It was the moment of The Avengers that fans never saw coming, and won't soon forget. But while director Joss Whedon may have had Clark Gregg's S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson pay the ultimate price to have the Avengers assemble, Whedon will be giving him a second life. Marvel announced at New York Comic-Con that Coulson will be returning in the pilot of the upcoming ABC series, S.H.I.E.L.D.
Details are slim beyond a presence in the first episode of the show, but that's all fans need to have their faith in the surprise star of Marvel's 'Phase One' restored.
We won't presume to question the decision to kill off one of the most beloved characters that Marvel had stumbled upon, since the scene served its purpose in uniting the Avengers with a dose of poignancy and genuine sadness. But what made the choice so strange was how Whedon's "man crush" on Clark Gregg was cut so short, just as it was showing the most promise. Originally the embodiment of S.H.I.E.L.D. - a personality-less 'man in black' operating in secrecy - Coulson's character had evolved into much, much more through Thor, Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, showing childlike adoration for Captain America, and romance with an unnamed cellist (Marvel Comics Easter egg alert!).
That character growth proved too good to say goodbye to just yet, as Clark Gregg made a surprise appearance during Marvel's NYCC panel to discuss his work on the Ultimate Spider-Man animated TV show. A video was then shown in which Joss Whedon and Marvel studio head Kevin Feige announced that Gregg would be reprising his role in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s pilot episode, previously confirmed to be written and directed by Whedon.
Exactly how the death and return of Coulson will be explained is still unclear. Nick Fury bent the truth of his passing at the hands of Loki to provide the extra "push" that Captain America and Iron Man needed to work as a team. Given that, it's possible he was lying about the entire thing. If Agent Coulson were re-introduced under those circumstances (whether he was in on Fury's plan or not) we're confident that Gregg's deadpan sense of humor and Whedon's writing could make it believable. It would undercut the impact of his death scene in Avengers, but that's a price fans would be happy to pay.
Of course, there is the possibility that Agent Coulson's role in the S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot takes place before the events of Avengers, with the rest of the new agents and cast left to carry on the series. A longer look at the events leading up to Gregg's demise would be a bittersweet story to see told, but would help legitimize the TV show as a canonical extension of the film universe, directly tied to the most successful Marvel movie to date.
In all honesty, we'd be fine with his death being explained away if it meant a continued role for the character in Marvel's films and television shows. Gregg hasn't just provided comic relief, but has shown he's willing to back the studio in all its endeavors, and embrace the fan community. The affection he's earned among hardcore Marvel fanboys and casual audiences is a powerful tool, but unfortunately, it also makes him the kind of character Whedon loves to kill. But will Marvel really let Whedon take that piece off the board this early?
Either way, fans haven't seen the last of Phil Coulson. At least one more Whedon-spun story exists to be told about the enigmatic agent, but beyond that, who knows? The working relationship between Whedon and Gregg is just beginning (next demonstrated in Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing), so only time will tell.
We'd love to hear your own hopes for the character, in the TV series or films. Should Marvel bring him back to life in any and every film franchise possible, or let his sacrifice stand? Sound off in the comments.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.
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