books to have a quota of explosions per issue. (I’m being sarcastic but I wouldn’t actually be surprised.)
So it’s much harder to track what’s going on in a title because there’s so much more pressure to cram as much onto one page as possible. Couple that with both Marvel and DC’s apparent limit of 6-8 issues per story arc, and Marvel’s pressure on canon-wide crossover events, and there just isn’t really a whole lot of page real-estate that can be afforded to just… letting a moment land. Because titles that do focus on character-beats, like — infamously — the She-Hulk run focusing on her career as a lawyer tend to get canceled when they don’t hit Avengers Flagship title sales numbers. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of places to get slice-of-super-hero-life kinda stuff.
Everything is crisis-this, infinity-that. Honestly some of my favorite vintage avengers titles were the ones where there was no villain, no fights. Just these couple of friends hanging out in Avengers Mansion doing crosswords. And this is where you could get all that subtext about the Scarlet Witch because sometimes half of an issue was just being a psychic fly on the wall looking at drama going on in Avengers Mansion. So you could have The Vision and The Scarlet Witch having a whole conversation for pages at a time.
Comic books, classically, were also more comfortable having storylines drawn out over many years, with writers being attached to titles for just as long. Which allowed creators to establish and develop characters by using repetition of patterns, rather than one-off mentions in a panel of a crossover title. You could never have a storyline like the Xmen’s Phoenix and Dark Phoenix sagas today. The long-format episodic storytelling gave artists the opportunity to develop character beats as much as the writers. These books, which are primarily visual, had the opportunity to show, rather than tell. The heartbroken expression on Wanda’s face could say just as much as a line of dialogue.
You didn’t need to describe Captain America’s fighting style, you could show it. Again. Props to Jack Kirby.
Which means that creators could establish character traits without describing them explicitly. Instead, repeatedly showing the readers how these characters acted. But to do this, it takes multiple instances of showing the audience before it really begins to sink in as a pattern.
But being able to flush out characters over longer periods of time allowed for these kinds of patterns to develop, and for clear — or at least somewhat clear — rules about how this character would act in certain situations to arise. And it was during this magical time when comics were still free enough to have entire issues of dialogue, and allow female characters to be different, that the gays first started gravitating toward The Scarlet Witch. But how did this suburban housewife with two kids become the gay icon we know her as today? Well, like any good Bronze Age comics arc, it’s a long story. When it comes to comic book stories, people usually default to Origin stories as the means of developing an early gauge for the character.
The origin story is pivotal to a comic book character because they usually outline why the hero fights. At least… the good ones do. The quintessential archetype in this case is Batman.
His parents were killed in a random act of violence, and so he sets out to prevent random acts of violence. Since then, Batman’s whole psychological state of being has been expanded to the point where there’s an argument to make that his central rogues gallery can be seen as a reflection of his own psychosis. The penguin as per his status as established wealth. The riddler as per his own egoism and intelligence-obsession. Two-face as per his conflicting ideologies of justice. The joker represents his natural inclination towards wanton theatrics.
Etc. In instances like Batman, Spider-Man, and even Iron Man, a component of their backstory features a trauma which then leads them to compulsively prevent that trauma from happening to others. Other origin stories, like Superman, Captain America, Dr. Strange, or various versions
of The Flash focus on why and how this character has the abilities they do. And I’m not saying one leads to a better character than the other. But when it comes to origin trauma, Wanda Maximoff could be a frontrunner for the worst.
childhood. ever. She and her brother, Pietro, or Quicksilver, were European orphans of Romani descent. Without a family, they wandered around southeastern Europe, taking work and accommodations when they could.
It also happened that they were mutants — Hello. My name is James Somerton. You may recognize me from such videos as: “Adult Gay Man Yells About Disney” “Adult Gay Man Complains About Korean Webcomics” “Adult Gay Man Yells About Disney 2: Release The Gay Fish Boys” …and the video you were just watching. I realize I just said that Wanda Maximoff is a mutant, and implied that’s where her powers come from.
Before going forward, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge that this is an egregious simplification, and depending upon which comic you’re reading, Wanda may or may not still be a mutant. For more information about the powerset of the Scarlet Witch, please see my other video: Marvel’s Gay Power Couple. Which, itself is a gross simplification.
Now, let’s return to our regularly scheduled programming. It also happened that they were murtants coming into their powers. Which led to them being chased out of a number of villages. This kind of childhood and early-life development itself is rife for a lot of presumed trauma. And naturally because it’s trauma that happened off panel, a lot of people don’t really register it. But we gays are great at reading into things that are only inferred.
