Monday, July 26, 2021

The Nameless Ones


The Avengers known as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are of course two of Marvel's most classic characters--introduced in 1964 in an issue of The X-Men, which would have the pair closing in on the same sixty-year anniversary that the X-Men will join them in celebrating. Yet as Pietro and his sister, Wanda, step up to the podium and give a speech commemorating their decades of service in Marvel Comics, imagine their introduction going something like this:

"And now, ladies and gentleman, please welcome Wanda and Pietro... uh, Wanda and Pietro..."

In short: Will our bemused presenter have to fumble for a last name for these two, or cut to commercial?

The Scarlet Witch and her brother have been blessed with a number of retellings of their backstory, though the basics are not in dispute--their youth spent as gypsies in Europe, only to come under attack by superstitious villagers who reacted to Wanda's accidental use of her power that caused a number of cottages to erupt in flames. The master of magnetism, Magneto, stepped in and saved their lives from the worked-up townspeople, which unfortunately placed Wanda and her brother in his debt and obligated them to become part of his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

Yet there was no mention of their parents that day; for a time, we were left to assume that they were orphans. Eventually, however, their parents were introduced to readers--but as it turned out, Wanda and Pietro would have several sets of parents to choose from.

Which is our introduction to another

Marvel Trivia Question

Which couples laid claim to the parentage of Wanda and Pietro [INSERT LAST NAME HERE]?

It would be writer Roy Thomas, in the premiere issue of Giant-Size Avengers, who would first take a stab at establishing the pair's family history by reaching back to the 1940s and the post-World War II super-group, the All-Winners Squad, to find their parents: Bob Frank and Madeline Joyce (the Whizzer and Miss America), who married when the group disbanded*--but their first attempt at having a child would end tragically.

*The adventures of the All-Winners Squad (comprised of Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch, Miss America, and the Whizzer) were limited to just two issues of All Winners Comics in 1946 and 1947. Thomas would tap the first three to form the WWII group, the Invaders, in 1975, a year after the G-SA story.

Only Bob Frank, however, would reappear in 1974 following the Avengers' discovery of the chrono-module containing his irradiated son--a discovery that nearly led to disaster!

It takes awhile for the Avengers to corral the man-child named Nuklo; but eventually, he's placed back into another module to await the time when science could remove him safely. (Though the Living Laser had other ideas in that regard.)

In the meantime, Frank is hospitalized for a heart condition--and in questioning him on what he might know regarding how to capture Nuklo, Wanda makes a startling discovery that lets her put two and two together.

Thanks to Thomas bending over backwards to connect the dots at this point, Frank's recollection is the wildest stroke of luck for Wanda, who appears to rely on instinct alone to establish a connection between the Franks and Wundagore, of all places, simply because the Franks left for Europe following their son's birth. Exactly when did Frank disclose that piece of trivia--and why would it even come up, if the topic of their discussion was focused on Nuklo? And why would Wanda care? We can only assume that the fact that the Whizzer's power is super-speed triggered her digression.

No surprise, then, to see just who is able to finally bring down Nuklo:

Five years later, a story by David Michelinie (from a plot by Mark Gruenwald and Steven Grant) brings a twist to Thomas's story of the Franks, when a deranged old man named Django Maximoff uses a stone talisman to trap their life essences into puppet forms to prevent their "run[ning] away again"--a sentiment that becomes more clear when he gives his version of their upbringing.

Though both brother and sister believe that old Django is mad, there is enough substance in his story that, despite their doubts, they want to investigate further. And so...

Once the mutant pair and their charge reach Transia, however, Pietro and Wanda become separated when Wanda is taken captive by Modred the Mystic and is possessed by the ancient demon Chthon. And when Pietro is injured closing in on their position, he awakens to find his rescuer has not only a shocking introduction of her own, but yet another story involving the events which took place on Wundagore Mountain, where a second mother-to-be preceded Madeline Frank and her husband in being granted sanctuary in the complex of the High Evolutionary.

Django loses his life during the Avengers' subsequent battle with Chthon; but suffice to say that under the circumstances, Wanda and Pietro choose to abandon their surname of Frank and take instead the name of Maximoff for themselves.

Given this latest development, it probably goes without saying that poor old Bob Frank is figuratively shown the door, since the character no longer has any ties to Wanda and Pietro nor can he be of assistance to the Avengers given his age and heart condition. On the bright side, he no longer need feel guilty about literally running out on his newborn children following his wife's death. (Though abandoning his deceased wife's body without seeing to her burial might be keeping him up nights.) As for our mutant twins, Michelinie's story does nothing to establish how they came to be known as "Pietro" and "Wanda," the names that their birth mother gave to them. From all appearances, the Maximoffs named them after their lost children, Mateo and Ana--and since they were presented to the couple as infants, those are the only names for themselves that Wanda and Pietro would be aware of. The only explanation would be if it was the High Evolutionary who conveyed their names to the Maximoffs--and that old Django, in his befuddled state, preferred to think of them as the children who in his mind never died. (I might deserve a whopper of a no-prize for that one.)

Clearly, however, the door has been left wide open for resolving the question which still needs answering: Who were Wanda and Pietro's birth parents? "Magda" isn't a lot to go on in tracking down their mother (though in a later tale by Roger Stern, she's presumed dead by Wanda); yet when a "white pilgrim" visits the dwelling of Bova four years later (our time), writer Bill Mantlo decides to take Michelinie's language about Magda's fearsome husband and provide a most shocking revelation as to who Wanda and Pietro will have to keep in mind for Father's Day from now on.

