Wanda and the Infinity Coven

SPOILERS for WandaVision through Episode 7, because I want to get some wild-ass theorizing out there before all is revealed.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, movies like Thor and Doctor Strange established magic as a technology born of a more advanced science, a means of tapping into primordial cosmic forces. The Infinity Stones, created along with the universe by the Big Bang, are powerful sources of these energies. But possessing an Infinity Stone is not the only way to access a portion of its power. Wanda and Pietro Maximoff were given powers by Baron Strucker, experimenting with the Mind Stone. Carol Danvers got her powers from an explosion of an engine powered by the Space Stone. Some mortals in the MCU seem less accidental about tapping into these forces.

In Doctor Strange, the Ancient One’s order had a book about the Time Stone it guarded, but the (hexagonal) shelves may have held other such tomes. One of them was even missing.

Does Agatha’s book belong to the Ancient One’s library?

WandaVision showed us that the witchy Agatha Harkness has another arcane tome. Does it belong to the same set? The orange energy seeping from Agatha’s book seems to point to the Soul Stone, along with Agatha’s fixation on Wanda’s twins–conceived and born under mysterious conditions. In Infinity War and Endgame, the Soul Stone demanded two souls for it to be claimed, first by Thanos, then by Hawkeye. What happened to those souls? Why does the Soul Stone even demand them? How does that work? Maybe I’m following a false trail, but if the MCU has souls, then Billy and Tommy are either soulless conjurations, or their souls came from somewhere. Even Sparky the Dog couldn’t be resurrected. Unlike in the comic books, without Franklin Richards in the MCU to fragment his soul, they didn’t come from Mephisto. So the twins could be reincarnations of Gamora and the Black Widow. To what end? Maybe Billy (AKA the future Wiccan) is a Soul Warlock the Infinity Coven needed to summon (by their colors, Wanda is a Reality Witch and Agatha is a Power Witch) to be complete, and Tommy was an unexpected byproduct of Wanda’s love for Vision, and the availability of another soul. Or maybe their soulless bodies are vessels for some Soul Stone magic, pulling through the Nexus. Hey, most of the fun is wild-ass guessing between episodes.

A better devilish option than Mephisto?

I’ve speculated about Westview’s Infinity Coven, but before all is revealed in the next two weeks, maybe it’s time to commit to the concept and hazard a guess on the other members who form the six points on the hexagon. MCU witches, naturally, would be aligned to the “elements” of the six Infinity Stones, not the traditional elements of earth, water, wind, fire, and spirit.

  • Scarlet (Reality): Wanda Maximoff
  • Purple (Power): Agatha Harkness
  • Orange (Soul): Billy Maximoff AKA Wiccan? Or the Red Skull, who guards the Soul Stone on Vormir?
  • Yellow (Mind): “Dottie Jones” AKA Clea?
  • Blue (Space): “Dennis” the Presto Delivery man AKA Martin Preston AKA Master Pandemonium?
  • Green (Time): My friend really wants Herb to be Brother Voodoo…

If an Infinity Coven is anywhere close to the truth, Wanda Maximoff seems poised to fall into two categories: Marvel’s mystics, who use knowledge of arcane science to manipulate cosmic energies, and another group, like Carol Danvers and Monica Rambeau, who have been changed by these energies. Mutated, you could say.

Let’s call them “mutants.”

Mutants or Witchbreed?

They, like Wanda, are naturals with their abilities. They don’t necessarily know how they shoot beams of Power from their eyes, see into others’ Minds, turn back Time on their bodily injuries, traverse Space in a single BAMF, change the Reality of their appearance on a whim, or manifest their Souls as a sword–but they can do it. They can do it because long ago, at the dawn of the species, the Celestials seeded humankind with the potential to tap into the cosmic powers like their distant cousins the Eternals.

