Is WandaVision Repeating One of Marvel’s Biggest Mistakes?

WandaVision spoilers follow.

Boy meets girl. Girl gets super-powers. Girl loses control. Boy stops girl. It’s a tale as old as time, or at least, as old as Marvel Comics. Because ever since titles like Avengers, X-Men, and Fantastic Four were first released in the 1960s, female heroes like Wanda Maximoff have lost control and been transformed into villains, thereby feeding into a number of unfortunate sexist tropes…

The clearest example of this can be found in the X-Men’s Dark Phoenix Saga, when Jean Grey was consumed with cosmic power and destroyed an entire planet. Before that happened, Marvel Girl was portrayed as far weaker than her male teammates, and once she did become stronger than them, she quickly became too unstable to get a handle on her newfound power. Because of this, Cyclops was forced to kill his “hysterical” girlfriend in order to save everyone, including Jean herself.

While that remains one of comics’ most popular – and frequently told – stories, other writers soon drew inspiration from Jean’s downfall, including John Byrne, who transformed the Fantastic Four’s Sue Storm into an evil, semi-naked dominatrix called Malice. Once again, the husband was the one who had to save this ‘Unstable Powered Woman‘ from herself.

But that’s all in the past now, right? Maybe not, because as each episode of WandaVision progresses, it’s growing clearer and clearer that the MCU’s version of Wanda might be feeding into this long-standing tradition.

Now that’s not to say Maximoff is definitely the “Big Bad” of WandaVision. Sure, Monica Rambeau told us, “It’s Wanda, it’s all Wanda,” upon leaving Westview, but that’s not necessarily true. On top of all the clues which suggest that another force is at work here, it’s safe to say that the Scarlet Witch has always operated in shades of grey anyway.

Both in the comics and in the films that followed, Wanda started out as a more traditional “villain” before switching sides, regularly tilting between reductive binaries like “good” and “evil”. And it’s exactly this moral complexity that makes Wanda such a fascinating “hero”.

If WandaVision has proved anything, it’s that Elizabeth Olsen’s character is more interesting than any of her teammates. After being sidelined for far too long, this version of Wanda proves that Marvel is capable of something far greater than your average cookie-cutter hero.

Because at her core, Wanda is still exactly that, a hero, even if she has lost her way in the wake of Vision’s death. Hayward points to Wanda’s SWORD break-in as the moment Wanda turned “bad”, but from her perspective, this shady organisation was experimenting on the (synthetic) corpse of the man she loved. So no, this act of “terrorism” isn’t a particularly villainous one.

However, what does give us pause is that Wanda has knowingly enslaved an entire town, forcing them to act as puppets in her suburban dreamscape. While she might not have realized this was happening at first, it becomes clear by episode six that Wanda now knows what she’s doing. And Vision does too, which is why he selflessly stayed outside of Westview, pleading with SWORD to help Wanda’s victims, all while he was being ripped apart.

It’s important to note that Wanda isn’t acting out of malice here. Behind all that power lies a broken woman, one who has chosen to cope with her overwhelming grief by compartmentalising it in the most literal way possible. If Wanda is a villain, then it’s safe to say that most of us would choose the same “evil” path in this situation too.

That in itself doesn’t redeem her, though. Regardless of her sorrow or whatever forces might be working behind the scenes, Wanda has still robbed people of their lives, of their free will, and by doing so, she has also caused them immeasurable pain.

Consequences for this will surely come somewhere later down the line, but what’s unclear is how all of this will eventually feed into Wanda’s wider story as it continues to unfold in the Doctor Strange sequel and beyond.

Despite starting in black-and-white, WandaVision exists in far more nuanced shades of grey than we’re used to seeing from the MCU and superhero films in general. Wanda doesn’t really want to hurt anyone, and that needs to be taken into account. But her powers are still out of control, and that’s why we’re worried that Wanda will be punished and villainized for being too powerful, just like Jean Grey and Sue Storm before her.

In case you think we’re being paranoid, this is exactly what happened in the comics. Unable to control her gifts, Wanda killed some major heroes and eradicated almost all of mutantkind in a now infamous story called ‘House of M’. Crucially, Wanda’s downfall was tied into her emotions, feeding into this idea that ‘Unstable Powered Women’ are doomed to fail because they feel too much or lack mental fortitude.

Usually, it’s the men who then pick up the pieces in these stories, and right now, it’s possible that Vision may end up taking that role in WandaVision too, fixing everything that was broken by his wife. But of course, this isn’t set in stone. It’s also possible that Monica Rambeau may instead be the one who breaks through to Wanda, and this would be a welcome deviation from how these stories usually play out.

But wouldn’t it be even better if Wanda freed herself? Whether there’s a puppet master working behind the scenes or whether Wanda is genuinely responsible for everything that’s happening, wouldn’t this be the ending that she truly deserves?

Speaking to io9, showrunner Jac Schaeffer admits that Wanda is “often used as a tool” in the comics, citing the “thinness of her characterization” as a challenge the WandaVision writers had to overcome. But knowing that these conversations took place provides us with some hope still for Wanda’s future.

Yes, WandaVision does veer dangerously close to sexist tropes, potentially boxing her in as just another woman who’s lost control, but there’s still time for Wanda’s arc to tell a different kind of story, rewriting her history in the same way that Wanda rewrites reality itself.

Instead of repeating Marvel’s biggest mistakes, WandaVision could very well subvert – or even fix – the problems of the past by eventually giving Wanda the control and agency she’s been owed for so long.

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WandaVision airs weekly every Friday on Disney+.

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