James Robinson and Vanesa Del Rey’s “Scarlet Witch” #1 opens up with a charming blast from the past, a link to Wanda’s old days in the Avengers. However, with an ominous white-on-black epigraph on the second page, Robinson indicates that what’s past is past, and Wanda’s new life indicates the new re-framing of Wanda’s powers will focus on witchcraft instead of superpowers.
The last “Avengers” movie gave Scarlet Witch wider name recognition. There, Wanda was defined by her relationship with her beloved brother Pietro and her traumatic childhood. In captions, Robinson spells out that “Scarlet Witch” #1 is going to be about who the character is when she’s not someone’s sister, daughter or teammate. It’s a worthy goal, but even characters who operate solo are defined by their relationships.
Appropriately, then, Robinson brings back Agatha Harkness, Wanda’s mentor in witchcraft. Unfortunately, her presence is unsubstantial in “Scarlet Witch” #1. She doesn’t serve any function in the plot yet, other than as a way to establish time and place. While she and Wanda have a long history, their conversations in “Scarlet Witch” #1 don’t bring out significant emotion or personality, other than some wry banter. Robinson’s prose is pleasant to read for his word choices and turns of phrase, but sometimes, Wanda’s dialogue and thoughts sounds more like the writer’s voice than her own.
In more than one way, “Scarlet Witch” #1 is reminiscent of Robinson’s 2011 maxi-series “The Shade.” That, too, deliberately featured different artists and depicted a powerful, reflective character with a checkered past who worked alone. As much as I like Robinson’s brand of dry, world-weary humor, I don’t know if it’s working as well for Wanda as it did for the Shade.
Wanda’s references to her past are so nonspecific that she can come off as bland. Robinson also wants to distinguish Wanda’s witchcraft from Doctor Strange’s magic, but Wanda’s work in “Scarlet Witch” #1 doesn’t feel like sufficiently different occult territory. Robinson references the Great Cat Massacre, but just the fact that this historical incident — like the Salem Witch trials — was blamed on “witchcraft” as opposed to “magic” or “sorcery” doesn’t make Wanda’s work look any different when she casts spells.
The action also feels slack, because the time between Wanda’s appearance on the crime scene and her solution are so short. There’s not enough time to build up dramatic tension. Robinson writes a strong, classic twist when the identity of the person who’s been “infected” is revealed, but that’s the only surprise.
The world-building is also shaky at this point. Witchcraft isn’t science, but it still requires a consistent framework in fiction to draw the reader in. Robinson doesn’t show the stakes or the mechanics yet for why witchcraft is endangered, and so the last scene in “Scarlet Witch” #1 has very little impact.
Despite how “Scarlet Witch #1 is supposed to be future-oriented, Wanda is tied heavily to the past in Del Rey’s artwork. Del Rey’s architectural and interior design details in the first scene are a nod to Wanda’s European background, and they look great. Her technique creates marks that look like charcoal drawing, which looks exquisite for details like the pattern of a rug in Wanda’s bedroom. However, it also creates a strange feeling when New York is lit up by traces of witchcraft, and neon lights are absent. When Wanda investigates, the streets have an early 20th century air, even though “Scarlet Witch” #1 is set in the present.
Del Rey’s backgrounds look beautiful, especially enhanced by Bellaire’s rich palettes, and the climactic scene of witchcraft has visual drama. Despite the overall lushness, though, Wanda looks a little stiff or out of place in her new costume in certain panels, and her facial features also shift too much, making her look like almost a different woman from scene-to-scene.
“Scarlet Witch” #1 has pretty prose and artwork, but it doesn’t create suspense and it also hasn’t succeeded in redefining Wanda’s new place and role in the Marvel Universe. Future issues, however, may remedy this.