When Baron Strucker and Hydra’s experiments “unleashed the goddess within” Wanda, they tapped into the latent Celestial potential. And now Wanda can do it to others. It’s a reversal of the comic book storyline “House of M,” where she tries to rid the world of mutants. In WandaVision, she unlocks them. Monica Rambeau was the first.

If you’re in the business of not only observing and responding to Sentient Weapons, but creating them–like Tyler Hayward is–now you have an easier and more productive path forward than trying to reactivate an Infinity Stone-powered, vibranium android. Especially if the show’s finale has Wanda’s hex exploding across the globe, the way Black Bolt’s Terrigen Mists did in the comics, triggering the (short-lived) Inhuman renaissance. There are a host of empowered individuals to exploit.

Maybe it’s a stretch. I’m reaching, because I really want Phase Five of the MCU to be about the X-Men. But is it too much to ask for a scene where Sir Ian McKellen embraces Wanda, calls her daughter, and warns her that, though he cannot stay in this world for long, she has the power to do something he once tried (back in the first X-Men movie), but failed to accomplish? She need not be alone. She has the power to create a vast brotherhood and sisterhood of beings who are–like her–as gods to these homo sapiens and their guns. She just needs to reach out with her powers, find the ones with the spark, and whisper…

More Mutants

More likely, the Nexus to the Multiverse gives Wanda a more direct way of dealing with her loss. This world robbed her of her brother, her husband–three times!, and her children who, even if they weren’t real, felt real. Grief can leave us imagining worlds that zigged instead of zagged, where our loved ones remained with us, and we were happy and whole. Wanda may be able to do something about it. The end of WandaVision could start her on a rampage through the Multiverse to find the world where things went right. And that may be exactly the kind of abuse of the natural order that Mordo warned Doctor Strange about.

WandaVision’s Big Bad: Of Easter Eggs, Foreshadowing, and Red Herrings

SPOILERS for WandaVision, through Episode 6, HBO’s Game of Thrones final season, and Season 1 of FX’s Legion, below. And speculation on the real Big Bad.

WandaVision is one of those shows that knows its audience. The show doesn’t take pains to explain the history of the Marvel Universe–we either know it already or will use our Disney+ subscription to catch up. It serves up slow-burning mystery, and it knows that its viewership includes detectives bringing to bear decades of comic book and movie scholarship. It selects an engaged audience.

So in addition to telling a story that fits solidly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it gives us a categorization game: Easter Egg, Foreshadowing, or Red Herring?

  • Easter Eggs are gifts for the lore scholars. They aren’t predictive of the plot, but they give the keepers of occult knowledge a game to play, and reassures them that the show writers also have their bona fides.
  • Foreshadowing is a set of details with predictive value for the show’s plot. When the audience re-watches, they’re rewarded by proof of the plan.
  • Red Herrings masquerade as Easter eggs or foreshadowing, but are deliberately misleading. The show writers are messing with us.

There’s a lot to analyze in Episode 6, but two questions loom large in my mind. Is Evan Peters’s Quicksilver a sign of the multiverse, or a red herring? And how is Wanda doing all this?

“She Recast Pietro.”

Quicksilver in Episode 6 seems neither the Fox X-Men Quicksilver nor the dead MCU Quicksilver. His dialogue suggests he’s a constructed sounding board for Wanda to talk to herself, to justify the ethics of what she’s doing in Westview, and to help her introspect about how she’s doing it. But he also tells her things she’s not ready or willing to admit. He’s one of the four Westview residents (including Vision, Agnes, and Wanda herself) who have some awareness that Westview is not real. Is it Wanda creating what she needs to keep up the show, or is someone else urging her to keep up the fiction?

With disappointment, I’m starting to concede that Evan Peters, and his presence in the Fox X-Men movies, is a red herring. I fear Ian McKellen won’t be making any appearances after the credits. There are good arguments for a Multiverse in Phase Four that touches non-Disney studio movies, but ultimately, it’s a story element that overshadows the story being told.

