Monday, September 18, 2023

The Final Fate of the Scarlet Witch!


We've reached the end of a long and winding road involving Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, having tracked her activities following her devastating attack on her fellow Avengers at Avengers Mansion which led to her involvement in reshaping our reality to suit the worldview of the House Of M. The culmination of that saga saw Wanda, furious after witnessing her brother's fate at the hand of their father, Magneto, not only shifting reality once more but in the process removing the mutant powers of nearly every mutant on the planet, in addition to excising even the potential to become a mutant from the human genome.

As for Wanda herself, she would end up in the European nation of Transia, bereft of her memory. To the Avengers as well as the X-Men, Wanda's guilt as far as what she's done and the lives she's destroyed is a certainty; but to the Young Avengers, two of whom may likely be the sons she believed to be lost to her forever, she represents not only a person perhaps too quickly condemned by her former comrades, but also the means by which all can be put to rights again. (And hopefully allaying the concerns of the Avengers that one of the young group's number, Wiccan, isn't going to turn out like his "mother.") Joined by Magneto and setting out to find her, they locate her in Latveria, in a curious twist to this story as the fiancée of none other than Victor Von Doom.

With the reappearance of Iron Lad (the Young Avenger who's destined to become Kang the Conqueror), the group (including Wanda at this point) return in time to the point where the Jack of Hearts destroys Avengers Mansion--only this time, the life of Scott Lang is saved, though the event also serves as the catalyst for Wanda regaining her memory and resulting in an onslaught of guilt which sees her attempting to use the forces she's marshaled at the mansion to end her own life. Yet more certain than ever that some outside force has taken control of Wanda, Wiccan chooses the moment to reveal to her his steadfast belief that her children are alive, which acts like a bucket of cold water thrown on her. Standing down, she resolves to answer for what she's done, as well as do what she can to undo her actions toward mutants.

One such victim, Rictor, arrives on the scene with the rest of his group, X-Factor--and he decides to volunteer to test Wanda's plan to help the affected mutants by asking her to restore his ability to cause earth tremors.

But on the way are not only the Avengers, who are pleased to hear the news about Wanda appearing to have regained her sanity, but also the X-Men, who collectively are of a different frame of mind entirely regarding the woman who devastated the world's mutant population. And the lines are all too quickly drawn, in a story that has taken over six years to at long last reach its conclusion.

Normally, you'd think that the announcement that Wanda intends to help the victims of "M-Day" would be (with apologies to Rictor) earth-shaking as far as gaining the attention and consideration of all assembled to the point of listening to the specifics of Wanda's proposal at the very least. But while that holds true for the Avengers, the hard-nosed Cyclops makes it crystal clear that this news changes nothing as far as the X-Men's intent to take Wanda into custody. Clearly, that mindset accommodates writer Allan Heinberg's story as far as building momentum for further conflict--but for Scott Summers, it's a startling shift in character from a man who throughout his position of authority in the X-Men has demonstrated the capacity for clear-headed leadership, only to become so bull-headed and laser-focused on his objective of justice even when presented with an option which will help alleviate the very thing he seeks to avenge. What does it say about him when the voice of reason and restraint in this debate turns out to be Magneto's?

If you've guessed that hostilities break out at this point, gold star for you. :) Unfortunately for the Avengers, the edge in this conflict is arguably held by the X-Men, who are following Cyclops' lead and have obviously held internal discussions that have settled them on their course of action; but there's also the fact that their ranks include the formidable Emma Frost, who unlike Charles Xavier doesn't hesitate to use her ability to take control of others' thoughts without qualm. In this instance, however, she targets Wiccan and Speed, who now hold a place in the heart of the one Avenger she perhaps should have prioritized.

Unexpectedly, Wanda returns herself and the Young Avengers* to Latveria--and thanks to prompting by Wiccan, we receive key information from both Wanda and Doom in regard to both Wanda's reality-altering abilities and, given the failure to return life to her sons, at least the beginning of an explanation why she returned to lash out at the Avengers.

*If you're wondering what happened to X-Factor and why Wanda didn't include them in this jaunt, join the club. For whatever reason, they were sidelined by Heinberg and artist Jim Cheung prior to hostilities breaking out between the X-Men and the Avengers, reappearing only when the dust settles at the conclusion of this series.

What we've seen here, however, conflicts to a certain degree with previous scenes we've witnessed, two of which stand out in particular. One would be the explanation Dr. Strange would offer (courtesy of writer Brian Bendis) as to what likely led to Wanda's initial attack against the Avengers, an extensive collection of thoughts which framed Wanda's unstable state of mind as a result of continued use of a power which she neither fully understood nor could control until, bit by bit, she could control reality itself--an evaluation which has now proven to be incorrect in light of the "Life Force" we've just learned of. In addition, Heinberg fails to take into account a horrific act on Wanda's part prior to her possession by the Life Force, one that Nick Fury and his men discovered well after the fact.

