The Avengers were deceived, as actor Clark Gregg told us, and at some point down the line, Earth’s Mightiest may have to face the reality that Gregg’s fan-favorite character of Agent Coulson is still alive.

In the meantime, Coulson returns as the leader of the super secret (Level 7 clearance!) S.H.I.E.L.D. team in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. And by “return” we mean return from the dead. Coulson was literally stabbed in the back by Loki during the events of The Avengers and SHIELD boss Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) took advantage of the situation to unite The Avengers.

How he survived is not explained in the pilot so we’ve gathered most of the theories fans and ourselves have come up with. Since Gregg said he’s yet to see the correct theory online, we’ve expanded our list to 10 to include more extreme stories from the depths of Marvel Comics lore.

“I think that the answer people will get is cooler than anything I’ve ever read.” – Gregg tells E!

Keep that in mind as we explore 10 theories for how Agent Coulson survived the events of The Avengers

Coulson actually surviving Loki’s vicious attack would explain why Nick Fury showed Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) the fake-bloody cards to unite The Avengers instead of simply showing them Coulson’s body during the events preceding the Battle of New York.

Fury and select other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents maintained the secret and Coulson was put into hiding (in Tahiti, apparently) before being assigned to the special task force we see in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..

But why then is Agent Maria Hill adamant during the pilot episode that Coulson never find out what really happened? They’re keeping something from him and it’s so crazy/horrible, that not even a high-ranking agent who’s dealt with Asgardian demigods can know.


Verdict: No. It can’t be that simple.

What if Coulson did die and he’s now a robot?

Life Model Decoys are a popular plot device in the comics used by characters including Tony Stark and Nick Fury. In The Avengers, Stark mentions Life Model Decoy as a joke to Coulson when he comes to Stark Tower, essentially confirming that Coulson at least knows about Life Model Decoys as if they’re part of S.H.I.E.L.D. or at least present in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

We can’t say that it was a Life Model Decoy that Loki killed in The Avengers, because of the blood, medics and genuine concern for him… or maybe we can?


Verdict: Nah, this would be too obvious.

One way to tie The Avengers in with a new character to be introduced in its sequel is to have the “cellist” that was intentionally written into The Avengers script by Joss Whedon in reference to someone Coulson was dating (Stark mentions it) be the Scarlet Witch. She has magical powers and in the Agents of SHIELD pilot, Whedon again intentionally uses the word “magical” in the script when Clark Gregg references Tahiti.

What if Coulson was reanimated by the magic of Scarlet Witch? She raised the dead in the comics…

It’s not a coincidence that these choice words were used in these choice moments in both the film and TV series, both of which were written by Whedon. The question is whether or not they’re connected.


Verdict: A good one although if Marvel & Whedon are casting a very young Scarlet Witch, it would be weird to see her dating Coulson. Unless that was never their relationship…

When the #CoulsonLives movement began the moment The Avengers opened in theaters to break box office records across the world, one of the most common theories from Marvel Comics fans was that Coulson could return as Vision – the android Avenger who has ties to Scarlet Witch and is created by… you guessed it, Ultron – the villain of The Avengers sequel (Age of Ultron).

In some way, The Avengers will have to face the reality of Coulson still being alive – and there are now several characters who could have history with Coulson in the films and who do have history with Vision in the books.

Clark Gregg tells E!:

“I was a big fan of the Vision theory, although I wasn’t sure I wanted to be an A.I.”


Verdict: If Vision is to be introduced, it would likely be after meeting Scarlet Witch and Ultron.

Doctor Strange is at the top of the list when it comes to new leading characters most likely to be introduced in Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as another member of The Avengers.

While Guardians of the Galaxy will blow open the cosmic side of Marvel, Doctor Strange can open the mystical and magical. Strange not only has super powers but is a neurosurgeon – perhaps in the live-action adaptation his medical (and possibly magical) backgrounds could be behind Coulson’s miraculous recovery.

Do Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. already know about Strange?


Verdict: Strange is definitely coming but his being behind the survival of the main character of this ABC TV is too extreme and doesn’t fit.

There’s a reason Coulson is Cap’s biggest fan – it’s because he always wanted to be like him, and in a way he became him. Those Captain America cards Coulson collected? What if the “vintage” set is his from when he was a boy during WWII?

