Before 2004, Wanda Maximoff was a pretty cool character. A strange gypsy girl with an odd mutant "hex" power manipulated by her father into being a terrorist, only to see the light and spend most of her adult life trying to atone for that by serving with the Avengers. Sure, she married a robot, but he was a very human kind of robot (and there are plenty of fangirls of Data from Star Trek to make that seem a little less abnormal – and let's not fail to note that Captain America, paragon of virtue, is dating the niece of the woman he dated in World War II, and nobody sneezes at that). They don't call the Vision a synthezoid for nothing, you know. Sure, she wished children into existence only to lose them to Mephisto, but… okay, that's a little out there, but so's everybody's life in a comic book.
In Kurt Busiek's run on Avengers, which was really the last great hurrah for the classic concept of the team, he spent a great deal of time delving into who the Scarlet Witch was. He went back through her canon and painstakingly constructed a new take on Wanda's powers, using beats from past continuity research (his specialty) to mature her power level beyond simple little hexes (it involved the influence of an Elder God named Chthon that tweaked her when she was born) and allowed her to step into a larger world of sorcery and wield chaos magic. He also matured the woman herself into a capable Avengers field leader and confident hero capable of taking on the weightiest of threats, while George Perez worked his fantastically detailed magic to bring her to life on the page.
Then, Brian Michael Bendis came along and took a mighty big dump all over that hard work.
There's no denying that the Avengers are a much hotter commodity now than they were back then, and that Bendis' Avengers: Disassembled arc kickstarted a new era for a new generation of comic fans, and many interesting things have arisen from it. But there's also no denying that some really great character development was blown all to hell in the process. With one sneering throwaway comment from Dr. Strange claiming that "there is no such thing as chaos magic" despite the fact that Strange himself had used it before, Bendis hammered the square character of Wanda Maximoff into his big round plot hole and shattered everything she was. Now she was driven insane by the mention of her children as she'd suddenly repressed the memory (even though she touched on the subject in Busiek's run), all her magical tutoring from Agatha Harkness was now just a crazy lady talking to a corpse, and she wound up killing three Avengers and committing a pseudo-genocide against mutantkind. That's a pretty drastic shift that took place in just one arc with no build-up, and even Bendis has recently admitted he realizes why fanboys got so mad at him, saying to them it felt like he just walked into their sandbox and broke all their toys, or something to that effect.
Now, along comes Avengers: The Children's Crusade, and so far, it looks like this might finally be the resurrection of the actual character of the Scarlet Witch from the ashes of the plot device she's been for the last seven years. It's a beautiful thing that's arisen from this era of mega-events – for every Bendis or Jeph Loeb or Mark Millar who crank out whatever crazy plot they want with questionable regard to history or sometimes even coherency, there's a safety net of guys like Ed Brubaker, Dan Slott and Jeff Parker who catch the abused characters and find a way to make those bombastic events make some kind of sense for them. WIth any luck, Allan Heinberg will become a part of that safety net to catch the long, long fall of the most damaged hero of them all.
The story follows the Young Avengers – more specifically, Wiccan (Billy Kaplan) and Speed (Tommy Shepherd), who are finally dealing with the notion that they could very well be those lost twin boys Wanda had back in the day – if not biologically, than through a "transmigration of souls." Speed is pretty much a younger version of Wanda's twin brother Quicksilver minus the grandiose indignance and plus the youthful arrogant hot-shottery, and in the first issue of this miniseries, Wiccan unleashes some immensely powerful magical whammy on the Sons of the Serpent that even he doesn't understand. It all lends credence to that theory. Of course, said whammy draws the attention of the Avengers, who now see their former friend and leader Wanda as a murdering psychopath creep, and Wolverine is actually out to kill her for whittling the number of mutants in the world down to a few hundred.
