The Scarlet Witch’s costume has changed a lot over the years, but one detail can actually be used to predict how her stories will go.
Filling the roles of both hero and villain in her lePostngthy comic runs, the Scarlet Witch’s stories tend to revolve around her immense power and fragile psyche. Some show Wanda flexing her powers, while others deal with the horrors of her surrendering to madness. In fact, there’s a cool way to predict these story beats, and it’s all in her iconic costume design.
Scarlet Witch is no stranger to controversy and hasty retcons. A slew of writers have gone back and forth on whether Wanda boasts mutant abilities, chaos magic, general witchcraft, or a combination of the three. As a result, Wanda has enjoyed a wonderful array of costume designs that usually play with the same aesthetic markers: shades of pink and red, gloves, a cape, and that oh-so-familiar headdress. But one element of this design is more important than the others.
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Jack Kirby and Stan Lee first introduced Scarlet Witch in 1964’s Uncanny X-Men #4. Here, her costume design is dramatic and goofy – not to mention green, though only due to a miscommunication. Wanda’s face is framed tightly by her headdress and acts as a parallel to the identify crisis she experiences while serving Magneto, but it’s crucial that she’s not struggling with her powers and is actually on the cusp of ditching the evil mutant to join the Avengers…
So, how to crack Wanda’s comic costume code? As mentioned above, Wanda’s stories focus on her power, either showcasing her control or exploring the toll it takes on her sanity. The easiest way to spot which way this balancing act will go is by the presence, or lack, of her red headdress. When the headdress is its usual voluminous self – such as in the majority of her Avengers appearances – Wanda is more sure of herself, but when the headdress is off, Wanda is susceptible to mind-control, mental deterioration, and chaos.
In Avengers West Coast #56-57, Wanda has a whole new flashy wardrobe. Harkening back to her original, villainous design, John Byrne’s costuming offers an immediate signal to readers that something is off with Scarlet Witch. She doesn’t have her headdress, her outfit is wild and loud, and her demeanor is much more sinister. Shocker – she follows a villain’s path in this story arc. In 2005’s House of M (2005) – where Wanda famously shatters reality – she’s again free of her headdress after the disbanding of the Avengers. However, to cope with her trauma, she envelopes herself in an alternate reality, featuring a cage-like headdress that covers her entire face, as if to hide her. When she’s faced with her true surroundings – headdress free – Wanda’s mind breaks and she destroys her reality.
Uncanny Avengers (2012) plays off the epic story beats of House of M while bringing Wanda’s power back under her control. The Scarlet Witch’s headdress and familiar pink and red colors are back, but it’s a simpler, more modern silhouette. There’s no dramatic cape or over-bulky gloves in this version as the story itself is calmer than that of House of M. Red Skull even tries to control Wanda’s mind to rewrite reality, but she breaks free of his influence, showcasing that she’s more in control of herself than ever.
In 2015’s Scarlet Witch solo series – by James Robinson and David Aja – Wanda’s headdress is now a smaller, tiara-like accent piece. Instead of covering or framing her face, it sits up on Wanda’s head like a crown, and Wanda has never been more in control, traveling the world to single-handedly address magical crises and getting her very own nemesis in the form of the Emerald Warlock. Wanda’s appearances have followed a similar look since, and she’s mostly been cast as one of the go-to magic experts for other heroes. It’s not always the case that this rule is followed but, more often than not, check for the headdress design if you want to guess what type of Scarlet Witch story you’re about to read.
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