Coulson’s character fits all of the requirements Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) outlined in explaining to Rogers (in Captain America: The First Avenger) why he chose him to be the one man to get the super soldier serum, so what if Coulson got some other version of it later, after Cap disappeared (we know the military still wanted a super soldier serum. See: Hulk)?

Fun fact: the kid in Captain America: The First Avenger who sports the painted garbage can Cap shield is named Phil. The serum explains the slower aging. Hat-tip to Jane.


Verdict: A great idea that’s true to the character. Why it’s being kept secret from Coulson we have difficulty explaining unless it’s something SHIELD isn’t proud of because something went wrong.

In Marvel Comics there are multiple versions of many of the characters and that’s thanks to the in-canon plot device of there being multiple universes and therefore, different versions of characters and stories.

The main Marvel Comics universe in the books is the 616 universe; the Ultimate Universe (where the Samuel L. Jackson version of Nick Fury was introduced) is designated 1610. Even the Marvel cinematic universe has a designation of 199999. Pre or post-death Coulson (or both) could be from alternate realities. Heck, even the entire Agents of SHIELD series could be written away as a separate universe than the films if they can’t maintain continuity with the films.

If Guardians of the Galaxy follows the Marvel Comics, even it could take place in an alternate future.


Verdict: It’s too early in the franchise to start branching out into other universes. We’ve not even explored this one yet.

There were a few rumors long before The Avengers hit theaters that there was more to Coulson than what meets the eye. Back in the days when reports had the Skrulls and Kree in The Avengers, some unsubstantiated whispers had Coulson possibly being an alien who worked for SHIELD as a liaison between Earth and whatever aliens are out there that we’re going to meet in Guardians of the Galaxy.

We even asked if Couslon was not exactly human to a Marvel insider long ago who was taken aback and asked us where we heard that…

Mar-Vell was sent to Earth to spy on humans for the Kree and while this theory is a stretch upon a stretch, Coulson being an alien agent does explain his overly calm demeanor and kick-ass abilities from Marvel One-Shot titled A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer.


Verdict: There’s definitely something different about Coulson.

The idea of cloning isn’t new to the Marvel universe. There was the infamous “Clone Saga” in Spider-Man comics and on the X-Men side, the time-travelling mutant known as Cable even had a clone. SHIELD experimenting with clones would be an weak plot device compared to the sheer amount of other (more interesting) lore to draw from.

Coincidence or not, Coulson stars in the Ultimate Spider-Man animated series, voiced by Clark Gregg. Still, the concept of clones is arguably obsolete and quite a bit less fitting than the Life Model Decoy.


Verdict: With Life Model Decoys on the table, cloning would be a weak and odd substitute. 

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige explained why introducing the alien race of shape-shifters known as the Skrulls early in the franchise (in reference to the alien invaders in The Avengers) would be problematic for story-telling purposes, so introducing the Dire Wraiths – also an alien race of shape-shifters – would pose a similar issue. That is, assuming if either species were introduced in the live-action franchise they’d closely follow their Marvel Comics origins, abilities and unique designs.

Marvel is always looking far head and aliens are a big part of the franchise’s future. Their involvement in Coulson’s origins and return from the dead however, seems very unlikely. Equally unlikely is the idea of an alien being put in charge of an all-human black ops team.


Verdict: Shape-shifting aliens would offer a very interesting story come time for Phase 4 (or beyond) for the franchise, and would allow them to play with and alter the history of the films. For now, it doesn’t fit and wouldn’t serve the story of the show.

Agents of SHIELD is the first of many live-action Marvel television shows that Disney and Marvel Studios will launch in the coming years but it’s the only one Joss Whedon helped conceive. Whedon of course, is not only writing and directing the The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but is overseeing the entire Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe where the show takes place in, meaning he’s the one making all the connections over the next few years. There are very good reasons why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes place in the same continuity – whether or not Coulson’s return from the dead place into upcoming events in the films remains to be see.

Which theory makes the most sense and are you hoping there are deep science fiction roots behind Coulson’s return? There’s a secret SHIELD is keeping from Coulson so it can’t be as simple as him surviving Loki’s back-stab or Asgardian “magic” bringing him back to life, right?

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays @ 8pm/7c on ABC. Read our premiere review.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes for your Marvel movie news!