Marvel's Agent Carter Matters- And Here's Why

2:36 PM Amanda Prahl 0 Comments

If you're like me, you've almost certainly seen the ubiquitous ads for ABC's upcoming Marvel miniseries, Agent Carter. And if you're like me, you've also almost certainly found the early trailers a little bit irritating, or at the very least quite cliché. "The best man for the job... is a woman." Come on- that's the best they could come up with? In all seriousness, though, ABC's PR department might not be the subtlest, but they certainly know what to play up about this new series. After 10 films (and counting) and one TV series with male leads, directors, writers, et al., Agent Carter will be the first property in the multi-platform Marvel Cinematic Universe to feature a female lead- and a female-led creative team to boot. For a somewhat nerdy female writer like me, there could be no better news. But this show isn't just a milestone for a major synergistic story. It's a lot more than that.

Hayley Atwell in Captain America, (c) Marvel/Disney

At first glance, the "geek" community may seem like a warm and welcoming place. It's home to stories of incredible heroism and faraway adventure, about escape from the ordinary world- or sharp analyses of the world through a different lens. It's the home of Comic-Con, that annual mecca of pop culture where trends are set for years in advance and thousands gather, in varying levels of costuming, to share a very unique experience. It's the haven for fans of all sorts to geek out and slightly obsess over their favorite stories and characters. To tell the truth, it's sort of every writer's dream, isn't it, to create something that inspires so much passion and interaction from the audience? Well, it certainly is my dream, at least. And within this world of fantasy, sci-fi, YA, and all the sub-genres of "genre" fiction in every medium, there is no shortage of fierce, strong, ladies- enough so, in fact, that there is an entire panel held annually at Comic-Con celebrating this excellent trend.

The 2014 "Women Who Kick Ass" panel at SDCC
But here's the thing: whether we want to talk about it or not, there is, at least in some circles, an inherent bias that geek culture is a boys' club, both in the stories and behind the scenes. How many female-led genre stories are there? How many of these stories are creatively led by women? The YA literature world seems to be the one safe haven for female-led, female-written genre stories, but the YA genre as a whole tends to be dismissed as girly teenage boy-choosing angst (some is, true, but nowhere near all of it). But let's look at television, for instance. Julie Plec of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals is the sole female showrunner in the genre world. And, though the TVD universe once was praised for its fast-paced, twisty, surprising storytelling, the show, like many reaching its age, has fallen flat the past few years. Today, despite attempts to maintain the supernatural stakes, it focuses a great deal on who is going to end up with who. There's nothing inherently wrong with romantic storylines- indeed, I have my shipping preferences, same as the next person. But when it dominates a show, all it does is "confirm" the idea that women-led shows are incapable of focusing on anything else. And to be honest, a story with a focus on romantic back-and-forth gets old fast, regardless of genre or writer.

And then there's Agent Carter: led by Hayley Atwell's breakout character from the Captain America movies- and run by Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas. The meta-story of this is something wonderful to see: a show about a woman fighting for her place in a "man's" world, written by women who have managed to stake a claim in a "man's" genre. They know what they're talking about, lending a veneer of reality to these surreal stories.
Agent Carter showrunners Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas
In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly (pages 46-48 in the Jan. 9 issue, if anyone wants to read the whole article), Fazekas comments, "There is this preconceived notion that women only write women stuff and men can write anything." And if one looks at the landscape of television right now, that seems to be the case. Julie Plec runs "romantic" based shows- a feminine tag if ever there was one. Shonda Rhimes writes "primetime soaps"- another feminized label. Michelle King- co-runner of The Good Wife alongside her husband- seems a slight exception, with all the acclaim the show receives from all sides, but it is still seen as a "ladies'" show to some degree. This is not to take away from these talented writers in the least! But with the debut of Agent Carter, we have a female lead (one who is neither hyper-romanticized or hyper-sexualized) and female showrunners, but a show that is meant to appeal to the same fanbase as the rest of the Marvel universe- a diverse, wide range of fans of all ages and identities. Here's the first full scene released from the show: Peggy Carter is as capable as ever, with a romantic side kept under wraps following Steve Rogers' disappearance and a quick intelligence that gains the respect of the often-disrespectful Howard Stark:



This is not to say all of the nerd universe is full of men who would hold back geek ladies. I have learned more about genre writing- and writing in general- from watching the work of JJ Abrams, Joss Whedon, Christopher Nolan, et al. than I have from some of my official writing classes in college. But I am not a comic-book expert. I have never played a video game in my life aside from Pac-Man. I don't watch "hardcore" sci-fi series such as Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica or Babylon V. I'm on the fairly mainstream side of "geek" culture: Doctor Who, Whedon, Fringe, the Marvel-verse, Arrow and The Flash. And there are those who would say I'm a "fake geek girl" because my "geek cred" isn't up to par. But being a part of a geek community is supposed to be just that: being part of a community that shares a passion for something. Same goes for creators behind the stories: if they are passionate and talented, what does it matter whether or not they can pass some arbitrary "test" of "true" geekdom? Agent Carter places the power to create with women, with a series that hopefully will draw admiration from all corners.

As a fan, I have been looking forward to Agent Carter for a long time. But this show matters to me very personally, and it matters to so many others as well. Marvel, one of the biggest names in pop culture today, has placed its newest, female-led story in the hands of women. The phenomenal Black Widow is no longer alone as a full-fledged Marvel on-screen heroine. And for me? As a woman who hopes to one day run a genre show, I finally have someone to look up to. And let me tell you, that is super.

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