This attitude didn't sit well with Billy, since they also want to essentially keep him locked up for study to prevent another wild magic catastrophe from happening. Billy's also pretty well convinced that someone had to have been manipulating Wanda to cause all of that, despite the Avengers gravely asserting that she's just a killer. This is why he and Tommy were amenable when their grandfather Magneto approached them to enlist their help in trying to find Wanda, who's been missing since M-Day. We know Erik Lensherr can talk a good game, and with reservations, the entire Young Avengers squad has gone off on this mission with some serious trepidation. There's a constant back and forth between "I'll do this alone" and "we're a team, we stick together" that neither side really wins. Patriot can't stop kvetching about working with a terrorist, and Wiccan keeps finding ways to go off on his own to spare the team – which is not a good idea when they realize that the reason nobody can find Wanda is that she's been living with none other than Dr. Doom.
Of course, everyone thinks Doom is holding her prisoner, which isn't the case. The truth is that Wanda has absolutely no memory of her time as the Scarlet Witch, she has no powers to speak of, and she's actually about to happily marry Doom, who's been trying to save her, and protect the world from her power. He even neutralized Wiccan's powers as a precaution.
I'm a sucker for a good Doom story (and I suggest you check out Doomwar for Doom at his Doomy best), and it's even better when he comes into conflict with Magneto. Avengers: The Children's Crusade #5 drops us right in the middle of a massive conflict in Latveria between Doom's forces and all the Avengers and Young Avengers, plus Magneto and Quicksilver. There's also the added bonus of a 'returning from the future' Iron Lad, aka Kid Kang, to help things along and to make things rocky for the blossoming whatever-it-is between Stature and the Kid Vision 3.0 that's working with the YAs these days. Incidentally, that gives more support to the assertion that being attracted to the Vision doesn't necessarily make Wanda a freak… or maybe it just means Stature's got issues, too, since she also loves Iron Lad. Anyway, Wanda's been in complete denial about the stories of her past, but the fact that the Avengers and Doom are fighting over her on her front lawn get her suspicious. So she winds up scurrying off with Iron Lad and the YAs into the timestream, where their big plan is to go back to the first day of Disassembled to jog her memory and stop her crazy-go-nuts before it starts.
As you may have surmised from that preamble, I had some problems with how cavalierly and dismissively Disassembled was originally handled, but I did always like the idea that one day, out of nowhere, everything goes to absolute hell all at once and completely detonates the Avengers world. The worst day of all bad days on the job. Enough time has passed that it now feels like a landmark tragedy, which is why there's such a heavy impact at the sight of the undead Jack of Hearts begging Wanda not to make him do what we all know he's about to do – destroy Avengers Mansion. It's an image so startling, thanks to the artwork of Jim Cheung, that it snaps Wanda's denial, finally allowing her to remember everything.
So far in this series, Wanda's been portrayed as a noble, well-meaning soul, smart but both humble and stable. She frees Billy from Doom's captivity, she offers to help wherever she can to set things right, and given Billy's belief in all the good she's done in the past in relation to the crazy-bad that's all her former friends can think about, there's hope that she may be able to keep it together this time. The main thrust seems to be that there's hope for her, despite all the naysayers (which are pretty much everybody but the YAs – and even some of them aren't on board). When she finally appears on the last page, in full costume, proclaiming she remembers everything and that she's the one who brought them back forward in time to save them from the Jack of Hearts bomb, you can't help but hope she's back as herself again.
However, this is issue 5 of 9. There are still four more issues where she has the potential to go completely off the deep end again, bringing the Avengers and X-Men and whoever else into the fray to try and stop some kind of mad rampage, rendering most of what I've said here pointless. But given the tone of the series, and the fact that she brought Cassie's father Scott Lang, who died in Disassembled, into the future with them and thus have a perfect excuse to bring him back for good (Wanda's reality manipulation can trump the whole 'branching timeline' thing, I'm sure), I've got some hope that we might finally get our Witch back.
Fingers crossed. Nobody hex this now.
And one last idea – how interesting would it be if they applied the whole God conundrum to her? "If God is omnipotent, can he make a boulder so heavy that even he can't lift it?" could become "Is Wanda's ability to warp reality so complete that she could alter her own power so she could no longer warp reality?" Think about it.