The Marvel Cinematic Universe has turned many comics characters into pop culture darlings, from Iron Man to Groot to Shuri. Sharon Carter is, arguably, not one of those characters.
I can’t think of any other minor Marvel character who has inspired quite the level of negativity that she has, from dedicated hate blogs to petitions against her inclusion in the films. Most of the fan discourse around her seems to involve mockery, revulsion, jokes about incest, or discussions about how Marvel Studios failed her by reducing her to a love interest role.
But if we go ahead and eliminate that five-second kiss between Captain America and Sharon Carter in Captain America: Civil War, we are still left with a few scenes—not a lot, admittedly, but a few nonetheless—where Agent 13 contributes to the plot and moves the story forward. Romance is not her motivation in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and it’s not her motivation in Captain America: Civil War. The problem is that ultimately, we still saw too little of her outside of that kiss, and not at all after it.
It’s difficult to say for sure what Marvel had originally intended for Sharon in the films. Back in 2013, Deadline reported that the character’s actress, Emily VanCamp, was up for the female lead of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Perhaps they got it wrong, or perhaps Sharon Carter was the female lead at one point—certainly, there is some convincing fan speculation that much of her role was later subsumed for Black Widow, who turned out to be the female lead in the version of the film that made it to cinemas.
In the end, Sharon’s role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was minimal, but arguably memorable. She has less than ten minutes of screentime, but nonetheless proves herself to be a competent agent who is trusted by Fury, admired by the Black Widow, and good enough to be recruited by the CIA after SHIELD’s fall. Her brief scenes demonstrate that Agent 13 doesn’t blindly follow her superiors—but she does stand up for what’s good and right. As small as her role is, it is certainly true to the spirit of the comics iteration.
Captain America: Civil War is a very different story. I’ve actually got a poster of the above art that I bought at the BFI IMAX in London, which features Sharon Carter as part of Team Cap with Steve, Bucky, and Sam, and Agent 13 is also included in a LEGO set of the famous airport battle. Neither of these things reflects what’s actually in the final film, but they do suggest that in the early stages of development, Sharon was supposed to be a key part of Team Cap, but soon was marginalised (once again) to serve other narrative goals once the movie became Avengers 2.5, rather than Captain America 3.
Still, Sharon has some cool moments in Civil War. She goes head-to-head with the Winter Soldier during his later rampage. Admittedly, she gets taken down in spectacular fashion, but in fairness, she doesn’t do much worse than the other Avengers, either. Her later kiss with Steve is a controversial moment that triggered a lot of debate and derision, but as noted earlier, even if we take that away, we are nonetheless left with a character with a lot of potential.
Marvel did not leverage any of that potential for Avengers: Infinity War or Avengers: Endgame. Given how the latter ended with Steve travelling back in time to be with Peggy Carter, Sharon’s aunt, part of me is surprised they even decided to acknowledge Sharon’s existence by including her in next year’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier mini-series. And given that the scripts are still being written, the cynic in me is half-expecting for Agent 13 to be shoved into the background yet again.
But my surprise is mostly overshadowed by my hope that Marvel Studios might finally leverage the character’s complexity and depth for a richer, more interesting story. The longer format of a six episode mini-series affords a great opportunity for Sharon Carter to finally get her due in the MCU, even as a supporting character.
Even in her early comic appearances, it was always clear that Sharon—who was introduced in the comics as Agent 13, and known only as such for several issues before the readers (and Cap) finally learned her name—was a character with a life of her own outside of her short encounters with Captain America. She was quickly and firmly established as a competent and trusted field operative for SHIELD; one who very much believed that her job and duty were more important than love and romance. I think this could actually be a great source of inspiration to explain why the romance between Steve and Sharon in the MCU didn’t continue past Captain America: Civil War; perhaps Sharon decided that she wanted to focus on her mission and the job at hand, and felt that ‘romance on the run’ would interfere with that priority. This would be an empowering way for The Falcon and Winter Soldier to address her very fleeting romance with Steve, without placing her in the awkward box of an ex-flame who was jilted for her aunt.
