Agatha all along: The magic of Marvel Comics' Agatha Harkness

The surprise villain in the Marvel TV show WandaVision, Agatha Harkness, is actually one of the most powerful sorcerers in the Marvel universe. Photos: Marvel Comics

The pandemic may have stalled the Marvel Cinematic Universe somewhat by closing cinemas globally, but fans of the MCU at least got something to cheer about with the release of WandaVision on Disney+ recently.

While Malaysians will have to wait for the show to come our way, WandaVision’s dose of hex and chaos proved popular enough to kickstart the MCU’s assault on the small screen, which is continuing with the ongoing Falcon And The Winter Soldier, all of which tie into the larger MCU universe (WandaVision leads directly into the upcoming Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness in 2022).

Anyway, our focus today is not on Wanda, the Vision or Dr Strange, but on the surprise lead antagonist of WandaVision, Agatha Harkness. While some fans were disappointed with the witch hogging the Big Bad role (instead of bigger names like Mephisto or Kang), Agatha turned out to be the perfect “villain” for the more low-key TV show, as she was not only a match for Wanda’s chaos magic, she also has a major connection with the character in the comics.

In case you have never heard of her before WandaVision, here is the lowdown on Agatha Harkness.

agatha made her debut as the Fantastic Four's nanny!agatha made her debut as the Fantastic Four's nanny!

From nanny to governess

Agatha’s comics debut was the complete opposite to her infiltrative entrance in WandaVision. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, she made her first appearance in 1970’s Fantastic Four #94, where she was approached by Reed and Sue Richards to babysit their newborn aka Franklin Richards.

Being a Man of Science, Reed probably overlooked Agatha’s spooky demeanour, but as it turns out, it was the villainous Frightful Four who bored the full brunt of her mystical powers, when they trespassed into her sanctum.

As Franklin’s nanny and later governess, Agatha was also instrumental in helping the child hone his considerably powerful abilities (he could manipulate reality itself, and also had psionic powers), and even saved the FF on several occasions (i.e. from the Negative Zone, Overmind, Air Walker and even Ultron).

Her connections with the First Family of Marvel established Agatha as a key supporting character in the Marvel universe.

Yer a witch, Agatha

Agatha is considered one of the most powerful magic-wielders in the Marvel universe.Agatha is considered one of the most powerful magic-wielders in the Marvel universe.Hints of Agatha being a witch were dropped from her very first appearance, as Ben Grimm aka The Thing spotted a book titled Tales of Old Salem on her table. Agatha further taunted him with the possibility that she was a witch, which scared the bejeesus out of the Thing.

Anyway, Agatha is no ordinary witch but a very powerful sorcerer, proven by her invaluable assistance to both the FF and the Avengers over the years. She may lack the usual combat skills of superheroes, but she makes up for it with her powerful spells, telepathy, astral projection and energy bolts.

Golden Girl

While the Agatha in WandaVision, played by Kathryn Hahn, looks considerably younger (despite being hundreds of years old), the one in the comics could easily be mistaken for Spider-Man’s Aunt May.

In the comics, Agatha is at least 12,500 years old. As revealed in Silver Surfer (Vol.2) #135, Agatha was old enough to remember 500 years before Atlantis sunk, which works out to be 10,500 BC in Marvel Comics years. What’s evident is that she has been practicing mystic arts way before Dr Strange even appeared on the scene.

Scratching the itch

While WandaVision threw us a red herring in the form of Agatha’s husband (aka Ralph Bohner), her comics roots have never revealed the identity of “Mr Harkness”, even though it’s been confirmed that she is/was married and has a son named Nicholas Scratch, who is the father of the villainous group Salem Seven.

Scratch was the one who revealed that Agatha was the former leader of the New Salem colony of witches. Infuriated by his mother’s betrayal of the communities’ secrets due to her affiliation with the Fantastic Four, Scratch abducts her (along with Franklin) and puts her on trial.

Obviously, the FF intervenes and frees Agatha and Franklin. Scratch was banished to another dimension, but the sorcerer returned on several occasions to torment the FF, eventually forcing Agatha to do the unthinkable.... denouncing him as her son.

Agatha did the unimaginable by denouncing her son and taking away his powers.Agatha did the unimaginable by denouncing her son and taking away his powers.

Hex in the city

A large chunk of her comics history revolves around the 17th century, when Agatha settled in the English colony of Salem, Massachusetts. There, she formed her own coven of witches where they practiced magic freely... until they were persecuted by the Puritans during the Salem Witch Trials.

Ironically, Agatha approved of the trials, as she saw it as a mean to cull the weak within her coven. When she relocated her practice to Colorado aka New Salem, the culling practice continued with Agatha herself assuming the protagonist role.

After centuries of culling weak witches, her grandchildren aka the Salem’s Seven took over the New Salem community (Vision/Scarlet Witch (Vol. 2) # 3) and their first homecoming act was to kill Agatha by burning her at the stake.

The stakes tend to get quite hot when witches get caught.The stakes tend to get quite hot when witches get caught.

While Wanda and Vision managed to avenge Agatha by defeating the witches and destroying New Salem, that episode reduced Agatha to the role of a wandering spirit, until.....

Magic mentor

Agatha’s most significant contribution in comics has to be her role as Wanda’s mentor and confidante. Recognising her “mutant” hex powers at an early age, Agatha was Wanda’s sounding board as her powers evolved.

However, her untimely “death” during the New Salem event coincided with Wanda’s pregnancy at the time. Had Agatha been around, she would have been able to dissect the main contributors (i.e. Mephisto’s soul fragments) to Wanda’s pregnancy.

Coincidentally, Agatha also had a role in Mephisto’s wandering soul fragments, as she was involved in the FF versus Mephisto battle (see Fantastic Four (vol.1) # 276 and #277), which Franklin unleashed his psionic might on the demon!

Fast forward to the story arcs in West Coast Avengers #42-#61, where a stressed out Scarlet Witch struggled with a re-programmed Vision and her vanishing kids. Despite re-appearing “in the flesh”, there is no reunion joy as Agatha breaks the news to Wanda that her kids are not real and merely fragments of Mephisto’s soul. To nullify the shock and pain, Agatha mind wipes Wanda’s memory of her children.

Further dicing with the dangers of Wanda’s fragile psyche, Agatha trained her on the usage of “chaos magic”, which led to the resurrection of Wonder Man. This move proves disastrous as during the Avengers Disassembled storyline (Avengers (vol.3) #500-#503), Wanda regained her memories and kills Agatha.

Die hard

Agatha got a more modern makeover in the 2016 'Scarlet Witch' series.Agatha got a more modern makeover in the 2016 'Scarlet Witch' series.As expected, it isn’t easy to kill someone who has lived 12,500 years. In the 2016 Scarlet Witch series, Agatha returns in spirit-mode courtesy of Wanda’s biological mother, Natalya Maximoff. The gift of life also comes with a remodelled image as the new modern-looking Agatha re-enters Wanda’s life for the third time.... and hopefully this time’s the charm.

Hero or Villain?

While WandaVision may have cast her as a villain, Agatha’s comic book contributions have usually been for good causes (except for the witch-culling, of course). With the TV Agatha trapped in Westview and very much alive still, don’t be surprised to see her making a comeback in the MCU among the forces of good!

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