On Thursday night (May 7), while many fans of Marvel's "Avengers: Age of Ultron" were still licking their metaphoric wounds tied to the Black Widow's (Scarlett Johansson) arc on the big screen, another woman in the Marvel-verse celebrated a great victory -- Hayley Atwell, whose "Agent Carter" was picked up for a second season on ABC.
And while I'm not here to tell disappointed fans that their feelings about Black Widow are invalid, or even that the Avengers universe doesn't need a swift kick in the glute when it comes to gender equality, I am here to tell you that it's time to put aside our worrying and give credit where credit is due, and when it comes to the phenomenal Atwell, that credit is way past due. Here's why:
Because she's currently the only bona fide female lead of a Marvel show or movie.
Twiddling your thumbs as you wait for the Black Widow movie that might not happen or the Captain Marvel movie that definitely is happening is way more fun in theory than in practice. Yes, women deserve more love in the MCU, but that shouldn't take away from the great strides that are being made on television -- a space that has already proven to be far more generous when it comes to telling great stories about human beings who aren't white men.
Widow arguably steals movies like "Winter Solider" and even the first "Avengers" from her male colleagues, but she's never been the star of the show. Atwell, however, is the sun, moon and stars of "Agent Carter." Her fierce, nuanced, and impeccably costumed performance is a marvel to behold (har, har) week after week, as Atwell continues to highlight Peggy's strengths and flaws while she navigates the treacherous waters of working in a male-dominated industry in the 1940s. (TV's other great Peggy, Peggy Olson, would be horrified to see Agent Carter's working conditions, and that's really saying something.)
But the show doesn't only focus on how much it sucks to deal with Chad Michael Murray, of course -- Peggy also gets to solve fun mysteries, pal around with Howard Stark, and kick major amounts of ass while she's laying the groundwork for later, patriarchy-crushing characters like Melinda May, Daisy "Skye" Johnson, Jenna Simmons and Bobbi Morse on "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Because let's never, ever forget the fact that Peggy Carter freaking started S.H.I.E.L.D.. (We'll choose to forgive the whole HYDRA thing.)
Because she passes the Bechdel Test.
Another sad byproduct of Widow being the only lady Avenger is that the only people she gets to interact with are male. So even without the flirtations with Cap and Hulk (I refused to acknowledge her friendship with Hawkeye as anything more), her social interactions are limited by the fact that she never gets to converse with females. This might seem like no big deal to some, but it is -- and look no further than "Agent Carter" to see a female lead who is strengthened by her relationships with the women in her life.
Yes, Peggy began as a love interest for Captain America, but he's "dead" by the time the show picks up. The writers on "Agent Carter" honor this relationship and respect the fact that Cap was a great love in Peggy's life, but they also allow her to have a great, mutually beneficial relationship with Lyndsy Fonesca's Angie Martinell. (Both women have saved the other's hide in a variety of ways multiple times.)
Basically, there's nothing wrong with giving Peggy (or Widow) a love interest -- she's a hot-blooded woman, after all -- but fleshing out the character by giving her great friendships as well has been a joy to watch. Tony gets War Machine, Cap gets Bucky and Falcon, and Thor gets his own beautiful reflection, so why shouldn't Marvel's female characters have a Scooby Gang of their own?
Because it's unfair to pin all of your Marvel hopes and dreams on one character.
And here's where we get to the crux of the problem -- of course the Black Widow character was bound to receive some backlash, because she's pretty much the MCU's only prominent female character (Maria Hill, as awesome as she is, doesn't get a whole lot to do), and she's definitely its only superhero as of the start of "Ultron." That means that fans naturally pinned all of their hopes and dreams for the MCU's females on her, and few characters would ever be able to live up to that throughout multiple movies.
"Ultron" may or may not have failed Black Widow, but the real problem is that we all lose when only one female is allowed to represent our gender in a movie universe as big and important as Marvel's. That's why it's important to celebrate and honor victories like what Atwell is doing as Peggy Carter -- because the more badass lady characters we see onscreen, and the more people respond well to them, the better our chances for seeing a Captain Marvel or a Ms. Marvel or a Spider-Gwen on the big screen.