The WandaVision Edition

On culture, Marvel, and comics

Todd Krieger (TK) and I go back to a random email introduction in 2007. The email said, “Just looking at the people you know- he seems like someone you’d also know.” I didn’t know Todd then, but as soon as I met him I understood the comment. He lives in Marin County, has a very eclectic mix of interests, and professionally covers an area at the intersection of tech and content. Back in 2019, he wrote the Dead & Company Edition. - Noah (NRB)

Todd here. As the Disney+ show “WandaVision'' wound to a close there were many takes on what it meant for Disney and Marvel and the culture-at-large. And regardless of where you stand on that ending, “WandaVision” is an exemplar of the multiplicity of influences that come to bear on the modern-day comic book hero. 

Dave Itzkoff, paid to write about pop culture for the New York Times, did not even reference the comic book that first put Vision in the suburbs (here’s a lovely review of this 4-episode miniseries written by former CIA officer Tom King). Why? Either he simply didn’t know about it (unlikely), or there is so much going on with the series that teasing out all the ingredients of the meta-bouillabaisse was neither necessary for enjoyment nor critical review. 

In the earlier days of media and superheroes—say the 1940’s—the comic book would give birth to radio, television, film, and animated series' just as it does now. The relationship between source material and the media that sprung from it tended to be uni-directional. That is to say, the spinoffs would roughly approximate the original. It’s not to say it never went the other way—Superman’s power of flight, while it did first appear in comics, was emboldened by the radio show tagline (Up in the sky! Look!” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s Superman!”)—but for the most part, source was canon. 

The emergence of Harley Quinn as a character in the Batman universe is, for this comic lover, the most mainstream instance of the comic book canon being influenced by the media it once spawned. Harley Quinn came into being in The Batman Animated Series and then and only then appeared in the comics and well, exploded into popular culture with ‘Suicide Squad’ and then ‘Birds of Prey’. 

Why Is This Interesting?

“WandaVision” is the first television show from Marvel Studios. And with it, we have the apotheosis of 70 years of cathode-ray culture careening into its pop twin, the comic book universe. All eyes were trained on the series for both what it meant for the media empires—would “WandaVision” do for Disney+ and Marvel what “The Mandalorian” did for the Disney+ launch—and also the narratives of the beloved characters it would explore. 

1963 Comic Featuring Wanda and Vision

The Halloween Episode of “WandaVision”

As James Poniewozik put it:

It is ... a meta feast for pop culture scrutinizers, a mash-up of two American mass-culture mythologies. It smushes the chocolate of superherodom into the peanut butter of feel-good sitcoms, making for two great empty-calorie tastes that, together, add up to a balanced meal.

From the name itself “WandaVision”—Wanda + Vision (the romance) and WandaVision (its very own Truman Show kind of television)—the team behind the show was making clear that what you are watching is open to interpretation. Even the relationship between Wanda and Vision is wildly up for grabs, he’s a synthezoid (that’s a comic book version of an android but still an artificial being) and she’s a witch

But what’s particularly interesting is how you can be an aficionado (guilty as charged) or a neophyte, and enjoy them equally. Does the neophyte care about the Tony Stark and Baron Strucker easter eggs or the playful Halloween costume with Wanda in full Scarlet Witch regalia (for the first time on-screen!!!) and Vision in his Mexican wrestling costume mapping to his own 60’s couture? 

No, they don’t. But it’s still amusing. And yet, like Pixar movies where the kids enjoy the Rube Goldberg shenanigans and the adults double over at the jokes, so too with these Marvel confections.

There is a singular moment where all the influences of the past and the future metastasize. In Episode 5, Wanda’s brother Pietro Maximoff aka Quicksilver appears or reappears (having been killed off in the Marvel Universe by Ultron—who was later killed by Vision). 

Yet this Pietro who appears is not the Pietro from the Marvel Comic Universe but rather the Pietro from the 20th Century Fox movies (yes, a whole different universe) which featured the mutant superheroes the X-Men. Marvel for years was in financial disarray, selling assets to whoever had a checkbook. During this time the X-Men went to Fox, and Spider-Man to Sony.

In Fox’s X-Men universe Pietro (and Wanda for that matter) are mutants, the children of the master of magnetism Magneto. Yet as depicted in the MCU they are not mutants, but the products of experiments by Baron Strucker. This is a case of the actual narratives of the characters, their very IP, being dictated by their corporate ownership.  

But like so much of “WandaVision”, Pietro’s arrival is served up as (dark) comedy with the Kat Dennings character saying, “She recast Pietro.” (Capitalizing on a well-served soap opera TV trope of characters who are dead simply showing up with no explanation and a different actor.) So for the people watching “WandaVision” either simply as a show, or as a show about shows, they’re like, “Oh that’s funny and cute and they’re riffing on soap opera traditions.” Yet the fanboys who observe such events with Talmudic-scrutiny are busy scraping their jaws off the floor wondering if this means the entire mutant universe will now be explored by Marvel, who now owns the X-Men after forking over $71.3 Billion for Fox. Until next time, I guess. (TK)

Map of the Day:

Here’s a backgrounder that does a good job on who owns what. (TK)

Links: 

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Todd (TK)