It’s disappointing because casting Aaron Taylor-Johnson could have accomplished the same thing. While the recasting serves as a reference gag for Bewitched, that specific recasting smacks of the show’s creators just messing with us, and to have it go nowhere is a letdown.

There may be a modicum of redemption if the end of WandaVision does hint at mutants in the MCU, possibly through S.W.O.R.D. (which, with the Cataract project looks a lot like Weapon X). But it’s a joke that feels a little mean spirited.

Cataract: the Weapon X files

“I don’t know how I did it. I…I only remember feeling completely alone. Empty. I just…Endless nothingness.”

The mid-season episodes declared that Wanda was to blame for the terrifying state of Westview, but I can’t imagine Marvel Studios choosing to build sympathy for Wanda Maximoff only to turn her into a Daenerys Targaryen villain in the final stretch. There’s something behind Wanda’s newfound Reality and Time warping powers (not to mention her ability to introduce two new Souls into the world), and the ways she is using them. The clue may lie in WadaVision’s most disturbing in-show commercial yet: Yo-Magic.

I’m snacking on Yo-Magic!

Just as Wanda was “empty,” the boy on the island is hungry, and a sinister-looking shark tells him that he used to feel that way–until he started snacking on Yo-Magic! The shark’s doing great, but the boy, unable to access Yo-Magic for himself, starves and dies.

All the WandaVision commercials have referenced some past trauma or manipulation, from Stark Industries’ unexploded bomb, to Baron Strucker and Hydra “unleashing the goddess within,” to the incident in Lagos where Wanda inadvertently caused death and mayhem. Yo-Magic doesn’t reference anything we’ve already seen, so it seems like a revelation. It’s something that happened in the hidden backstory of WandaVision.

The shark gave me vibes of the Shadow King in FX’s Legion, a parasitic villain who lived in David Haller’s mind and used the boy’s powers for his own ends. Something is feeding on Wanda’s power, and it also seems to be connected to her twins, since their birth seemed to be the point of this reality. “For the children.”

David “Legion” Haller and his Shadow King parasite

You can’t have the main villain just show up in the penultimate episode, so i’ve been looking askance at Agnes, knowing about Agatha Harkness from the comics. Until Pietro took over Agnes’s role, and left her “lost.” I also know from the comics, that the twins were born of an attempt by Marvel’s devil, Mephisto, to stitch his own soul together. One of the Halloween decorations looked like Mephisto, Quicksilver told the twins to “unleash hell, demon-spawn!” and…

…I’m starting to feel led down a path here. Introducing the Devil into this storyline of trauma at human hands seems as off-arc as introducing Fox’s X-Men. Unless I’ve missed diabolical details in the first several episodes, the Mephisto theory comes only from comic books published in the 1980s. These are more “occult” details than Evan Peters’s casting. If the X-Men are a red herring (or, more charitably, an Easter egg), Mephisto is too.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m going to go out on a limb. Wanda is displaying expanded Infinity Stone powers beyond the Mind Stone Hydra used to “unleash the goddess within.” Hydra and Strucker loom in her past. Two souls have been brought into the world–just as two souls were lost to claim the Soul Stone in Infinity War and Endgame. And there was a sinister, Hydra-associated guy who watched it happen. Someone who had tried and failed to assemble the six stones himself. Captain America’s old foe, the Red Skull.

The Red Skull is now a floaty ghost guarding an Infinity Stone

The Red Skull feels like an odd choice for a WandaVision Big Bad, but he has the established MCU connections to the central mysteries: Wanda’s powers, and Wanda’s children (their souls). He’s tied to Wanda’s origins through Hydra, and his newly-cosmic scope and knowledge of Infinity Stone lore open him up to future story directions. And maybe most fundamentally, he’s a weird, unexplained element in the cinematic universe that begs for explanation and exploration.

Addenda

Marvel Phase Five: The X-Men!

(Implied SPOILERS for WandaVision Episode 5, and speculation for the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward.)

