Agent Carter is here and damn if she doesn't hit the ground running (in pumps no less). It's all style and substance - and a helluvalotta Marvel references to boot! Let's unpack the first SSR case file and see how SHIELD's prequel miniseries ties to She-Hulk, Iron Man and the rest of the Marvel U!
This is going to be a long one...
For the record, I liked this premiere episode (or episodes, as the announced eight-part mini transformed into a seven-parter when the first two episodes were aired together). My wife liked it too. She tired of Agents of SHIELD for the most part, but she was a big fan of Peggy in Captain America: The First Avenger and wanted to see more of her - she's especially interested in finding out who becomes Mr. Peggy Carter (more on that in a bit).
First, a spoiler-light recap: Working with the SSR out of New York in 1946, Peggy finds herself shunned by her male chauvinist co-workers and recruited into Howard Starks web of intrigue as she tries to sort through double-cross after double-cross to find out who the real enemies of America are before too many people get killed in the crossfire.
The Marvel Universe Connections, What Came Before
First a bit of housekeeping. Prior to this series Peggy appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger and in Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter (included with the Iron Man 3 Blu-Ray). "One year" after Cap disappeared, Peggy was working (as a secretary in all-but name) at an SSR office under Captain John Flynn until, on her very first assignment, she single-handedly took down enemy agents possessing the Zodiac (whatever that is). After that she is immediately recruited by Howard Stark and General Phillips (and Dum-Dum Dugan, who looks appropriately incredulous in one of Stark's robes) to be the first head of SHIELD. In the Marvel (comics) Universe, the Zodiac Key is an item of immense power that often ends up with the enemies of Nick Fury.
Then in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we see footage of Peggy in 1953 - identified as an SSR agent - talking about how Cap saved the man who would become her husband in the war. In the present, Cap learns that Peggy had at least two children (her husband is not identified by name or picture) and was the founder of SHIELD.
So how does this series tie-in? If anything, it seems like a stretched out version of the events of the Marvel One-Shot. Time will tell if that vignette is still considered canon.
The Marvel Universe Connections, Premiere Part 1
This new episode actually begins with the exact same First Avenger clip of Cap's fateful crash that the One-Shot did, and establishes that by 1946, Iron Man's dad Howard Stark was wanted on suspicion of treason by the SSR. Peggy's initial look in the series is appropriately red, white and blue - providing a strong contrast against the drab grays of New York's workingmen. Very superheroy. She's introduced to the sounds of "That Man" by Caro Emerald - a new song that is meant to sound old (echoing the show's aesthetic).
Peggy's roommate, Colleen O'Brien, laments at the job losses women are facing as GI's return the workforce, something all too common in real post-War America. Colleen, and all other civilians, believe Peggy works for the New York Bell Co. (presumably a phone company in the Bell System) in the heart of New York City. Mild-mannered operator Rose seems to be the one who allows Peggy (and other agents) into the secret underground base of the SSR. This is interesting, because Agents of SHIELD season 2 so far has heavily suggested that the team's headquarters, the Playground, is Peggy's old SSR base. Is the Playground really located in Manhattan?
Well, wherever it is, Peggy serves with a group of upright individuals. The big hero seems to be Agent Thompson, a veteran of the Pacific Theater who doesn't mind getting his hands bloody interrogating handcuffed suspects, followed by idiot sidekick Agent Krzeminski. They serve under Chief Dooley, who doesn't think Peggy - or any woman - belongs in the field. Most of the agents seem to have a blindspot as far as Peggy is concerned, even willfully ignoring her presence when discussing classified info. Presumably, Agent Thompson is no relation to Agent Eugene Thompson, better known as the Secret Avenger Agent Venom. Roger Dooley was a minor SHIELD agent in the comics, having only appeared in She-Hulk's graphic novel. His greatest accomplishment was getting She-Hulk to strip in public repeatedly before he was killed like a chump.
