Much as Wanda Maximoff loves to be the centre of mutant-related drama in Marvel’s comics, the publisher’s latest event — Empyre — is only tangentially related to her by way of her son, Billy Kaplan, who’s engaged to Teddy Altman, the young king currently leading an armada of alien invaders on their way to conquer Earth.
But in this week’s tie-in issue of Empyre: X-Men #1 from writers Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard, along with artists Matteo Buffagni and Nolan Woodard, Wanda proves that even when no one’s paying attention to her, she can be counted on to make herself part of any situation… for better or worse. It’s been years since Wanda accidentally wiped out the bulk of the Earth’s mutant population in the midst of a massive mental breakdown, and she’s really been working hard to make amends for her actions.
The only problem is that sometimes, the best course of action is to simply let things play out without getting involved, and Wanda’s never really been great about accepting that.
After learning that Magneto wasn’t actually Wanda and her twin brother Pietro’s biological father, the Maximoff twins have largely stayed out of mutant affairs with good reason, especially given that post-Dawn of X, Marvel’s mutants have become particularly insular about their affairs and the development of their nation. That being said, Wanda’s keenly understood the role she played in the most devastating mutant massacre in history and how, even now, she’s seen as a dangerous person who can’t be trusted.
Empyre: X-Men #1 opens with a conversation between Wanda and Stephen Strange about the nature of magic, and how tectonic shifts in the mystical balance of reality can’t really be undone just because they were done in the first place. It’s not often that a writing team so explicitly acknowledges Wanda’s status as one of the universe’s most powerful reality manipulators, but here Strange explains to his fellow Avenger that to fundamentally unmake the mutant decimation, theoretically, she would have to erase her own existence from history — a feat far beyond either of their powers.
Strange’s advice to Wanda to finally move on and learn to live with her guilt doesn’t exactly go unheard, but it isn’t enough to convince her that there isn’t a magical means of putting things right. So, against any sort of common sense, she sets off to collect a trio of unnamed mystical items, fashion them into a staff, and travel to the dead mutant island of Genosha, where she first unleashed her chaos across the world. In addition to being a place where millions of mutants died in the past, Genosha represents the monumental failures of other mutants like Magneto who in the past tried and failed to create a perfect world for all of mutantkind — and so Wanda’s journeying there to perform her ritual reads as emotionally significant. But for all that feeling, her decision to cast a resurrection spell atop an entire island of corpses immediately seems like the worst of ideas.
As tends to be the case with chaos magic and the manipulation of reality, the consequences of Wanda’s actions aren’t immediately apparent to anyone besides her. After establishing that Wanda’s up to something she’s going to regret, Empyre: X-Men #1 shifts gears to illustrate just how it fits into the larger event by focusing on the Cotati, a species of sentient alien plants also involved in the new galactic conflict.
When the Cotati touch down on Earth, they do so on Genosha; it’s believed to be deserted, and its proximity to Wakanda might give the Cotati a tactical advantage in their first attempt to take some of the Earth for themselves. What the Cotati don’t account for, however (and how could they, honestly?), is the lasting impact of Wanda’s resurrection spell that apparently “worked” in the most generous, monstrous sense of the word. Even though no comics event really needs zombies to be interesting, that’s what Empyre: X-Men #1 brings to the table.
As Magik and Penance point out, their predicament would be more accurately likened to a twisted game of (alien) plants vs. (mutant) zombies, and the entire situation is deeply messed up for a number of reasons. Not only are Marvel’s mutant zombies sentient and capable of using their powers, their x-genes also give them free access to Krakoa through its many plant-based gates — and, if any of them were to make it through, they could potentially make zombies out of anyone they bite. It’s unclear if the zombies are a direct result of Wanda’s spell, but that certainly seems to be the case.
Because Empyre’s already plenty busy enough with the Kree, Skrull, and Cotati all becoming entangled with the whole of Earth’s superhero teams, it seems unlikely that the new zombie element to the story’s going to stick around all that long, as it could end up pulling attention from the main event. But if and when the X-Men find out that the Scarlet Witch is truly the cause of a new outbreak of mutant zombism, chances are good that they’ll want to have a word with her — again — about staying in her lane and butting out of mutant business.