||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (September 2013)|
|First appearance||Iron Man|
|First comic appearance||Voice: Battle Scars #1 (January 2012)
Full: Battle Scars #6 (June 2012)
|Created by||Mark Fergus
|Partnerships||Nick Fury, Jr.|
|Supporting character of|
Phillip "Phil" Coulson is a fictional character portrayed by American actor Clark Gregg and presented in his likeness. The character first appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—a shared fictional universe that is the setting of several superhero films and television series produced by Marvel Studios—and, due to his popularity, has gone onto appear in the mainstream Marvel Comics universe, animated television series Ultimate Spider-Man and more expanded media. The details of his character vary between portrayals, but he is always a spy working for the fictional espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D.. Within the films, Coulson is generally used to represent S.H.I.E.L.D.'s involvement in the plot, to the point of being described as "the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent" by Clark Gregg. As of 2013, he is one of the main characters of Marvel Television's ensemble spy-fi series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., set in the Cinematic Universe,
The character originally appeared in 2008 film Iron Man, the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Gregg then signed a multi-picture deal with Marvel and the character went onto appear in Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011) and Marvel's The Avengers (2012), as well as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-) and two short films.
Marvel Cinematic Universe
Agent Coulson was introduced in Iron Man, in which he attempted to discuss the circumstances in which Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) returned from captivity in Afghanistan with Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). At the climax, Coulson is one of several agents who accompany Potts to find the villain, Obidiah Stane / the Iron Monger. As a running gag throughout the film, Coulson always says Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division and Stark and Potts tell him that he needs a shorter name. At the end, he reveals the acronym S.H.I.E.L.D..
Coulson reappears in the 2010 sequel, Iron Man 2. When S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) places Tony on house arrest, Coulson is one of the agents assigned to supervise Stark. He presents Tony with the work of Howard Stark (John Slattery), who was Tony's father and a S.H.I.E.L.D founder, before leaving to investigate a crisis in New Mexico. The film's post-credits sequence directly ties into Coulson's next appearance in Thor—Coulson is shown discovering Thor's hammer in a New Mexico desert.
In Thor, Coulson is one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who appear to investigate the discovery of the title character's hammer on Earth, along with Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). Coulson interrogates Thor (Chris Hemsworth) after the depowered Asgardian attacks a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility that has been erected around the recently discovered hammer, commenting that Thor has effortlessly defeated some of his best men and asking where Thor received his training. When Thor's powers are restored in the course of the film, he and the "Son of Coul" agree to defend the Earth together.
Gregg reprised his role as Coulson in Marvel's The Avengers, his final film role as the character to date. He is shown to be a fan of Captain America and had a deck of vintage trading cards that he asked the Captain to sign. He is initially responsible for recruiting Tony Stark to the Avengers. At Stark Tower it is revealed that Pepper Potts is on a first-name basis with Coulson, while Stark, still feeling uneasy with S.H.I.E.L.D. interfering with his life from time to time, jokingly refers to Coulson's first name as "Agent". Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the antagonist, stabs Coulson during his escape from the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, seemingly killing him, to the despair of Thor. Director Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) uses his death to motivate and bring together the Avengers by showing them blood-splattered Captain America trading cards, although agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) points out that the cards were not on Coulson at the time of his death and the blood is therefore artificial. As Stark faces Loki at the end of the film, he acknowledges his respect for the deceased agent, commenting that: "There is one more person you pissed off. His name's Phil." Although director Joss Whedon is known for "killing off beloved characters", Gregg had previously stated that Whedon confirmed Coulson would survive the events of the film and discussed a potential role in the next film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man 3. Coulson did die during the film, but was resurrected for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., although his resurrection has yet to be referenced in the films.
As well as Iron Man 3, Gregg and Marvel considered giving Coulson a role in 2013's Thor: The Dark World before Alan Taylor replaced Patty Jenkins as director. This appearance never materialised. Whedon has stated that Coulson will not appear in the upcoming sequel to The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron and the character is not slated to appear in any other films.
