Kathryn Hahn was announced as being part of the cast of the Disney+ series WandaVision. Her character is named Agnes, and there’s speculation that she may actually be a variation of the witch Agatha Harkness. She has had a long and eccentric history in the comics, starting out as the governess of Reed and Sue Richards’ son Franklin and then later teaching the Scarlet Witch true magic. Of course, Agatha was much more than just a simple "child-rearing expert," as Reed Richards referred to her. She was an ancient and deeply wise witch from New Salem, a community of witches in America.
Throughout the years, Agatha served as mentor, nanny, oracle, and conduit to mystical realms. At a time when Marvel was starting to branch out into supernatural comics, she represented an attempt to integrate these concepts into their mainstream stories. Her mysterious past, which included a difficult relationship with her son, was slowly unraveled over many years. Sometimes she was presented as kindly and sometimes as vaguely sinister, depending on what kind of story she was in. She was often presented as someone who believed it was important to interact with the outside world, unlike the other witches of New Salem. That was both because she wanted to share her knowledge but also because she wanted to experience all that the world had to offer. Let’s take a dive into what has made Agatha Harkness such an intriguing character. Spoilers for WandaVision follow!
Ebony is a good kitty
Agatha Harkness’ familiar Ebony is no ordinary cat. Originally designed by Jack Kirby as vaguely feral, Ebony’s presence immediately unnerved Ben Grimm, who was continuously creeped out by Agatha’s entire deal. Ebony served as Agatha’s eyes and ears, sensing danger and gathering information from afar which Agatha was simply able to absorb. Of course, Ebony could do much more than that. At Agatha’s command, she could make her grow to the size of a huge panther. She set Ebony on the Wizard, who not only was terrified of a huge cat mauling him but found that no matter how far away he flew, Ebony was somehow still chasing him. He wound up crashing into a tree thanks to crossing this black cat.
Many years later, Agatha required a particular enchantment that would allow her to see the future. She cultivated the Everbloom flower from Wundagore Mountain, an important center of chaos magic. In order to make the flower work, one must kill and eat the being that ate the petals of the flower. In a difficult decision, Agatha had Ebony eat the flower, and then she killed and ate her in order to see the future. Ebony was a loyal servant to the very end.
A frightful night
On the first day Reed and Sue Richards handed Franklin over to Agatha Harkness to raise at her creepy house on Whisper Hill, their longtime enemies the Frightful Four followed them. The Wizard, the Sandman, and the Trapster all got the drop on the Fantastic Four and then got revenge on ex-member Medusa, who had turned against them.
Their victory was seemingly well in hand until they threatened Agatha. She set Ebony on the Wizard, who crashed through a window in terror and eventually flew into a tree, knocking himself out. She turned the Sandman into immobile stone, and he nearly fell over onto the Trapster. The Trapster escaped, only to encounter Ebony in a monstrous demonic form. When the cat grabbed him, the Trapster simply fainted out of fear. She wiped out a deadly team of villains in about 30 seconds, which suggested that it’s highly unwise to visit Agatha Harkness without calling her first.
During the whole ordeal, Franklin was just fine, and a confused Fantastic Four escaped from their bonds to find Agatha knitting next to the baby sleeping in a crib. When Ben Grimm saw a copy of Tales Of Old Salem on a table, he put two and two together but wasn’t quite ready to admit it out loud. She teased him by saying, "One would almost think that I were … a witch!" A spooked Ben ran away in terror.
The oracle and the whisperer
When Agatha Harkness was Franklin Richards’ governess, she served two roles: warning the Fantastic Four of extreme danger and mysteriously hinting at Franklin’s staggering psychic powers. Not only was Franklin born to parents whose DNA was altered by cosmic rays, but Reed Richards had to use Annihilus‘ Cosmic Control Rod in order to stabilize Sue’s pregnancy. Luckily, the Fantastic Four had great insurance, because the deductible for that was staggering.
Agatha kept things mysterious with Franklin for a while, trying to explain away Franklin sensing her coming when she tried to sneak up on him when she was invisible. However, when Reed got trapped in the Negative Zone, she revealed her powers and sent a spell to help him escape. After that, she was a regular alarm system, warning the Fantastic Four of the coming of the Over-Mind, helping them contact the Watcher, and telling them to ask Doctor Doom for assistance. Agatha warned them of the arrival of Galactus’ herald Gabriel the Air-Walker and then helped Reed persuade Richard Nixon that all was well when Galactus was defeated.