The white pilgrim (come on, you know who this guy is) then travels to the moon, where Wanda and the Vision have come to prevail on the Inhumans to see to the Vision's injured arm. Once taken care of, they take time to visit with Wanda's niece, Luna, the child of Crystal and Pietro--a scene which the pilgrim intrudes upon and reveals his all-too-familiar identity, and its implication.

As to their new surname, Pietro and Wanda have their pick of Eisenhardt or Lehnsherr--though if the lack of a last name didn't concern Wanda and the Vision when their children were born, they may not be in any hurry to formalize their connection to Magneto. (Besides, who knows when someone else is going to come along and declare themselves to be these siblings' Mother and Father.)

The 1974 issue which started it all!


Big Murr said...

It's the biggest stack of retcon upon retcon I can think of that still has stability. (unlike so many other other comic book retcons that aren't "stacks" so much as "piles". Smelly, steaming piles...)

Was X-Men #63 (1969) the very first time comic fans had seen Magneto without his helmet? The revelation of his white hair almost seems like a deep clue connecting him someday to Pietro. But, since Roy Thomas was writing those issues and did not follow later that parentage route, I guess not.

Recently I read some passing comment in a modern comic to the effect Magneto was no longer Pietro and Wanda's father. I had absolutely zero interest in digging into that even a little bit. That would over-tip the retcon stack to crumble into an unsightly pile.

Tiboldt said...

Bob Frank doesn't seem like the kind of guy to call his son Pietro - he would more likely be named Bob Frank jr. which doesn't fit Quicksilver at all. Oh, and he would probably be called The Golden Streak as well.

Anonymous said...

A lot of reconning goin' on! I had GS Avengers#1 as a youngun'-it's pretty collectible now. Thanks for the post.

lordjim6 said...

Poor Whizzer and Ms. America! I’ve always wondered why Thomas always gave Golden age characters ( who he clearly has a love/obsession of/with) such tragic fates?! Also, as someone who vastly prefers Stan Lee’s mutant version of Hitler take on Magneto to the wishy washy Chris Claremont version everyone else fell in love with (it always seemed dangerously close to retroactively whitewashing his many crimes and abominable behavior during the 60’s and 70’s in my eyes) it is gratifying to see him show his true colors in front of a middle aged woman and her mentally ill ward and then immediately put on an act for his super powered children who he wants something from. For anyone who is curious, I would keep the Holocaust connection by saying young Magneto’s trauma led him to grow into exactly what he hated. That is 100% more interesting than making him into a professor x stand in while Charles has space sex instead of pursuing his dreams (another horrible character development curtesy of Chris).

Anonymous said...

There is a critical scene in an issue of X-Men drawn by John Byrne relevant to this. It might have been X-Men #113. In it, we see Magneto at Asteroid M accidentally bringing up a file on his old wife and then erasing it. Magneto's wife was identical to that of Magda as drawn by Byrne in that issue of Avengers. I think it was the clear intention at that time in Marvel that Magneto be the father to Wanda and Pietro, but never directly reveal it to the readers. Like an open secret to the fans. Bill Mantlo just made it official in the first V&SW limited series.

I always think of their last name as Maximoff. That's what Stan Lee gave us. And adopted children usually have the last name of their adoptive parents.

Maybe because it was the status quo when I bought comics, I never minded the reveal that Magneto was actually the twins' biological father. There's some appropriate themes there for that character. However, the Roy Thomas inclusion of the Whizzer and Miss America is one of his typical, ham-fisted Golden Age retcons. It seems very forced and unnatural to me.

Just found this blog recently. Thanks for posting these.


Comicsfan said...

lordjim6, your thoughts on Magneto are spot on, as far as I'm concerned. I was on board with Claremont's reform of the character, since it was an interesting twist in his story--up until the time, however, when he became Headmaster of Xavier's school and practically served as Xavier's stand-in for the students. I can almost see CNN rolling the tape on his time spent with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and grinding them beneath his heel.

Anon and Chris, you're welcome, excellent to have you aboard. :) I'm curious, though, Chris--when did Stan Lee attach the name "Maximoff" to the twins? (Probably in an old issue of X-Men, I'm guessing? I don't recall running across such a scene in his Avengers work which featured the pair.)

Tiboldt, we can thank our Miss America, Madeline Frank, for Pietro's name, as well as Wanda's. But your comment about "the Golden Streak" raises a good question: where did their super-powered aliases originate? (Maybe courtesy of Magneto?)

Murray, I do believe you're correct that the X-Men story was where we first saw Magneto without his helmet (though technically that took place in the prior issue, #62, where as the Creator he found and healed the Angel). I'd imagine the main reason for seeing him thus was merely to set up the dramatic moment when he would reveal his true identity by donning his infamous helmet at last.

Anonymous said...

That's a good question. I had thought it was mentioned when they first appeared at X-Men, but I just looked at my reprints now and only "Wanda" and "Pietro" are used. I just assumed Stan gave them the last name of Maximoff. But as I flip through my Essential Avengers, I'm not seeing the name either. Is it possible the Maximoff name didn't exist until those late seventies Byrne issues?