Consider the lonely state the twins were in: without family or support and being procedurally chased out of every settlement that would tolerate them enough to only spit at them, that’s kinda messed up all on it’s own. How does that generate a functional person? Marvel was being absolutely sympathetic to these characters when they pointed out just how easy it would be for Magneto to recruit them into his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Whereas Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne only witnessed the death of parental figures, the Maximoff twins had to endure day-in/day-out traumatic experiences, completely alone except for each other. Which, the MCU explicitly depicts in WandaVision, showing us the death of the Maximoff parents, beat for beat how it had only been described years earlier in Age of Ultron. And in spite of this incredibly graphic-for-Disney depiction of violence, there are still people out there who champion the traumatic roots of Spiderman and Batman, while saying that Wanda didn’t really have any reason to accidentally take a town hostage because she needed a vacation from life.
But more on that to come! Suffice to say, Wanda’s origins factor in a heavy amount of trauma, and rather than this trauma being focused around a matter of individuals, it’s directed at a much broader sense of humanity. How humans, as a group, will treat other specific human beings who are not specifically just like them. Already, the gay appeal is written into the subtext of her character. However, though Wanda (and Quicksilver) make their debut as super villains, they quickly have a change of heart and join the Avengers. Because as soon as Wanda is given a better option than being a bad guy, she takes it. While they’d always been reluctant villains while in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, becoming such staples of the Avengers signified that they could have been great heroes from the very beginning, if they had gotten the chance.
Magneto simply found them first. While it’s true that Stan Lee made the conflict between the X-Men and the Brotherbood as an allegory for civil rights, he did later admit that an allegory for gay rights was also valid, in retrospect. And admittedly, a queer reading of the Maximoff’s origin may be a bit of a stretch.
But going forward, Wanda begins to embody more queer experiences on the pages of Avengers titles. And that said, I can’t be entirely sure if it’s not deliberate. Marvel writers of the 70s and especially 80s adopted a very heavy-handed approach to advocating for social rights. However, it’s also just a thing that queer-adjacent themes wind up in otherwise ‘straight’ media — because it simply makes for compelling drama. Romance hidden from the public eye? Family shame? Disowning? Striking out on one’s own? Found family? These things are generally uncommon in straight circles, so they’re seen as heightened drama.
Whereas queer people — even if you yourself haven’t experienced this, you have a friend who has. But even if the Scarlet Witch wasn’t written with exclusively queer appeal, it is a reason for why queer people, even on a subliminal level, found her appealing. And she had lots of drama.
However, her first role on the Avengers wasn’t to be Vision’s girlfriend and wife. Wanda was the first real Avenger to show any heart. Villains would often target her as a damsel in distress simply because she was the least inclined toward open combat. However, Wanda had a penchant for, as a captive or not, reasoning and empathizing with these villains. But in spite of this semi-regular pattern, The Scarlet Witch was routinely described as one of the most powerful Avengers — and this was even before her first power-explosion in the Darker Than Scarlet story arc. Which the other kind of… curious thing about the Scarlet Witch is that even before she had queer children of her own, she found herself mothering those who had been outcast.
Specifically in one case, she encouraged Toad to leave Magneto behind… because the master of magnetism didn’t seem to treat his brotherhood of mutants with that much respect. In spite of the fact that most found Mortimer Toynbee to be repulsive, Wanda took it upon herself to look out for the lil’ guy. And sure this may be an instance of Wanda being ‘the woman hero’ who, as feminist critics argue is the role for women in action, to be caring and resolve conflict through empathy. It’s worth noting that while Wanda conforms to this, she is the gross exception among Marvel women. The only other character like her that I can think of would be Sue Storm. Because, yes, you had ‘the moms’ but most of Marvel’s female heroes were She-Hulk, the Wasp, Tigra, Kitty Pryde, Storm, Emma Frost, Mystique, one of… Jean Grey’s clones or alternate reality evil twins.
But as far as gay appeal, the 70s and 80s were a time where a lot of queer people had mothers who rejected them. And the mothers we did have were the mothers that chose us, not necessarily the ones who brought us into the world. Wanda was abundantly established as a ‘mom’ who did choose you.
So… That’s touching, at the very least. However, unlike Sue Storm who became Sue Richards, Wanda was not strictly heterosexualized. When you add in the other things… Like the tumultuous youth of being shamed and scorned by society at large. Going to New York and developing a found family who wants to take the things about you society has rejected and use it to help people. And then… to say nothing of finding a surrogate maternal figure in Agatha Harkness.
(Wandavision had a significant departure from the comics here, both of them Drag-Queen-Esque) When it comes to all of that, Wanda does begin to embody — at least a very sensitive and comics-code friendly depiction of what the queer community was going through at the time. Before House of M dominated the Marvel fandom’s perception of the Scarlet Witch, and many fans to this day believe that’s the only significant thing that she ever provided to Marvel 616, the Scarlet Witch was most notably recognized for her rather… queer love affair… with a robot. Or, to be more politically correct, Synthezoid. Now Human/Robot romances are, to this day, not at all very common. So back in the day, it was seen as a bit of an anomaly.