Annihilus kidnapped Agatha and forced her to take Sue and Franklin, as he wanted Franklin’s powers for himself. Unfortunately for him, his Gene Transmuter didn’t help him steal Franklin’s power. It only activated it and made it flash toward critical mass. Franklin would have inadvertently destroyed the world if Reed hadn’t shot him with a gun that shut down his mind, which made him Father of the Year.
An uncanny agent
Right after World War II, Agatha Harkness was recruited by Major Alan Dakor, aka Dakor the Detective Magician, to help the US government hunt down a Nazi operative. She was recruited alongside voudon seer Andre "Ghost Dancer" Gastrade and Declan "The Emerald Warlock" Dane. Their target was Nazi sorceress Hilda von Hate. They were collectively to be known as the Department of the Uncanny.
Agatha was enjoying her freedom away from New Salem and was reluctant to join any kind of organized team, but she also hated Nazis and had dealt with them before. Captain America’s replacement, Jeff "The Patriot" Mace, came along on the mission along with Bob Frank, the Whizzer. (It’s always good to have a mongoose-blood powered hero on your team.) Coincidentally, Frank would later think that Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch were his children.
That team defeated Hilda von Hate, but she would reappear years later. It’s unknown if they worked together again after that mission. Dane and Gastrade would assist the Avengers in going after von Hate, as she was revealed to be a goddess of evil. Dane revealed himself to have been an ancient entity, killed Gastrade, and eventually went after the Scarlet Witch.
Agatha Harkness realized that a prominent warlock in her former town of New Salem, Nicholas Scratch, was trying to hunt her down. Worse, he was now the town’s leader. She kidnapped Franklin yet again (bad nanny!) to use his power to help protect her against the witches, but to no avail. The witches bound her, and Sue Storm saw them just as they were disappearing.
Reed Richards was able to track a metal connected to the witches to their home in Colorado and went there in disguise. Just when it seemed like their trip was a washout, Agatha saw they were leaving and blocked them with flames. His ruse revealed, Scratch turned the Fantastic Four against each other and imprisoned them. He was ready to execute Agatha and set his seven children, the supernaturally powered Salem’s Seven, to guard the Fantastic Four. The FF made short work of the Seven. The people of New Salem realized that it was Scratch who had betrayed them, and they banished him. Agatha revealed that Scratch was her own son.
Salem’s Seven later returned and enchanted the witches of New Salem. Luring in the Fantastic Four, they defeated them and then took them to New York to complete a spell to bring back Scratch. Franklin used his power to free the witches from their paralysis, and Agatha took the fight to Scratch. He possessed the FF and ordered them to kill Agatha and Franklin, but the toddler used the power of love to shake them out of it. Once again, Scratch was banished.
Training the Scarlet Witch
Agatha Harkness met the Scarlet Witch at the wedding of Quicksilver and Crystal. A Marvel wedding never goes according to plan, and this time around, Ultron attacked and had all of the heroes on the ropes. Ultron’s mental assault jump-started Franklin Richards’ brain, and the child fried the robot. Agatha decided on the spot that the Fantastic Four didn’t need her anymore and that her new job was going to be mentoring the Scarlet Witch in true magic.
Agatha’s mysteriousness and seemingly arbitrary rule-making was at its peak here, as she demanded total isolation with her new pupil. As usual, Agatha’s habit of using her charges to help her against her enemies was in effect, as the demon Necrodamus attacked them both. However, Agatha was true to her word and taught Wanda some rudimentary spells, especially those giving her control over the earth, including materials like wood and cloth. Wanda was even able to animate a chair!
The Dread Dormammu possessed them both and brought them to his realm. He made the mistake of trying to turn Wanda against the Vision, and a freed Agatha was able to hold back Dormammu’s magic. Wanda forced him to free the Earth spirit he had captured and made him promise not to attack Earth again. Then Wanda and the Vision were part of a double wedding, as Mantis married a tree. Agatha said that Wanda had learned all she needed to know and later returned to the Fantastic Four.
Burned at the stake
After Nicholas Scratch was banished to the nether realms, his children (each by a different mother!), Salem’s Seven, were held as prisoners in New Salem. Scratch found a way to possess Franklin Richards and freed his children to get revenge on the Fantastic Four and bring the Earth into his dark realm. Just as it seemed like he was going to win, Agatha harnessed the love the Fantastic Four felt for Franklin as a weapon, went into Scratch’s mind, and threatened to destroy everything. Scratch backed down, and Agatha stripped him of his powers and turned him into a mortal.
