Tuesday, April 5, 2016

War and Remembrance

If you were one of those who took in Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011, you're no doubt familiar with "Agent Carter," the British soldier who worked with the super-soldier project and subsequently became involved with Steve Rogers, though their budding relationship died aborning when Rogers was presumed killed on a mission. The film character of Peggy Carter was loosely based on the comic book character introduced in Tales Of Suspense in mid-1966--an American woman who became involved with Cap while fighting with the French underground. In that story, the characters were also separated--yet it's clear their relationship progressed further than what the steamy bar scene in the film was never able to formalize.

It's a curious scene, despite its intimacy (or perhaps because of it), since these characters have fallen in love and worked together for weeks in preparation for the liberation of Paris by the Americans, yet still have never called each other by name. We can presume Cap is under orders to keep his identity a secret while involved in wartime operations--and we can stretch that line of thinking to Peggy if need be, since those in the underground depend on the secrecy of their identities. But the members of her underground cell don't just go around calling each other "hey, you," do they? Wouldn't Cap have overheard her name at some point? And would Cap simply knowing Peggy's first name compromise the group's security? A little more on this train of thought in a moment.

Cap is then called elsewhere, while Peggy and her group continue their operations. Unfortunately, many in the underground, including Peggy, are eventually captured by the Germans in an attempt to gain information from them, with their captors intending to execute them should they prove to be uncooperative. Peggy, on her way to a firing squad, suddenly receives a reprieve when the Allies make their push to invade, only to fall victim to tragedy.

What happens next is a frustrating series of moments for Captain America, as he reaches the city with the other soldiers and frantically attempts to locate Peggy (or, rather, the nameless woman he's in love with). Yet this is an important victory for the allies--and as a symbol of freedom, they're eager to sweep Cap up in their celebration, despite the fact that he appears to have other priorities. Cap never knew how close he was to the woman he sought; and while Peggy survived the explosion, there have been complications that would separate her from Cap indefinitely.

We've obviously returned to Cap in the present day, as he sifts through the memories of his past in the early days of his rebirth to assess his path forward. And while time has not passed for him in the physical sense, over twenty years now separate him from the only woman he's ever loved--and she remains a loose end in his life that yet clings to his thoughts.

And so our thoughts now turn to another

Marvel Trivia Question

Whatever happened to Peggy Carter?

For the purposes of the continuing Captain America story in Tales Of Suspense, we can assume that the flashback that Cap has experienced required that Peggy's name not be divulged in order to facilitate the tragic aspect of the tale--that of her disappearance without a trace. Cap would likely have left no stone unturned in seeking out his girlfriend--but in the chaos of post-invasion France, and with Cap doubtless needed in other operations, the task would be next to impossible if he didn't know her name and only had her general description to go by. To the best of my knowledge, writer Stan Lee abandons Peggy to the past; rather, his purpose appears to be to enable Steve Rogers to go on with his life and find a new love.

And that's precisely what he does, previously introducing another Agent Carter--S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Sharon Carter, that is, who Steve spots on the street and can't help but do a double-take at.

From all appearances, Sharon is involved with SHIELD work, though Steve only catches on to the fact that there's more to this "accidental" encounter with a passer-by than meets the eye. Sharon ditches Steve as casually as possible--but in leaving, she confirms the connection that has piqued his interest, stretching the concept of coincidence beyond belief.

Cap later becomes active in the case, involving an A.I.M. explosive named Inferno-42 (one can only wonder at the hapless fate of the A.I.M. scientists who worked on explosives 1-41). Unfortunately, its cracked casing would lead to another apparent tragedy, following Cap's confrontation of A.I.M. and their own agent, Batroc.

Sharon Carter would, however, survive, and grow to become involved with Steve Rogers, romantically as well as professionally.

Time passes, and one day Sharon mysteriously disappears--and Cap's search for her leads to the capture of himself and the Falcon, and subsequently finding themselves (along with Sharon) in a re-enactment of events from World War II, fighting for their lives. It quickly dawns on them that their foes are contemporary henchmen dressed as Nazis--but their real shock comes with a woman's scream, and the revelation of their true foe.

Another bizarre scheme by the deadly Dr. Faustus, this time involving a woman whose identity remains hidden, but whom Faustus has taken custody of specifically to gain an advantage over his star-spangled enemy. And from the woman's recollections, we learn more of the link that Faustus seeks to take advantage of.

Taking place seven years later (our time) to the month, this woman's story wouldn't necessarily ring a bell with the reader immediately. But thanks to Sharon, whose parents have also been brought to Faustus's asylum, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place for Cap, as he finally learns the fate of the woman he was separated from during the war.

The details of Sharon's story are somewhat confusing in regard to the extent of Peggy's amnesia. From what we've seen here as well as in Sharon's TOS appearance, it would appear that Peggy's memories returned in small bits and pieces; for instance, there are Sharon's musings after first meeting Steve Rogers concerning her sister's stories of "the boy she knew in World War Two." She also appears to remember Cap specifically, following her return to the states from Belgium. Yet we can gather that those remnants of memory come and go, and were almost entirely suppressed after being told that Cap hadn't made it out of the war alive. For the most part, writer Steve Englehart's story bringing back the character is plausible enough--though why he would feel the need to afflict her with a second bout of amnesia is unclear. Perhaps it was necessitated by Lee opening the door with Sharon's thoughts on her sister after first meeting Steve.

At any rate, Cap now knows the facts--and he has one important order of business to take care of before moving on to Faustus.

As for Faustus, he makes a fight of it, but is finally defeated (with no small amount of help from Peggy, herself).

Unfortunately, Peggy's thoughts and feelings remain centered on Cap, who of course hasn't aged since the war and can't help but suggest in her mind that perhaps they can pick up where they left off. The situation forces Sharon and Cap to keep their relationship a secret from her, which only treats a symptom and not the problem.

To ease her pain, and in part to get her life back on track, Peggy becomes a SHIELD agent, yet remains preoccupied with Cap--particularly now that he's gone missing, during the brief period when he hung up his shield and uniform and decided to walk away from his role as Captain America. Finally, in order to move forward with Sharon, Steve feels he has no choice but to be as direct with Peggy as possible. The meeting ends as disastrously as you might expect.

Yet Peggy does indeed move on--and Cap notices that she has been spending time with another SHIELD agent who also dates back to the war.

The last I knew of Peggy on active duty, she had taken a position as part of the Avengers' support staff. Later, her past was revised and she became Sharon's aunt rather than her sister, and estranged from Sharon's father; and in time, we find Sharon visiting Peggy at a nursing home, where her aunt has, as the saying goes, her good days and bad days.

Peggy passes away in a story in 2011, where Cap et al. attend her funeral in Paris.

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