Peggy Carter is back! Who is Whitney Frost? Who is Dr. Wilkes? What is that strange cold stuff!? All the answers (and more than you’d ask for) can be found in the comic connections!
Okay, so here’s the deal. For the past three years I’d been posting mostly-regular Secrets of SHIELD posts over at Kinja’s Observation Deck site. I still love the O’Deck, and its parent site io9, and its parent site Gizmodo, but it’s time to move on. So for now, I’ll try to bring Comic Connections to Monomythic as often as possible.
Hey, I’m not getting paid for this, so bear with me if some things are late or typo-riddled.
Anywhozits, Peggy is back, and it was a great start to the new season! Let’s dig right in…
From Comics Universe to Cinematic Universe
We open “Lady in the Lake” with Dorothy Underwood. For those who don’t recall, she was a graduate of Russia’s Red Room‘s Black Widow program, so she’s basically the precursor for Natasha Romanoff in the Avengers. Unlike the modern Black Widow, however, Dorothy was still working for the bad guys when last we saw her, and now she’s masquerading in Carter’s iconic red-white-and-blue clothing from the first season’s premiere. No doubt, she was trying to get Peggy’s attention.
Peggy and her team take Dorothy back to the New York Bell Co., the front business for the Strategic Scientific Reserve, the predecessor of SHIELD. The SSR branch is now headed by Peggy’s old partner, Jack Thompson, a tough guy whose heart is generally in the right place. Peggy tries interrogating Dorothy with little success, but what troubles her most is Dorothy’s interest in a strange pin with an unfamiliar symbol. Well, unfamiliar to Peggy anyway. In the modern day, Phil Coulson’s Agents of SHIELD discovered the symbol is part of a progression of symbols used by Hydra over the centuries, so clearly Dorothy either works for a branch of Hydra or – more likely given she was stealing from them – has a beef with Hydra.
In Los Angeles, Peggy’s old co-worker Daniel Sousa now serves as chief of the West Coast branch of the SSR. Sousa teams up with Det. Andrew Henry to investigate what is apparently the latest Lady in the Lake killing, a young woman named Jane Scott. Henry, who doesn’t let anyone touch him because he constantly have a cold, says the last victim of this serial killer was two years earlier, but this time something is different – the lady, and the lake, are on ice! For the record, Lady in the Lake was the name of a crime noir film from 1947, based on the novel of the same name from a few years earlier staring Raymond Chandler’s favorite hard-boiled Los Angeles-based private dick, Philip Marlowe. A nice nod to the era there by the writing team.
With his staff too green to handle such a weird case, Sousa calls Thompson to send someone with more experience over, so without telling Sousa, Thompson sends Agent Carter – who else? Arriving on a TWA flight, she meets up with her old friend and crime-fighting partner, Edwin Jarvis. For those not in-the-know, the computer program that becomes Vision in the films is based on this Jarvis – neat, huh? Jarvis explains that his boss Howard Stark is busy (but he’ll show up in future episodes), but introduces Peggy to Bernard Stark, an ornery flamingo. As funny as this is, here’s as good a place as any to mention the other annoying bird-character who menaced Marvel characters in the late 40s: the Parrot. He was just a really ugly guy who looked like a parrot and tried to run his own mob. Freaky.
Apparently while in LA, Howard Stark has created Stark Pictures as facies himself the next Cecil B. DeMille – the director everyone wanted to work with – when Peggy figures he’s more of a Fatty Arbuckle – who was known for a rather disturbing controversy involving a young actress. Strangely, Marvel’s 1940s hero the Invisible Man fought his own version of Fatty after the murder of a young actress in Mystic Comics #4.
On a more light-hearted note, Namor the Sub-Mariner created S. M. Studios in Fantastic Four #9 just to mess with the titular F4 in an overly convoluted plot. And following that cinematic theme, Sousa’s branch office is set up behind a fake talent agency with Rose manning the front office. Rose only had a few scenes in the last season, and it seems she’ll be a welcome regular in this season. Peggy can access the secret offices of the SSR by manipulating the handle on the R-S filing cabinet (which can be a reverse for SSR or Steve Rogers’ initials, take your pick). There he works with agents like O’Malley, Jacobs, Baxter, and a lab tech named Dr. Samberly.