For months and months, these two played soap opera with readers' feelings. Will-they/won’t-they constantly. Because though Wanda was very open with her feelings for Vision, Vision felt that a romance between the two of them was improper. Eventually… you know. That wasn’t an issue.
But for the duration of their marriage, they constantly had to justify themselves to others. ‘Yes, I’m Wanda. A human/mutant.
And yes, this is my husband. A robot.’ In the same way that gay people… never really stop coming out, you know? And sometimes it didn’t go very well. When Quicksilver stopped by Avengers Mansion to announce his shotgun wedding to Crystal of the Inhumans (it didn’t work) — his sister proudly announced her romance with The Vision. To which Quicksilver was utterly disgusted, and disowned her on the spot.
Granted, given the time period this also could have been made to represent familial disgust at inter-racial relationships. But hey. This allegory is one-size-fits-all.
So. Having a wildly temperamental family who have weirdly specific decency-related expectations for what you ought to do with your life is absolutely a gay mood. So queer comic book readers would have seen this and immediately read it as something that had either happened to them or a friend. And one thing that is part of the queer community, and the role that queer-coding may have had is up to some debate, is that we gravitate toward those who have experienced queer-like expiriences. And this applies to real life.
Consider the Free Brittany movement where she was kept under the control of men who did not have her best interests at heart. Also, to a lesser extent, the solidarity around Brenden Fraiser’s decade-long self-care hiatus because of so much Hollywood trauma. Even if the individual is not queer themselves, if any straight person would know what it’s like, it would be people who share our experiences. And we do tend to gravitate toward people who go through these queer-adjacent expiriences and come out of the other side as a nurturing, empathetic individual. Who, not only themselves try to live normal lives, but who want to help others do the same. Though it’s not really part of the Pride discourse, there were, in earlier Pride Parades, a presence of accepting mothers who would, either by proxy of their own queer children or of their own vocation, would be part of queer circles to be surrogate moms.
And while this was never in a comic, I can absolutely see Wanda from the 70s and 80s doing something like that. Ooh… head cannon. Willed her own children to be queer so she could have a foothold in the community to be the community mom. Marvel’s over there sleeping on this while they figure out how to shove as many fridgable gays and rainbow flags into Spider Man games. But when it comes to Wanda going through the kinds of traumas she has, however queer-coded they may be, she just wanted a simple life.
Wanda, in spite of the magic powers, a superhero found-family, and a fabulous penchant for red velvetine, kind of craves the domestic life. Contrary to Marvel’s other power-couples of the time, Sue and Reed, Janet and Hank, Jean and Scott, Wanda actively seeks time off from the Avengers to become a homeowner and home maker. And didn’t marry an abusive husband. Whereas the others kept their relationships and marriages going with their respective teams, Wanda and Vision — two of the most powerful superheroes ever — were content to bum out in the suburbs for a while. Which is something that may be reflected in our own fight for rights. (Not mine but maybe yours.)
That the battles we were fighting for so long were for nothing more than to be able to choose a quiet life, if we wanted. And though this pairing was absolutely unorthodox even by comic book standards, it was the fairytale couple that worked out far better than the ‘normies.’ Janet was a victim of domestic abuse, Sue was an invisible woman in the sense that she was almost entirely neglected by Reed (who is a bit of a bastard), and it took about 0.02 seconds of married life before Soctt decided to start hooking up with Emma Frost.
Vision and Wanda, however, slept in on Saturdays, they were affectionate, kind, understanding, and had open, honest communication. Imagine that. The couple that everyone thought was too weird to function ended up being really one of the only marriages in comic book history that ‘worked.’ Especially one between two super-powered characters, as there is a literal imbalance of power in instances like Lois and Clark. Sure, the Avengers were cool with it.
But left, right, and center these two had to justify the ground they walked on. Both as a mutat, a robot, and the fact that they were married. With Children. In the limited run special ‘The Vision and the Scarlet Witch’, these are the majority of trials the couple has to navigate. They both seem comfortable fighting witches and zombies — however the greater struggle is standing their ground against neighbors and social forces that want to drive their marriage apart. But they were determined to not let that happen.
Wanda spent her youth being chased away and running from every place she may have considered a home. And now as a married woman, she chose now to stand her ground against bigotry instead of packing up and leaving at the first sign of friction. Which… does kind of mirror the path to Gay rights. Don’t you think? While in the first half of the 20th century, the cultural mindset of gay communities was a more… hit-and-run style approach to rights. Make strides where we can, but stay fluid so that there’s no foundation that institutional bigotry can target. This was how P.R.I.D.E.
