Like most female characters from the MCU, Peggy Carter is a pivotal but underappreciated player in the sprawling franchise. Introduced in the quickly forgotten Captain America: The First Avenger Peggy, played by the equally underrated Hayley Atwell, served as Steve Rogers’ love interest in the film, doing little more than supporting the title character as he progressed from skinny boy with a heart of gold to hulking super-soldier Avenger. However, something changed between the films; Peggy’s memory lingered, a massive shadow looming over the Captain America trilogy, and the constant reminder that Steve was very much out of place.
Over the years, Peggy has returned for brief cameos in all of the Captain America sequels ant man and Agents of SHIELD. Their appearances were just easter eggs intended to tie the larger MCU to the very first Avenger, but they had a secondary and likely unintended effect. Slowly but surely, Peggy became an integral part of the MCU, a pillar whose influence stretched beyond the corners of Captain America into the larger world of the Avengers. An impressive feat considering Peggy didn’t even share scenes with other non-Cap Avengers. But her place among the MCU’s key figures – the Tony Starks and Nick Furys of the world – was all but certain.
When someone wants to praise a fictional female creation, they probably use the term “strong female character”. It’s a suitably vague term to describe an equally vague character who ticks every box in a roster of female characters must be. She is independent, capable, intelligent and excels at her job. The strong female figure does not need a man, but usually finds one. She takes names and kicks ass without even breaking a nail. Strong female characters are a great way to avoid the responsibility of writing a 3D woman. So what if the audience doesn’t know anything about these women? They are excellent at what they do!
Initially, Peggy was just another strong but seasoned female character. The First Avenger introduced her as the only woman in power in the army at the height of World War II. Everyone respects her because the movie says so. Audiences see Steve’s journey from insecure boy to confident man of action, but much of Peggy’s development takes place before the action begins. In fact, the film focuses on how she can help Steve cement Captain America’s legacy; her wants and needs become secondary to his. It’s true it’s his film, but Peggy had the potential to be so much more than a one-time love interest.
The MCU also recognized this potential, with significant help from the comics, making Peggy one of the key figures in the development of SHIELD. Except that it all happened off camera. The franchise told its fans that Peggy was important, but again neglected it show it. She was on the verge of death the next time she showed up and talked to Steve about old times Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Once again, Peggy was pivotal to Steve, the only person who reminded him of his own time and who he once was. A year later she came back during the opening ant man to help establish Hank Pym’s MCU references, and then during the Cap dream sequence Avengers: Age of Ultronagain as the embodiment of everything he has lost.
Until then, Peggy was one of the MCU’s secret weapons, a malleable character who suited WWII America just as well as modern-day London. Still, there was more to see about her, to learn more about her life, that fans knew was groundbreaking enough to warrant a film of its own. The MCU expanded rapidly, with previous B-level characters like Ant-Man and the Guardian of the Galaxy making headlines in major motion pictures. Surely the MCU could find time to give Peggy some level of attention, right? It did, but not in the way people expected.
Agent Carter, a 15-minute short film focusing on one of Peggy’s missions before forming SHIELD, opened the door for a character-focused television show. At that time, Marvel was still a long way from its current common television universe, with only Marvel’s agents from SHIELD maintaining a continuity with the MCU. Therefore, Agent Carter was something of an experiment for Marvel, one that would test the feasibility of translating the MCU to the small screen.
The series centered on Carter and the difficulties of balancing her career and personal life in post-WWII America’s sexist culture. Agent Carter had a unique angle, rich time setting and the potential to show some of the most important events in the MCU. Most notably, it had a compelling character who spent far too long on the sidelines despite having one of the most intriguing stories in the Marvel Universe.
Oh, Agent Carter failed to connect with mainstream audiences. At a time when MCU fans were relishing the ambition of the franchise’s interconnectivity, the series was a nostalgic trip that didn’t significantly advance the overall story. The two seasons didn’t even feature Carter’s creation of SHIELD, arguably the show’s biggest selling point. One of the MCU’s greatest strengths is its ability to present a single story across numerous chapters. That’s the main reason why fans see every Marvel movie in theaters; The fear of missing something is too great. Focusing 100% on its central character might be the way to go for most shows, but these series don’t take place within the confines of the MCU. The big world was ultimately to be neglected Agent Carter‘s downfall.
Following Agent Carter‘s refusal was forgotten by Peggy. She died during the events of Captain America: Civil War, bringing a rather disappointing end to this pioneer’s life. Three years later, Peggy returned to finally give Steve his long-awaited dance. Avengers: Endgame reunites the hapless lovers in a final twist that continues to divide fans. Seeing Cap with Peggy was more of a triumph for him than for her because once again she only existed to serve Steve’s interests. After all, it was his dream to dance with her; Fans had seen her move during the events of Agent Carter, and even the movies showed her getting married and starting a family. And yet here she was with Steve, living the life she seemed always wanted, despite the many events that suggested otherwise.
Avengers: Endgame added a neat arc to Peggy’s story, and fans came to expect that her journey had finally come to an end. So when Marvel announced its animated series, What if…?Many fans raised their eyebrows in disbelief. Peggy Carter would return to the MCU, this time in animation and as a superhero. Captain Carter was vital What if…?‘s advertising campaign, which acts as arguably the show’s most prominent “hook”. Expectations for the show were high, especially after the massive success of WandaVision and Lokiand the show did not disappoint.
reviews for What if…? were positive, critics and fans alike appreciated this new vantage point to explore the different corners of the MCU. Captain Carter’s episode received high praise for Atwell’s performance and Peggy’s new characterization, and while many found the plot too similar The First Avenger, almost everyone agreed that it was a joy to finally see Peggy in the spotlight. It’s a shame Marvel had to turn her into a superhero to get her attention, especially when Peggy was one of the MCU’s most significant and interesting non-power characters. Still, the character finally got the focus she always deserved.
Captain Carter introduced the MCU to another major female heroine, one without Wanda’s instability, Black Widow’s questionable morals, or Captain Marvel’s attitude issues. Captain Carter is a born leader, forged in the rigors of war and sent across the multiverse thanks to the antics of the Tesseract. Like Captain America before her, Captain Carter is the ultimate soldier: incorruptible, fearless, uncompromising and moral beyond measure. And yet she’s not a rip-off from Captain America. Peggy is less stoic, more determined, and used to the constant struggle that comes with being a hero. Finally, fans got to see a new side of Peggy, one that’s always been there but only recently got a chance to shine.
The upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be introducing the live-action version of Captain Carter, and not a moment too soon. Seeing the character in animation was a treat, but seeing her in all her glory on the big screen will be the relief her fans needed. The previously announced season 2 of What if…? suggests that Captain Carter is going nowhere, and the positive reception could mean a rebirth for the character. With everyone getting Disney+ spin-ffs, a Captain Carter-centric one could be on the horizon. And with the multiverse playing an increasingly important role in the MCU, who says Captain Carter can’t be a part of it? Captain America 4?
It’s been a long and winding road for Peggy Carter, but she’s proven her importance to the entire MCU more than once and in more ways than one. She may still be a strong female character, at least on paper, but the character developments for Wanda Maximoff and Natasha Romanoff proved that Marvel is no longer neglecting its female characters. The possibilities for Peggy are endless. She was multiple things – love interest, human, superhero, common denominator – often at once, making her unique in Marvel’s catalog of mostly static characters.
The MCU has an incredible advantage in Peggy and has always known it but chose to ignore her for some reason. No more. There couldn’t be a better time for Peggy Carter to step out of the dark and into the spotlight she always deserved.
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