Investigating the oddly frozen body, the team is pointed toward Isodyne Energy, a company with their own particle accelerator in Pasadena. Interestingly, Sousa charms the receptionist as a distraction while Peggy makes goo-goo eyes at a scientist to steal his pass code so she can enter restricted areas – attractiveness unlocks any door! Inside she meets Dr. Jason Wilkes (who we’ll go into detail about in a bit). Interestingly, he immediately asks her if she wants to get “thunderstruck,” and between the thunder reference and his being a seemingly nice scientist working for the bad guys, for a minute he called to mind the Marvel villain Thunderball. As it turns out, he wanted to show her his synthetic alcohol and make points toward asking her out. He gives her some background on the victim, naming her and giving Peggy a suspect in industrialist and political candidate Calvin Chadwick.
Before heading out to find Chadwick at a racetrack, Peggy meets Jarvis’ wife Ana. She’s a perky and outgoing woman who seems to harbor no jealousy whatsoever (at least so far) towards Peggy. She seems like a nice addition, and will do much to spur those Carter/Jarvis-shippers out there. Ana provides Peggy with some womanly advice from time to time, dresses her proper (when Peggy’s trying to do more than just infiltrate), and even sewed a garter/holster for her. In the comics, Jarvis’ lady love is Glory Garsen.
At the racetrack we meet the suspicious Chadwick and his wife, the famous actress Whitney Frost. No point in talking about her later. In the comics, Whitney is a major Iron Man foe/supporting character. Very much the Catwoman to Iron Man’s Batman, though more emotionally distraught. She’s the daughter of a powerful international crime family, the Maggia, and better known by her nom de guerre, Madame Masque. When trying to stall for time, Jarvis tells Whitney about a new Stark Picture’s film The British are Coming, about a tough-as-nails female spy who does not have a love interest because they “haven’t found the right actor yet.” Clever meta there.
Things quickly come to a head as the frozen body of Scott causes coroner Dr. Meltzer to freeze and fall to pieces. The team figures out Det. Henry is the suspect as he takes Dr. Wilkes hostage. Henry, it seems, used his position to cover up the crimes of anyone who hired him, but when he messed with his latest victim, he was infected with the cold inside her, spreading it around like a Typhoid Mary (Typhoid Mario?) until it caught up to him. A seemingly random police officer shot him before Peggy could learn more, and we later learn the young cop was also on the take. Two dirty cops is two too many.
Meanwhile, back in New York, Thompson tries the old “carrot and the stick” technique on Dorothy, but he decides to eschew the carrot as Dorothy’s people killed his old boss (
actually, she killed Dooley, but Thompson doesn’t know that [Strike that bit. Thanks, Tatlos!]). This just lulls himself into a false sense of security though, as Dorothy quickly gets the drop on him before she’s outnumbered by SSR agents. Before anything else can happen, a mysterious FBI agent called Vernon Masters takes Dotty off Thompson’s hands. Although frustrated, Thompson is encouraged when Masters tells him that as the wartime SSR is restructured into something new (SHIELD), the people he represents (Hydra) will make sure Thompson is well-cared for. The seeds of Captain America: The Winter Soldier may be sown here. In the comics, another man by the name of Masters becomes the Taskmaster, and Marvel did apparently get the rights back to that guy.
In the second half of the premiere, “A View in the Dark,” Peggy learns Jarvis weightlifts, fences, and practices both judo and Queen’s rules boxing – something comic book fans have known since Avengers #201 over three decades ago. Jarvis may not seem like much, but the man can defend himself. She also learns his key move is the “Tortoise of Fury,” and that he is most lethal when “flat on his back,” at least according to Ana. Nope, no innuendo there.
Peggy learned last episode that Sousa had a girlfriend, and just as Rose tries to convince Sousa to tell Peggy about her, we find that Peggy has met the young lady – Nurse Violet. Okay, this is just frustrating. This is the second named nurse in this series set in the late 40s, and she still isn’t Nurse Nellie, who was a major Marvel comedy character around this time. Sigh.
Back with the villains, Chadwick visits a club with the old Hydra symbol all over the place to meet with The Council, who also orchestrated the 1929 stock market crash as recommended by their member Tom. They unanimously (except for Chadwick at first) agree to end the whole Isodyne business and focus on Chadwick’s burgeoning political career. This despite Chadwick’s insistence that Isodyne is onto something big. In the comics, Marvel Knights Spider-Man #9 revealed that a similarly clandestine group ran most of the supercrime of the late 40s, but the true nature of that group has yet to be defined. The closing of Isodyne hits Whitney harder, as she knows they were working with a substance that she needs to fulfill her plans.