(Personal Rights In Deffence and Education — emphasis on the deffence part) managed to make progress on queer activisim, where gay rights groups before then tried to ‘play by the rules’ and made very little headway. But the shock-and-awe tactics of P.R.I.D.E. depended on being able to show up where it was inconvenient for the straights and then disappear before the cops showed up. Moving into the 1980s P.R.I.D.E.
had long been disbanded under some game-of-thrones style drama from WITHIN the queer community. The cultural attitude of Queerness had shifted and progressed to the point where we decided we were done running. There came the point where we decided to plant our flags, where we were going to fight for the spaces our community occupied. And while holding onto a handful of inner-city street corners had been something that the community had always struggled with, the rise of HIV added a sense of urgency. Holding on to our physical spaces was once a matter of building and maintaining our communities and cultural identity, but now was a matter of survival. Communities became essential for our ability to monitor and take care of eachother, but also to prevent us from being pushed out of our neighborhoods while we died in droves to a plague our political leaders did nothing about.
Having our spaces was something we could hold onto while we lost friends and community leaders. Disparate and separate we were more vulnerable. But congregating in local areas allowed our dwindling community to continue organizing and fighting.
Like us, there were only so many places Wanda could run before she realized that standing your ground was the only option she had left. And this may be why we identify with Marvel’s mutants as a whole (Wanda specifically, for being the only mutant in a friend group of normies), because it brings up the question of how much do we have to do and how far do we have to go to be recognized as worthy of simple human dignity? I suppose that isn’t even really a queer problem. It’s long been held that Marvel is about humans trying to be Gods, and DC is about gods trying to be human — but I feel like the real distinction is that Marvel characters routinely save lives, save the world, save… existence — and still the world as a whole avidly hates them. It doesn’t really matter to the denizens of Earth 616, The Scarlet Witch is a mutant.
And as people are told to hate mutants, they hate Wanda. I mean it doesn’t help her case that Jean is over there repeatedly eating stars and solar systems for the lolz. And this is the person the X-Men actively keep trying to resurrect so I can understand a little bit about why human kind looks at the X-Men like: “yeah… maybe no.”
And as we’re talking about allegory, I think this is now a good time to bring up the issues I have with using super-powers as an allegory for being oppressed. Because while they may represent minority groups suffering under systemic oppression because bigotry, it’s worth reminding everyone that the X-Men have superpowers. Queer people, immigrant communities, black people, and indigenous peoples do not have superpowers.
We’re pretty amazing, but we can’t toss cars in the air or turn invisible. (Unless we’re on tinder.) And when some mutants have the power to look at a tear gas canister and turn it into cotton candy, I feel like the analogy — and the way that writers constantly bring it up as justification for letting the X-Men run an extra-judicious private army of minors who make demands on global sovereignties — becomes a little disrespectful. The thing about oppression and being oppressed is that you cannot even make your own government listen to you.
But there go the mutants and then X-men… demanding private islands that they proceed to mess up with their soap opera drama. But not Wanda. Who, even before House of M was accused of being a class traitor by the X-Men, and X-men fans. Referencing Wanda’s role on X-Men: Evolution where she was a raving lunatic with too much witchy power — five years before House of M was published.
This look and vibe was drawn specifically from The Craft’s Nancy. But superimposing Nancy on Wanda is a bit of an… This was, naturally, a staunch departure from the soft-spoken, over-powered avenger who prefers a supportive role on the team. And of course was aping on the ‘more evil female counterpart of the main villain’ trope you see popping up now and then. Not only mutants, but out of Marvel heroes as a whole, Wanda chose the American dream.
Whereas other couples were heiresses, lived in techno towers, or lived the fast life of saving the world, Wanda (the mutant-witch with strong ties to the primordial forces of chaos) and The Vision (a mechanical living organism who is often cited as the most intelligent being on the planet), chose a house in the suburbs with a picket fence. They would rather live there, among humans, than rent out a room in the Charles Xavier Echo Chamber for Gifted Youngsters. And I feel that both among the fanbase and ride-or-die X-men writers, they would have seen this as a betrayal from Wanda. The X-Men’s messaging being that their strength is in numbers, what happens when one of them decides not to join the crew? In the absolutist worldview of comic books, Wanda is neither a GOOD mutant with the Xmen… nor a BAD mutant with the Brotherhood. So what is she? Well… if you’re not with us… Instead consider Wanda’s referenced past. Her running from village to village in eastern Europe while her only glimpse of America would have been pamphlets and scant visions of television programming.
