Hungry for more, she read up on Wanda, a reality-warping superhero with the moniker Scarlet Witch. She researched the character at her comic book shop, read one of her storylines and fell deeper in love.
“Wanda tried so hard to be normal,” said Martini, a 40-year-old government contractor and drag performer in La Plata, Md. “I think that’s also just very relatable.”
The Scarlet Witch’s popularity skyrocketed after her 2021 solo television series “WandaVision” — especially among LGBTQ fans. In interviews with The Washington Post, many say that Wanda’s experiences with loss, her nontraditional romance (with an android) and her search for family resonate with their journeys. As she returns in Marvel Studios’ “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” this week, many have hopes and fears about what she’ll face next.
“From a queer and trans lens, when we look at Wanda, we can see ourselves in her story,” said E. Tejada III, a 37-year-old equity and inclusion educator in Burdett, N.Y. Despite her hardships, “you can see that resilience, that she is still very much moving forward.”
“WandaVision” as a whole was a particular landmark for LGBTQ fans. Video essays on their love for the series have garnered thousands of views on YouTube. Articles abounded covering the MCU debut of Wanda’s son Billy, who is gay in the comics. Supporting character Agatha Harkness became not only the subject of a chart-topping song but also a queer icon in her own right.
Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Wanda, told The Post that she hadn’t known about the connection LGBTQ fans have to the character. “That’s really amazing. I think these stories have an impact in a way that I am that I somehow don’t [realize],” she said. “I’m so inside them that I don’t really get to step outside.”
Through the movies and the series, Wanda endures the loss of her parents, brother and romantic partner. The character then warps reality to create a fantasy life complete with magical manifestations of her late lover and their children, but later tears it down after realizing she held a town hostage in the process.
Wanda isn’t any luckier in the comics. Eleven years after her 1964 debut, she marries Vision and has two children, but through both magic and old-fashioned supervillainy she loses her family and her memories of motherhood. When those memories resurface, an outpouring of grief leads Wanda to kill some of her teammates as well as swaths of mutants — a marginalized, superpowered race. The character has been on a long journey of redemption and healing ever since.
“She goes through all this trauma,” said Michaela McFarland, a 21-year-old social media content creator in Detroit. “It builds up and it just keeps building where you can relate to her on such a deeper level.”
Wanda does move forward by finding loved ones in superhero teams. But given her past proximity to supervillains in early Marvel comics and her more recent attacks on her teammates and mutants, her allegiance to the good guys is often questioned.
Joseph Kim, a 24-year-old social media content producer from New York City, said this reminds him of biphobia, transphobia and racism within the LGBTQ community. In Wanda’s story, he said, “you have that same kind of metaphorical gatekeeping of, ‘You are one of us, and yet you’re not one of us.’”
Across comics and films, Wanda receives little support from other characters. The MCU portrays her grieving alone, and in the “House of M” comic-book storyline, other characters consider killing Wanda as she experiences a mental health crisis.
For Brandon Bush, a comic book journalist, this absence of support also mirrors systemic injustices. “When you see people like Wanda who aren’t getting the resources that they need, you relate to that because you see your own communities and them not getting the resources that they need,” Bush said.
Still, many LGBTQ fans don’t see the kind of representation they want in the MCU generally. Yes, more LGBTQ superheroes — including Wanda’s own children — have graced comic book pages in recent years, and a same-sex relationship shows up on-screen in “The Eternals.” Olsen was excited for the new “Dr. Strange” sequel to introduce superhero America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who is lesbian in the comics and whose same-sex parents are alluded to briefly in the movie. “We need to reflect the world in these films,” she said. “We have such a platform. To not use it in that way would be foolish.”
But many fans still feel such depictions are too rare. Which is why they fill the gap by reading LGBTQ themes and relationships into Marvel films and series — sometimes in ways that deviate from creators’ visions. In addition to relating to Wanda’s hardships, some viewers interpreted interactions in “WandaVision” between Wanda and Agatha as flirting. In other MCU titles, fans see sparks fly between super-soldier Steve Rogers and his best friend Bucky Barnes. And storylines featuring the X-Men — a superhero team that Wanda fought against in her comic book debut — are widely read as queer allegories. Noticing signs of romance between presumably heterosexual characters who express affection for one another has become crucial to their enjoyment of superhero media, they said.
The portrayal of Wanda’s identity has also faced backlash. In the comics, she was long depicted as Jewish — for decades, her father was believed to be X-Men antihero Magneto, who survived the Holocaust. But Marvel later established that Wanda’s father was someone else, effectively stripping her of her Jewish heritage, which angered some fans. She was also raised by a Romani family, but that has not yet made it into the MCU.
Two LGBTQ Romani fans told The Post that Wanda’s comic book appearances were formative for their love of the medium. But they were less thrilled at certain choices creators made in representing her heritage. Jayjay Colley, a 26-year-old teacher outside of Boston, said that associating a Romani character with magic feels as if it is continuing a stereotype, and they have found some past Scarlet Witch costumes offensive. They worry the MCU has simply erased Wanda’s Romani identity out of fear of repeating those tropes.
But those frustrations won’t keep Colley from theaters.
“Stuff that you love is always going to have issues with it,” they said. “How we should engage with media is still being able to criticize it, but then also still recognize nothing’s ever wholly good or wholly bad.”
David Betancourt contributed to this report.