Last week we comics fans were treated to a nice treat that, had other circumstances prevailed, would have been the big buzz in our donut shop. Instead, events mandated – properly – that we turn our attention to the Charlie Hebdo matter. That situation remains unresolved and part of a much bigger and even more disquieting picture, but if we can’t stop to smell the flowers we will surely go insane. That’s why I’m going to talk about Marvel’s Agent Carter this week.
The mini-series – it runs eight episodes, and the first two ran last week – goes a long way towards answering the question “Hey, why won’t Marvel Studios pay more attention to the female characters?” It doesn’t answer the question “Hey, why won’t Marvel Studios do a Black Widow movie?” but I suspect if the executives at Marvel understand what they’re doing on Agent Carter, there well might be.
So, what’s going on in Agent Carter that’s so special? I think the two-hour debut did more to educate people as to the inequities in the workplace than any other single event in perhaps three decades. If things are going to change, illumination through entertainment is an important part of the mix.
Seeing as the series is set in the mid-1940s post-war period – after all, it is a sequel to the first real Captain America movie – it’s all too easy to look at it and say “well, yeah, but that was 1946.” This is true, but as George Santayana said, “when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
(Actually, Santayana said a lot of interesting things, my favorite being “Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily.” Check him out at http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_Santayana.)
Okay, back to 1946. That was a time when nobody gave a second thought about women being paid a lot less then men. That’s because nobody gave a second thought about women being given much responsibility – Santayana, I suspect, probably thought we should have remembered how women held our nation together during the world war that just ended. That was a time when newspapers carried separate want ad listings: “Help Wanted – Men,” for laborers and executives, and “Help Wanted – Women,” for secretaries, maids and cooks. This was a practice that continued until some time in the 1970s; the possibility that such segregation was illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act wasn’t even discussed until 1965. Women were fired for getting married, and society looked down upon those women who chose a career over pounding out babies every year or so.
Agent Carter is set squarely in this environment. Peggy Carter, as last seen in Marvel media, is an extremely competent field agent to say the least, but despite her wartime record she is relegated to secretarial duties at S.H.I.E.L.D’s precursor organization, the Strategic Scientific Reserve. In order to save the day and to fulfill her commitment to Howard Stark (let’s hear it for Marvel continuity!) she starts out by hiding her activities and condescending to the men who order her to do the filing.
Despite this, Agent Carter is not a political screed. It is a solid action show set in the well-defined Marvel Cinematic Universe, complete with time-appropriate established characters such as a comparatively young Edwin Jarvis and a typically burly Dum-Dum Dugan (let’s hear it again for Marvel continuity!), and the actors whose characters appeared in the movies reprise their roles here, including Dominic Cooper as the senior Stark. Marvel’s evil corporate empire, Roxxon, plays a prominent role in this series.
Agent Carter is a very stylish, fast-acting and clever series built around the strengths of its star, Hayley Atwell. We’ll be seeing a lot of her in the future, in the second Avengers movie and in future episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Crom knows where else. But I really hope that Disney/Marvel/ABC (different floors of the same company) has the budget and the audience to take this program to a weekly series.
And then do that Black Widow movie.