Even dedicated fans of Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe will struggle with what seems like a simple question of continuity: “What are the Scarlet Witch’s powers?” Everyone has seen what the Scarlet Witch can do - including nearly taking down Thanos single-handedly in Avengers: Endgame - but that doesn’t mean that anyone can actually define her abilities, or where they come from.
As it turns out, there’s no simple answer to the origins of the Scarlet Witch’s powers. Part of that is a result of her and her twin brother Pietro’s ever-changing backstory - full of shocking twists and far more secret parent reveals than is reasonable. A major factor in her confusing power set, however, is the fact that she’s someone who alters reality through the manipulation of chaos magic. As such, her personal history is never quite what it seems.
When Wanda Maximoff debuts in the pages of Marvel Comics in 1964’s X-Men #4 - alongside her twin brother Pietro - she does so as a member of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Naturally, most readers at the time assumed that meant Scarlet Witch was a mutant. Indeed, she’s been considered exactly that for most of her comic book career, even after she breaks good and joins the Avengers.
In a storyline that begins in Uncanny Avengers #1, however, it’s revealed that both Wanda and Pietro are mutated, not mutants - meaning they’re genetically altered humans that were given their powers by a mad geneticist, not born with them. As it turns out, Wanda’s abilities are further augmented by her witchy heritage and the traumatic events of her childhood.
The true nature of Wanda Maximoff’s powers has been obscured because, throughout the character's publication history, the “real story” of her and Pietro’s parentage changes several times.
Initially, Wanda and Pietro believe their parents are Django and Marya Maximoff, the two ordinary Romany people who raised them. However, the siblings are later revealed to be the children of Golden Age heroes the Whizzer and Miss America. This development is later retconned as a misdirection.
For most of their canon history, Wanda and Pietro have believed themselves to be the children of Magneto - their old boss from the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants - a “truth” revealed in X-Men #125. However, in 2014’s Avengers/X-Men: Axis #7, Magneto learns he is not their father.
The full truth comes out in a 2016 Scarlet Witch solo series, in which Wanda learns of Natalya Maximoff, a powerful sorceress in her own right and the original "Scarlet Witch." Natalya is the true mother of Wanda and Pietro, who were taken from her shortly after their birth and given to her brother and his wife to raise.
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Scarlet Witch is first introduced as an antagonist of the X-Men. In these early issues, her powers are ill-defined at best. Wanda Maximoff is said to cause her enemies “bad luck,” though how exactly this is expressed on the page changes from issue to issue.
Wanda can make the X-Men stumble into one another or give their getaway jet mechanical issues. In essence, she can increase the likelihood of some unlikely negative thing happening to her opponents. It’s an intriguing power, but not a visually exciting one. So Lee decided to change it up.
Despite starting their comic book careers as supervillains, both Wanda and Pietro Maximoff make a face turn in the historic Avengers #16, in which they join Earth’s Mightiest Heroes alongside the similarly reformed Hawkeye. At first, Wanda’s bad luck powers follow her to the Avengers Mansion, but before long, her abilities become a tad more exciting.
A few missions into her tenure with the team, the Scarlet Witch starts firing “hex bolts” out of her hands, blasts of visible energy that she likens to spell-casting. At first, these hex bolts are still limited to causing bad luck, and Wanda herself is limited to only a few bolts at a time before needing to recuperate. These drawbacks make her seem like the weakest Avenger, but she eventually develops into one of the most powerful Marvel Comics characters of all.