Saturday, December 20, 2014

'Captain America: Peggy Carter, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.' review

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to the "Agent Carter" TV series.

So when I found a copy of CAPTAIN AMERICA: PEGGY CARTER, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. in my pull box at The Pop! Shop, I was pleased. (Kudos to store owner David Baum for looking out for a brother and a Caphead!)

Technically not a trade paperback, PEGGY CARTER is a compilation of Carter-centered stories through the years and a solid introduction to the character.

To come right down to it, she hasn't made that many appearances in comics. Half of the stories are from World War II while the three-parter from 1975 is when Carter returns to S.H.I.E.L.D. and puts no doubt she meant a lot to Captain America/Steve Rogers during the war, but each of them have moved on. Interestingly, this where Sharon Carter is coming to terms she's in love with Rogers.

In the back is a narrative history of Carter in Marvel Comics which basically recaps these same stories and includes her time as the communications officer for The Avengers. What's especially helpful is the clarification that Sharon Carter is Peggy's niece, not her younger sister as some writers have said. (Sharon's parents are Peggy's brother and wife.)

Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter in
"Captain America: The First Avenger."
Check out my thoughts on two modern stories (the CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FIRST THIRTEEN one-shot and a relatively short sequence from writer Ed Brubaker's run on CAPTAIN AMERICA [2011] Nos. 1-2) and four great stories from the Bronze Age (TALES OF SUSPENSE No. 77 and CAPTAIN AMERICA Nos. 184-186 -- when the original Cap series read CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE FALCON):

THE FIRST THIRTEEN: This is the second time I've read this (since I'd read it in a trade paperback). I'm still confused on what writer Kathryn Immonen is trying to accomplish here. My best guess is to give meat to the work Carter did for the French underground movement in World War II, but it seems to fall short -- as does Peggy Carter's chemistry with Cap.

On the other hand, the last three pages hit home the most as Cap and Carter recount their first meeting (naturally with their own very different perceptions and memories on what they were doing at the time!) during a long good-bye. The artistic team depicts Carter as a blonde, basically making her a deadringer for her niece -- which does nothing but confuse readers (or moviegoers used to seeing Hayley Atwell's Carter as a brunette); this makes it difficult to tell the difference between the two women. But maybe that's the point. Grade: C+

CAPTAIN AMERICA (2011) Nos. 1-2: Here, in this WWII flashback, Carter has reddish-blond hair, so this may be where the FIRST THIRTEEN creative team got its inspiration since this series was published before the FIRST THIRTEEN one-shot.

Sgt. Nick Fury assigns Cap and Carter to hit one of Baron Zemo's hideouts as part of a two-prong attack. Aside from retrofitting more of Hydra into Marvel's World War II (as is the case in the films), the only reveal here is Carter and a S.S. agent named Richard once had a fling. ("We were just soldiers in need of company," she tells him.) Richard quickly picks up on the fact that he's "not enough of a Super Soldier" to compete for Carter's affections.

It's nearly impossible to figure out what this flashback means as there only are seven pages included in this compilation; its significance is lost without the rest of Brubaker's story. (Keep in mind Brubaker isn't known for including scenes "just because.") Grades — Story: C; Art: B

TALES OF  SUSPENSE No. 77: Modern writers have nothing on Stan Lee who delivers a doozie of an angst-ridden Steve Rogers in what Lee advertises as "the never-told-before saga of The Girl from Cap's Past." A special broadcast of unseen World War II footage featuring Captain America tears Rogers apart emotionally as he wonders about Carter's fate.
Peggy Carter and Captain America have a tender moment
before going their separate ways during World War II.
(Art by Jack Kirby and John Romita)

Sure, Cap, Rogers and Carter's dialogue is melodramatic (see the two panels on the right) -- if not borderline cheesy, but there's no denying Lee delivers the drama. More so than any of the other stories in PEGGY CARTER, here's where the bond between Cap and Carter is most obvious.

This is a historically important tale, as it reveals how Carter gets amnesia and how Rogers, in modern times, (wrongly) assumes she's missing, dead or simply forgotten about him. Brubaker and other subsequent witers -- not to mention the "Captain America" and "Avengers" film writers -- have been inspired by this story to give gravitas to Cap and Carter's complicated relationship. In the comics and even the "Avengers" film, this gives context to the senile dementia Carter develops in her later years.

As soap opera-esque as some of the moments are, Lee's story pointedly puts in motion the couple's complex relationship, which in turn feeds into Rogers' love for Sharon Carter. The layouts by Jack Kirby (one of cap's co-creators) and John Romita's layouts kill it both the dramatic and action sequences. This is one of those brilliant issues where the story wouldn't be as powerful without the art and visa versa. Grades — Story: A; Art: A

CAPTAIN AMERICA (Vol. 1) Nos. 184-186: This is an equally brilliant three-part story by Steve Englehart, who isn't just a great writer, but a wonderful man! (I had the pleasure of meeting one of my comic-book heroes during the first Cleveland Comic Con and always has been nice enough to be interviewed via email.)

Here, Englehart pits the Red Skull versus S.H.I.E.L.D., bringing a focus on the dedicated friendship and working relationship of Captain America and the Falcon with a subplot of Carter's potential love affair with Gabe Jones, a black agent. Thes interracial relationships aren't a big deal for modern readers, but in 1975, it was progressive, if not, daring, to have the superhero who embodies the American spirit be best friends with a black man (Rogers and Sam Wilson) and a white woman falling in love with a black man (Carter and Jones).

Englehart handles these situations with a lot of class. He puts these relationships out there — not by forcing the issue down readers' throats, but in a matter-of-fact way. The story, in turn, handles the situation in stride. As it should be.

The story is a thriller. Once again it's obvious why the Red Skull is such a menace to society and the way Americans live their lives. The events reveal the bond between three pairings: Rogers and Wilson; Rogers/Cap and Carter; and Carter and Jones. And being the brilliantly writer he is, Englehart doesn't just deliver one of the many reasons we despise the Red Skull, but there's subplot in which Peggy Carter's niece, Sharon, realizes she has feelings for Rogers.

Highly recommended reading, Capheads! Grades — Story: A; Art: B-


3 comments:

  1. I now have to get this comic LOL. I also did not no the back ground on her. Do you think this will be a classic in the year's to come ?

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    1. I don't think this collection is or will be a classic. If nothing else, it's a way to get the Peggy Carter name out there for the ABC limited series. But I will say Stan Lee's and Steve Englehart's stories are pretty classic.

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