Sitcoms and romcoms and musicals about the American simple life. The American Dream. Things that, as a wandering outcast, would have been completely inaccessible to her. Wanda would not want the camaraderie of other mutants because the first mutant to extend a hand to her ended up being a total sociopath.
Out of everyone in Marvel, it makes sense why Wanda would crave domestication, and why that life would appeal to her. What she wanted was the lifestyle she, as an Avenger, had fought to protect. After saving New York, America, and the world… doesn’t she deserve a bit of a honeymoon? Given that The Avengers team from 1963-2005 made $2000 a week, Wanda had probably saved up enough money to buy a whole lot more.
The suburbs were what she chose because she had an opportunity to live the life that had been denied to her. Which really does fit the gay expirience doesn’t it? All we wanted was the option to live the life that straight people took for granted. Regardless of who we chose to share our house with, or what color blanket a nurse wrapped us in when we were born.
And t thing about Wanda and Vision was that it worked. Things were going great. They had children and, unlike the occupants of Baxter tower, nobody was pointing any weaponized technology at an infant. And just when it seemed like they were really going to make it, somebody pulled the rug out from under them. Vision and Wanda were broken up by forces outside of their control. Someone who was thought to be a friend, and supportive of their marriage, it turned out, only really ever saw the Vision as a machine.
With her husband lost to government bureaucracy who refused to see him as human, Wanda’s children vanished. Taken away from her by a malevolent demonic entity. Also… something queer people have had to deal with through history. We’ve lost our partners and had our children taken away. It was never real.
The marriage. The children. It was a series of events manipulated by the totalitarian, micromanagerial, timespace bureaucrat who officiated the marriage in the first place. The whole thing was just to exploit and manipulate Wanda.
But her hope, her trauma, her past didn’t matter. She was a tool to fit his agenda. Just like, in the early 1990s, as Bill Clinton campaigned to be president, he promised the LGBT community rights. Marriage equality, legal protection, and the ability to serve in the military.
He was our ally. Our friend. And then once in office signed bills explicitly banning gay marriage and gay military service.
We were a tool to fit his agenda. Being used as a political tool, and then discarding us as a compromise for what an elected representative really wants is not something limited to queer people. But what draws Wanda’s life closer to queerdom is her campaign for love, marriage, and the strife she faced for simply having a place of her own. Even today, where queer acceptance is much greater than it has been for quite some time, at least in North Ameirca, queer youth and even adults struggle to find a place in society. One that is determined by their expression of identity, and not what is convenient for hegemonistic census takers and advertisers. Queer communities are constructed by merrit and self-description, and not birthright.
So there isn’t exactly a predetermined roadmap for us — neither one that we can conform to nor one that we can resist. And every time the hetero-hegimony tries to quantify us — bloop! Another gender identity materializes and we destabilize another algorithm. We have no determined paths — because we have no inherited history. We have no family tree to give us cultural roots. And that might seem nihilistic, but from an optimistic angle: without a history, we get to choose our own future.
Having rights doesn’t mean we need to all ship ourselves off to the suburbs. It just means that if that’s what you are, if that’s what you want — the option ought to be available to you. And a discussion about choice, availability, and wanting a life with significantly less trauma than how we were raised is a much more modern queer problem. But don’t worry.
Against all probability, we, and the Scarlet Witch, are still relevant. I mean Wanda’s publication history is one thing, but most people haven’t read every issue of the Avengers circa 1963-2022. So why do gays still flock to her deffense? Somehow she’s this unforgivable figure of targeted ire. Most X-Men fans who read House of M didn’t read the full Scarlet Witch backstory.
They knew the basics, and they knew that she popped up now and then. Heck — most Avengers fans hadn’t taken the time to read through the spin-off West-Coast Avengers titles that lived and died in the 1980s where most of Wanda’s story took place. And so when Wanda pops up in the movies… they think this is what she’s here to do. Ignoring the 40 years that she spent saving the world, she’s getting set up to be public enemy number one. But to other people, notably, gay fans in the know, she’s here to be a baby oven to spit out two gloriously queer babies that Disney will absolutely put in theatrical releases and would absolutely not relegate to streaming on Disney+. (In select countries.)
And in this post-Wandavision landscape… It seems the essentialist good-guy/bad-guy mentality of comics publishing — arguably the worst part about comics — has migrated into the fans of comic book movies. Back when it was clear who the good guys and bad guys were, the fandom was so wholesome. Maybe a little cringe, but we all got along. Because you could point at flag-and-sheild-man and say: good. And everyone grunts and approvingly nods.
You could point at war-crimes-metal-suit-with-lasers-man, and even though he had crossed demilitarized zones and conducted the assassination of forigen bodies in a soverign nation, you can point to him and say: ‘good.’ You could point at cosmic-war-crimes-hammer-man who attempted an interdimensional insurrection and say: good. You could even point to war-crimes-metal-arm-man who was mind-controlled into committing said war crimes and say: good.
