The Vision and the Scarlet Witch: Part One
Superhero romance can be complicated…
Hello, I’m Anna, and welcome to the very first Diceratops blog post! I was going to start off with a longer and more involved Diceratops mission statement, but then I realized that would probably be boring. So instead I’ve decided to go ahead and enact the mission statement with a post about my favourite superhero comics’ romance of all time, between the Vision and the Scarlet Witch!
For those of you not familiar with either character… Even by superhero standards, Vision’s background is complicated. And since I already promised not to be boring… Suffice to say he’s an android with density-controlling powers who was originally sent by one of the Avengers’ arch-foes (Ultron) to kill them, but when he saw that Cap and the gang were actually really nice guys, he shunned his evil programming and joined up instead (the Avengers welcoming him is the situation of John Buscema’s wonderful “Even an android can… cry!” pinup, which I’ve memorialized in silkscreen form). For her part, the Scarlet Witch (aka Wanda Maximoff) is a mutant whose power is chaos-causing “hexes.” Like Vizh, she’s also a former villain, an original member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and, as it eventually turns out, the biological daughter of one of the Marvel-verse’s archest arch-villains, Magneto.
Vizh first appears in Avengers #57 (1968) and is joined on the team a couple of years later by Wanda and her twin brother Quicksilver (a.k.a. Pietro). By Avengers #81 (at left), the sparks of romance are fully kindled. The kind of absurd melodrama of this scene, complete with elegant capes and high-minded sci fi prose, is typical of the Roy Thomas/John Buscema Avengers era. The style can be a bit off-putting if you’re not used to it, but for me, it fits what I’d call the “ambitiousness” of the stories. Superhero romances tend to be messy under the best circumstances, but Vizh and Wanda really push the envelope. From the very beginning, their romance is a multi-layered allegory about otherness and taboos. As this panel from Avengers #89 spells out, Vizh and Wanda are connected by the fact that they’re both “aliens,” and “strangers in a strange land.”
After many issues of burgeoning angst, things finally get decisive in Avengers #91. In this issue, maniacal blue space-cop Ronan the Accuser chains Vizh and Wanda to a wall and then thrills to the spectacle that unfolds, as “an android—and an atom-born mutant!” declare their love and—almost!—share their first kiss. (See my silkscreen of this epic moment here.) Besides being hilarious, Ronan’s gleeful reaction has some interesting implications. In calling Vizh and Wanda the “rejected offspring of Earthian technology,” he suggests a superheroic twist on the timeworn convention of “forbidden love,” pointing out the (literal) social construction of the taboos we attach to real and imagined differences.
There are many, many things I love about the way Vizh and Wanda’s relationship develops over the subsequent months (and months!) of melodrama following Avengers #91. For starters, I love Vizh’s recurrent doubts about his humanity. What really fascinates me is the way “humanity” is always paired with “manhood”; Vizh doubts both his right and his ability to love a “flesh and blood” woman. Case in point, Vizh repeatedly cites the fact that he can’t have kids as a reason why he and Wanda shouldn’t—or couldn’t—be together (see Avengers #99). It’s an interestingly grounded existential debate about the meaning of identity, because it’s always bound up in questions of gender and sexuality. Alone and in his relationship with Wanda, Vizh is constantly searching out not only the meaning but also the location of identity: it is in our minds, our bodies, or our actions? The fact that it’s pretty much impossible to untangle those categories is a meaningful reminder of how difficult it can be to overcome the social pressures that try to dictate who we should be, who we can be, and especially who we can love.
At the height of its angst, Vizh and Wanda’s relationship merges genres, the interweaving of their emotional and physical trials and tribulations turning Avengers into something like a superpowered romance comic. For me, this merging helps Wanda seem refreshingly complex. That she’s shown to be both “soft” and “hard” is important to me. She’s not a helpless victim of her own emotions, but she’s not an emotionless ball-buster, either. Wanda is neither of those things or maybe a little of both, and it’s that hybridity that draws me to her, making her capable of messing up and exceeding categories and expectations. Don’t get me wrong: I’m acutely aware of how much easier it would be for her to do those things if she was just a touch less objectified—if her costume looked just a bit less Playboy Club and a bit more practical, or at least emblematic of her poweset (there’s nothing particularly “witch-y” about a red bustier bodysuit, though I’ve always loved her red and pink colour scheme and headdress tiara thing-y). I also wouldn’t mind just a few scenes of Vizh disrobing and showering to acknowledge the diversity of viewing positions suggested by the merging of superpowers and romance. But I don’t have it in me to blame Wanda for her objectification, or Vizh for his prudishness. Regardless of how much culture and society try to limit these characters, I’m still entranced by their potential.
The other Avengers have some really interesting reactions to Vizh and Wanda’s budding romance, especially Wanda’s brother Pietro, who vehemently opposes the relationship. I’d argue that Pietro’s opposition, and the other Avengers’ unease, reveal the tensions between different differences. Even though all of the Avengers are in some sense alien or “othered,” any of Iron Man (a human-machine hybrid), Cap (a man out of time), Black Panther (a king torn between race and culture), or Thor (a God among humans) must acknowledge that in this instance, because of their romance, Vizh and Wanda are even more emphatically taboo. More than forty years after these comics first appeared, it remains depressingly, creepily relevant that Vizh and Wanda receive their most violent social condemnation when they become a couple—that is, when they start dating, becoming intimate, and wanting to get married.
I leave you now with the final page cliffhanger from Avengers #110, in which the Avengers can be seen wringing their iron, leather, and spandex-clad hands fearing something bad will happen when the public finds out about Vizh and Wanda’s relationship. And—guess what?—it does. Shit gets real a few issues later in Avengers #113, which also happens to be one of my favourite comics of all-time and the sole subject of “The Vision and the Scarlet Witch: Part Two”. Hope to see you there!
Want to read the comics? Most of the issues referenced here are available online with a subscription to Marvel Digital Comics. Or if you prefer print, check out Essential Avengers, Volumes 4 and 5 (they’re in black and white, but come at a great price). Or you could always torrent them (but you didn’t hear it from me!).