|First appearance||Iron Man|
|First comic appearance||Iron Man 2: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.|
|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 on to 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 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 in an attempt to arrest Obadiah Stane once his criminal activities are revealed. Coulson reappeared in the 2010 sequel, Iron Man 2. After S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) places Stark on house arrest in the film, Coulson is one of the agents assigned to supervise him. After presenting Tony with the work of his father Howard Stark (John Slattery), Coulson explains that he is reassigned to investigate a crisis in New Mexico. In both the film's post-credits sequence, and Thor, Coulson's investigation is revealed to be of the discovery of Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) hammer in a New Mexico desert alongside Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) and Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). Coulson interrogates Thor after the depowered Asgardian attacks the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility that was erected around the hammer, believing him to be a mercenary and demanding to know who he was working for. When Thor's powers are restored in the course of the film, he tells "Son of Coul" that they are allies.
Gregg reprised his role as Coulson in Marvel's The Avengers, revealed to be both a fan of Captain America with a deck of vintage trading cards and the one who recruited Tony Stark as a candidate for the Avengers Initiative. At Stark Tower it is revealed that Pepper Potts is on a first-name basis with Coulson, while talking about an romantic affair between Coulson and a cellist who moved back home. 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". However Stark, in personal conversation with Coulson, offers to fly the agent out to Portland to see the cellist he was dating. Coulson appears to be killed by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) during his escape from the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. Fury used Coulson's 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. 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 as revealed in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with his resurrection yet to be referenced in the Phase 2 films.
The revelations of Coulson's first name and that he is a fan of Captain America in The Avengers lead to speculation that a child appearing in a 1940s sequence in Captain America: The First Avenger—called "Phil" by his mother—was a young Coulson.
There had been considerations for Coulson to return in Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, but the character is not slated to appear in any more films. Whedon also stated that Coulson will not appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
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 was later published in 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 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."
Gregg reprises the role of Coulson as the lead protagonist of the television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. In the series' pilot episode, Phil Coulson explains that he was immediately resuscitated by S.H.I.E.L.D. medics after dying at the hands of Loki and sent to recover in Tahiti, while Nick Fury used his apparent death to motivate the Avengers to work as a team during the battle of New York. Returning to service, Coulson is placed in charge of a large S.H.I.E.L.D.-upgraded military transport plane and given reign to assemble a small team of his own. However, a conversation between Maria Hill (Smulders) and S.H.I.E.L.D. medic Dr. Streiten (Ron Glass) reveals that Coulson does not know the whole truth concerning his survival. In subsequent episodes, Coulson begins to question how he survived the incident, and is troubled to learn that all records related to his injury and recovery can only be accessed by Fury's authorization. In "The Magical Place", while kidnapped by 'Project Centipede', a supersoldier development program under the direction of the mysterious 'Clairvoyant', Coulson learns his captors are also interested in learning more about his death. After they subject him to a mind-probing device, he discovers his memories had been altered by S.H.I.E.L.D. and that he was brought back to life by S.H.I.E.L.D. surgeons days after he was killed by Loki. In "T.A.H.I.T.I.", Coulson tracks down the facility where he was resurrected—as part of Project T.A.H.I.T.I.—after becoming desperate to save the life of his teammate Skye (Chloe Bennet) by the same method. He discovers that the drug that brought him back to life, known as GH-325, is of alien origin. In the episode "Turn, Turn, Turn", which ties into the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he discovers that his teammate and longtime friend Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) was assigned by Fury to monitor him, and designed the specifications for his team.
In that same episode, Coulson learns the evil organization Hydra had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., and his old friend Agent John Garrett (Bill Paxton) is revealed to be both a Hydra agent and the Clairvoyant. In the resulting chaos, S.H.I.E.L.D. effectively disbands as they are now seen as terrorists, but Coulson and his team remain together and take refuge in a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base in Canada, in "Providence". In "The Only Light in the Darkness", Coulson protects his cellist former lover Audrey (Amy Acker) from a supercriminal named Marcus Daniels (Patrick Brennan) who was released from S.H.I.E.L.D. confinement by Hydra. In "Nothing Personal", the Providence base is compromised and later May obtains and shares with Coulson a confidential flash drive by Fury concerning Project T.A.H.I.T.I.. Coulson is shocked to find video footage of himself addressing Fury on the drive, suggesting he was in charge of T.A.H.I.T.I. before his death. In his report, Coulson advises the project be shut down, as subjects treated with GH-325 all exhibit mental disorders ranging from aphasia to full-blown psychosis except in cases where their memories of treatment have been suppressed. In the season finale, "Beginning of the End", Coulson infiltrates Garrett's base with support from Nick Fury (Jackson) himself, and his team defeat Garrett and Ward and shut down Hydra's Deathlok program. Ward is arrested, and after attempting to escape confinement, Coulson disintegrates Garrett with the newly recovered Tesseract-powered raygun. After announcing his plan to go undercover for a while, Fury hands Coulson the 'toolbox', a small cube containing coordinates and a few other things, and appoints Coulson director of S.H.I.E.L.D., with a mandate to rebuild the organization from the ground up. One night at their new base, the Playground, Coulson begins drawing out a detailed diagram on the wall just as Garrett had done after taking GH-325.
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 Aunt May going out for dessert.
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.
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.
Later, Coulson tackles the problem of environmental sabotage, working with Thor and S.H.I.E.L.D. assets. 
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.
Phil Coulson appears as a non-player character in Marvel: Avengers Alliance.
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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