You could point at war-crimes-blasty-fist-lady who then, upon realizing the imperialist intent of her nationalistic culture, turned around and helped oppressed peoples and say… Oh wait, that one’s a little contentious, isn’t it? I’m sure it’s an exception to the rule. Bad example. OH! You could point to war-crimes-spy-lady who was routinely exploited for sexuality and say: good. At least until she kicked up a fuss about being paid what she was deserved. And then… Well that’s a bit of a hot button issue.
So when we get to Wanda… Can we really say that the Marvel fandom changed when they were given a complex character who openly struggles with morality? Or can we finally admit there’s a bit of a pattern here in the threshold of moral tolerance? About the kinds of characters that many fans are willing to empathize with. Because you can take a look at war-crimes-horny-egoist-person who committed multiple murders, genocides, and interdimentional insurrections and say: good. And people will probably agree. Oh how they will rush to the defense of Loki with caveats and cited psychological studies about adopted children, and twin studies, and ‘oh my experience as a younger brother’, and everything that can possibly be done to explain why, though their actions are immoral, their emotional condition justifies their actions. Their actions came from a place of pain and neglect.
Loki? Evil? NEVER. But Wanda… I have concerns for society. Sure, on the level of media literacy, but also on the grounds of… what do you expect from Justice? Like. Capital J justice. What’s the deal? Assuming we include the explosion in Captain America: Civil War as part of Wanda’s kill count — which… if that explosion had gone off at the base of that building, a whole lot more people would have died — she’s still far behind literally all the Avengers… except, oddly, Vision. And even then, she was only a ‘war criminal’ because a collection of governments decided that she was too dangerous to be allowed to go to the damn grocery store.
Don’t you love it when your identity is automatically made ‘criminal.’ But going over Wandavision, I’m still not sure how people can have a takeaway that she was maliciously twisting reality around her finger for her own bemusement. This show dedicated an entire episode — one of the longer ones — to exploring her trauma, which most of it, even then, was implicit.
That’s right. Machine guns on the streets below her apartment, and her mom shrugged it off like it was no big deal. I’m assuming that those of you watching this video who know what that’s like can fill in the blanks. And then we actually SEE her parents die in a missile explosion. That’s DARK. I didn’t expect that from Disney.
And then we go from there to ‘oh well she joined Hydra so she’s BAD.’ Really though I can’t imagine growing up as an orphan in that world would have been a walk in the park. The reality of the Maximoffs volunteering for Hydra was a matter of being desperate— This wasn’t even subtext, this is just what was literally in the script. Maria: File says they volunteered for Strucker’s experiments. That’s nutts. Steve: Right.
What kind of monster would let a German scientist experiment on them to protect their country? And this is just the baggage she had before the Avengers. Following that, she lost her brother. And when she woke up from the blip, she lost Steve, the only Avenger willing to stick up for her, and she lost her implied mentorship with Natasha, and she lost Vision.
And the only thing she really had to remember him by was the deed to a plot of land he had bought for them in suburban New Jersey. So she gets to the place where their home doesn’t exist, where it never would exist… And, not for the first time in her life, her powers take control of her subconscious and create a safety net for her. Her powers stopped a bomb from going off when she was a child, shielding her physically. And now her powers created a world where every day wasn’t a life or death struggle. Shielding her emotionally. The problem with media literacy and Wandavision is that, like ballet, you’re meant to extrapolate what’s going on from how the actors — specifically Olsen and Bettany — are carrying themselves.
This is not the posture of someone who is actively choosing to create a perfect world. This is a woman who just… she just needs a break. This is not the face of a woman who is maliciously mind-controlling everyone to act like they’re in a sitcom. This is a Lynn Manuel Miranda-style writer-director-lead actor who is so fed up with trauma after trauma, that they are choosing to accept their own fantasy and go a little crazy instead of dealing with whatever darkness is in their soul. Wanda grew up with a vision of America built from sitcoms. She just assumed that everyone would be happy if they were in one.
She is shocked and confused when she is confronted with the reality of what she’s doing. And she herself becomes more and more uncomfortable with the situation as she becomes aware. However, up until the point that she is aware that her victims are experiencing her nightmares, the ones she’s trying so hard to escape, she does not believe that these people have been given anything but a dreamlike existence.
She does not realize that they are directly under her control. Agatha: You’re even running illusions miles away at the edge of town! Magic on autopilot. Harkening back to Avengers Disassembled when she was out of her mind making an apple pie with her dream-children while an illusory Kree army killed Hawkeye — her friend and staunchest advocate through the Avengers series. From the textual and visual elements of the series, we can conclude (and I say this with the confidence of someone who actually engages with the media they watch instead of scrolling through their Phone while Pulp Fiction is on and then declaring that this movie sucks because they don’t know what’s going on) — we can conclude that Wanda was aware that she created this reality, or that she became aware. But we can also conclude that she assumed that everyone else had just as much agency as she did.
