Back in the very first Iron Man movie, viewers were introduced to Phil Coulson, a somewhat bumbling S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who was always trying to schedule a meeting with Tony Stark. As more Marvel Cinematic Universe movies were released, Coulson had more appearances, an expanded role that saw him become a crucial part of the MCU puzzle. When this shared universe was still in its infancy, he was the glue holding it all together, the very face of interconnectivity. The character grew in popularity, to the point that he was just as recognizable as Thor, Black Widow or Hawkeye.
Although Coulson would come to die at the hands of Loki in 2012’s The Avengers, the character would prove so popular to fans that he was brought back to life for his very own series. If that weren’t enough, he would also eventually make the jump to comics. Whether he is the leading man of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or going off on daring missions in the comic book universe, Coulson has proven to be the ultimate spy. And spies are experts at keeping secrets. Today, CBR uses its level 7 clearance to reveal 15 dark secrets you never knew about all things Phil Coulson.
15. HE IS A MURDERER
Agent Coulson went through many hardships on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the first of which was learning that a fellow agent he thought of as a very good friend, Grant Ward, was actually evil. Then, much later, Coulson would lose his hand, and have it be replaced by a mechanical one. To make matters worse, Ward would later take the life of a woman Coulson had a close and burgeoning connection with.
All of these elements reached a boiling point, and a whole lot more when, through shocking circumstances, Ward and Coulson would find themselves on an alien planet, rushing to get home through a portal. The two men fought without holding back, Coulson letting all of the rage and darkness he had out on Ward. Coulson got the upper hand and, to make sure Ward wouldn’t harm anyone ever again, crushed his chest with his mechanical hand. A gruesome act, indeed.
14. HE HELPED CREATE ULTRON
The beginning of Avengers: Age of Ultron dropped viewers in the middle of the action, with the team once again assembled to storm Baron Von Struker’s castle and reclaim Loki’s scepter. But what viewers might not know is that it was agent Coulson, back on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., who located the scepter. He gave a call to Maria Hill, and told her it was time to deploy the Avengers.
As we all know by now, the Avengers found Loki’s scepter, and Tony Stark used the power of the Infinity Stone inside to create Ultron, the dangerous and quite frightening artificial intelligence system that almost destroyed the entire world. That, however, all started with Coulson, locating the scepter. Were if not for him, Ultron would not have been created, Sokovia would not have been destroyed, and the Sokovia Accords would not have been put in place.
13. HE HAS A BETTER SHIELD THAN CAPTAIN AMERICA
Part of Captain America’s signature look and style is his vibranium shield. It’s a weapon he has had by his side throughout all of his Marvel Cinematic Universe appearances. The shield has proven most useful indeed countless times over, as something that can both protect and attack. But, it turns out that Coulson has a shield of his own, and it just might be even better than Captain America’s.
Coulson’s shield (inspired by Cap’s own when his material one was temporarily replaced) was created as a feature of his prosthetic hand. Instead of vibranium, it’s made of pure energy, and it can be turned on and off at will. There is no need to actually carry it, like Captain America does on his back. This shield is stealth and practical. It can protect from blasts and debris and, while it can’t be thrown, it can still slice through threats, like, for example, the head of a dangerous LMD.
12. HE WAS BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE WITH ALIEN DNA
After Phil Coulson was fatally stabbed by Loki, Director Nick Fury ordered his agents to bring him back to life using an experimental serum called GH.325. This serum was created from the blood of the corpse of a Kree alien. The serum was designed to heal wounds, and it did its job wonderfully by healing Coulson. However, the use of the alien DNA-based serum had some unexpected side-effects.
Thanks to this serum, Coulson now had alien DNA inside of him, and it slowly started to affect his mind. He started by writing in an alien language he didn’t know or understand, more and more until he could fill up an entire wall with markings. This, in turn, drove Coulson erratic, as he attempted to decipher the language’s meanings. It had even come to the point where he asked Agent May to take him out if he were driven insane by it.
11. HIS NAME IS “CHEESE”
After being introduced (and created) in 2008’s Iron Man, Phil Coulson would later appear in both 2010’s Iron Man 2 and 2011’s Thor. Then, his place firmly established as part of the MCU, the character would make the jump to the comic book universe, making his first appearance in 2011’s Battle Scars #1 by Chris Yost, Cullen Bunn, Matt Fraction and Scot Eaton.
