|Marvel Cinematic Universe character|
|First appearance||Iron Man|
|Created by||Mark Fergus
|Portrayed by||Clark Gregg|
|Full name||Phillip Coulson|
|Title||Executive Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.|
Phillip J. "Phil" Coulson is a fictional character portrayed by American actor Clark Gregg in the films and TV series of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which share the same fictional universe. The character has also been adapted into the comic books published by Marvel Comics, animated television series, video games, and more expanded media.
The character is a top-level spy and team leader working for the espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. He first appeared in the 2008 feature film Iron Man, the first film in the MCU, and was originally 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 Gregg. Gregg subsequently signed a multi-picture deal with Marvel and the character went on to appear in Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011) and The Avengers (2012). He is the main character of Marvel Television's ensemble spy-fi series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013–), has appeared in two Marvel One-Shots, and has been featured in multiple tie-in comics, all also set in the MCU.
In the Phase One 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."
Marvel Cinematic Universe
Agent Coulson was introduced in the film 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.
Coulson makes his final cinematic appearance 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. Coulson also now knows Pepper Potts on a first-name basis while talking about a romantic affair between himself and a cellist who moved back to Portland. Coulson is later fatally wounded by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) during the latter's escape from the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, and Fury uses Coulson's death to motivate the Avengers to have something to fight for. But in reality, Coulson is brought back to life following the events of the film as revealed in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. though his resurrection was not referenced in the Phase 2 films. 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 asserts, "As far as the fiction of the movies, Coulson is dead". However, in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson is revealed to have had a role in the Avengers finding Baron Strucker's base in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
In September 2008, Coulson made his digi comic debut in Iron Man: Fast Friends which was later published in print form in February 2009 in the comic one shot "Iron Man, Hulk, Fury." The comic was released as a tie-in to Iron Man 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-Shots: 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-Shots: 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 Marvel One-Shots: Item 47 (2012), 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 pilot episode of the series, 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 free rein 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; however, the blue alien corpse is destroyed in an explosion before Coulson can investigate this further. 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", Coulson discovers that an agent on his team, Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), is a Hydra infiltrator working for John Garrett. 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 the new 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 carving out a detailed diagram on the wall just as Garrett had done after taking GH-325.
In the second season premiere, "Shadows", Coulson is revealed to have been busy for months meeting with former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in order to recruit them for his reconstituted S.H.I.E.L.D. However, losses to Hydra, agents turning freelance, and detention of agents by the U.S. military have hampered his efforts. After discovering that the so-called Absorbing Man, Carl Creel (Brian Patrick Wade), was seeking a dangerous ancient relic on behalf of Hydra, he deploys all available field operatives to infiltrate U.S. brigadier general Glenn Talbot (Adrian Pasdar)'s base. They fail to recover the artifact, which is connected to the blue alien behind the GH-325 serum, but do steal back cloak-capable quinjets. In "Heavy is the Head", Coulson personally defeats Creel, recruits mercenary Lance Hunter (Nick Blood) for S.H.I.E.L.D., and convinces Talbot to scale back the United States' harassment of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. It is also revealed that Coulson has been having recurring episodes of carving the mysterious diagram. In the episode "The Writing on the Wall", Coulson subjects himself to the mind probing device and discovers that six other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents underwent Project T.A.H.I.T.I., all of whom had complete mental breakdowns after being healed by GH-325. Coulson relives his own breakdown after being revived with GH-325, but later discovers that the carvings he and the other T.A.H.I.T.I. subjects were creating were actually a blueprint to a mysterious city, based on the blue alien's memories. Coulson regains his sanity once he comes to this revelation and he and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team attempt to find this city before Hydra does. At the city, which was built by the alien Kree race, Agent Skye undergoes a metamorphosis after being exposed to the mists from the alien relic, known as a Diviner, which activates her Inhuman ability to generate earthquakes. In "Who You Really Are", Coulson chooses to defend Skye after learning of her heritage from a Kree warrior who, like his Asgardian ally Sif (Jamie Alexander), fears she has become a dangerous weapon.
