Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Two years is a long time to wait for closure. And while it might not have been exactly two years since we started Avengers: Children’s Crusade, there were months that felt like we were on this journey forever. Months where you picked up an issue and wondered where everyone in this book was in the grand timeline of the Marvel Universe, how long ago this was supposed to be set from the books we were reading at the time and, especially with the earliest of issues, where we were all going by the time we hit the final issue. What was this crusade for?
Way back when at issue one we find Billy Kaplan, the magically-powered Wiccan, at a crossroads: his unexplained and undefined magical powers were chafing in a Marvel Universe full of super-science, genetics and good old fashioned genius. The potential was there for the Avengers and/or X-Men to have another fiasco on their hands and came to step in. While the adults bickered (and honestly came across as really rash and hostile as opposed to say the approach taken with the Avengers Academy kids, just saying), the Young Avengers teamed up with Magneto to find the one person who knows about having out of control & mistrusted magical powers: Wanda Maximoff.
Early on, this mini-series was presented as the final word on the disgraced Scarlet Witch and the truth behind M-Day. Reading the series over now that the complete picture is here, Allan Heinberg was very clearly here for one reason, but what was it?
WARNING: Avengers: the Children’s Crusade will be discussed to the point of utter spoilage. Please grab your copies and read along!
Let’s start with the object of desire in this series, the Scarlet Witch. Much like in Avengers: Disassembled, she is the driving force of the plot. If no one went looking for her, if no one cared, this book would have been a lot shorter and probably less satisfying. It’s weird to sort of turn around and look back at what Avengers: Disassembled and where we are now. The Avengers are a totally redefined organization now, taken from a terrible tragedy and have become a sort of compulsion. Captain America almost Biblically said they were Avengers and so they will ever be. From Wanda’s turn as an ultra-powerful madwoman, mistrust was sown between the X-Men and the Avengers. Heck, even between the Avengers themselves as the next event that rolled along after House of M was Civil War. Despite being off the grid for years, a depowered amnesiac living in the hills of the old world, Wanda Maximoff has left the largest shadow to stretch across the Marvel Universe as we know it today. But we left her behind and there is something so unsatisfying about that.
The idea of redemption, falling from grace and clawing your way back to the top, even just rising from rags to riches is classic storytelling. If anything, it’s classic American storytelling and capes and tights drama is certainly classic American storytelling. So no matter how much the Scarlet Witch remained off panel and was spoken of in disappointment, the reader needed more. Let’s use Jean Grey for example, another woman who has changed the face of the Marvel Universe. As the Dark Phoenix, it was very clear that this woman was a threat not just to us, but entire galaxies. There was a point in the planning of the Dark Phoenix storyline where they were going to remove her powers, thus removing the threat against the universe. Then Editor in Chief Jim Shooter didn’t buy it:
“I personally think, and I’ve said this many times, that having a character destroy an inhabited world with billions of people wipe out a starship and then—well, you know, having the powers removed and being let go on Earth. It seems to me that that’s the same as capturing Hitler alive and letting him go live on Long Island. Now, I don’t think the story would end there.”
So neither should Wanda’s. Avengers: the Children’s Crusade needed to look back at the Scarlet Witch and find something in the character besides disgrace. If she was going to be target fo their search, we had to learn something new. Wiccan needed answers and we needed some closure. Wanda had to be redeemed.
In the events of the mini-series, we learn Wanda’s true motivations: realizing the horror story that was giving birth to imaginary children ripped from the soul of Mephisto (oh Marvel), Wanda became desperate to get back what had been taken from her. She eventually goes to Doctor Doom for help, citing that his magicks were “more powerful that mine – or Doctor Strange – and he was certainly less conflicted when it came to practicing the darker arts.” If any of the madness that is to follow can be blamed on Wanda, here it is. Doom, either seeing a sitting duck or actually feeling for her plight, agrees and uses Wanda’s connection as Nexus Point to draw on the Life Force itself so that she could have her sons back. Things did not go as planned when it comes to essential entities of life and death and Wanda, possessed by this Life Force, left Doom and we know the Disassemblage that happened after.