And so, what now? Wanda appears intent on pursuing her goal of restoring the powers of the mutants, as well as ensuring that she is severed from the Life Force power afterward--but with one notable change to the agreed plan that raises concerns with young Eli (Patriot) as to Wanda's judgment.

Even as the spell proceeds, Eli also can't shake his distrust of Doom--and seeking to disrupt the ceremony, he takes an incendiary arrow from Kate (Hawkeye) and aims for the lord of Latveria, though ending up making the mother of all misfires and causing near-deadly results.

In one stroke, Patriot has unwittingly ensured that the power which was intended for the benefit of those who had paid the price for M Day now rests with an unknown quantity, indeed--Von Doom, who has been known to achieve ultimate power in the past only to abuse it to the detriment of humanity (homo sapien and homo superior alike). What will he do here? We take our cue from Heinberg, who in a very convenient development for the story ensures that Doom cannot act on Wanda's plan for mutants--yet he can do the next best thing, which lets him have his cake and eat it too, however benevolently phrased.

While waiting for the two groups of heroes to regain consciousness, Wanda makes a decision to offer to lead the coming fight against Doom, while suggesting the Young Avengers accept Iron Lad's offer to take refuge in the timestream as a backup measure in case things go south. But before anyone can make a move, they're interrupted by a very perturbed Emma Frost, who mentally takes out Wanda before she can act; however, after being informed that Wanda no longer possesses her reality-controlling power, Emma probes her mind and confirms Wiccan's version of events, as well as Doom's ascent.

Cyclops, however, is unmoved by any assertion that Doom may have been responsible for Wanda's condition and, thus, her actions--insisting that she remains accountable for the deaths of hundreds of mutants who died as a result of their powers being stolen (and implying culpability on the part of Quicksilver, as well, due to his own actions in the Son Of M limited series). That leads to a discussion we've already seen play out insofar as how, for the X-Men, the line between forgiveness and justice has often blurred--a sobering exchange which leads to even Doom chiming in (albeit bending the truth a bit), as a prelude to voicing his own intentions in the form of a bargain.

The battle, as we would expect, is fierce, with its momentum gradually shifting in Doom's favor. Wanda feels certain that eventually the power he now wields will consume and destroy him--but in the interim, she and Wiccan devise a plan to reopen the Life Force portal in order to absorb enough of it to become a challenge to Doom. Yet instead, Doom being Doom, he steps in to hijack the process and absorb more of the Life Force into his own body, and all too quickly discovers the limitations of his still-mortal form--bringing the battle to an end, while also implicating himself in this entire affair for all to see and hear.

- Epilog -

Though this saga has resulted in gratifying resurrections of some of those who had died as a result of Wanda's possession (the Ant-Man, Hawkeye, the Jack of Hearts), there are tragic casualties to be found this day, both before and after the battle. Scott Lang's daughter, Cassie, is dead from Doom's assault, prompting Iron Lad to insist on removing her to the timestream in an effort to save her life, either by finding a doctor in the future who can help her or by finding her in the past and making sure she never reaches this point. Yet the Vision is also insistent on leaving her in peace with her father, leading to an altercation between these two who were closest to her and a vicious turn of events.

Avengers both young and old, however, are united in their opposition to Cassie being removed, and Iron Lad departs.

And what of the Scarlet Witch?

Given all that's happened, it's obvious that the slate hasn't simply been wiped clean for her benefit--which is particularly true in the case of Cyclops, who has nevertheless agreed to withdraw with his team, with reservations. Wanda, it goes without saying, doesn't hold herself blameless, an assessment which even Captain America appears grudgingly in agreement with--as is (hey, look who's back with us!) Jamie Madrox of X-Factor.  Of those departing, only Wonder Man's support as well as his sympathies toward her are given without hesitation.

That leaves Wanda's immediate family, though even they are given no inkling of what will happen to her from this point--with the exception of her sons, the only two individuals whose lives she will choose to be a part of, the only solace to be found among the remnants of an all-too-grim scene.

Just a few notes in closing...

- Bravo to Mr. Cheung, letterer Cory Petit, and colorist Justin Ponsor for depicting Cyclops' force beam so... well, forcefully in his blatant "Forgetting someone?" strike that reminded one and all that the X-Men were calling the shots on Wanda's disposition and that's final. The sound effect, combined with the rendering of the beam itself and the subsequent scattering of those nearby, conveyed its impact to me right off the page. Nice, nice work on retiring the ZAP! effect and finally giving his power its due visually.

- I would have thought one of these heroes would have had the decency to put out the fire engulfing the Vision instead of watching while it continues to consume his remains.

- I wonder if Mr. Cheung came to realize the absurdity of Wanda removing the Vision's head from the fire in order to mourn his loss more closely--only to have apparently placed it back in the fire in order for it to be present in the closing panel.

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