Friday, November 13, 2009

Miss Scarlet

Apart from movies and television, one other thing that got an only child and “latchkey kid” like me through many afternoons and evenings of solitude were comic books. Comic books have undergone a substantial and overwhelming change over the years. Happily, for me, I was reading them in what I consider to be the glory days (though many folks consider now to be the amazing era.) It all started when a male friend of my mom’s gave her a large stack of his old ones to give to me.

My favorite books were the ones devoted to super hero teams, such as Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes (my very favorite), Justice League of America, Fantastic Four and The Avengers. The Avengers was a terrific series and while other boys were worshipping Captain America, Iron Man or Thor, I was captivated by The Scarlet Witch.

My very first encounter with The Scarlet Witch was when I was given a (now very rare and highly sought after) cardboard playset called Marvel World. It had all the famous Marvel comics landmarks and little stand-up versions of the major heroes and villains of the time. It was an amazing little piece of entertainment with a working elevator, break away walls, opening doors… and all made of sturdy cardboard, put together through interlocking cutouts. I knew most of the characters, but didn’t recognize Scarlet Witch. My childhood friend Scotty explained who she was and I remember arguing that she must be a villain and not a hero if she were a “witch.”

Truth is, she started as a villain, though not a very dedicated one. Her father Magneto, was an evil mutant and he recruited her and her brother Pietro (who went by the name Quicksilver) to wreak havoc for the X-Men. However, not too long after their initial appearances, SW, Quicksilver and another villain Hawkeye each forsook their evil ways and became members of the reconfigured team The Avengers, led by Captain America. (Oddly enough, in some of her earliest appearances, The Scarlet Witch’s costume was green! Check out the cumbersome headpiece she wore for several years.)

Once she joined The Avengers, her mystical powers of “altering probabilities” (an odd sort of ability that not all writers seemed able to properly exploit) complimented the more powerful members. Though iconic characters such as Thor, Captain America, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and the like went through very few, if any, permutations over the years, she and other second-string characters had their looks and costumes evolved over time. She went from a very bulky and heavy costume to a more streamlined version that included a more flattering headpiece. Her hair color also shifted from pitch black to auburn, where it has stayed ever since.

Quicksilver, always a hot-tempered and confrontational character, had a look that appealed to me a lot. (His costume changed at various points from pale blue to green and back to pale blue again.) Perhaps his prematurely white hair is what caused me to have a thing for salt ‘n pepper younger daddy types. Who knows!

In what was, for many, a surprising and at the time controversial move, the writers had The Scarlet Witch fall in love with a fellow Avenger. Though that, in itself, is nothing special or unusual, the one she fell in love with certainly was because he was The Vision, an ANDROID! His emotionless, stoic presence was an interesting counterpart to her more passionate and combustible nature. In time, the couple was married (in a dual ceremony that was shared with Mantis and the ghost of (!) The Swordsman.) The Vision and Scarlet Witch were for many years a complimentary couple, both visually and in storyline. Though I no longer read comics, I do believe they are no longer together.

I don’t think it’s unusual for people to prefer things to look and be the way they were when they first enjoyed something and so, for me, the best version of The Scarlet Witch is the one she had in the late 70s and early 80s. In time, as part of a major overhaul (explosion, really!) of the entire comics universe, she would see change after change and rendition after rendition, from a gypsy-like midriff-revealing outfit to a skimpy flap of a costume to a short-haired, body-suited type of look, among others. Note the way she and Quicksilver looked in their prime years as compared to a more recent incarnation (where they almost resemble lovers rather than siblings!)

Wanda (her first name) has inspired many artists to whip up fantastical, highly sensual and sexual images, which I won’t post here, but which can be located in any Google search. Over the years, many artists seemed stymied by her headpiece and couldn’t ever seem to draw it correctly or appealingly. Probably my very favorite Scarlet Witch artist was George Perez as he rendered her in the late 70s. He seemed best able to join all the elements of her look into a cohesive and appealing version. I know I have tried countless times over the years to draw this character and have never been fully satisfied, though it must be said that I have less than zero training as an artist, comic or otherwise.

I have never been to a comics convention, but it is apparently not unusual to find quite a few people dressed up as their favorite heroes. SW is a surprisingly common presence and affords ladies the chance to really vamp it up and show off their stuff. Some folks are more successful at this than others and I will leave it at that…

Today’s comics have stunning artwork, complex stories and challenging, vividly colorful visual schemes. In fact, comics, to some degree, seem to be cool or at least cooler than they were when I was reading them regularly. However, much like I am with movies and TV, I greatly prefer the previous styles. I love the old cover artwork from a simpler time with less show-stopping design. File me under F for Fogey!


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