In the comics, Sharon’s dedication to her work was ultimately used against her. She was killed during an undercover mission, not to be seen by readers for another 25 years. So far, so “female character in comics,” Eventually, in 1995, Mark Waid decided to bring her back into the fold. But Waid didn’t just revive her and be done with it. He reinvented the character as a cynical woman who learned from bitter experience that the only person she could trust was herself.
When characters return from the dead in comics, there’s usually a convoluted explanation of some kind, and Sharon’s revival was no exception. Per Waid’s explanation, Sharon’s death, one that Steve had seemingly watched a recording of, had been deliberately faked by S.H.I.E.L.D., so that she could go on an undercover mission without the pesky ties of real life.
Somehow, though, the strings were cut. Nick Fury ended up thinking that Sharon was dead, and gave up on her. Trapped alone behind enemy lines, Sharon did what she had to do to survive. As such, upon her return, she’s wary, hardened, and not a little bitter. Her cynicism made her an even better foil for Steve (and his American Dream idealism) than ever—and an even more interesting character than she had been before.
Emily VanCamp’s comments that we don’t know what Sharon has been up to or where’s she been, and that we might see a different side of her, makes me think that we could very well see this version of the character in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. We don’t know what happened to her after she helped Steve, Sam and Bucky towards the end of Captain America: Civil War, although it’s implied that she would be going on the run.
Her picture is seen very, very briefly in Avengers: Endgame on the interface showing people who were missing and/or presumed ‘snapped’. But Ant-Man was also on that list, and it turned out he was merely missing. It doesn’t seem too far beyond the realm of possibility that Agent 13 could have been on a deep cover mission during Infinity War, and, just like in the comics, left for dead after Thanos eliminated half the living universe.
She could even pop up again in a way that’s reminiscent of her comics re-appearance, where she’d begrudgingly teamed up with Red Skull to save the world (long story, but suffice to say: comics!). That partnership was what led her to reunite with Cap after so many years. Just swap Red Skull for Baron Zemo in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and you’ve got a way to address internet conspiracy theories without betraying the inherent ‘good guy’ nature of the character. In fact, there is a great comic moment where Sharon goes undercover as a female villain/spy and pretends to be an ally of Baron Zemo (albeit a different Zemo) … before spectacularly turning the tables on his plans for world domination.
Sharon’s comics history also includes a stint as Director of SHIELD in the 90s. And in Brian Michael Bendis’s original Ultimate Spider-Man comics, which take place outside the main ‘616’ continuity, we see a take on Sharon that resembles Phil Coulson and Jasper Sitwell in early MCU movies, rather than the comics-typical SHIELD agent—sleek suit and sunglasses and all.
Through Steve, comics Sharon also has strong links to both Sam and Bucky. In Ed Brubaker’s run, Sharon and Sam team up, save each other, and bond over their mutual loss of Steve after his ‘death’ at the end of the Civil War crossover event. These relationships have also progressed beyond Steve’s shadow. More recently, in the Winter Soldier miniseries by Kyle Higgins and Rod Reis, Sharon helps Bucky help other people get a shot at redemption, and a fresh start. She hooks him up with intel and resources and provides something else important: friendship. Captain America is never mentioned or heard from.
Ultimately, Sharon Carter isn’t to blame for the fact that Hollywood likes to shoehorn token heterosexual romance for the benefit of their straight white male heroes (and perhaps their straight white male fans). If fingers are to be pointed, they should be directed at the thoughtless, superficial writing (often by male writers) driving these stories. With any luck, the diverse creative team helming The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will take advantage of the longer-form six-episode television format to progress beyond the stereotype. Certainly, there is a rich catalogue of comics demonstrating that Sharon Carter can be portrayed as an interesting and complex female character, even outside of Steve Rogers’ orbit. One who can’t be so easily dismissed as “just a love interest”—whether in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, or hopefully even beyond.