Or at least was as happy as she was. And she is horrified when she learns that she had as much culpability as she did. To the extent of having very little hesitation in destroying her perfect world to set everyone free. Vision: I know you’ll set everything right.
Just not for us. Wanda: No. Not for us. There was never a dilemma. There was never a longing choice of should I or shouldn’t I. Nope. Wanda immediately set out to tear down her hall of mirrors.
And… I still don’t understand how people continue to hold her culpable. I mean the show maybe could have done without the tired trope of using a black woman as a therapist to a white woman in the end. Monica didn’t know her that well and yet she was the one to absolve her. But that instance alone shouldn’t damn Wanda to villanhood. Certainly not given the amount of stuff that other characters in comics and that other characters in the MCU have gotten away with while still being venerated.
Honestly, the most unbelievable thing about the Scarlet Witch is that you can have someone go through all the things she did in the comics and still come out as a functional human being. I mean when you’ve got the power to erase existence and all you do is take some superpowers away, you’re probably doing the best you can. Movies-Wanda… is a little bit more rough around the edges.
Given that there’s no strict ‘nobody dies in the avengers’ rules at Marvel Studios, Wanda does have some blood on her hands. And it’s blood that she doesn’t seem to be allowed to wash off. She’s made mistakes — big mistakes — when trying to do the right thing. And even when she’s not trying to do the right thing, she still makes mistakes. But she’s not a real person either.
And while I have concerns about how Kevin Feigie is going to treat a female character with mental health issues around traumatic experiences — especially given the reaction to Game of Thrones’ take on what happens when you give a lady too much power — my real duress is not with the content — but the ways that people are reading this media. It says a lot to me, that there are hordes of ‘American’ viewers who did sit through all the Avengers movies, and who did see the trauma highlight reel in Wandavision, and their takeaway was: ‘she’s the bad guy.’ That in spite of veterans and psychological associations weighing in on the show and praising its honest depiction and empathy for victims of severe PTSD, there are people who feel that Wanda’s trauma, in spite of her successful attempt to correct her mistakes, is no excuse for her actions. Even though Loki deliberately mind-controlled people, they’re fine. Peter Parker was abundantly comfortable giving everyone in the universe amnesia because he was inconvenienced.
He’s fine too. But it really shouldn’t come as a shock to me. A man who said that ‘veterans with PTSD are just weak’ ended up becoming the forty fifth president of the United States. So clearly some people agree with him. And this is the world we live in.
One that has consistently de-valued mental health to the point where most people older than I am talk about therapists on hushed lips. Like seeing one is a scandal. Consider the fact that existing outside the hegemony — outside hetero-cis-normativity, outside whiteness — that that entails an amount of trauma. In some cases serious life-or-death-experience trauma. Betrayal of friends and loved ones.
To say nothing of complex traumas from living in a world where institutions are designed to discriminate against you on a fundamental level, and then being told by everyone who thrives in these situations, and in these institutions, that you’re just making a big deal out of nothing. If there is no empathy for Wanda, then there is no empathy for characters like Wanda. For people like Wanda.
And if you cannot empathize with these fictional characters — then I don’t have a whole lot of faith that you can empathize with anyone who isn’t Tony Stark. Who isn’t white, rich, masculine, and in possession of a penis. He was traumatized because he saw space monsters, and built a genocidal robot that, oh by the way, killed Wanda’s brother. But his fanbase is SOLID.
The MCU has laid out a painstakingly detailed account of Wanda Maximoff’s trauma. To a gratuitous point where I don’t think it would even feel at home in a soap opera. Well maybe in a soap opera… we gays do love a soap opera.
It’s easy to mistake Wanda’s appeal to queer folks as being a matter of camp. Or diva worship. That we flock to her the way we flock to Madonna or Beyonce. She’s got the outfits, she’s got the poses, the powers, the gay kids.
And there is a camp of gay men who will condone any villianous behaviour from such a woman because she’s fierce. But I’m bothered by that just as much as the ones who demonize complex characters like her. Wanda does not have to be a 100% hero. Nor is she a villain. Wanda is someone who tries to be a good person, but given how much baggage she carts around, struggles with trying to stay optimistic and lighthearted.
And given that she’s aware that her abilities have a terrible cost, and that her own subconscious can hijack her powers and redevelop reality without her conscious awareness, she’s under a lot of pressure. And now that the MCU has roughly caught up to her psychological state in the comics, it’s disheartening to see that there is a section of the audience that does not empathize with her struggles. Or that they do not seem to have the ability to see morality in shades of gray.
