*spoilers for WandaVision through episode 6*
The most Marvel-obsessed viewers of WandaVision (on Disney+) may not have been shocked to see Pietro Maximoff, titular character Wanda’s dead twin brother, show up at the end of episode five, but it is doubtful that any of them expected the silver-haired speedster to be actor Evan Peters.
They may have not seen it coming because until less than two years ago, it couldn’t have happened.
A crossover is when characters from one story show up in another story. Comic readers love a good crossover issue; it’s even expected. How else could we have the Avengers, the Justice League, or even Archie and Sabrina? There’s also a certain nostalgia to the act. The first television show to have a crossover episode was I Love Lucy in 1957, in which another superhero—Superman—shows up at a birthday party.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”) has long had a crossover problem: Its fanbase loves a crossover, but the MCU could not provide it. During the 1990s, Marvel sold off its copyrights in characters piecemeal to different studios. This meant that then-20th Century Fox owned the X-Men, while Warner Bros. held Iron Man, Thor, and other Avengers. But, in the comics, all these characters interacted, and it proved onerous for the individual movies not to be able to reference one another. For example, how do you have an Avengers movie and explain why Peter Parker can’t show up (School? Prom? A bug zapper?)?
MCU’s crossover problem got weirder as the Avengers films progressed. Fox owned the X-Men, and Warner Bros./Disney the Avengers. But, then came Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, also known as the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Both were X-Men and Avengers. The creative solution was that both studios could use the characters, but neither could reference the other’s universe. That is to say, in the Avengers movies, they were to be known as Wanda and Pietro, eastern European twins who had superpowers due to the experiments of a Nazi-adjacent villain, and in the X-Men movies, they were Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, mutants and Magneto’s children. It worked, legally, but it was off-putting to viewers and confusing to comic book die-hards. All these characters played together in the comics, but the movies became cheapened by the corporate bifurcation.
Cut to March 2019: Disney, which by now owns Marvel, buys Fox. Overall, fans rejoice. Finally, everyone can be under one roof! Yet, the Maximoff twins highlighted the issues when you bifurcate intellectual property. They existed in both universes, which were now one big happy family. Disney needed to figure out how to deal with this redundancy of their own creation. One way would be to just reboot the franchise, as it is doing with The Fantastic Four (otherwise, Disney would have to explain how Captain America was also the Human Torch…and so was Killmonger). Yet, this strategy couldn’t work when the same character existed across properties, not the same actor. Notably, the X-Men films focused more on Quicksilver and became a fan favorite, whereas the Avengers quickly killed him off so they could just focus on Wanda.
Episode five of WandaVision, a superhero show with the dressings of sitcom parody, presents Disney’s solution. The whole premise is that Wanda is so grief-stricken by the death of Vision (another super) that she uses her powers to not only reanimate him, but to construct an entire world with captive real people where they can live the lives of happy, era-specific sitcom couples. The first episode is even an I Love Lucy homage. So, it’s no surprise that somehow, her dead brother comes back to life, knocking at her suburban door much like a character from Cheers knocking on Fraiser Crane’s door in Seattle.
But when we see Pietro, we see him as Evan Peters’s goofy Quicksilver with Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Pietro’s (and therefore the Disney films’) memories. This raises many questions for what defines these characters: are Pietro and Quicksilver still separate properties, or is this a new character right composed of two other character rights—a composite character with all parts owned by Disney? Only time will tell as Disney lays out its new slate of programming, but it makes one wonder how it will deal with more of these inconsistences.