A few months ago, while I was picking up my weekly batch of comics at my local shop, the guy at the register asked me if I wanted to add any upcoming titles to my subscriptions. I scanned the list of publishers and titles on the counter briefly, and noticed that, under the Marvel heading, was a book called Captain America: Peggy Carter, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.—listed at $7.99. When I asked why that one was so pricey—most comics run $3.99–$4.99—he assured me that it was a lengthy one-shot rather than a super-expensive ongoing series. Intrigued, I decided to request one. With the new Agent Carter TV show only growing in hype, I figured it would be some sort of tie-in or backstory for the Peggy the MCU has led us to love.
If you watch anime, you’re probably familiar with the concept of a recap episode. These are episodes tossed into a show when there isn’t enough production money to make an entirely new episode, and instead tie together footage from earlier episodes under a flimsy frame story, all the while pretending to be something new and worth watching. I was unpleasantly surprised to discover I’d dropped the price of a new manga on the comic book version of a recap episode.
The cumbersomely titled Captain America: Peggy Carter, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., rather than being any sort of tie-in to Hayley Atwell’s Marvel Cinematic Universe character, actually collects several issues of old Captain America comics that featured the Marvel-616 universe iteration of Agent Carter. It clocks in at a little over a hundred pages, so the price is arguably comparable to other books this size, but it’s the content, not the size, that left me frustrated.
Captain America: Peggy Carter, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. collects two more recent issues along with a 1959 comic and three issues from the 1968 Cap run. The newer issues follow Cap and Peggy as they do reconnaissance and sting missions in Nazi-occupied Europe, and are mostly inoffensive. The 1959 one is, not shockingly, the worst for Peggy’s character; she’s still a feisty woman, and resists both Nazi torture and Cap’s well-meaning attempts to get her out of the fighting, but it ends with her receiving amnesia from a blast and being separated from Cap, much to his anguish. The 1968 run is not terrible on Peggy’s part—she’s shown as being in an interracial relationship with her Black partner, former Howling Commando Gabe Jones, and mostly holds her own as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, although she’s incapacitated after one punch from the Red Skull. These issues don’t really focus on her, though, as they’re part of a larger arc in which Cap and the Falcon hunt down the Red Skull, and Falcon is revealed to have been brainwashed by the Skull to be his slave. (Yeah, I’ll get to that.)
It’d be one thing if this was not released with the intention of being, at least in part, tie-in material for the TV show. but the previews for the comic explicitly made the connection when the book was announced: “Marvel’s Agent Carter makes the leap from the movies to the small screen this winter—and Marvel has you covered with this essential look at Peggy’s espionage career!”
These comics aren’t really effective as a promotional item for the Agent Carter TV show for a number of reasons. The first problem is the simplest: these issues all exist within the 616 continuity, while the movies (and the TV show) are part of the Cinematic Universe. The backstories are so deeply different on such a basic level that you’re essentially reading about two different characters—Peggy Carter in these never knew Cap’s secret identity during the war, while the MCU Peggy was present when he was given the Serum, and, while MCU Peggy displays memory loss in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s clearly a result of old age and dementia rather than amnesia from a war wound.
Furthermore, the portrayal of 616 Peggy they’ve curated is a pale shadow of her MCU counterpart’s. MCU Peggy is written as so brutally competent and efficient that you could almost feel sorry for her male coworkers. She’s the equal of her peers, if not their better, and while there is some romance between her and Steve, it’s never portrayed in a way that makes her weak. The comics’ portrayal in the issues we’re given is nearly the opposite; she’s weeping more often than not, and is easily bested in physical combat.
Finally, the choice of issues, especially the 1968 issues that they did include, kind of undermine Peggy’s importance as a character. In the MCU, she’s a notable supporting character and a founding member of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the comics, she’s nearly a background character, and the actual storyline of the arc is so mind-bogglingly awful to Sam Wilson that we aren’t really paying attention to Peggy. I doubt that Marvel would have brought these issues out of the vault at all if they hadn’t been worth something to their Peggy collection, and it’s telling about the relevance of her character that they didn’t have literally anything better.
At the very least, one thing this book does do well is demonstrate how far comics have come as an art form. It’s hard to compare the two more modern stories, with their beautifully colored illustrations and terse, effective dialogue, with the bright, busy, wordy comics of five decades ago. The narration, characterization, and just the basic layout of the pages have grown exponentially in complexity and readability since that time. Unfortunately, that meant that reading the four older issues—which made up the bulk of the book—was a bit of a chore, and the constant editorial asides didn’t particularly help.
In the end, this book is a great collector’s item for someone who’s a hardcore fan of the 616, or for someone who’d like to have print copies of some issues that are, I’m sure, long out of print. But as a tie-in to Agent Carter, or even as a 616 jumping-off point for fans of the MCU version of the character, it’s not a very compelling read. If you haven’t bought it yet, you might want to consider spending your eight dollars on something else.