Marvel’s Peggy Carter boasts an impressive fictional resumé. From code-breaking at Bletchley Park to fighting HYDRA with the SSR, followed by founding the intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D., Carter has had a monumental impact on the Marvel Universe.
Carter has, time and time again, been at the forefront of protecting Marvel’s greatest minds and strongest superheroes. Yet, she’s often forgotten about during discussions of Marvel’s latest and greatest. A strong introduction in Captain America: The First Avenger soon gave way to a handful of scattered movie appearances, a cancelled-far-too-soon self-titled series and an unceremonious off-screen death in Captain America: Civil War. After a number of injustices, it’s safe to say that Agent Carter fans were feeling considerably hard done by.
It’s why, when Marvel announced their new What If…? series with an animated still of Peggy Carter emblazoned in a superhero uniform, Carter fans just about lost their minds.
Taking it’s inspiration from the comic series of the same name, What If…? began in 1977 with What If… Spider-Man Joined The Fantastic Four?. Over the decades, the series has posed recurring questions, offering alternate realities and fantastical possibilities in equal measure, as a means to explore stories never thought possible.
2021’s What If…? begins with Peggy taking front and centre. Hayley Atwell’s voice work excels in reviving Carter for the animated screen, particularly when placed alongside 1940’s allies, Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton,) Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper,) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Furthermore, her super soldier transformation is a delight — refusing to shy away from beefing up Carter’s frame, Peggy gains an almost deific stature, towering over her male counterparts and wildly outperforming them in feats of combat and strength, whilst simultaneously maintaining her familiar coiffed hair and iconic red lipstick.
Series writer AC Bradley expands on Marvel’s design process, “When it came to creating the design of Captain Carter, a lot of that was down to Ryan Meinerding (Creative Director). Victoria Alonso (Producer) was actually a very strong voice in meetings, saying that, ‘We want her to still look like a woman, but we also want her to look like a hero.’ Victoria was the one very much making sure there was no male gaze in the design. And there was always this notion of, she needs to be strong but who she is.”
‘Who she is’ remains crucial throughout the episode. A bold, defiant woman, equal parts heart and brain, Peggy is no longer reduced to a tragic love interest or an overshadowed woman of the 1940’s. Her new stature reflects the inner strength often overlooked by male colleagues and fans alike. But a fresh set of muscles and a few extra inches do not a superhero make.
“When I was writing the script, the ‘What If…?’ everyone thinks is ‘What If… Peggy Carter became the first Avenger,” Writer AC Bradley explains, “But really, it’s ‘What If… Peggy Carter stayed in the room.’”
Bradley continues, “A woman staying in the room is what changes the world. And the notion of this script is, this isn’t Peggy gets the serum and now she can be a superhero. She was always a hero, but now the outside gets to match the inside. She gets to be a force to be reckoned with. She has the space and the ability and the chance to be the hero we all knew she could be, even from Captain America: The First Avenger.”
And staying in the room is precisely what AC Bradley achieves. Through subversive, thought-provoking and emotive writing, Peggy Carter returns triumphantly to our screens, taking familiar movie moments and turning them into something fresh and engaging. Bradley follows suit, leading the animated series in twists and turns never thought possible, all with a level of skill and accomplishment often reserved for animation’s biggest names. Bradley seemingly achieves the impossible here - taking wild concepts and baffling ideologies and transforming them into half-hour, accessible chunks, all whilst delivering a depth and emotional core often only seen in the Emmy-award winning dramas of HBO and the BBC. If there were any doubt about AC Bradley staying in the room, you won’t find it here.
Marvel’s What If…? is more than a Saturday morning cartoon, or mere animated folly to pass the time between series’. It stands head-and-shoulders above it’s animated competition, alongside the likes of Wandavision, The Falcon & The Winter Soldier and Loki, demanding your attention. It offers high-concept, layered storytelling, paired with a unique, cel-shaded animation style, a wonderfully nostalgic musical score and truly inspired voice acting. It returns fan-favourites to the front, providing deeper, alternate looks into stories long past and often forgotten. It resurrects Peggy Carter, from her off-screen killing, her cancelled series and her reductive love interest cameos, and puts her exactly where she belongs: back in the room.
“A woman staying in the room in the 1940’s, that’s a big statement,” Says Bradley, “And I think in 2021, it’s still a very powerful one. Women need a place at the table. Women need to stay part of the discussion, because this is how we change the world. ”
By Bucky Ringsell
About the author
Bucky Ringsell is a non-binary writer, presenter and journalist. When not asking how best to get Hayley Atwell in a superhero suit, Bucky can mostly be found collecting toys, reading comic books, watching movies and playing video games (like a real adult.)"