“Life’s a Witch:” A History of Scarlet Witch in Film and Television
Scarlet Witch has often been one of the more sidelined Avengers since her full debut in Avengers: Age of Ultron. To some degree, that’s a bit of a shame as she is one of the most interesting, complex and powerful Avengers in the comic’s long and storied history. Growing up as a child in the 1990s, on the occasions I’d find myself reading an Avengers comic, characters like Captain America, Thor and Iron Man were making briefer and briefer appearances around that time. Characters like Scarlet Witch and Vision were who I immediately identified with the title, as much if not more so than the so-called flagship heroes.
The character has been through extreme ups and downs over the course of her comic book history and—to some degree—this has been reflected in her appearances in both film and television. Along with her brother Quicksilver, she’s somewhat unique in that she’s as integral to the X-Men world as the Avengers world, so she has appeared in virtually every animated adaptation of both.
Because she represents something different to the (also inherently very different) two titles, Scarlet Witch has seen extremely varied interpretations dating back several decades. As a villain, heroine and occasional guest star, Scarlet Witch has an incredibly diverse history of film & TV appearances.
She’s a unique character in that she operates as something of a bridge between two vastly different sides of the Marvel Universe. Originally introduced as a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in X-Men #4 back in 1963, she became a member of the Avengers only a few short years later and has been an integral member of Marvel’s cornerstone team ever since. Her powers, operating somewhere between the scientific and the mystical, are potentially limitless and have often proven to be devastating when beyond her control. With WandaVision premiering this week, there’s no better time to explore her long history in film & television.
The Marvel Super Heroes: Captain America (1966)
Scarlet Witch’s first animated appearance came in the form of the Marvel Super Heroes animated series. This extremely low-tech show was made up of mostly static images, rarely animated original comic stories presented as they originally appeared. They were basically narrated original comic books. Scarlet Witch appears exactly as she appears in early 1960s Avengers issues, voiced by Peg Dixon.
These episodes were quick, too. Marvel Super Heroes was divided into different 5-7 minute segments, with Scarlet Witch appearing in a few of the Captain America episodes.
Iron Man (1994)
Scarlet Witch made a much more prominent animated appearance in the 1994 Iron Man animated series as a member of the main cast. The series took the majority of the Force Works cast at the time and made them a supporting cast for Iron Man. Instead of wearing her traditional classic costume, Scarlet Witch wore something much more similar to the brief redesign she was wearing in the comics at the time.
Aired in conjunction with The Fantastic Four as The Marvel Action Hour, Iron Man only lasted two seasons. Scarlet Witch was voiced by Katherine Moffat in the first season and Jennifer Darling in the second. Despite her costume and membership of Force Works, this incarnation of Scarlet Witch has next-to-nothing to do with her comic book counterpart. This version of Wanda does not even have the same last name and is instead listed as “Wanda Frank” (as opposed to Maximoff) in the closing credits.
Here, she is not a mutant but a genuine witch and Tarot-reading spiritualist. Because the show had no time to get into her complicated backstory, it stripped back her origin and gave her a predominantly supernatural role in this more mystical-themed show.
X-Men: The Animated Series (1996)
Scarlet Witch makes her next appearance in the beloved X-Men: The Animated Series. She appears alongside her twin brother Quicksilver in an episode appropriately titled “Family Ties.” This incarnation looks identical to her classic comic book appearance, as does Quicksilver. Her arc in the episode predominantly revolves around attempting to reconcile with her father, Magneto. This was of course long before the comics retconned that iconic origin story due to the cinematic rights issues between X-Men/Avengers characters at the time.
The episode itself is also one of the more bizarre and outlandish, coming pretty late in the game. The X-Men find themselves in a battle against the High Evolutionary (who took credit for Witch & Quicksilver’s parentage in the comics after retconning out Magneto) and also sees Wolverine turn into a werewolf.
Avengers: United They Stand (1999)
Scarlet Witch is a member of the main cast for the first full-blown Avengers animated series, Avengers: United They Stand. The cartoon only ran for one season before its cancellation. In it, Scarlet Witch wears a costume very similar to her iconic comic book design—which almost looks out of place considering how heavily modified and updated some of the other characters look in comparison.
