Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

30 July 2016

Avengers: Scarlet Witch by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

Collects: Scarlet Witch #1-4, Avengers Origins: The Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver #1, and stories from Marvel Team-Up #125, Solo Avengers #1, Marvel Comics Presents #60-3 and 143-4, and Mystic Arcana: Scarlet Witch #1 (1994, 2012; 1983, 1988, 1990, 1993-4, 2007)

Released: April 2015 (Marvel)

Format: 232 pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 9780785193357

What is this?: Wanda battles a counterpart from an alternate world in the main story, then encounters a bunch of forgettable obstacles in the rest.

The culprits: Writer Andy Lanning, Dan Abnett, and many others; artist John Higgins and others

I’m a little behind on my reading, so I’m going to dig into my reading history and bring up Avengers: Scarlet Witch by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. And just to be clear: that’s a metaphorical digging, not a literal one. Scarlet Witch isn’t so bad that I’d literally bury it in the earth to protect myself and others from its contents.

I mean, it’s not Luke Cage: Second Chances.

Avengers: Scarlet Witch coverScarlet Witch is a bit of a mess, though. The Scarlet Witch — Wanda Maximoff to her friends — is a character with a complex history, but this volume addresses little of it. The collection is built around the Scarlet Witch limited series from 1994, but “limited series from 1994” gives you a good idea of that title’s level of quality. The rest of the book is made up of non-feature stories from a couple of ‘80s titles, Marvel Comics Presents serials, a continuity implant focusing on Wanda’s mysticism, and a story that tries to present a coherent origin story for Wanda and her brother.

Let’s start, then, with the Scarlet Witch limited series; the book does, after all. Despite the title, the four issues are writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s only contribution to the book, and it’s not their best work. The Scarlet Witch has to battle Lore, an alternate version of herself. Like Wanda, Lore is a Nexus Being, someone who serves as the anchor of their reality. Each Nexus Being has a different flavor of power; while Wanda uses her hex powers, Lore is a necromancer. After exhausting her world, she went to other dimensions, using their nexus beings to exhaust that dimension’s resources. When Lore fixes her attention upon the 616 Universe, she frees Master Pandemonium, who has become “romantically” fixated on (read: stalkerishly obsessed with) Wanda, to help her defeat the Scarlet Witch.

What results is standard ‘90s chaff. The plot has no lasting consequences, which is a bit of a shame: of all the interdimensional meddling the Marvel Universe has had over the years, this one would help explain Wanda’s more destructive forays over the past two decades. The issue count is padded, and the story is more confusing that it has to be. The art by John Higgins is occasionally slick but often soulless, with plastic figures standing around. (As this was a ‘90s limited series, it will not surprise you that the women’s poses accentuate their, ah, assets.) Higgins does do a decent job with Wanda’s Avengers West Coast teammates, whom Lore transformed into monsters to battle Wanda.

Are Abnett and Lanning trying to elevate the limited series above the standard Marvel miniseries? The plot is inconsequential, and as a character exploration, it’s thin. But the story hints at something more consequential than an interdimensional madwoman behind this nonsense. The abandoned town of Unity and the catacombs under them in #1 and 2 have definite Lovecraftian touches, but those elements are abandoned in later issues for a Marvel Universe superhero battle with slight horror touches. I can’t decide whether Abnett and Lanning tossed the Lovecraft hints or whether they tried to develop them further, but either they or Higgins failed to make them more obvious.

So the limited series is, at best, a missed opportunity. The rest of the collection is an opportunity to take a nap.

The two stories that follow Scarlet Witch seem randomly chosen. The one from Marvel Team-Up #125 is a six-page back-up in which Dr. Strange could have literally teamed up with anyone, since Strange does all the work. Solo Avengers is a story more about death than Wanda, who briefly battles an incarnation of death until the person for whom she’s fighting decides she loves the current incarnation. (The story references Marvel Fanfare #6, which might have been a better choice to reprint than some of the others.)

The Marvel Comics Presents stories are forgettable. In MCP #60-3, an anti-mutant scholar catches Wanda off-guard and sends her spirit back in time to the body of her 16th-century pirate ancestor, Red Lucy Keough. (Does Lucy look exactly like Wanda? Of course she does!) Although a pirate tale could be interesting, the story doesn’t have enough room to do anything innovative, exciting, or unusual. MCP #143-4 was also reprinted in Avengers: The Death of Mockingbird, which is a curious decision, given that the murkily drawn story of demons and computers didn’t deserve to be reprinted once.

The last two stories are better fits (and better stories) than what came before. Mystic Arcana: Scarlet Witch tells the story of Wanda’s first encounter with magic: she’s introduced to a scantily clad coven of witches that features Margali Szardos, Nightcrawler’s not-yet stepmother; Maria Russoff, Werewolf-by-Night’s wife; and Lilia Calderu, witch-queen of the gypsies. The story is a continuity implant, of course, with Wanda getting a brief glimpse at the mystic life that she would eventually dabble in. The story is full of mystic doodads like the Serpent Crown, Darkhold, and the Book of Cagliostro, and the witches battle sorcerers Damballah and Taboo. Frankly, the story does more to set up Werewolf-by-Night’s origin than the Scarlet Witch’s. It does establish the dark god Chthon’s interest in Wanda, though, if you’re interested in that.

The collection is capped by Avengers Origins: Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver. It retells the story of the Maximoff twins from the day they were almost murdered by an angry mob but rescued by Magneto to the day they joined the Avengers. The issue does a good job of recapping the story for readers don’t know it, but it’s inessential if you are familiar with the bare bones of the story.

Oh! And if you miss the ‘90s, the book includes a bunch of Scarlet Witch pin-ups from the Marvel Swimsuit specials from the early part of that decade. You’re welcome.

I can appreciate that organizing the book is a bit difficult for the reprint editor, Mark D. Beazley. The Scarlet Witch limited series is the most coherent, longest story in the collection, so it’s logical that it leads off the book. On the other hand, readers would probably benefit from putting the limited series last: it’s the last story in continuity, and it’s nearly the last in publication order, with the two stories published later than the limited series (Mystic Arcana and Avengers Origins) being set much earlier in continuity. But if the limited series were at the end, who would read through the filler in the middle to get to it?

I can appreciate why Marvel might have thought to publish this book, but in retrospect, the decision seems like a poor one. Even if they’d renamed it to something to suggest the obscurity of some of these pieces — Scarlet Witch Rarities, or Scarlet Witch Archives — and de-emphasize writers who provide less than half the page content, only the limited series really has any reason to be reprinted. Cutting the price and including only the limited series and one other story — I’d choose Avengers Origins — would have made the book more attractive and would have made the title more accurate. Adding more material and keeping the price commensurate with the page count has made the collection much less appealing.

Rating: Avengers symbol (1 of 5)

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