Agent Carter – an Important Mid-Season Journey

I’m now three hours in to Marvel’s mid-season spy show, Agent Carter. I am quite enjoying it thus far. Agent Carter is a fascinating look into what eventually became SHIELD, and I’m hoping we’ll also get a peek at the way Hydra infiltrated the organization in the post-WWII era. It also makes me glad to see, at last, the real Jarvis. I’m a fan of the AI version in the Iron Man movies, but I’m an old-school comic book reader. Jarvis is a person.

About the only element of Agent Carter which gave me pause thus far is the “woman in a man’s world” under-current woven into the show – but not in the way that statement might make it seem. The fact that this part of the narrative isn’t playing well in my mind is actually a by-product of Marvel’s success in portraying strong female characters among the a-list of the Marvel Cinematic Universe 1. I’ve come to expect the presence of solid female characters who exist as protagonists in their own right, and are not simply damsels in distress. Agent Carter, in Captain America: The First Avenger does confront some chauvinistic attitudes – but the character was portrayed so strong and competent that she steamed over the roadblocks on the way to doing her job. She did play second seat in the film as Steve Rogers’ love interest, but Marvel gave Agent Carter enough to do that she seemed important – and was.

The success of the Agent Carter character, followed by some truly great female characters in the present-day MCU, makes the terrible treatment Agent Carter endures seem out of place. The problem is, the expectations which I have formed from watching the MCU aren’t realistic. After the war, and Marvel slips in a very nice reference to this in the pilot, women who had been needed in the workforce to bring about victory were suddenly expected to return to their traditional roles. The servicemen who were returning Stateside hadn’t been present for the minor social revolution brought on by Rosie the Riveter and when women didn’t necessarily go so quietly back to the home there was some confusion on their part. Women who dared to stay in non-traditional roles were often treated terribly in order to remind them of their unwanted status. “Spook,” certainly fell under the category of “non-traditional role.” The fact Agent Carter is British adds to the sense that she is an stranger in a strange land – in more ways than one.

After getting over the speed-bump created by my MCU expectations, I’m finding the story of this pivotal MCU figure incredibly entertaining. Her journey from WWII power-player to post-war SSR also-ran is important for both her and the characters who followed her. In the MCU timeline she needed to succeed, or the other characters probably wouldn’t have gotten the chances they got to become such imposing figures. Black Widow, Maria Hill, Pepper Potts, and Skye 2 have had more MCU screen-time than Agent Carter thus far, but it’s nice to see the woman to whom each of those characters is indebted 3. In a universe which is essentially fantasy, the story of this great woman’s struggles and achievements is probably the most real thing yet portrayed. Now if we could only get a Black Widow Movie…

  1. From now on, “MCU.” 
  2. Agents of Shield also recently introduced Mockingbird, who is one of my favorite Marvel characters ever. In other news, Maria Hill’s screen-time has now been eclipsed by Agent Carter. 
  3. At least, if you see things according to the MCU timeline. I actually think Black Widow was introduced before Agent Carter from our frame of reference.