Comics Reviews

Marvel’s Sliding Scale of Magic Superpowers Doesn’t Make Any Sense

Wastelanders: Doom #1 brings to light the flaws in the magic system of the Marvel Universe, highlighting that some aspects are illogical.

WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Wastelanders: Doom #1, available now from Marvel Comics.

The Marvel Universe has always been a fantastical place filled with high-flying superheroes, impossible science, and terrifying magic. Most of these aspects has a fairly solid system in place for how they work, but Wastelanders: Doom #1 (by Torunn Gronbek, Julius Ohta, Bryan Valenza, and VC’s Cory Petit) has just shown that the sliding scale of magic in the Marvel Universe hardly makes any sense.

In the desolate future first seen in Wolverine’s “Old Man Logan” storyline, the tyrannical villain Doctor Doom rules over his slice of America with an iron fist. However, in the wake of the Red Skull’s death, the denizens of the Wastelands have grown bolder in their attempts to stake their own claims to the land. Roving bands of marauders are no match for Doom’s might, but someone has established a town in the midst of Doom’s territory. This a slight that the despot cannot abide, and upon investigation Doom discovers that the area is ruled over by the mystical villain Baron Mordo, who uses powerful magic to remain protected from Doom. However, the always cunning Doom manages to get to the source of Mordo’s greatly improved magic and is able to successfully take it all away with a mere few words.

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The issue reveals that Agatha Harkness has been enthralled by Mordo and is responsible for supplying him with additional power by way of a mystical braid that she continuously weaves. Thanks to the intervention of Doom, Agatha is able to regain control of her senses and ceases her braiding, cutting off Mordo’s additional power, allowing Doom to then eliminate his competition. Seeing Harkness capable of wielding such powerful magic isn’t surprising, but it does call into question the details regarding magic in the overall Marvel Universe.

Agatha Harkness has been one of Marvel’s most powerful magic users since she her debut in 1970’s Fantastic Four #94 (by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby). Initially presenting herself as the kindly new babysitter to an infant Franklin Richards, her powers were revealed when she singlehandedly defeated the Frightful Four. In the years since, Agatha has become an integral addition into the life of Wanda Maximoff in addition to taking on taking on teaching duties at Doctor Strange’s academy for young magic users.

In Strange Academy #14 (by Skottie Young and Humberto Ramos), the students of the academy are seen practicing temporal magics under the watchful eye of Doctor Voodoo. Although the students all have different mystical backgrounds, none of them have a problem with utilizing their powers to travel through time, suggesting that this incredible feat is simple even for those who are new to the world of magic.

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The idea that traveling through time in such a way could be so easy also comes with some interesting implications. Mystical time travel has often been a major plot point of many of Marvel’s biggest moments. From the events of the 2016 film Doctor Strange to the threat posed by Carlo Zota in the latest Defenders series, magic as a means of traversing or controlling time has historically been a very big deal. Apart from the time hopping teens in Strange Academy, manipulating time in subtle ways has recently been seen in Jed MacKay and Lee Garbett’s The Death of Doctor Strange, with the magical hero manipulating time to separate a week of his life from the timeline, allowing a version of himself to investigate his own death.

The events surrounding Doctor Strange’s life and death in recent months have also introduced some unsettling questions about magic in the Marvel Universe. Al Ewing and Javier Rodriguez’s Defenders saw the Sorcerer Supreme unleash raw, wild magic to bring together the new team. This is something that he has done before, but this time the magic has the unexpected side effect of sending the team on a trip through the Multiverse. This journey has brought them face-to-face with the birthplace of magic, although it hasn’t given any insight into the laws that govern the power.

The atmosphere surrounding Marvel’s magic is both awesome and terrifying, especially considering the havoc caused by the Sorcerer Supreme’s demise in The Death of Doctor Strange. As uncertain as the laws of magic may be, they ultimately don’t seem to matter as much as the results.

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