A significant omission from March: the mutant Avengers Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, mainstays of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the Silver Age. Rarely have any Marvel characters experienced the misfortune and misery heaped upon this pair…
Originally mirror-images of the teenage X-Men, the regal but demure Wanda’s name says “magic” and Pietro is obviously Peter, the Rock. Hilariously, my Black Magic Kirby book says they hail from an Eastern European country called Pastramia: I wish that were true. In any case, their early life was horrendous. They are presumably meant to be Roma and therefore already objects of prejudice. This is before they’re suborned into Magneto’s freakish court with the lecherous Mastermind and the obsequious Toad. It’s easy to forget their first public exploit is establishing a military dictatorship in a small South American country.
Pietro, in his original green costume, recalls Peter Pan of course: the Boy Who Never Grew Up. In her bathing suit and pointy headdress, Wanda is a cross between dominatrix and Space Nun. Happily, they broke free of Magneto and found sanctuary as half of “Cap’s Kooky Quartet”. Having already been drawn to Namor, the Witch made goo-goo eyes at Captain America. As did her brother.
Their mutant powers mysteriously waned for a while to make room (conveniently) for the emotional turmoil of Cap and Hank Pym but the Pastramians returned in short order, with Wanda now sporting a slinkier, more minimal look. Pietro, like a needy child, showed off his short-lived ability to fly. But the shadow of Magneto fell on them a second time.
Few images reveal the pathos of this abusive relationship more effectively than this Buscema cover.The Maximoffs disappeared from the Assemblers’ ranks again until the early 70s when they were enmeshed in the schemes of Arkon a Conan pastiche whose armoury was “borrowed” from the Weaponers of Qward.
During this period, Wanda’s locks became brunette while Pietro became more elfin. Her “bad luck” powers were now generic energy blasts- “hex bolts” or later, “hex spheres”. The twins both found romance: Pietro with Crystal, the former squeeze of Johnny Storm and Wanda with the android Vision ( the book’s de facto star in the Seventies) to the chagrin of Hawkeye.
Pietro’s superhero career effectively stalled for the remainder of the Bronze Age as his status with the Inhumans reduced him to the occasional cameo. Wanda, on the other hand, became the most visible female Avenger for the first half of the Seventies (until the Wasp returned to full-time membership). Roy Thomas forged an improbable connection with the Forties, positing the Whizzer and Miss America as the twins’ “real” parents. Meanwhile, under Englehart, Wanda explored True Witchcraft and in a more controversial move, eventually married the Vision.
Tragedy seemed inevitable however. First, the resurrection of Wonder Man threatened the self-belief and self-worth the Vision had battled to attain.
Then, Wanda discovered she was intended to be the host body for the demon Cthon and we the audience discovered, in a devilish twist, that her real father was Magneto all along. The Whizzer died in battle with an old enemy and, on uncovering the truth about her parentage, Wanda and the Vision left the haven of Avengers Mansion to build their own unconventional family.
Unfortunately, at the same time Pietro’s marriage collapsed, thanks to Crystal’s infidelity with a human civilian. Quicksilver had a psychotic breakdown which led him to make alliances with a variety of super-villains.
Pietro’s unsettling misconduct was later attributed to the psychic powers of career usurper Maximus the Mad, the Inhumans’ usual scapegoat. Some months later, a government operation to neutralise the Vision led to the erasure of the android’s personality.
At the same time, a sentient primeval organism selected Wanda (yet again) as a suitable host body:
Finally, the revelation that her twin sons were essentially magically-created homunculi caused Wanda to experience a breakdown identical to that suffered by her brother.
Magneto, then going through one of his own periodic phases of megalomania, saw this as a perfect opportunity to reform his Brotherhood with the twins.
After these harrowing events, Wanda exhibited a theatrical sadism quite unlike her “real” persona. The transformation was revealed to be yet another manipulation, this time by the time lord Immortus. By editorial fiat, in the Nineties, this dark period was not referenced and after the Heroes Reborn experiment, where Wanda was the daughter of the Asgardian Enchantress (!), George Perez and Kurt Busiek played up her gypsy heritage. She established a relationship with Wonder Man, her former “brother-in-law”. In turn, the Vision had flings with Ms. Marvel and the Celestial Madonna. Pietro, meanwhile, enjoyed his own short-lived series as leader of the New Men of Wundagore Mountain.
In the Noughties, Brian Bendis turned the Avengers into a hugely successful franchise, one to rival the X-Men in their 90s heyday. Unfortunately he used Wanda as the instrument to destroy much of what would be considered the backbone of the team in the Bronze Age, including Avengers Mansion…and the Vision. Later, she used her magicks to depower a large percentage of Marvel’s mutant population, including her brother for a time.
Mark Millar’s Ultimates, meanwhile introduced a Wanda and Pietro whose relationship was blatantly incestuous. If there is a sequel to Whedon’s Avengers movie, my money’s on this reading of the twins.
But the wheel turns. Bendis has restored the Vision; Pietro is mentoring young superhumans in Avengers Academy; and Wanda is seemingly redeemed. As I have said in previous posts, as a reader, I find it difficult to reconcile myself with asshole Tony Stark; wife-beater Pym; alcoholic Ms. Marvel; and murderous maniac Wanda. Can you really go home again? An insane Scarlet Witch was a major loss to the classic Avengers. But twenty years ago, Hal Jordan wiped out the entire Green Lantern Corps and is now a charter member of the New 52 League.
Time will tell; it always does.
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