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Who is Agatha Harkness and Why She Matters to the Scarlet Witch Mythos?

Who is Agatha Harkness and Why She Matters to the Scarlet Witch Mythos?

“It was Agatha all along!” is a catchy refrain from Episode 7 of WandaVision that anyone who watched the series will undoubtedly remember as probably one of the best and most “gotcha” reveals in television history. The retro sitcom-style montage in the aptly titled “Breaking the Fourth Wall” episode revealed Agatha as the main villain or villain-ness of the series, and for nearly everyone but hardcore comic book buffs and connoisseurs, the appearance of the sorceress wasn’t all that surprising—after all, the series needs a villain.

However, those deeply acquainted with the Marvel Comic Universe know that Agatha’s comic counterpart typically treads a less villainous path, meaning that her portrayal in the series doesn’t really do her justice.

Agatha Harkness first appeared in Marvel comics in 1970’s Fantastic Four #94. Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Agatha was initially portrayed as a nanny to Reed and Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four, hired to look after their son Franklin. However, it was later revealed that she’s more than a designated diaper changer; she’s one of the original witches of the Salem Witch Trials of the 17th century.

Being centuries old, Agatha amassed a considerable wealth of knowledge and skills in the arcane arts, which she then used, acting under the guise of a nanny, to protect and guide young Franklin, a powerful mutant boy whose abilities transcend even those of Omega-level mutants. This task underscores Agatha’s primary role in the comic books, where she’s portrayed as a guide and a mentor with an intrinsic motivation to shape the next generations of magic wielders and thus ensure the responsible use of magic. 

Agatha’s appearance in the Fantastic Four comics continues, and she even pulled the team out of various pinches they occasionally found themselves in. However, her connection to the Scarlet Witch was never implied or explored until 1974’s Avengers #128, where Agatha helped the Avengers in their fight against the Zodiac Cartel. It was this particular issue that revealed Agatha’s benevolent side further, establishing her as Scarlet Witch’s mentor and tutor and helping Wanda understand her reality-warping powers, often referred to as chaos magic.

It was Agatha who taught Wanda how to fully control her powers, making her a finely honed magic user. She even taught her magic that would help Wanda and Vision conceive a child. So, it’s safe to say that, in many ways, Agatha played a significant role in making Wanda Maximoff into the Scarlet Witch we’re familiar with today. So, why is her portrayal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so different from the one in the comics?

Well, Marvel never officially stated why it made Agatha a villain in its serialized foray, but the drastic role change allows Agatha’s character to serve as a linchpin in the series. Instead of a mentor, Agatha is presented as Wanda’s challenger, power-hungry witch, and master puppeteer behind many of the bizarre events taking place in Westview, who sought to understand and harness Wanda’s innate magical abilities for her own ends. However, her machinations came across a Wanda-sized cog in the works. Instead of robbing Wanda of her powers, Agatha forced Wanda to confront her childhood trauma and deep loss associated with Vision’s death and the “unmaking” of the children they had together.

Overwhelmed by grief and trauma, Wanda unleashed her magic, leading to her complete transformation into Scarlet Witch. So, it’s safe to say that Agatha inadvertently guides Wanda to her destiny, regardless of the role change brought about by the MCU. This actually makes Agatha a really important character in the Scarlet Witch mythos and further proves that it was Agatha all along—regardless of the medium.

The wheels of the MCU machinery continue to turn. We’re going to see more of Agatha in a dedicated WandaVision spin-off titled Agatha: Coven of Chaos, with Kathryn Hahn reprising her role as the eponymous supervillain. Elizabeth Olsen, the actor portraying Scarlet Witch in the MCU, has also hinted at Wanda’s return to the MCU, despite her violent exit from the Universe at the end of Multiverse of Madness, where she was seemingly crushed under a collapsing building after she sacrificed herself to destroy the Darkhold.

At the same time, Agatha’s comic book counterpart also received a character makeover. The old, seemingly frail lady sacrificed herself to save the students and faculty of Strange Academy and the world from an evil witch known as Korrosion. However, the final pages of the story reveal that she not only survived the battle with Korrosion but has returned as a grinning younger version of herself. In the end, Marvel has put in the effort to bring movies and comics closer together, so it’s entirely possible for the two to start resembling one another a bit more.

The question is whether Agatha will continue to be a heroine, or will she assume the more villainous role we all saw in WandaVision. Taking into consideration the rising popularity of antiheroes and the fact that she’s getting her own television series, it’s actually quite possible for this new iteration to be the best of both worlds. And how will this influence the Scarlet Witch mythos in the future? Will the two resume their relationship from the comics or their hostilities from the series? We’ll have to wait and find out. 

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