In 2008, when Nick Fury told Tony Stark that he’d become part of a bigger universe, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born. It was a slow release of blockbuster movies that introduced Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, brought them together as The Avengers, and kept expanding to a network of interconnected TV and movie franchises to stand in the ranks of vast properties like Star Trek and Star Wars. As of WandaVision episode 5, it looks like Phase Four of the MCU has introduced the Multiverse, and once again, Marvel’s presence on the big and small screens has expanded again.

Assuming Marvel Studios builds an in-house continuity for the X-Men and the Fantastic Four–and I hope they do, instead of importing it from the Fox movies–it feels like it’s time for the MCU to shift its focus off the Avengers. Captain America is old, and has lived a full life. Iron Man, the Black Widow, and (through tragic real-world circumstances) the Black Panther are dead. The Hulk’s days of two-fisted smashing are done. There are still Avengers, but Marvel Studios is giving them the small-screen treatment. It’s time for some new players filling out the blockbuster and tentpole movie schedule. And it should all build on what the MCU has already established.

Here Come the Mutants

In the comics, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have a complex history. They began as mutants in Uncanny X-Men #4, were later revealed to be the children of Magneto himself, and then–around the time both Marvel Studios and Fox introduced Quicksilver to their cinematic universes–retconned in the comics into not being mutants at all, but creations of a non-X-character called the High Evolutionary with no ties to Magneto.

The MCU has a strong foundation to reconcile Wanda and Pietro as both mutants and science-empowered beings. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the twins were established as the only survivors of Baron Strucker’s experiments with the Mind Stone. Strucker never replicated this success. Hydra was playing with forces it didn’t understand. Small wonder: the Infinity Stones, as the Collector explained in Guardians of the Galaxy, were from the beginning of the universe, and used by the godlike Celestials to “mow down entire civilizations.”

In the comic books, the Celestials were also responsible for seeding the potential for the mutant “X-gene” in humanity. They are responsible for the evolution of mutants on Earth. Could Baron Strucker unwittingly have activated the latent X-gene in Wanda and Pietro with the Infinity Stone?

The Eternals Connection

In November 2021, the Phase Four movie Eternals promises to reveal ancient history in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the comics, the Celestials visited Earth before the dawn of humankind and created two races: the godlike Eternals, and their monstrous, ever-changing opposite numbers, the Deviants. They also seeded superhuman potential (the X-gene) in the indigenous primates who would become humans. Mutant origins are tied to Eternal origins, and with Marvel Studios’ acquisition of character rights to the X-Men, the timing couldn’t be better.

Eternals may reveal the reason the Celestials mowed down civilizations, and it’s an opportunity to surface and put context around some major Marvel Comics storylines. But more on that later. Why do the Celestials create and destroy life? They’re experimenters on a cosmic scale, seeding and monitoring cosmic potential in life on various worlds. Their methods are Darwinian. They come back every few millennia to check on the progress of their experiments and add evolutionary stress to the system. Worlds that aren’t evolving fast enough, the Celestials destroy.

Anyone else notice that Ultron, whose mind was essentially the Mind Stone, wanted to create an extinction event, and thought the Avengers were trying to keep humankind from evolving? And that he had a soft spot for Wanda and Pietro?

The Apocalypse Connection

Apocalypse is an important figure in X-Men mythology. He’s considered the first mutant, an immortal “External,” who rose to power in ancient Egypt after the fall of Rama-Tut, a version of the time-traveling villain Kang (who happens to be the villain in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania). Early in his career, Apocalypse learned about the impending Celestial judgment and, under some writers, used his Four Horsemen as stressors to push mutantkind into emergence and ascendency. In X-Factor #50, the X-Men traveled to another planet that the Celestials were about to judge, and Jean Grey linked all the mutants of that world together to repel them. The world thus passed judgment.

