Many a character has died only to later be resurrected - be they heroes, villains, or even sidekicks - throughout the history of comic books. That move is often seen as being a cop-out at best (a soap opera-style "cheat" at the worst) when it comes to television, and presents an uphill challenge for Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.LD. TV series.
The show's mastermind, Joss Whedon, has so far managed to dance around many a journalist's question, when it concerns how the upcoming show will bring Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) back into the fold; that is, without completely trivializing the character's death at Loki's hands in The Avengers. Indded, that issue may be one of the more important character sub-plots that drives the over-arching narrative in the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show's first season.
Whedon offered the following, when asked about Coulson's "resurrection" on the EW InsideTV podcast:
"Well, it's a very interesting explanation... We're gonna earn it, that's not something you take lightly."
Fans (our writing staff included) have put together multiple theories to explain how Coulson is still alive - ranging from elaborate ideas about him being a cyborg zombie to simply "He never died in the first place" - and Gregg has suggested that even Coulson doesn't start the show knowing the truth about what happened to him. Whedon and his fellow showrunners will very much need to "earn" the final answer to this riddle, but the process of answering it probably shouldn't be dragged out for too long - lest it result in an unsatisfying payoff for all the build-up (or worse, the show's equivalent of a running joke).
On a relate note: Whedon has emphasized many times (approaching ad nauseum territory now) that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. needs to stand on its own, apart from - but still connected to - the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. That will allow for any future cameos by well-established superheroes - or, rather, the absence of such 'guest appearances' - to not feel like a gimmick or pandering to fans (or, in the latter case, an awkward dodge).
As Whedon told EW:
"It's very important to me that the show stands on its own, that people who never saw any of the movies can tune in and enjoy it. We like being a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we like having all of the mythos to play off of. But if the show was "You just missed Tony Stark, wow, he was just here!" it would be the most unsatisfying show ever. We have a new ensemble, apart from Clark, it's all people I've never worked with before, but I'm really excited about them, I'm really proud of them and I think people are just going to want to see them every week."
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. trailer emphasizes the ensemble nature of Whedon's series - which is reminiscent of his previous TV shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and so on) - and thematic elements that beckon back to television series such as The X-Files, with its focus on moralistic protagonists who are open-minded and willing to learn more about their brave new world (post-the Manhattan alien invasion in The Avengers).
Similarly, Whedon has described the show as a more optimistic and "hopeful" take on a familiar scenario - where people from different backgrounds strive to make progress, in a world where science-fiction and fantasy have crossed over into their reality. (Basically, more like a Star Trek TV show, as opposed to a doom-and-gloom CSI spinoff featuring superheroes.) Fingers crossed, the series will live up to expectations.
On a final note, Whedon teased the character played by J. August Richards (Angel) - who, as revealed in the trailer, appears in the S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot as a super-powered individual on the run:
"I'm not going to say who he's playing, but he's certainly cranky as you can tell from the trailer. It''s great, he came in to guest star and he tears it up. He's got that kind of energy, he's so much fun, and such a lovely guy."
Look for the answers to these questions (and more) when the show begins airing during the Fall 2013 TV season.
Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. begins airing on ABC this fall on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET.