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The Fifth Color | Peggy Carter, from comics to screen to comics

by  in Comic News Comment
The Fifth Color | Peggy Carter, from comics to screen to comics

There’s a certain comfort in being able to point to spectacular successes in modern adaptation, because it keeps you from getting too cynical about yet another announced movie based on something you love. Yes, it could easily be Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, but it could also turn out to be the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which brought an epic work into the homes of a broader audience.

Marvel has an incredible track record for taking characters from comics, distilling them into their purest forms and making them box-office hits. After all, Iron Man is virtually a household name now — who’d have expected that? — and countless schoolchildren know who Groot is. However, the Avengers are a lot more cohesive in their movies than they are in the comics, so I can see why there are those who still shy away from the source material in favor of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Peggy Carter getting her own television series is important for just that reason: It demonstrates that you don’t just have to tell stories about the top-billed characters on the screen — that there’s room and interest enough to take supporting players like Peggy Carter and Phil Coulson and give them a spotlight. The premiere of Agent Carter not only further expands the MCU, but it does so better than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

However, here’s the weird thing: This week, Operation S.I.N. one-ups them both.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the first two episodes of Agent Carter, as well as Operation S.I.N. #1, by Kathryn Immonen and Rich Ellis, so grab at least a copy of the comic and set aside a couple hours for the TV show and dig right in!

Captain America: The First Avenger is my favorite comic book movie, so I’ll admit bias upfront. I loved everything about it, from the design to the pulpy feel of the characters to the cartoonishness of the villains. The film fits so perfectly with what I think of when I picture Captain America punching Nazis, and it has a heartfelt message, choosing honest heroism over gritty realism.

Peggy Carter was a great part of the supporting cast; she sidestepped the love-interest tropes by being not only capable on her own, but also a friend to Steve Roger before any declarations of love could be offered. It’s not difficult to see how the character could be further fleshed out and given time to shine on her own.

After watching the two-hour premiere of Agent Carter, I have to say the movie to TV transfer is seamless: You could easily watch Captain America: The First Avenger and then jump into the new show and feel they were part of the same story. It’s important to remember that, as there are some parts of Agent Carter that feel more silly or stylized than a typical TV drama. It’s a hyper-stylized world, just as in the first Cap film, so sometimes Peggy’s coworkers at Strategic Scientific Reserve seem buffoonish and her tactics lifted from the comics, so just don’t question where she got the knockout lipstick and simply enjoy that she has it.

Being a TV show, there’s a lot to get across and very little time to do it in. It’s pretty standard by now in TV dramas that there needs to be an overarching plot for each season, if not for the entire series. There are a lot of big questions to be answered (“What’s Leviathan?” “What’s really going on with Howard Stark and what are he and Jarvis planning for Agent Carter?”), so patience is key in these first episodes. I know not everyone saw the first Captain America movie, so there’s a good amount of introduction as we learn Peggy’s point of view. Still, I feel rushed along with little time to breathe as we have to make sure we see as many facets of her personality and motives as possible as soon as we can to make sure the viewer connects to the story. One moment she’s in a fight for her life, the next she’s mourning over a dead roommate, and then it quickly cuts to her back on the job and moving to the next plot point. A little breathing room would have been nice, but when there are so many people to be shot and killed, we have to keep a steady pace. (Anyone else a little put off by just how many people were callously shot in the head in this show? Just me?)

On comic shelves, there’s Operation S.I.N. #1, a title with little fanfare but a direct connection to the new TV show, as they both share a similar premise: Agent Carter and Howard Stark are going to be solving world-threatening problems in a spy fashion. While Agent Carter has to tell you as much as it can in 40 minutes or so, the comic takes its time, as its advantage is years and years of comic book history. Most people reading Operation S.I.N. know who Peggy Carter is, either because of her lengthy comic history or the actions of her daughter Sharon Carter (alias Agent 13). A quick action scene is used in the beginning of the issue to propel the plot, although it serves as great shorthand for who Peggy Carter is: a woman who keeps her combat boots under her bed. It’s that kind of subtly that comes across much easier on the comics page, where we the reader control the pacing and how much catches our interest.

As this isn’t Carter’s solo title, there’s a lot more time to show us who she is over the course of however long this series survives. She’s part of a bigger story that cuts to the chase in the first issue with the introduction of mysterious aliens, a step up from glowing perfume bottles with a bunch of dry ice. The stakes are set and, because Howard Stark is being portrayed as his son in period costuming, I am far more interested in what Peggy Carter is going to do next. She’s the most interesting character on those pages, and I can’t wait to see what she does next issue.

But that’s the thing about comics: You don’t have to sell as hard to a built-in audience. As a comic reader, I know how they work and can appreciate a nuanced story and the format it’s presented in. Television, reaching a much broader audience, has a lot more to explain to viewers in order to hook them. If you like period-action pieces, are a big fan of Captain America: The First Avenger or want to watch a show about a fantastic leading actress, Agent Carter is extremely promising. After all that, if there’s still something missing, give Operation S.I.N. a try.

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