The MCU has an opportunity to streamline Apocalypse and use him as early as Phase Four. Instead of an “External,” make him a rogue Eternal, a Promethean figure whose mission is to awaken mutants of Earth in preparation for the planet’s eventual Celestial judgment. Apocalypse can be the through-line of a long-simmering Judgment War storyline, the way Thanos was behind Infinity War.

The Sinister Connection

Another important figure in X-Men mythology is Mister Sinister. A contemporary of Charles Darwin with an obsession with mutant potential, Nathaniel Essex was set on his path by Apocalypse himself, given long life and the technology to run experiments on mutantkind, he used science to give himself a vast array of mutant powers, and operated in the shadows throughout history. He was the villain behind “The Mutant Massacre,” a major X-Men storyline and a “culling” in the same spirit (if on a smaller scale) as Apocalypse’s and the Celestials’ attempts to pressure mutant evolution.

The MCU could weave him into the story with end-credits scenes, having him give a Darwinian vocabulary to Apocalypse for the Celestials’ goals, working with Baron Strucker, and maybe even founding S.W.O.R.D.

The S.W.O.R.D. Connection

WandaVision introduced S.W.O.R.D. to the MCU, and it’s a departure from the comics, where it was a space-facing sister agency to S.H.I.E.L.D., the Sentient World Observation and Response Department. In WandaVision, the acronym stands for the Sentient Weapon Observation and Response Division, and the dialogue suggests that they may be interested in doing more than observing and responding to sentient weapons.

The MCU S.W.O.R.D. sounds more like an organization that has closer ties to Marvel’s mutants: Weapon X. They’re the group responsible for Wolverine’s adamantium bones, and are tied to the origins of characters like Deadpool and Sabertooth. Weapon X used mutants as weapons, often against mutants.

What will S.W.O.R.D. do after their confrontation with Wanda? What’s Director Tyler Hayward’s reaction to being overpowered by one woman? And are those commercials referencing Hydra just Wanda’s traumatic memories, or signs of something more sinister?

The Franklin Richards Connection

The MCU’s version of Fantastic Four will round out Phase Four, and its comic lore is full of connections to Eternals and the Power Cosmic that they wield. The Fantastic Four were responsible for the fall of Rama-Tut (enabling the rise of Apocalypse in ancient Egypt). And they have another connection: their son, Franklin Richards. Franklin is the most powerful of Marvel’s mutants, capable of creating entire universes. He might also explain the ultimate goal of the Celestials’ experiments: reproduction, of a sort. To create something that will surpass them.

A Possible Phase Five Timeline

Given the groundwork already established in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I humbly propose these events for Phase Five and beyond.

  1. Establish the Celestials as the origins of superhuman potential in humanity, who will someday return to Earth to judge our evolutionary progress.
  2. Reimagine Apocalypse as a rogue Eternal, a Promethean figure whose long game is to save Earth from Celestial judgment by accelerating X-gene expression.
  3. Acknowledge far-future conqueror Kang’s history as Rama-Tut, making Apocalypse and Kang the alpha and omega of humankind’s evolutionary journey who both know What’s Coming.
  4. Introduce Mister Sinister as an agent of Apocalypse (the Horseman of Pestilence), pulling strings in the shadows like Baron Strucker’s experiments with the twins and S.W.O.R.D. (the MCU version of Weapon X).
  5. Introduce Magneto as an agent of Apocalypse (the Horseman of War), using Apocalypse’s conferred longevity as a way to keep Magneto’s World War II origin, but keep him active in the modern world. Reestablish him as the twins’ biological father.
  6. Introduce Wolverine, weapon of S.W.O.R.D. And what the heck, Deadpool too, who is insane and remembers a whole different universe.
  7. Introduce Charles Xavier and the X-Men, pitted against Magneto’s mutant supremacist ideology.
  8. Event: The Mutant Massacre. Pit Mister Sinister and his Marauders/S.W.O.R.D. weapons against Magneto and the mutants he has rallied, turning Magneto against Apocalypse, because his origins guarantee he cannot tolerate a eugenics program against mutants.
  9. Franklin Richards is born to Sue and Reed Richards. His birth is a signal flare to the Celestials.
  10. Event: Secret War. Retell the beloved Marvel Comics event by reimagining the Beyonder as Arishem, the Celestial Judge. The mutants and the cosmically empowered characters are taken to Battleworld, a Celestial petri dish. They are judged… and they FAIL.
  11. The Silver Surfer comes to Earth and tangles with the Fantastic Four. He reveals he’s the herald of a being called Galactus.
  12. Event: The Judgment War. Reimagine Exitar, the Celestial Executioner, as Galactus. His job is to exterminate the failed experiment that is humanity. All the heroes need to come together, Infinity War- and Endgame- style, to save the world. And, of course, the key is Franklin Richards.