So that’s it, a desperate woman falls for the oldest trick in the book of trusting Doctor Doom and Darker Arts in order to put part of herself back together. It’s foolish now instead of maniacally crazy, so when Doom promises her the same trick twice, this time to harness the Life Force so that she can fix all the damage she’d caused when… well, they last tried to harness the Life Force, she becomes pathetic. She wants to the do the right thing, she wants to make everyone happy, to have her kids back, to find that part of herself that got lost in all this mutant supremacy, controlling twin brother, married to a robot chaos that comes with being a superhero. She just goes about it the wrong way. Twice.
So Patriot, taking a bold risk, shoots Wanda with an arrow in the middle of the ritual to bring back all the mutants. The spell is broken, Doctor Doom gets all the Life Force and a real bad guy finally takes center stage. Everybody fights, bless her heart Cassie Lang is killed but the day is saved. Iron Lad, who had returned for the story, demands a chance to fix Cassie by taking her into the future or by changing the past but by now, everyone’s learning that messing with fundamental elements of the universe is bad news and refuse to let him take her. Iron Lad throws a fit, destroys the younger Vision and takes off, vowing to become greater than the Kang the Conqueror they had all feared he’d become. A new villain is on the rise.
So what’s left? At the wreckage of all of this, Cyclops still denounces her and swears that the Scarlet Witch should spend the rest of her life making up for the Decimation of mutantkind and if that she dares to step out of line again, he will kill her himself. Captain America attempts to take her back into the fold of the Avengers, but they both know that it wouldn’t work. Wonder Man gives her some space, Magneto offers to take her and her brother on a family trip (yes, really), but Wanda chooses to finally step out on her own, find herself without leaning on who she had been, and to spend time with the children she so desperately wanted.
Is the Scarlet Witch redeemed? Sort of? The mutants seem to clearly want her dead (a position they’ve had from day one it feels like) and the old adage “Once an Avenger, always an Avenger” doesn’t seem to apply anymore to a woman who’s caused so much chaos. If anything, the Scarlet Witch belongs with the Avengers she destroyed, seeming out of place in this new era. Wanda Maximoff is back to zero and if this was her story, the book would be over.
But it’s not, because this never was her story to begin with.
The Young Avengers came out of the ashes of Avengers: Disassembled, a disparate group of kids who were all looking for heroism, if not avenging, in themselves and others. By the end of the first story arc, they were a band of heroes, young but dedicated to making the most of their Junior Varsity status. They romanced, they bonded, they fought in their share of event books. When Children’s Crusade came along, it was truly their darkest hour. They had to protect one of their own and fought their the way up to Doctor Doom to get their answers, despite bickering and divisive adults trying to stop them. They make hard decisions, they bring their family closer but lose two friends along the way. This was their Disassembling.
Billy Kaplan is shaken from the experience. Eli Bradly chooses to put down the mantle of Patriot. Kate Bishop can’t handle the weight of keeping up with the powered set and with that, the Young Avengers are no more. Since their debut in 2005, these kids have gone through an abridged version of the Avengers general history, all the way up to the present day. Who they were at their start is nothing like the characters we’ve had the pleasure of watching ‘grow up’ issue by issue. If Allan Heinberg came back to the Young Avengers for anything, it was this: to have them accepted as full members of the Avengers and thank them for their efforts.
It’s important to be a hero. In Avengers: the Children’s Crusade, we’re seeing both a woman crusade for her children and for her own identity. We’re also seeing children crusade for something similar, their place in this world along with the history of the past. It’s taken a long time and been a heavy journey, but it need to be if we were going to watch both the Scarlet Witch and the Young Avengers truly grow up. Wanda Maximoff has lost her scarlet letter, the Young Avengers have lost their youth, and the stories still to come will be better for that growth.