Although references to comic book characterization are made, the show has very little in common with the source material, playing out more as a sequel to the traditional Avengers stories than an adaptation of them, which was a shock to fans who had become so use to the relative faithfulness of cartoons like X-Men, Spider-Man, Incredible Hulk and even The Silver Surfer. The series does play up her relationship with Vision for the first time in animation, though, and even hints at a love triangle including Namor.
“Got Milk” Commercial (2000)
Here we have the esteemed live-action debut of Scarlet Witch in this Avengers “Got Milk” commercial from 2000. If this was before anyone’s time, well, it was a very bizarre and lengthy ad campaign depicting characters from Spider-Man to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in various magazine ads. This commercial took things to the next level, showing a milk man show up at the Avengers mansion only to be indoctrinated as their latest member.
Scarlet Witch appears in her original comic book costume alongside Thor, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Captain America and Hulk. This was, believe it or not, her one and only live action appearance before the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
X-Men: Evolution (2000)
One of Scarlet Witch’s most endearing and layered animated appearances to date, X-Men: Evolution reimagined her for a post-Craft/post-Buffy era. The series as a whole took heavy influence from both titles, even down to recreating specific scenes and shots—which is a major reason why it was such an incredible animated series to begin with. The influence was clearest in Wanda, though. Reimagined as a more antisocial, renegade goth, this Scarlet Witch was clearly modeled after Fairuza Balk’s iconic Craft witch.
Despite its very updated take on the material, Evolution was very close to some of the characterization. Scarlet Witch’s relationship with her brother was explored as was their tense relationship with their father, Magneto.
This poor Scarlet Witch also had to deal with some unwanted attention as she became the object of desire for the lovesick Toad. Her allegiance to the Brotherhood, Acolytes and X-Men was constantly in question, making her one of the series’ most interesting characters.
Wolverine and the X-Men (2009)
Scarlet Witch makes a few appearances in this underrated, short-lived 2009 animated series about the X-Men coming back together one year after the disbanding of the team to stop a global threat to both humans and mutants alike. In this version, Scarlet Witch is one of the Acolytes and loyal to Magneto. When Nightcrawler encounters her on Magneto’s haven of Genosha, the two begin to fall head over heels in love for one another.
But given that it’s a mutant haven run by Magneto, things aren’t as they seem and Nightcrawler realizes that his place is definitely with the X-Men and not with Genosha. Despite that, the two begin to enter something of a relationship with one another.
The Marvel Super Hero Squad Show (2010)
In this much more comedic series based on the Hasbro toy line, Scarlet Witch first appears in the episode “Hexed, Vexed and Perplexed.” Magneto takes Quicksilver and Wanda with him to steal remnants of an Infinity Stone for Doctor Doom. During all of this, Falcon develops feelings for Scarlet Witch after she heals his pet bird/partner, Redwing.
Falcon also calls on the help of Scarlet Witch after he and the Super Hero Squad get imprisoned by the Skrulls. She helps end the Kree/Skrull War and defeat Thanos and the Soul Gem. She also later appears in the episode “World War Witch” in which her power accidentally sends her back to WWII, where she finds herself needing to help Captain America defeat the Red Skull. Another episode depicts her as the evil empress of Earth in an alternate reality.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Scarlet Witch makes her first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the post-credits sequence of Captain America: Civil War. Introduced alongside Quicksilver by Baron Von Strucker, Wanda appears to be a test subject, suggesting right away that the films have made radical changes to her origin to sidestep the fact that the twins are not legally allowed to be mutants in the Avengers movies.
From this brief appearance, Scarlet Witch appears to be less well-adjusted than her later appearances, looking almost child-like as she experiments with the limits of her newfound powers.
Scarlet Witch makes her full-fledged feature film debut in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The appearance of the twins caused some controversy, as some fans understandably took serious issue with the fact that ethnically Jewish characters like Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver would willfully volunteer to be experimented on by a Nazi organization like Hydra. With how little it even factors into the movie, that almost makes it all the more unnecessary of a backstory. Especially since so many characters have had their backstories glossed over almost entirely.