That should account for another two decades of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at which point they’ll branch out the multiverse to cross over with Star Wars, Disney, Pixar, The Simpsons, and National Geographic.

Reality Check

As much as I love to plot out a complex roadmap for mutants in the Marvel Universe, the way it actually plays out is likely much simpler. In the House of M storyline, Wanda Maximoff, out of despair, rid the world (almost) of the X-gene by uttering the words “No more mutants.” Given her new reality-warping powers, mutants may be introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe just as simply.

Mirror-Image House of M

Marvel Phase Four: The Multiverse!

SPOILERS for the Marvel Studios universe up through WandaVision Episode 5, and speculation beyond. 

The Joy of a Slow Watch

I’ve been starved for new live-action Marvel Studios programming taking place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the parallel quantum universe without the coronavirus pandemic, I would have already seen Black Widow, Eternals, and Shang-Chi by now. Instead, I get 30 minutes every Friday of WandaVision.

And I love it.

In an era where so much is available online, and entire seasons are released to be binge-watched, I love having to wait. Each episode, questions are answered but deeper questions are uncovered. And I have a week to speculate on the answers. This might be the most enjoyable thing about being in a slow-release fandom, and the reason why many of us loathe spoilers. We are forced to engage with open questions in a story with only our own imaginations and that of our friends. We become active participants in the storytelling process, not just passive consumers. Being a fan of a shared universe becomes an intellectual exercise, where there is a potential thrill both in having guessed right and in being surprised.

The end of WandaVision episode 5 took it to a new level.

When Recasting Opens Doors

Wanda “recasting” Pietro Maximoff from Fox’s X-Men franchise brings together comic book lore, the mythos of two separate Marvel cinematic continuities, and the meta issues of what we’ll be able to see when corporate barriers of ownership fall away. The interconnected possibility of Marvel Comics at last finds potential purchase in big-budget movies.

Briefly, the corporate issues in the Marvel Cinematic Universe were around character licensing rights. Until Spider-Man: Homecoming, we could never see Spider-Man interact with the Avengers because Sony owned the cinematic rights to that set of characters. We could see the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in the MCU and alongside the X-Men because they were characters who belonged in both Avengers and X-Men character sets. But the MCU could never make mention of them being Magneto’s children, because Magneto was an X-Men character. And Fox could never have them fighting alongside the Avengers.

WandaVision had already paid homage to Bewitched, a show that recast Darrin Stephens from Dick York to Dick Sargent without an in-story explanation. So there’s a reference gag, but Dr. Darcy Lewis hangs a lantern on the recasting in the show-within-a-show reality. This wasn’t an arbitrary recasting. Earlier in episode 5, Wanda explained that even she could not bring back the dead, and her brother Pietro had died in the fight against Ultron. Instead of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Pietro, she pulled Evan Peters’s Pietro–the one from Fox’s X-Men universe–into her pocket reality. We, the audience, are supposed to know this. And there is only one conclusion: The X-Men movies “exist” somehow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

To underscore the connections, when Wanda confronts the S.W.O.R.D. soldiers and turns their own guns on them, it’s a deliberate callback to Magneto’s confrontations with police. You almost expect her to sneer “You homo sapiens and your guns.”

