Monday, October 6, 2014
YEAR 1964: THE SCARLET WITCH
Much like the Wasp and Marvel Girl, the Scarlet Witch received a bad rap, at least for her earliest depictions. Yet the character of Wanda couldn't be accused of any of the sins attributed to those Marvel characters. Maybe Wasp gushed about shopping and Marvel Girl was seen playing house-mother to the X-Men, but the Scarlet Witch was rarely if ever seen in such stereotypically feminine situations. And while one must admit that the previous two femmes were not that formidable, the Scarlet Witch's power-- to cause catastrophes just by pointing her hands-- was not so marginal. Nor could anyone argue that it was largely defensive in nature, as with the Invisible Girl's force fields. In one early appearance the Witch beats the Swordsman by causing a machine near him to explode, and in a later one, she causes the ground beneath a tank to collapse.
I've only encountered one rather vague criticism of the Scarlet Witch, possibly originating with Trina Robbins: the Witch was a heroine whose main power was to "pose and point." Maybe the criticism was that it placed the heroine on display for the evil male gaze, as opposed to having her engage in rough-and-tumble battles like the majority of Golden Age comics-heroines. Nevertheless, the central conception of the Scarlet Witch was that she was a mutant version of a witch, and the archetypal idea of a witch is that of a being who casts spells on others-- not a bare-knuckle fighter.
The worst one could say of the early Witch was that she didn't have much backstory, or much direction beyond choosing to fight evil as an Avenger. Of course, one could say the same of many of Marvel's male heroes in the 1960s: the Human Torch goes to college for a while, and then drops it to pursue his romantic interests-- which sounds like a stereotypically feminine thing to do. Arguably in the 1970s and thereafter, the Scarlet Witch eclipses the Torch and many others. Through her controversial romance with the android hero Vision, she showed a level of courage that surpassed the battles with super-villains, and she hopped up her powers through the study of witchcraft. This seems to have been her best period as a character, though I confess I have no idea what her status is these days.