Sousa and Peggy learn something is up with Isodyne, but not what, but Wilkes passes on a note, inviting Peggy to the Dunbar Hotel, a primarily colored establishment. California isn’t as famous for segregation as the South, but it certainly had its racial divisions, something Peggy comes face-to-face with later on when she and Wilkes have trouble getting change for a phone call at Bullocks All-Night Doughnuts; Wilkes is used to this treatment, and while he doesn’t excuse it, he’s not surprised by it. Peggy is abashed. It’s nice to see such a sensitive issue addressed by this period show, and it seems to have been addressed with appropriate subtlety so far.
Backtracking a second, Peggy borrows Stark’s leisure car that has all manner of (arguably) useful gadgets, like instantly-tinting windows, a hidden wine compartment, a mirrored ceiling, and most importantly, a tracking device.
Spending time with Wilkes, Peggy learns he was in the navy, where he earned his education, and Wilkes learns Peggy was a masked, liquor-stealing bandit as a teenager. Interestingly, neither party mentions Captain America. The second Cap film revealed that Peggy eventually marries a man who was saved by Captain America during the war, and there’s nothing to say that it wasn’t Wilkes (yet). In the comics, Peggy’s longest relationship after Cap was with Gabe Jones.
Wilkes also reveals a secret Isodyne film of a Mojave Dessert atomic test that goes array (failing to copy the success of Little Boy and Fat Man), leading to a rift in space that eventually coalesces into a strange substance called Zero Matter that absorbs all light, heat, and energy. The substance, he speculates, comes from another dimension. Sounds like he’s describing the Darkforce, a quasi-mystical energy that stands opposed to all light and heat. Quite a few Marvel characters have access to the Darkforce dimension (knowingly or not), including Blackout, who menaced the Agents of SHIELD last year. Rumor has it, this will connect in some way to the Dr. Strange movie coming out next year.
After a violent confrontation with the Council’s assassins (and the aforementioned brush with racism), Peggy and Wilkes, bonding ever closer, break into Isodyne to steal the Zero Matter. While peggy deals with random thugs, Wilkes is challenged by Whitney Frost herself, who seems to know more about Zero Matter than Wilkes himself. The struggle leads to an explosion of Zero Energy (Darkforce?), after which Frost is scared (with something that looks like that dimensional rift) and Wilkes has vanished. Okay, so remember when we said we’d get back to who Wilkes was? Now’s the time. In the comics, Wilkes was a scientist willing to sell his secrets to the Soviet Union if it made him rich, but in his greed he unlocked some mysterious force that made him permanently vanish into the shadows! But, turning invisible (which is totally something the Darkforce could do) is not the same as dying – so it seems this non-traitorous version of Wilkes will be back! Um… spoilers? By the way, the same issue Wilkes appeared in, Tales of Suspense #25, also featured Monstrollo, who is a 50-foot-tall monster that has retired from causing trouble to be the biggest talent agent in Hollywood. Is it too much to ask that he have an appearance here? It is? Dang.
When Sousa learns Peggy’s in trouble, he abandons his plan to propose to Nell- uh, Violet, and rushes away, leaving Violet and Rose in the fact talent agency with some clown. Clowns painted up like cartoonish hobos were very common in the ’40s, but this is as good a time as any to point out that Marvel had a hobo superhero (more than one, actually) that dressed exactly like that. Officer Pat Murphy masqueraded as the hobo Chauncey Throttlebottom III, who was not-so-secretly the superhero Vagabond! Yes, such a character was on a team with Captain America, because comics!
Then something happens that hasn’t happened since Peggy has had her own series: Peggy breaks down. She doesn’t start bawling, but she is visible shaken by the possibility of Wilkes’ death, something she hasn’t let herself do since Cap disappeared in the icy Arctic waters. Whatever this may mean about her feelings for Wilkes, it certainly humanizes her often-perfect character.
Oh, and one last silly thing. Violet brings Sousa a bear claw (hopefully not from Bullock’s). Did you know that in the comics, Peggy teamed up with a bear while fighting Russian spies? Sure, originally Peggy was presented as a mentally unstable woman who did nothing between World War II and about 10 years ago (Marvel time), but comics published over the past year have since revealed that Peggy had a myriad of adventures with SHIELD and pre-SHIELD, including several team-ups with Howard Stark. In one team-up, they met a man-bear. Because comics!
I can’t guarantee these recaps will be on time every week, but here’s hoping for the start of something new. Let me know what you think in the comments!