As we look ahead at all the wonderfulness that our favorite geeky TV shows will to bring us this spring, fans of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will get a look at the early days of their favorite clandestine organization with the new series Agent Carter. Starring British actress Hayley Atwell, the show follows the adventures of Captain America’s best gal, Peggy Carter, as she overcomes both danger and 1940s male chauvinism in her never-ending battle against the forces of evil.
The journey to the small screen was a unique one for Agent Carter. Originally created as a love interest in the film Captain America: The First Avenger, Carter later appeared in her own “one-shot” short film that was included with the Blu-ray release of Iron Man 3. The film and the character were so popular that the TV series was created as a mid-season fill-in for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In her series, Carter fights to clear the name of Howard Stark (father of Tony Stark, the man beneath the Iron Man armor), who has been framed for selling deadly weapons to the bad guys.
In headlining her own series, Agent Carter stands (hopefully in a pair of sensible flats) on the shoulders of a slew of other female action heroes. Like Peggy Carter, they weren’t always treated with respect. Here are just a few of the women characters who have preceded her:
Perhaps the greatest female genre character ever (and certainly the most well-known), Wonder Woman has been fighting the good fight in print, on the big screen and on television since her creation in comic books in 1941. Armed with her Lasso of Truth, her indestructible bracelets, an invisible airplane and superhuman abilities, Wonder Woman (also known as Princess Diana of Themyscira, and Diana Prince when she’s in her civilian guise), Wonder Woman is widely remembered as a member of the animated series Super Friends and her own TV show starring Lynda Carter in the 1970s. Next up for the Amazon warrior princess is an appearance in the 2016 film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, from which her own series of big-budget films will then be spun off. Israeli actress Gal Gadot will play Diana in these movies.
Originating from a series of novels launched in 1957, Honey West later inspired her own short-lived TV show that appeared during the 1965-66 season starring Anne Francis. The character, one of the first female private eyes to appear on television, was created by authors Gloria and Forrest E. Fickling, and was intended to be the American answer to the wildly popular Emma Peel of the British TV classic The Avengers. West was often referred to as the “private eyeful,” was trained in the martial arts, and like all great TV detectives, was handy with a handgun.
Like Wonder Woman, Modesty Blaise was born in the pages of the comics, this one created by author Peter O’Donnell and illustrator Jim Holdaway. The comics were later adapted into films, novels, and short stories. Armed with a Colt .32 revolver, her trusty “yawara stick” and her extraordinary fighting skills, Blaise and her sidekick Willie Garvin leave their criminal past behind to fight the forces of evil, often at the behest of the British Secret Service. While her 1966 film bore little resemblance to the source material, there have been intermittent attempts to bring her back, most notably by Quentin Tarantino and Neil Gaiman.
A short-lived spin-off from the popular 1960s American TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Girl ran during the 1966-67 television season. It starred Stefanie Powers as U.N.C.L.E. agent April Dancer (a name suggested by none other than James Bond creator Ian Fleming, who was a consultant on the original U.N.C.L.E. series). Dancer was not only trained in hand-to-hand combat, but also carried a perfume atomizer that sprayed toxic gas, earrings and charm bracelets that exploded, and an array of other secret-agenty gadgets. With a new Man from U.N.C.L.E. film due this summer—this one starring Man of Steel’s Henry Cavill—might a new Girl from U.N.C.L.E. be far behind? (If so, let’s hope she’s at least promoted to “Woman” from U.N.C.L.E. “Girl” is so 20th century.)