Or that, and this is relevant for criminal prosecution, they do not care enough to make the distinction between an action and the context that leads to that action. But the fact that Kevin Feigie, head honcho of Marvel Studios, has signed Elizabeth Olsen to a multi-movie contract does give me a bit of hope. Disney follows the money, and the money is saying that people want more of the Scarlet Witch. That the watch-along parties of tough guys ejecting their tear ducts at the end of Wandavision was in the majority, and that there is empathy and understanding in this world. And that the rows upon rows of Wanda Hate on social media timelines amount to a bunch of people who don’t like that people seem to be enjoying morally complex parables about heroic figures who make mistakes. Because everyone makes mistakes, and almost nobody really feels that more than queer people.
Because it turns out that when you have to suppress elements of yourself for the sake of fitting into a hetero-normative landscape, one which still to this day treats cis and straight as the default, it can lead to some pretty crappy behavior. For gay people, trans people, nonbinary people, bisexual people. You get angry… and sometimes you lash out at the people closest to you. Even when they didn’t really do anything wrong! (Not intentionally, anyway.)
But their treatment of us may be a reminder that there was something about us that didn’t fit in quite right. And yes it takes some time for us to realize that it was nobody’s fault, and that they weren’t to blame. But when we do come around and confront that period of our lives and confront our own abominable behavior, we hope that others will have the understanding to forgive us. Because here’s the Scarlet Witch. Who’s just… she’s just out to do the right thing.
But at every. single. turn. of her life. She’s hounded by some interdimentional being, some absent father-figure terrorist, some primordial god, some reclusive eastern-european autocrat. Girl just wants a two-story home with a single-car garage and to badger her kids into good SAT scores. WHY IS THAT SUCH AN ASK? Why is it such a huge leap of qualifications and caveats when she just wants the same thing that so many other people complain about having to do? The gays don’t need more divas from Marvel.
We’ve got Storm. And Emma Frost. She-Hulk, The Wasp, Moondragon, Dazzler, and Elektra, from the comics. The movies started off slow but we’re getting our fair share of divas, now. And though Comics-Wanda leans into the diva poise, she is relishing in all the fancy, fabulous things she was denied as a young lady. The Heels, the capes, the corsets — she specifically likes the dinner gloves: she loves these fancy, effeminate things that she never got to have growing up.
So now that she can get them, she’s gonna wear it out to fight crime. (Bit of a queer allegory, there.) But when it comes to Movies-Wanda, Olsen is not playing a diva. This lady ran out to fight Agatha in sweats and a ponytail.
She wore hoodies and loose-fitting, feature-hiding clothes. I mean… she did have that glorious transformation in Wandavision though, coming into her full power, realizing who and what she is. Where she casts aside her hoodies and manifests a hip-flaunting skirt, those long sleeves with thumb holes, and face-framing headwear— Okay come on was nobody gonna tell me this was a trans read? Nobody? I really had to be filming this at 3am — sleep deprived — before I saw that? In the end, whether its page or screen, Wanda Maximof, The Scarlet Witch, is a survivor. Queer people respect the poise and sass of other Marvel Ladies.
Their power and command. But it’s Wanda’s determination to survive without bringing more pain into the world that we really identify with. From the time she’s a child to the time when she’s an adult, she deals with people being afraid of her, hating her for what she is. And the queer community relates to that. We see her living through trauma after trauma.
When things simply can’t get any worse… they do. But she makes it. Just like we do. The lucky ones, anyway.
She is demonized and vilified. In the comics when she tried to give everyone their perfect life, the heroes of Marvel wanted to kill her. In the MCU when she tried creating the perfect small town, filled with happy people, those people looked at her as a monster. Because when they slept they dreamed her nightmares.
The nightmares that she lived everyday of her life. And when Wanda lets go of her perfect world, her perfect kids, her perfect husband, and walks back out into the streets of WestView… the people of the small town stare at her with hate and accusation. Contempt, now that they know what she is.
And isn’t that the fear of every gay kid before they come out? And make no mistake, from the day we’re born we’re told that there’s a certain way to live. And when we come out, we get these little pangs and subliminal notifications that we’re inconvenient for the social order. That it would be easier for everyone if we didn’t exist. And that asking for the slightest thing to help ourselves be ourselves is a step too far. And that resonates with us.
The vilification of our very selves. So maybe forgiveness for Wanda is something we give her because it’s what we hope for. And if we can accept The Scarlet Witch for struggling with the great responsibility of her overwhelming power, then maybe we can be accepted for being just a little bit messy. And within this comic book character we can offer her something that we ourselves desire: to be forgiven for the crime of existing.