Hayley Atwell’s Agent Carter lets comic book virgins step inside the Marvel universe

The Marvel universe can be a forbidding place but the British actress's ass-kicking secret agent makes it more accessible, says Ellie Walker-Arnott

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The Marvel universe is a daunting and confusing place. It’s where the Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four and the Guardians of the Galaxy rub shoulders. Ant-Man, Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are all there too. There are different timezones, strange gadgets, complicated costumes and rules. To make matters even more confusing, there are two of them: the Marvel comic universe and the Marvel cinematic universe. (I’m told they are not quite the same thing.) 

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If you’ve never picked up a comic book (guilty as charged – I almost wrote cartoon book there), it’s incredibly easy to misunderstand, misconstrue or say something astonishingly stupid about it in front of your Marvel-loving colleagues.

And like our own, the Marvel universe is expanding. Since Iron Man first raised his red head (Or is it gold? Can you tell I don’t know what I’m talking about?) in 2008, film franchises within franchises and spin-off TV shows have been popping up all over the place. It’s a bad time to be clueless about mutants, micro-verses and other things that begin with ‘m’. 

That’s not to say you have to be completely au fait with all of Marvel’s faces, places and overlapping realities to enjoy it. You can still think Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the best films of 2014 without understanding the subtleties, hidden references, nods to superfans and insider easter eggs. I do. But however hard I’ve tried to bluff it, I’ve always felt a little bit like I’m on the outside, like I don’t quite fit in. 

That’s why I’m especially pleased to make the acquaintance of Agent Peggy Carter. She’s the star of Marvel’s latest venture, a TV series based on Captain America’s ass-kicking, former love interest in The First Avenger film. 

When we catch up with her, it’s 1946, the war’s over and she’s working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve in New York. With the men back from the front, she is relegated to administrative work – and seriously underestimated by her male colleagues. Peggy is fighting the bad guys, secretly working undercover to help old acquaintance Howard Stark (Iron Man’s dad) AND battling misogyny – and all with perfect lipstick. “She’s kind of an early feminist,” Atwell told us.

I’m certainly not saying the Marvel universe needs to be simplified – dumbed down, lightened up and covered in girly glitter – for women to enjoy it. (I’m also not going to pretend that Peggy’s victory rolls, fitted two-pieces and red lippy aren’t a draw. They are.) But Hayley Atwell’s Agent Carter makes it all feel more accessible.

Peggy is intelligent, intuitive and quick-thinking. She can hold her own both in a sparring match and a punch-up. She’s a quick, witty and powerful leading lady. With no superpowers to her name, she’s down-to-earth. For those of us who aren’t already immersed in Marvel’s world, it feels like this is our in.

Thanks to Peggy, the comic book universe is now one I feel like I can really explore. 

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Agent Carter continues on Sundays at 9:00pm on Fox


Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell triumph in lip-sync battle, then lock lips (again!) to celebrate

Hayley Atwell: Agent Peggy Carter is an early feminist

Agent Carter preview: “You don’t need superpowers to be a superwoman”