Agatha decided that it was time to return to New Salem and keep watch over her son and Salem’s Seven. She stripped their powers and banished them, but they slowly regained their abilities. That did not work out well for Agatha, as her grandchildren turned on her and burned her at the stake. It’s hard to keep a good witch down, however, as she drew Wanda and the Vision to New Salem from beyond the grave at a time when they were thinking of having a baby.
Salem’s Seven, led by Vertigo, planned to sacrifice Wanda and Vision to the winter god. The Vision won a showdown with Vertigo, who channeled all of the magic of New Salem. Wanda took that power and used it to help conceive a child. And that’s where babies come from, or at least babies that come from a human-synthezoid pairing.
After Agatha Harkness died, Wanda gave birth to twin boys, Tommy and William. Everything was happy for the new family until the government decided that the Vision was a threat and dismantled him. When the Avengers put him back together, he was cold and emotionless. That certainly didn’t help Wanda’s psyche, and she started freaking out when her babies began to disappear and reappear.
Out of nowhere, Agatha returned from the dead but was completely disinterested in how it happened or how she only showed up at this point. She was there to tell Wanda that her children were actually shards of the soul of Mephisto and not her real children at all. She actually mind-wiped Wanda of the existence of her children. This did not go well, and manipulation on the part of Immortus caused Wanda to go off the deep end.
She allied with Magneto, attacked the Avengers, and did demeaning things to her former teammates. When Immortus revealed that Wanda was a nexus being and thus possessed tremendous power over chaos, he froze her and the rest of the Avengers. Eventually, Agatha not only cast a spell that caused Immortus to provide a handy infodump, but she also helped free the Avengers.
Months later, Wanda started to remember that she had children and started to crack up again. This time around, it was serious, as she killed Agatha, destroyed the Avengers, and obliterated millions of mutants during the House of M event.
From beyond the grave
A penitent Scarlet Witch later tried to help people out with their magical problems, and the ghost of Agatha Harkness followed her around to help her and give her advice. What’s a little murder between friends? Investigating a case near her birthplace on Wundagore Mountain, she learned that her parents weren’t actually Magneto and Magda but rather a woman named Natalya Maximoff.
Agatha knew all of this, of course, but like all good retcons revelations, she played things close to the vest. Agatha did point out that whenever Wanda received shocking news, she did not take it well. Natalya was, unfortunately, also dead, but she contacted Wanda from beyond to reveal that sorcery ran in the family and that Wanda was part of a long line of Scarlet Witches. Wanda was trying to save magic from dying and worked with Natalya and Agatha (as maiden, mother, and crone, respectively) to save the Goddess of Magic from the embodiment of chaos. Natalya gave up her soul to get the win. However, she managed to not only bring Agatha back from the dead (again), but she also brought her back as a young woman.
The Marvel Universe is filled with many divergent realities outside of what we know as the "primary" reality, Earth-616. In the Heroes Reborn world created by Franklin Richards, Agatha Harkness was introduced not as his nanny but as the teacher of the Scarlet Witch. She allowed Wanda to join the new Avengers team, but sensing trouble, she tried to join her pupil. Instead, she was attacked by Loki and the Enchantress. The Enchantress impersonated her while Agatha’s essence was trapped in a tree. Agatha eventually regained her human form when Loki betrayed the Enchantress, and she teamed with her to help empower Thor so he could kill Loki.
The Agatha Harkness of Earth-1610, aka the Ultimate universe, was a sinister figure. A member of an ancient race that inspired the legend of the Hydra, she disguised herself to gain access to the Baxter Building’s secrets and manipulated the Fantastic Four with her team, the Seven (aka Salem’s Seven). She was ultimately defeated after she tried to kill Sue Storm, who was rescued by Namor. Sue rallied the troops for a final battle, which the FF won.
On Earth-11052 (the world of the animated X-Men: Evolution), Agatha was introduced as the Scarlet Witch’s teacher in an episode called "Hex Factor." On Earth-TRN721 (a world where Marvel characters existed in the Land of Oz), Agatha was the Witch Of The North. She helped guide Jennifer Walters, visiting Oz, in her quest as she opposed Wanda, the Wicked Witch of the West.