WandaVision plays with the idea of a microcosm universe, its boundaries with a larger universe, and what happens when things cross those boundaries. Against the real-world backdrop of Disney consolidating ownership of Marvel properties, Episode 5 feels like a first look at the expanded world. But why explicitly acknowledge the Fox movies?

Reboots and RetCons

The J. J. Abrams Star Trek movies recast the original Enterprise crew and even retold Wrath of Khan, but didn’t sever its narrative continuity completely. Time travel, a branching parallel reality, and Leonard Nimoy as “old Spock” were all attempts to have it both ways: loyalists to the past continuity as well as new viewers were given reasons to jump on board.

For me, it was a tactic with unsatisfying results. It didn’t feel enough like the old Star Trek, but neither did it feel like something exciting and new. The merging of the iterations didn’t add enough to the story to justify the narrative complexity.

If that is what’s happening with the Marvel movie franchises, we’ll have to see how well it’s executed. Long-time comic book readers are used to “retroactive continuity” tricks used to make decades of comic book stories seem smoothly continuous. There’s a reluctance to “invalidate” any story in the canon from “having actually happened.” Still, at best, they’re grudgingly accepted as a genre feature. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been remarkably (not not perfectly) coherent and consistent so far. To mess with that is to mess with one of the most compelling features of the MCU, something that stands in contrast to the efforts of the DC Comics adaptations. Whether acknowledging the Fox-verse (and Sony-verse in the Spider-Man movies) becomes something that benefits or harms the MCU will be revealed going into 2022.

MCU Phase Four: The Multiverse

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been teasing parallel or offshoot universes since Avengers: Endgame. Bruce Banner’s conversation with the Ancient One raised the danger of the creation of new timelines, should someone travel to the past and alter the flow of causality. That was why it was so important that, after Thanos was defeated, Captain America made a final set of time jumps, to replace the Infinity Stones to the places in history from which they were taken, so the events could unfold as we had seen them unfold.

Spider-Man: Far From Home raised the possibility that Thanos’s “snap” had broken the barriers to parallel universes, and the elemental creatures were invaders from another reality. This turned out to be a hoax by the villain Mysterio, but Marvel Studios was priming the audience.

Captain America’s final Endgame mission failed before it began. The timeline indeed bifurcated, by the Ancient One’s rules. When the Endgame Avengers traveled back to just after the events of the first Avengers movie, the plan went awry and Loki escaped with the Tesseract (Space Stone). There is now a quantum universe where Thor did not take Loki to be imprisoned in Asgard. Loki didn’t languish in prison until Malekith’s attack, nor perhaps did he team up with Thor to defeat Malekith and claim the Reality Stone. And the Tesseract was never on display in Odin’s vault to be stolen again by Loki, who then never traded it to Thanos for Thor’s life. 

Loki will have his own Disney+ show in May 2021, picking up from his escape with the Tesseract. The teaser trailer shows that he will be arrested by the Time Variance Authority for branching the time stream. With Loki involved, he’ll probably leave the multiverse more chaotic than he found it. Could Wanda’s ability to pull from different cinematic universes be a result of the Swiss cheese Loki is making of the walls between realities?

Spider-Man’s next MCU film in December 2021 has a swirl of rumors that characters from Sony’s two other Spider-Man iterations will appear, including Toby Maguire’s and Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Men. Is this Wanda’s doing? Loki’s? Is there an impending collision of universes, similar to Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers comic book run?

The next Doctor Strange movie in March 2022, The Multiverse of Madness, appears to tackle this concept head-on. Wanda will be in the movie too, and the script was rewritten by the same sceenwriter who wrote Loki. There’s already a lot of connective tissue, just from the news available.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is also scheduled for 2022, and the rumors say it will feature the time-traveling Avengers villain Kang the Conqueror. The Marvel Cinematic Universe will be playing with the time streams well into next year, possibly concluding with the release of the first MCU Fantastic Four movie. (Does anyone else think Monica Rambeau’s astrophysicist contact could be Reed Richards?)