There's also the rather sympathetic Agent Daniel Sousa who lost a leg in the War. It's a shame they didn't use the name "Fred Davis" for Sousa. In the comics, Fred worked with Steve Rogers briefly during the war, then served briefly as Bucky after the "death" of the original until he was injured in the line of duty, necessitating a cane. He served secret pre-SHIELD organizations in the late 40s, working with Betty Ross, who essentially served the same role in the comics that the film version of Peggy Carter does.
Any workaday stresses are let out at the L&L Automat where she is served by her favorite waitress and aspiring Broadway actress, Angie. Automats were a thing in the US back in the day, and have something of a modern-day successor in Japanese meal ticket restaurants. L & L might be a sly reference to L, L & L, an interdimensional accounting firm that has business fronts all over time and space.
So what's Howard Stark's problem? Well, apparently this one-time boy genius and founder of Stark Industries is suspected of providing weapons to America's enemies. The clever millionaire snarkly avoids the Congressman Webster's questions - somewhat reminiscent of the Hollywood 10's retorts to McCarthy's witchhunts in the 1950s. Stark privately admits to Peggy that he did invent various "bad babies" - inventions too dangerous to reveal to anyone - but that they were stolen from his secret vault by unknown parties.
Howard recruits Peggy to serve as his double-agent within the SSR, clearing his name and fighting bad guys alongside his loyal butler, the human Edwin Jarvis, who is totally Stevens from Remains of the Day. The strong chemistry between Jarvis and Carter has my wife wondering if he could be Peggy's mystery husband, but Jarvis points out repeatedly that he has a wife Anna at home. Oh, and Jarvis has some kind side mission with Stark, with some clandestine plans for Peggy Carter. Movie fans know the name JARVIS as Iron Man's computer, but the human butler Jarvis has been in the comics since the earliest Iron Man issues as the Stark butler. Unlike Batman's Alfred, whom he may be modeled on, comic book Jarvis is neither a trained fighter nor even British (although he does pretend to be).
Carter traces the series' initial McGuffin, Stark's molecular nitramene (a bomb that could implode part of a city), to club La Martinique run by notorious black market broker Spider Raymond. Learning of Spider's weakness for blondes, Peggy dons an amazing wig and American accent to sneak into his operation, taking the nitramene before mysterious baddies kill Spider and before the hapless Thompson arrives on the scene. Peggy uses (presumably Stark-made) spy gadgets to get the job done, including the instant knockout of 102 Sweet Dreams lipstick and a wristwatch that automatically cracks safes. Carter uses her own smarts to deactivate the bomb using Stark's advice and various household chemicals.
Sadly, Peggy's escapades did not go unnoticed, as a mysterious assassin with a laryngotomy scar followed her and killed Colleen before disappearing again. It's refreshing to see Peggy take a moment to cry over her lost friend, something that happens all too rarely when incidental characters die on weekly genre shows. The voiceboxless bad guy has some fancy typewriter-based wireless telegraphy, essentially using 1940s text messages or e-mails to communicate with his superiors, which is actually a neat touch.
At Jarvis' suggestion, Peggy seeks out Howard's employee, Dr. Anton Vanko. Marvel Cinematic Universe fans know this is the father of Iron Man 2's Whiplash who claims he deserves credit for the Stark Arc Reactor and that Howard Stark ruined his life. We'll see how this eventually plays out. In the comics, the original Anton Vanko was the original Crimson Dynamo, an Iron Man villain who reformed later on.
Vanko explains that nitramene is based on Vita-Rays, something Peggy is all-too familiar with. Vita-Rays are the key ingredient in the process that turned scrawny Steve Rogers into buff Captain America. Without Vita-Rays, Dr. Erskine's Super Soldier Serum turns subjects into roid rage freaks. Thankfully, Peggy finds one Erskine's Vita-Ray detectors in the SSR files.
Peggy tracks the nitramene to Roxxon Oil's supposedly abandoned Red Hook Refinery. In both the movies and comics, the Roxxon Energy Corporation has been a constant source of consternation for superheroes. They even, in a roundabout sort of way, can claim credit for the apparent death of Howard Stark in the comics.
