Warning — This article contains spoilers for “Episode 8” of WandaVision.
After existing in the MCU for almost seven years, Wanda Maximoff has finally been given the title of "The Scarlet Witch". And even though fans knew that there was a strong possibility that this was going to happen, the way everything went down was shocking, to say the least. But there is an eerie similarity to a classic X-Men storyline that audiences have become incredibly familiar with over the years.
In Episode 8 of WandaVision, we saw that Agatha Harkness is in fact an incredibly powerful witch that has been in the shadows since the Salem Witch Trials. The former nosey neighbor shows right away that she is incredibly well versed in the ways of witchcraft and possesses immense knowledge of the inner workings of magic in the MCU. That is why it is so shocking when she realizes who Wanda really is.
"You're supposed to be a myth. A being capable of spontaneous creation. And here you are."
"Your children, Vision, this whole little life you've made. This is Chaos Magic, Wanda. And that makes you, The Scarlet Witch."
And while it is still unknown the specifics of what that title means in the lore of witchcraft in the MCU, it is implied that Wanda is the embodiment of a dark force that has been feared throughout history.
This is a vintage MCU twist on a classic comic book property that no one saw coming, but it does draw some parallels to The Dark Phoenix Saga. That story has been adapted twice in FOX's X-Men franchise over the past two decades and has faced criticism of execution. Here is a look at the similarities and differences between FOX's Jean Grey and the MCU's Wanda Maximoff.
DARK PHOENIX BACKSTORY
A brief summary of the comic book history of The Dark Phoenix is that telekinetic and telepathic mutant Jean Grey was infused with a cosmic force while on a space mission that led to her gaining immense power and becoming a threat to herself and others. After various trials of tragedy and emotion fluctuating her powers, she inevitably met her sacrificial end, electing to die as a human instead of living as a god.
The similarities to Wanda Maximoff in the MCU do not lie in the specifics, but in the idea of The Dark Phoenix Saga itself. A mysterious, hyper-powerful character with a traumatic past that is met with a legendary dark entity that prophesies a grave danger to the world. And while we are still awaiting an explanation on the story of The Scarlet Witch, they seem to be heading down that path.
FOX and 21st Century Studios adapted The Dark Phoenix story in both the original X-Men trilogy from the early 2000s and the more recent "soft reboot" starring Sophie Turner. While both attempts at the legendary story were vastly different, they were met with criticism on execution which put a sour taste in the mouths of many fans.
So where did the FOX-Men attempts at this idea go wrong, and is the MCU on a better track with a similar (but different) story?
FOX-MEN DARK PHOENIX, PART 1
In the early 2000s, the X-Men franchise was the catalyst for what would become modern-day superhero movies. And at the end of X2, they gave us a not-so-subtle nod to the legendary X-Men story as Jean Grey sacrifices herself to save her team while being surrounded with a mysterious red-tinted glow. That was followed up by what some say is the seed in which post-credit scenes were born, a phoenix-shaped figure flying through the waters of Alkali Lake, where we lost Jean Grey.
Fast-forward to X-Men: The Last Stand and Jean Grey rises from the ashes already in full-blown, Dark Phoenix mode. This leads to a sub-plot of Jean teaming up with the Brotherhood of Mutants, killing her mentor Charles Xavier, and inevitably being killed by Wolverine, per her own request.
This run at the Dark Phoenix on the big screen was considered a dud by most due largely to the feeling of it being rushed. With the source material being so elaborate and historic, fans felt that this version of the story deserved more than a tease, followed by a convoluted ending in the following movie. It was also never really explained where this dark power came from or why it attached itself to Jean in the first place.
FOX-MEN DARK PHOENIX, PART 2
So in light of a sub-par attempt at Dark Phoenix in the original trilogy, Brian Singer and company decided to give it another go after the soft reboot of the franchise that took place in Days of Futures Past. Sophie Turner's version of Jean Grey did offer more depth to the build-up of the event in X-Men: Apocalypse with hints at her powers being unstable along with a true Phoenix moment near the end in which the character defeats one of the X-Men's most feared villains.
And while fans cried for the Dark Phoenix to get its own movie in the original trilogy, they got their wish in 2019's Dark Phoenix. This time, they leaned into the space mission angle as Jean Grey is encountered by the cosmic Phoenix Force early in the movie, and is quickly turned into a dangerous being, before sacrificing herself at the end of the movie.
This attempt listened to the critiques of the first time around, but still was met with backlash due to an overwhelming sense that the transformation was not earned by the Jean Grey character. While one could argue the Phoenix moment in Apocalypse covered this misstep, it is tough for comic fans to get behind a Dark Phoenix that doesn't flesh out Jean Grey's struggle in using this power for good or evil.
THE SCARLET WITCH WITH A HINT OF DARK PHOENIX
So what The Dark Phoenix boils down to is a powerful hero, with mysterious abilities, taking on the mantle of a dark force that is destined to be a danger to herself and others. Wanda Maximoff in the MCU meets the criteria of a powerful hero. She also is shrouded in mystery after the events of WandaVision heading into Episode 8. And another parallel that can be drawn between Wanda and the lore of Jean Grey is that trauma and hardship that seemingly fuel her powers in unpredictable ways.
Now that fans know that Wanda's "Scarlet Witch" title has more of a prophetical backstory than in the comics, it is hard to ignore how Marvel Studios is heading down the same path as The Dark Phoenix Saga. The biggest difference is within the execution. Wanda has been a member of the MCU since 2014, and audiences have gotten to know her powers, her past, and her motivations throughout five movies and most of a Disney+ series.
This makes the reveal that Wanda's incredible power and the dangers that come with it that much more satisfying. When the history of The Scarlet Witch is revealed, it is expected that Wanda's journey in the MCU will reflect the lore that comes with that title. Something FOX-Men fell short of in not one, but two trilogy attempts.
This is not to say that Wanda Maximoff will be replacing Jean Grey in the MCU. This is not even implying that The Dark Phoenix Saga will not get a third attempt, this time under the watch of Kevin Feige. But it just goes to show the masterclass in storytelling that the MCU has proven to execute and continues to execute in the first project of Phase 4. Being able to take such a legendary comic book idea and put an MCU twist on it with a completely different character is almost as wild of an idea as a fake sitcom starring two Avengers. But it seems likely that Marvel Studios, Matt Shakman, and Jac Schaffer are doing just that.