The Fantastic Four is a family of explorers of other dimensions and realities. It’s possible that the multiverse will be treated as a feature of the MCU, rather than a problem to be solved. If that’s the case, what’s next? The only limit now is Disney’s ownership rights, and that’s a large multiverse indeed.

Post-Credits Scene after the final episode of WandaVision

[Nick Fury walks into a secret safehouse.]

[From the shadows]: You think this is the only superhero universe?

[The Scarlet Witch steps out of the shadows, her eyes glowing red]

Scarlet Witch: Mister Fury, you’ve become part of a multiverse. You just don’t know it yet. I’m here to talk to you about the House of M.

“Matchstick Reveries”

It is with great pleasure that I can now announce the publication of my third-ever short story sale, “Matchstick Reveries,” in issue 5 of the online magazine Truancy! Please read the story over at Truancy, and the come back here for some behind-the-scenes notes, if you’re curious.

Click here to read “Matchstick Reveries” in Truancy issue 5.

(The story, as originally posted in Truancy, omitted some paragraphs due to a publishing SNAFU. The editor has restored the full text.)

Truancy_5_cover

As with a lot of my stories, it started as a joke. The title I’d given it was “Marvel Comics Presents: The Little Match Girl” and it was a mash-up between X-Men comics and Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl.” It had mutant psychics, a freezing little girl, and a cosmic force of fiery death and resurrection. It got some yuks from my Facebook friends, which is usually as far as these ideas go. But something about it stuck in my craw. There was a reason I took that troubling little H.C.A. tale in a different direction. I kept fiddling with it.

Matchstick Reveries - Phoenix 2

The Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Little Match Girl” horrified me as a child, a horror that only deepened as I revisited it over the years, in its various incarnations. It wasn’t just that a young child, cold, alone, and overlooked, lights match after match on a winter street, has visions of simple comforts she can never have, and then freezes to death on a street corner. It was also that the narration beatifies this senseless result of societal negligence. The dead little girl is better off now, in heaven, because nothing could save or comfort her in the temporal world. Maybe Andersen meant to stir societal shame through pity, but it looked like nihilism in my eyes. Then I heard of an African proverb that brought the theme into focus: “The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.” So yes, I wanted to write a story where the Little Match Girl takes them all down with her, and instead of her world ending in ice, she sets her world on fire. That was the ending I needed to make peace with Hans Christian Andersen.

I entered a version of the story in PodCastle‘s flash fiction competition, but the feedback was that it was too brutal, too unjust. That was, of course, the point, but the 1,000-word limit didn’t allow me to dig deeper into the moral framework I imagined for the story. And in truth, the story still leaned too heavily into the X-Men Dark Phoenix joke to stand on its own and have something to say.

So I did some research, and went off on different tangents. I learned that selling matches was, historically, used as a thin cover for begging in the streets. I read about the different incarnations of safety matches through the years, and how they were called “Lucifers.” I had a “her parents were French Revolutionaries stirring up trouble across the Channel” angle that I soon scrapped. I read about the Great Fire of London (inconveniently 200 years before the setting of this story), and how the original monument was supposed to have–no joke!–a phoenix on the top. And the suicides, from jumping off the monument and getting impaled on the iron fence posts below? That was historical too. And yes, children froze to death in the streets, and were carted away to paupers’ graves, and the Church tried to put it all into a context of divine meaning.

So Jeanne, this version of The Little Match Girl, is the eventual and inevitable reckoning that comes when the village doesn’t take care of its own. When the phoenix immolates, something new will always rise from the ashes. It’s brutal, terrible, but it sets the stage for a second chance. How will we do the next go-round?