At the refinery, Peggy uses some kind of MiB-looking flashgun to take out a hapless minion named Miles Van Ert before discovering the mysterious Leet Brannis, the apparent arms dealer who sold Spider the bomb and then had a bunch more made. Leet is a really minor bad guy who once fought the Whizzer (Marvel's much less popular version of the Flash in the 1940s).
Brannis - who is also missing a voice box - claims to have worked for an organization (or something?) named Leviathan before quitting. He claims he doesn't kill, unlike the other mute foe. Of course immediately after that he sets of a bomb killing an unrevealed number of his co-conspirators, then drives off with the bombs in a Daisy Clover milk truck. Leviathan was a fairly minor evil organization that showed up in the pages of Marvel's Secret Warriors comic (see the creepy insectoid warriors above). EDIT: The Alliterator wrote a bit more on Leviathan in another post.
The Marvel Universe Connections, Premiere Part 2
Dang there's a lot in this two-hour episode.
So the second half of the first episode (or the second episode, depending on how you count it) introduces The Captain America Adventure Program, a radio serial sponsored by Roxxon Motor Oil (naturally). Cap really did have some 1940s theatrical serials that took heavy liberties with the source material, something acknowledged in the comics when Steve met his cinematic counterpart in Captain America #219 in 1977.
The program fictionalizes the adventures of Cap and the Howling Commandos as they constantly have to save battalion triage nurse "Betty Carver" from Nazis. As mentioned earlier, Agent Carter is a combination of the comic book Peggy Carter and the 1940s hero Betty Ross (shown here in 1943's Captain America Comics #33), so having them merged in the fictional persona of Betty Carver is pretty cool.
Carter disguises herself as health inspector Ruth Barton (no relation to Clint "Hawkeye" Barton, of course) to investigate Daisy Clover and learns driver Sheldon McFee was last seen with the missing truck. Meanwhile Thompson meets with Roxxon CEO Mr. Jones, and they fruitlessly investigate links between the nefarious goings-on and Roxxon - at least until Peggy arrives and cleverly identifies Van Ert without actually identifying him. Dooley and Thompson try a little mean cop/horrible cop on Van Ert, with Dooley literally having a carrot and a stick in front of him as a none-too-subtle clue to his intentions. Meanwhile, meanwhile, the voiceless Leviathan agent kills potential bomb buyer Gino DeLucia for no readily apparent reason. Eventually Carter, Jarvis, Brannis and the Leviathan guy duke it out on a speeding milk truck full of bombs leading in the apparent deaths of both bad guys, the destruction of all those bombs (thankfully the bomb stats don't stack) and some new clues for Carter. Wonder if we'll get more voiceless guys.
Afterwards, thanks to a recommendation by Senator Palmer, Peggy moves into the Griffith Hotel run by "total pussycat" Miriam Fry. There she shares a roof with Angie, a promiscuous girl named Sarah, a lounge singer named Evelyn and Mary, a legal secretary at Goodman, Kurtzberg and Holliway. Comic fans ears probably perked up at the mention of that law firm. Goodman, Lieber, Kurtzberg and Holliway is the firm She-Hulk worked at for a while based out of Timely Plaza, and the senior members are named for three of Marvel's founding fathers (Martin Goodman, Stanley "Stan Lee" Lieber and Jacob "Jack Kirby" Kurtzberg) and one fictional character. The image though, is of Marvel's stag magazine heroine Pussycat, because when am I going to get another chance to reference her?
For the record, I have no idea what "Crikey O'Reilly" means, but it is a wonderful exclamation. Marvel does have a pocket-dimensional hero called Conner O'Reilly (who helped that version of Tony Stark build the Iron Man armor), but that's neither here nor there.
Bonus: Special Thanks
Okay, this episode had waaaaaaaaaaaay too much information, so we'll talk some of these specially thanked people next time!
Victoria Alonso, Joe Johnston, Archie Goodwin, Don Heck, Joe Simon, John Byrne, Rodney Fuentebella, Steve Englehart, and Sal Buscema all received thanks.
Next time you guys!