Gregg reprises the role in the television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and will "headline" the series. In the series' pilot episode, Phil Coulson reveals that he did technically die at Loki's hands but was immediately resuscitated by S.H.I.E.L.D. medics and sent to recover in Tahiti. Nick Fury withheld this information from the Avengers to facilitate their collaboration as a team. However, a conversation between Maria Hill and Dr. Streiten (a S.H.I.E.L.D. medic) suggests there is more to Coulson's resurrection than he himself is aware. In a later episode, a former protégé notes that something is different about Coulson, who becomes suspicious himself when he discovers that he keeps involuntarily saying exactly the same thing whenever asked about his injuries, and all files related to his injury and recovery can only be accessed with Fury's authorization. In the mid-season finale, Coulson is kidnapped by Centipede, the series' primary recurring antagonists, who make clear their desire to learn more about his "death". In the subsequent episode "The Magical Place", Coulson is subjected to a Project Centipede mind-probing device, and learns that he did actually die. Nick Fury ordered that surgeries be performed on Coulson to bring him back to life. S.H.I.E.L.D. surgeons were actually able to bring Coulson back to life days after he had been killed, but altered some of his memories to make him believe that he was revived in Tahiti in order to erase the trauma he experienced during the procedures. In the episode "T.A.H.I.T.I.", it is revealed that a mysterious drug called GH-325, with the ability to regenerate tissue, was used to bring Coulson back from the dead.
In August 2011, Marvel announced that Coulson would be the subject of a series of direct-to-video short films called "Marvel One-Shots". The first two star Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson in two self-contained stories depicting a day in the life of a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Gregg stated of the short films, "Some [would be] the connective tissue between the movies [of the Marvel Cinematic Universe] and others are behind-the-scenes in the day of a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent... In one of them there's a daily crisis [in which] a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent deals with the World Security Council and one of our super heroes."
The first short film, entitled Marvel One-Shot: The Consultant, was released on the Thor Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D on September 13, 2011, and takes place after The Incredible Hulk. In it, Coulson meets with Sitwell, another agent, and informs him that the World Security Council wishes for Emil Blonsky, The Incredible Hulk's villain, to be released from prison in order to join the Avengers. The Council see Blonsky as a hero and blame his fight with Bruce Banner / the Hulk in New York City—seen at the end of the film—on Banner himself. They have ordered S.H.I.E.L.D. to ask General Ross (William Hurt) for Blonsky's release. Nick Fury recognises that Blonsky would make a poor Avenger and has ordered Coulson and Sitwell to follow their orders in such a way that they do not actually obtain Blonsky. Coulson suggests sending in a consultant who will irritate and offend Ross so that he does not hand over Blonsky. Reluctantly, Coulson sends in Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.). The scene between Stark and Ross was partially depicted in the final scene of The Incredible Hulk, in which it gave the impression that Stark was recruiting Banner. It is continued here and Stark is shown to irritate Ross so much that he asks for him to be removed. In response, Stark buys the bar and schedules it for demolition. Coulson informs Sitwell that the plan was successful: Blonsky will remain in prison.
The second film, titled Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer..., which takes place after Coulson leaves Tony Stark's lab during Iron Man 2, and before he arrives solo at the crater site in Thor, was released on the Blu-ray edition of Captain America: The First Avenger. Coulson is on his way to Albuquerque, New Mexico, when he stops at a Roxxon Oil gas station. Two robbers enter the station without noticing Coulson, and demand the money from the register. When the robbers ask whose car is outside, Coulson reveals himself and surrenders his keys. As he is surrendering his gun, he overpowers the robbers and nonchalantly pays for his gas and snacks, suggesting to the cashier not to mention his involvement.
Further One-Shots featuring other characters have since been produced. The first of these was "Item 47", during the course of which S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Blake accidentally referred to colleague Sitwell as "Coulson". Sitwell responded with: "We all miss him."
It was announced at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con International that Gregg will return to voice Phil Coulson in the cartoon series Ultimate Spider-Man, where he appears as both a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Peter Parker's school principal. The character design is based on Gregg's appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity, although the series itself takes place in an independent universe and is therefore not part of the MCU. Coulson's first appearance in Ultimate Spider-Man was in "Great Responsibility", where he tries to persuade Nick Fury not to include Spider-Man as a member of S.H.I.E.L.D., due to Spider-Man's actions and personality, calling Spider-Man a wild card. Fury disagrees, saying that's he's training Spider-Man to be "one of the greats".
