Joss Whedon's penchant for killing characters is well known, so when Agent Phil Coulson - everyman of the Marvel movieverse - got pierced like a tissue on a paper spike in The Avengers, we all knew that, though shocking, it was also quite inevitable. Coulson's resurrection in ABC's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. though? Not so much.
But alongside that re-birth comes one of the more compelling questions about the new series, like: how did Coulson come back? And: how will S.H.I.E.L.D. tie in to the Marvel Universe? Now, we have some answers.
In a new interview, Clark Gregg is shedding some light on that question, what he thought about being brought back by the man who killed him and Agent Coulson's appeal.
"I kept waiting to see, are we going to shoot a version where [Loki] misses? And they didn’t, so I was really surprised to get that call and I wanted to make sure it didn’t do anything to undermine what we achieved there and when [writer-director Joss Whedon] explained the mystery and how they planned to deal with it, with Agent Coulson being around, I was very sold."
As for when we'll find out about that burning question concerning how Coulson made his way back to the land of the living, Gregg doesn't seem to indicate that we'll get a clear resolution anytime soon.
He’s back. He’s thinks he knows how he’s back. We’ll have to see.
So, why bring Coulson back? What's his value to a cinematic universe that is chock-full of superheroes and a pool of eerily similar S.H.I.E.L.D. drones from which a replacement could have come?
"Agent Coulson represents the people who don’t have superpowers, the guys who actually can be killed — or at least seem to be and yet come back sometimes … Marvel has such a lock on how to do really incredibly visual affects and stunts that we’ve got stuff on our show that I just don’t think we’ve seen on TV before."
Coulson's relatability also came up during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. creator Joss Whedon's address to advertisers and the press at ABC's upfronts, where Whedon also clarified that the decision to do a S.H.I.E.L.D. show didn't come from a place of corporate synergy, or tie-ins, and that the show would stand on its own and not merely be a repository for "Easter Eggs".
"What I loved about The Avengers became SHIELD, and there’s no better example of that than Clark Gregg, an actor who so talented that not even I could kill him.
He represented the human side of the superhero world in the Universe, and that’s why we built S.H.I.E.L.D. around him. We didn't build it because it would work with the movies, or be an Easter Egg to hide things in, or because I grew up reading comic books; we built it because we had a story to tell about what it’s like to be an ordinary person in an increasingly extraordinary and unreal world."
Here's the thing with all of this talk about Coulson's humanity and how he is a kind of bridge into this amazing world of superpowers: while that was true, it sorta went away when Marvel decided to kill him and then bring him back.
Right now, all we know is that Coulson is back. If Whedon and company want to keep the on-screen reason why a mystery, that is their prerogative, but for as long as it remains a mystery, fans will wonder whether he is a droid, some kind of immortal, another comic book-y twist, or simply a part of a major conspiracy.
Without question, some of those things threaten to sever Coulson's "human" tether completely and the others could run the risk of alienating fans - while also making Coulson into a less likable, less trustworthy character. It might even strip away the "everyman" reputation that has been integral to the audiences' ability to accept a fantastical world without the familiar heroes from the Marvel Universe - one that the show is, apparently, loosely connected to.
Obviously, there is a benefit to this guessing game - ABC and Marvel need this show to come out of the gate with awe-inspiring ratings, especially if it is truly going to stand alone and not exist as required viewing for movie fans. Ample buzz only helps them in that endeavor, but if fans are kept in the dark for long, one has to wonder if this might be a detriment while making irrelevant all of the good intentions behind the return of a fan favorite character.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premieres on ABC this fall.