Agnes = Agatha
Almost from the moment Kathryn Hahn was announced as playing "Agnes" on WandaVision, Marvel fans started speculating that her character was some sort of spin on or variation of Agatha Harkness. It took a little while, but in the closing moments of the show’s seventh episode, "Breaking the Fourth Wall," those theories were seemingly proven correct when Agnes revealed herself to Wanda — not only as Agatha, but as the power that had been secretly guiding many of the events in Westview all along.
Agatha’s big moment arrives when Wanda, who’s been taking some "me time" to recuperate from the chaotic events of the previous episode, arrives at Agnes’ house to pick up her twin sons. Noticing they’re not around, she asks Agnes where they are; after Agnes distractedly replies from the kitchen that they’re most likely playing in the basement, Wanda dutifully heads down below to tell them it’s time to come home.
At this point, astute viewers have already noticed that the episode’s bright sitcom-style lighting has shifted to a much darker palette — and things get darker still when Wanda makes her way to the basement, which is decked out much more like a creepy dungeon than anything you’d expect to find in an average suburban home. Before Wanda can find the boys, she’s confronted by a grinning Agnes, who explains she’s actually Agatha — and, via a musical montage that plays out like the opening credits of her own spinoff series, cheerfully brags that the magical shenanigans viewers have been watching were due to Agatha All Along.
Is Agnes/Agatha really the main big bad in WandaVision, or does the show (and the show within a show) have a few more tricks up its sleeve? We’ll have to tune in next week to find out.
Agatha’s MCU backstory jumps into the past
In episode 8 of WandaVision, "Previously On," a great deal is revealed about Agatha Harkness’ past and intentions. The episode begins with a flashback to Salem in 1693, and we see young Agatha dragged by a group of hooded figures and tied to a stake. The scene flips the famous Salem witch trials on their head when we see her bound to the stake by magic and asked if she’s a witch. When she says she is, one of the hooded figures accuses her of betraying her coven, and it’s revealed that her accusers are all witches.
When she’s accused of stealing knowledge and practicing dark magic, Agatha tries to play innocent. Oh, naughty Agatha! The chief accuser is actually her mother, and she’s not fooled. That’s when Agatha’s tone changes, acknowledging that she can’t talk her way out of this one, and she spins a half truth. As she puts it, "I did not break your rules. They simply bent to my power." Whatever magic she got ahold of, it made her more powerful than the rest of her coven combined, as she kills them all.
Modern-day Agatha then takes Wanda on a tour of her past memories in order to find out how the Avenger warped reality so thoroughly. Agatha, who requires Latin incantations and great focus to work her charms, is especially impressed that Wanda has done so much with her mind control abilities and transmutation spells basically set to "autopilot." When she learns that it’s Wanda’s grief over Vision that led her to create something out of nothing, Agatha realizes that Wanda is using chaos magic — the trademark of the Scarlet Witch and something Agatha always thought was a myth.
Agatha reveals the source of her power
In the finale of WandaVision, Agatha tells Wanda that there’s an entire chapter devoted to the Avenger in the Darkhold, aka "the Book of the Damned." This was hinted at in episode seven, when a grimoire was seen in her basement, glowing with magical power. It was also hinted at in episode eight, when Agatha’s coven turned on her because she was using forbidden magic beyond her station. And during the final fight, when Agatha welcomes Wanda using her powers against her in combat — because stealing magic from "the undeserving is kind of [her] thing" — the picture becomes much clearer.
As it turns out, Agatha stole the Darkhold and learned how to use it. In the comics, while the Darkhold is a tool that can be used for noble purposes, it always extracts a price. In return for the powers they receive, Darkhold users find themselves in thrall to the book’s master, Chthon, an Elder Chaos God. Whether or not that’s the case in the MCU, we know that Agatha would definitely be willing to pay that price because her desires are simple. She wants power, and she’s a magical leech, draining witches of their abilities and life force.
Of course, while Agatha’s knowledge and experience keep Wanda off balance for a while, once the hero figures out some magical basics, she creates runes that neutralize Agatha’s power. Wanda then ends their duel by wiping Agatha’s memory and turning her into a sitcom stereotype — the nosy neighbor. When she realizes what the Scarlet Witch is planning, Agatha accuses Wanda of being "cruel," but imprisoning Harkness in any conventional sense just isn’t possible. Still, Wanda is happy to be judge and jury in doling out Agatha’s fate, and by doing so, she rids the world of a magical predator.