WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Avengers #700, by Jason Aaron, David Marquez, Ed McGuinness, Frazer Irving, Adam Kubert, Andrea Sorrentino, Justin Ponsor, Erick Arciniega, Matthew Wilson, Giada Marchisio and VC's Cory Petit, out now.
Death and resurrection is no big deal in superhero comics. The bigger you are as a character (if you’re a driving force of a major franchise, that doesn’t hurt, either) then chances are that you’ll be back from the dead sooner rather than later, a point Marvel is proving as we speak with the Return of Wolverine miniseries. Every so often, however, a death comes along that not only takes you by surprise but is done in such a way -- and to such a character -- that if they do make a return, it takes you by surprise.
Oftentimes, it’s the secondary characters whose deaths are more inclined to be permanent. Dum Dum Dugan -- Nick Fury’s bowler hat wearing buddy from his Howling Commandos days -- was killed in such a convoluted, LMD-infested way that there’s basically no chance that he’ll ever return in a way that will be meaningful. And then there's Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s right-hand-man, who's been dead for decades. He was killed off and no one has mentioned him since, so would anyone care if he returned? This week’s Avengers #700 has managed to skirt the fine line between the two and brought back a pretty significant character in a way that is still completely unexpected: Agent Phil Coulson.
It’s not actually been that long since Coulson was killed in 2017’s Secret Empire, and event that saw more than a few unexpected deaths (even though some of them have already been reversed). Black Widow, Rick Jones and Phil Coulson all died fighting against the Hydra takeover of the United States, but the way Coulson was murdered was probably the most surprising thing. After a lengthy chase sequence, he was shot and killed by the Merc With the Mouth, Deadpool.
Coulson’s death was surprising, but it was the culmination of a lengthy build-up for Deadpool. It was long established that Captain America was a hero to Wade Wilson, and when the Uncanny Avengers team needed funding and Wade stepped in to help, Cap made Deadpool a member of the team, fulfilling a lifelong dream of Wade’s to become a genuine Avenger. When Cap was hit by Cosmic Cube shenanigans and transformed into a Hydra sleeper agent, his ascent to the head of the Secret Empire took the nation by surprise, but at that point, Deadpool was in too deep. He saw Cap as a mentor and a friend, so when he was instructed to kill Agent Coulson, he did so with deadly efficiency.
Seeing as Phil Coulson already made a miraculous recovery from death in the Cinematic Universe (going on to helm Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) we shouldn’t perhaps be so surprised to see him return to life. In Avengers #700, however, his new position means that he’ll be taking a much more prominent role in the lives of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes moving forward. A through-line of writer Jason Aaron’s Avengers run is the fact that the super team has detached themselves from the American Government, declaring that they are the Avengers of the world, and appointing Black Panther -- the king of another nation, no less -- as their chairman.
General Thaddeus Ross hasn’t taken too kindly to this, and seeing as, in Avengers #700, we find that not only has Atlantis got its own super team, but that Russia has resurrected its Winter Guard team as well, he needs to find a superhero team that will serve the American government, and fast. In the final pages of the main story in Avengers #700, we see Ross talking with a figure in the shadows, explaining that with S.H.I.E.L.D. gone and the Avengers no longer under their control, America needs a new powerful tool at their disposal. Ross smiles as he sees the people in front of him, and welcomes Agent Coulson to the deep state. Coulson, in turn, introduces Ross to the country’s “newest and greatest heroes,” the Squadron Supreme of America.
We’ve yet to find out how and why Coulson has returned from the dead, and if it’s anything like his resurrection on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we may be waiting a while for the answer. One thing is for certain, however: Now that he’s back, working under Thaddeus Ross and spearheading a new Squadron Supreme -- one under the government’s control, no less -- we have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more of him in future issues of Avengers.