The arrival of What If on Disney+ has brought with it a new shieldbearer that Marvel Studios seems pretty keen on making the face of a multiverse of superheroics: Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter. No longer just an Agent of SHIELD, as we best know her, but the latest holder of the Captain mantle. As Sam Wilson’s new reign with the shield shows, it’s about time the MCU imagined Cap beyond Steve Rogers—but the idea of it being Peggy with the shield is a relatively recent one.
Although the arrival of this new “Captain America,” Captain Carter, in the new animated Disney+ streaming series has made her almost the de facto face of What If (presumably while Sam leads the charge in the next Captain America movie and beyond), Peggy picking up the mantle is not unique to the series. Even if the idea isn’t unique to the show—which riffs on both the classic Marvel Comics series of the same name and various other MCU and Marvel Comics storylines, from Marvel Zombies to films like Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy—Peggy’s captaincy is actually still in its infancy. In fact, she didn’t even get her start in the comics.
Although Peggy’s been in Marvel Comics since 1966 (she wouldn’t be identified as such until a whopping seven years later in Captain America #162), giving her the shield and Captain America mantle wouldn’t happen until Cap’s 75th anniversary—even then it wasn’t in the comics themselves. Captain Carter was, in fact, introduced in a mobile game: Marvel Puzzle Quest, a match-three puzzle game by Demiurge Studios. The game, which launched in 2013, is still active (it added What If’s version of Captain Carter last week), but Captain Carter was added as a playable avatar in 2016.
Imagined from the ground up by Jae Tsai, Amanda Clarke, and Paige Pettoruto for the game, Captain Carter was released for Marvel Puzzle Quest’s celebration of the 75th anniversary of Captain America, alongside a whole host of other Marvel games celebrating the anniversary. Instead of simply being a different skin for Captain America, Peggy was given her own place in the multiverse, and a similar backstory to the one we’d eventually see in What If. On her Earth—(Earth-TRN665)—Peggy was a British agent who took Steve’s place in the supersoldier serum program after the latter was assassinated in an attack by Hydra agents. However, this was all Peggy got—she doesn’t have a role in Puzzle Quest’s story, and primarily exists as an avatar for players to recruit to their teams of heroes, powered by the game’s match-three puzzle gameplay to execute special attacks. Although it wasn’t the last time a Marvel game would be intrigued by the idea of Peggy with the supersoldier serum. A radically different version that was more of a hybrid between Peggy, Nick Fury, and Captain America, President Carter, appeared last year in Kabam’s Marvel Realm of Champions. She wouldn’t appear again until she made the leap into comics.
After her game debut, Captain Carter first appeared in a Marvel Comic in 2018, in Saladin Ahmed, Javier Rodriguez, Álvaro López, Chris O’Halloran, and Joe Caramagna’s Exiles #3. Following a team of misfit characters from across the Marvel multiverse lead by the teleporting mutant Blink, the Exiles encountered Peggy as Captain America on Earth-86315. Despite being aesthetically identical to the Captain Carter of Marvel Puzzle Quest, this version of the character had a more fleshed-out story, including her own plucky companion in the form of Rebecca “Becky” Barnes, a young queer woman who fought alongside Peggy during the Second World War.
The team helped Peggy and Becky stop the Red Skull from dropping an atomic bomb on New York, but accidental damage to the device caused it to eventually detonate anyway, with the Exiles and Becky whisked away to safety in the time stream. It was eventually revealed that while New York was devastated by the blast, Captain America survived, joining the Exiles in their multiversal adventures. The series ended after 12 issues, and Peggy’s Captain America hasn’t been seen in the comics since.
Now that Captain Carter has returned—re-imagined for a third time in What If’s premiere episode—it seems like she might be here to stay a bit more permanently. Speaking to io9 in the run up to the show’s launch, producer Brad Winderbaum revealed that Peggy will be revisited in the show’s second season, and will form the basis of an overarching narrative between the show’s multiversal one-off stories by developing a connection to Jeffrey Wright’s Uatu the Watcher. He said, “We realized as we started developing the second season that Captain Carter was going to be the character we would revisit in every season, and continue that adventure.”
Last we saw, Peggy arrived in what seemed to be the present day after dealing with a giant, tentacled monster summoned by the Red Skull. Where that could take her next—back to the comics, into live-action properties alongside Sam Wilson’s Captain America, multiversal surfing with Doctor Strange and the Scarlet Witch, or anywhere else—remains to be seen. But after only the briefest moments in the spotlight before, it’s clear that Captain Carter is ready for more. Are you?
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