Still, Wanda’s attachment to her brother is believable and the movie lays clear hints to her eventual relationship with the Vision. She also has maybe the best sequence in the entire film, stepping out of a bunker and demolishing a group of Ultron drones after initially retreating from the fight, cementing her place as an Avenger.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Happily, Wanda has much more to do in Civil War than she had in Age of Ultron. This film taps into her more recent comic book storylines, like Disassembled and House of M, in which Scarlet Witch’s use of her power accidentally causes large-scale destruction and lasting consequences. The movie also expands upon her relationship with Vision to an impressive degree, even though they eventually find themselves on opposing sides of the issue.
At the end of Civil War, Scarlet Witch is shown to be in the isolated prison known as The Raft, along with the rest of Captain America’s team. The end shows that Cap returns to break his team out at the end of the movie, forcing Scarlet Witch to live on the run and lay low heading into Infinity War.
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Considering how many characters had to be balanced in Infinity War—substantially more than Civil War, which is itself a feat—I really went into this movie thinking I was just going to be grateful for whatever glimpses of her I was given. Instead, while other characters certainly do get plenty of the spotlight, Wanda winds up being absolutely crucial to this film. The movie catches up with her on a getaway with Vision in Scotland. They are now officially together, seeking whatever time they can find to themselves in the midst of their hectic and now technically separate lives.
When they learn that Thanos is making his play for the stones, Vision determines the only way to safely ensure he does not get his hands on them is to destroy the one inside his own head. Of course, only Wanda happens to be the one with enough power to do that. In the end, she does, destroying her lover and the stone along with him, only for Thanos to reverse time and kill Vision himself. Wanda made her sacrifice play for nothing, and is still left with the memory of it. At least until Thanos snaps his fingers and wipes out 50% of all life in the universe, Wanda included.
This film is obviously devastating for Wanda, but it also fabulously showcases the exponential growth of her power, considering that Thanos’ Black Order launches an entire invasion on Wakanda that is done specifically to draw her out onto the field so that they can go inside and get Vision, because they cannot directly take her on.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
In Endgame, Wanda remains a victim of the snap for most of the movie, until the heroes successfully reassemble the gauntlet and snap everyone back to life. The all-out battle against Thanos and his army that follows sees Scarlet Witch mostly lost in the fray of the literal hundreds of characters on screen. Until one crucial moment, my favorite moment in the entire movie. Wanda appears before Thanos, eyes glowing, and manages to be the only one to take him on and win. She is about to kill Thanos on her own and the only way he can get out of it is to resort to hugely drastic measures and start bombing the field and eliminating swaths of his own troops.
At the end of the film, Wanda is still obviously mourning Vision, but acknowledges that he would be happy and proud of what they accomplished and how they managed to set things right.
Where WandaVision goes is really anyone’s guess, because one of the most exciting things from everything we’ve seen so far is that this show is clearly breaking the often cookie-cutter MCU formula to do something genuinely weird. I could not be more excited for weird. It’s also been made clear that this show is setting up some major things for the Marvel Universe moving forward. I can’t wait to see what that entails, but I’ll admit that I’m also nervous. Many if not most people seem to think we’ll be getting some version of House of M and there’s definitely evidence to suggest that, especially seeing a pregnant Wanda in the latest trailers. I for one really do not want to see that happen because a story that’s all about how Wanda’s powers are too dangerous, that her mental state is so fractured that all of the heroes sit around and literally talk about whether she is mentally fit to live—that’s absolutely the last thing I want to see for a woman who has had such a tremendous and heroic journey on the screen so far.
At the very least, the show looks kooky in the best way, bizarre and fun and delightful and clearly sad as well, which is a perfect combination. I’d say that I’m hoping for the best, but truthfully, this is my personal most anticipated of any of Marvel’s Disney Plus shows and I am beyond excited, after so many movie appearances, for Wanda to finally, finally get the spotlight she’s long deserved.
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