Coulson's role is increased later in the series, as Spider-Man attempts to leave S.H.I.E.L.D.. His superhero allies Iron Fist, Nova, Power Man and White Tiger enroll in Peter's school Midtown High and Coulson becomes his principal. Coulson and the superheros' presence at the school is a way for Fury to monitor Peter. Coulson remains as Peter's principal and in "Attack of the Beetle", he holds a parent-teacher conference with Peter's guardian, Aunt May, and the two go to dinner, which a perturbed Peter tries to disrupt. Coulson confesses to have a romantic interest in May to Peter, but the Beetle disrupts their conversation. Later, May insists that she will not take up a romantic relationship if Peter does not approve, but she talks to Peter and changes her mind. The episode ends with Coulson and May going out for dessert.
In 2010, Coulson made his comic book debut in the Marvel "digicomic" Iron Man 2 - Phil Coulson: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, which later published into comic book form in November 2010. The comic was released as a tie-in to Iron Man 2 and as such was set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, rather than the mainstream Earth-616 continuity, in which most Marvel comics are set. He subsequently appeared as a supporting character in other comics set within the Cinematic Universe.
In the series Battle Scars (2012), writers Matt Fraction, Chris Yost and Cullen Bunn with artist Scot Eaton brought Phil Coulson into the mainstream Marvel Universe. In the sixth and final issue, the character codenamed "Cheese" is revealed to be Phil Coulson as he and Nick Fury, Jr. go into battle. Coulson has gone onto appear in other comics set on Earth-616, most notably as a starring character in the 2013 Secret Avengers series by Nick Spencer and Luke Ross.
The comic book continuation of the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated television series is told from the perspective of Coulson, despite not appearing as a character in the original show.
- Coulson makes a by-name cameo appearance in the Iron Man: Armored Adventures episode "Extremis" as one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents encountering (and getting knocked down by) the just-mutated renegade agent Mallen.
- Phil Coulson appears as an non-player character in the Marvel Heroes video game. He is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who helps the heroes.
- Phil Coulson appears as a non-player character in Marvel: Avengers Alliance.
- Phil Coulson appears in Lego Marvel Super Heroes, with Clark Gregg reprising his role.
In the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Agent Coulson is generally depicted as a supporting character of the protagonists and used to represent S.H.I.E.L.D.'s presence in the plots of the films, to the point that Clark Gregg has described Coulson as "the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent". However, in the "Marvel One-Shots", Coulson is given "a chance to stand in his own spotlight for once", when the character is put in a position where there is an imminent threat and no superheroes around. The decision to give more focus to Coulson was "a natural" for "Marvel One-Shot" co-producer Brad Winderbaum:
First and foremost it was an opportunity to work with Clark Gregg. The guy elevates everything he takes part in and we knew that if he was into it, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to tell some stand-alone Coulson stories with him. Also, in the case of The Consultant, we wanted to paint a picture of S.H.I.E.L.D. pulling the strings and being responsible for some of the events we've seen in the films. What better character to represent this idea than Agent Coulson, the first S.H.I.E.L.D. agent we were introduced to in the first Iron Man film. [sic]
Gregg has stated, "I think of Agent Coulson, after all these years, as a guy with a full life. I think every day he's somewhere doing something for S.H.I.E.L.D., and yet I don't always know what that is... There's always a different twist. In this one he gets to show more of his wisecracking wit, and in this one he's a little bit more of a badass." Despite Coulson being called "the most recognizable face in the Marvel Comics movie universe", he is depicted as an "everyman" in a universe full of superheroes–"the glue that binds" the characters together. In Thor, Coulson complains that Tony Stark "never tells [him] anything," while in The Avengers, Stark shows his disdain for G-Men (as well as some degree of jealousy of Pepper Potts' very amiable treatment of him) by insisting that Coulson's first name is "Agent" rather than "Phil". In an interview with WNBC, Gregg explained his portrayal of the character as "just a guy grumbling about his job":
He's the guy who's tasked - a very disciplined guy in my opinion who possesses secrets that would turn your hair white - but at the same time he's tasked with handling these kind of diva superheroes, you know? "Oh, really, Asgard? Dude, just get in the car."
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