In the episodes "One of Us" and "Love in the Time of Hydra", it is revealed that Coulson's agents Bobbi Morse (Adrianne Palicki) and Alphonso "Mack" MacKenzie (Henry Simmons) are secretly working for a rival faction of S.H.I.E.L.D. which maintains that Coulson is unfit to lead S.H.I.E.L.D. due to what they see as his code of secrecy and obsession with superpowers. In "One Door Closes", the rival S.H.I.E.L.D. invades Coulson's base and take his team into custody, but Coulson escapes with help from May. During the siege, Skye is rescued by her people, a secret offshoot race known as the Inhumans with the potential to acquire superpowers. Coulson stays on the run before surrendering in "The Frenemy of My Enemy" in order to convince the rival faction's leading member Robert Gonzales (Edward James Olmos) to send him and his team to raid an Arctic Hydra base, in "The Dirty Half Dozen". This allows Coulson to provide Maria Hill with the location of Baron Strucker's base, setting up the opening scenes of Marvel's 2015 film Avengers: Age of Ultron. Gonzales and the others then learn that Coulson's secret activities were centred around maintaining and refurbishing the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, which proves essential to the Avengers saving thousands of lives against Ultron, and in "Scars", the two S.H.I.E.L.D. factions unify, with Gonzales' S.H.I.E.L.D. board becoming Coulson's advisory council. Coulson then agrees to send Gonzales in his place to meet with Skye's mother, Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), to broker a relationship with the Inhumans and index their superhuman abilities. Rather than let her people be indexed, Jiaying kills Gonzales and injures herself with his gun to start a war. War rages in the two part season finale "S.O.S.", and Coulson loses a hand after catching a Diviner metal-laced Terrigen Crystal, saving the lives of Fitz and Mack. During the battle, Terrigen crystals are knocked into the ocean and dissolve, eventually finding their way into the human food supply chain. Responding to the increased threat posed by superhumans, Coulson begins working with Skye to form a secret team of people with powers.
- It was announced at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con International that Gregg would 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 superheroes' 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. In "The Next Iron Spider," it is revealed that Phil Coulson is away on a mission and that Stan the Janitor is covering for Phil Coulson as the acting principal until he returns.
- 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.
- He has a brief cameo in the anime Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers where he is shown in episode 1 of the series showing the facilities include a supervillain prison S.H.I.E.L.D.
- Phil Coulson first appeared in the mainstream Marvel Universe in Battle Scars #6 (2012), in which the character codenamed "Cheese" is revealed to be Phil Coulson, as he and Nick Fury, Jr. go into battle against former Leviathan member Orion and his hired mercenaries. 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. Coulson tackles the problem of environmental sabotage, working with Thor and S.H.I.E.L.D. assets. In December 2014, Coulson will star with in a S.H.I.E.L.D comic series, along with the Marvel-616 versions of other Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters.
- 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.
- In 2014, the Ultimate version of Phil Coulson debuted in the Ultimate FF series that was cancelled after six issues.
- He has appeared in Deadpool when Agent Preston of S.H.I.E.L.D was killed and to save her, her mind was place along-side Deadpool's own. Coulson helped put her into a Life Model Decoy(LMD) of her own body. During this, Coulson was also involved in destroying an 'ULTIMATUM' terrorist cell and killing hitmen chasing Deadpool and a valued agent. Coulson makes sure Deadpool was paid for his earlier services to S.H.I.E.L.D in taking down the living dead presidents of U.S.A. He paid Deadpool as Deadpool asked; the money stuffed in a pillow case with a green dollar sign on it. He also appeared in Deadpool's first Bi-annual. Deadpool and Coulson worked with Brute Force, a team of armored animal-hybrid warriors. They all work together to bring down a maniacal millionaire wishing to steal the Force's advanced armor. Coulson reveals he was Brute Force's handler early in his career.
- In July 2014 at San Diego Comic Con International, Marvel Comics announced an ongoing series titled S.H.I.E.L.D., to be set in the mainstream Marvel Universe, and written by Mark Waid, beginning December 2014. Art will be by a rotating group of artists including Carlos Pacheco, Alan Davis, and Chris Sprouse. The series is led by Agent Phil Coulson, and will see the canonical introduction of characters that originated from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, to which Waid said, "This is our chance to introduce a lot of the other characters into the Marvel Universe, and give them the Marvel Universe spin." Waid described the series as "done-in-one. Coulson and his team have a mission, and if we need someone for a mission, everyone in the Marvel Universe is available as a potential Agent." In this series, Coulson is the Supreme Commander of Special Operations for S.H.I.E.L.D. under Director Maria Hill.
- Phil Coulson appears as a playable character in Marvel Super Hero Squad Online, voiced by Tom Kenny.
- Phil Coulson appears as a non-player character in Marvel Heroes with Clark Gregg reprising his role. He is an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who helps the heroes. Coulson is also a non-playable team-up character that can be earned during the game's Operation Omega events.
- Phil Coulson appears as a non-player character in Marvel: Avengers Alliance.
- Phil Coulson appears as a non-player character in Marvel: Avengers Alliance Tactics.
- Phil Coulson appears in Lego Marvel Super Heroes, with Clark Gregg reprising his role. His character becomes playable after completion of a side mission that involves him overseeing Doctor Octopus' community service of fixing the offices of the Daily Bugle. His attack is the "Destroyer Gun" he uses against Loki in the first Avengers film. Part of his recurring incidental dialogue is "So that's what it does." and "I wish I had regenerative superpowers.... Like you." to Wolverine referencing his stabbing and short death in The Avengers.
- Phil Coilson is set to appear in the mobile game Marvel: Future Fight along with the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D characters from the television show of the same name.
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