However, at the time, we didn’t even know that the character on the page was Phil Coulson. Instead, he was first introduced as Cheese, the best friend and brother-in-arms of Staff Sergeant Marcus Johnson, aka Nick Fury, Jr. Both were soldiers, and the two of them proved their stripes more times than they could count. It wouldn’t be until the sixth and final issue of Battle Scars that we would learn Cheese’s real name: Phil Coulson.
10. HE WAS THE FIRST AVENGER TO DIE
Agent Coulson was brought back to life thanks to a serum called GH.325. The experimental treatment was originally given the green-light by Nick Fury, who wanted to have a means to bring a fallen Avenger back to life. While Coulson didn’t know the circumstances surrounding his resurrection for quite a long time, Nick Fury would finally reveal everything to him.
Furious, Coulson protested, saying that the serum was only supposed to be used on an Avenger. Nick Fury, in a sequence that tugged at the hearstrings, revealed that it was. This shocking and emotional revelation showed us just how important Coulson was not only to fans, but to the MCU in general. Nick Fury confirmed what many suspected: Coulson was an Avenger. It’s just that most people don’t know it, and Coulson isn’t the type to boast about it.
9. HE RECRUITED A POTENTIAL AGENT TO DISASTROUS RESULTS
As a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Coulson is trained to read people. He usually has good instincts when it comes to trusting or keeping people at arm’s length. He sees the value in assets, like Daisy Johnson, and his faith in them can be quite rewarding. But sometimes, Coulson makes mistakes. It happened with Grant Ward, and it happened with Akela Amador, an old agent Coulson had trained.
In the season 1 episode “Eye-Spy,” we learned that Akela, while on a mission, had gone against Coulson’s orders. The mission, naturally, led to catastrophic results. Akela was taken prisoner and turned into an unwitting weapon against the spy organization she used to work for. Coulson’s team had to save his former trainee, but she still ended up under arrest for her actions.
8. HE STRUCK A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL
Near the end of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s fourth season, the heroes of the series were facing a losing battle with Aida, an LMD who had managed to create a human body for herself filled with Inhuman power. Aida proved too dangerous and unpredictable, meaning that Coulson and his team had to catch her by surprise. And Coulson managed to do that… in spades.
When next he faced Aida, the supervillainess was no longer facing a man – no, Coulson had struck a deal with the devil, temporarily taking control of the Spirit of Vengeance instead of Robbie Reyes. Coulson burned Aida to ashes, and the Ghost Rider returned to Robbie. But as it turns out, the Spirit only agreed to this temporary deal for one particular, but unknown, reason – a reason that Coulson is still keeping secret.
7. HE IS SECRETLY SPIDER-MAN’S PRINCIPAL
Agent Coulson proved so popular as an original movie character that not only was he introduced in the comics, he also made the jump to the animated screen. The character, voiced by none other than Clark Gregg, appeared on the animated series Ultimate Spider-Man. On the series, Coulson was tasked by Fury to work undercover as the principal of Peter Parker’s high school.
The goal was for S.H.I.E.L.D. to keep an eye on the young superhero, as a potential recruit for the spy agency. Proving himself to be a skilled undercover agent, Coulson plays a convincing principal, one who even cared enough about the school to change its budget. Coulson recurred on the series throughout its three seasons, showing that he had staying power no matter where he went.
6. HE WAS MURDERED BY DEADPOOL
No, not in the movies. Everyone remembers that Loki was the one who killed Coulson. However, in the comic books, things turned out very differently. After the character made his comic book debut in 2011, he was killed in a heartbreaking manner in 2017’s Deadpool #31, by Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli. The man responsible for his death? Deadpool.
Well, technically Deadpool pulled the trigger, but he wasn’t the one to give the order. That actually came from the evil, nazi version of Captain America, who at the time posed as the real Steve Rogers. This Steve used his reputation and the respect Wade Wilson had towards Cap to convince him to kill Coulson, who had discovered Steve’s nefarious allegiances. A reluctant Deadpool, believing Captain America’s judgment to be above reproach, completed his mission.
5. HE CAN CONVINCINGLY IMPERSONATE WOLVERINE
If there was any doubt that Phil Coulson was an effective secret agent, they were put to rest in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comic book series by writer Marc Guggenheim. This comic book series featured a cast that was largely similar to the one from the television series, albeit one that was allowed to mingle with the rest of the Marvel Universe.
For one daring mission, Coulson had no choice but to go undercover as none other than Wolverine himself. Donning a costume and the convincing mutton chops, Coulson fooled every one of his targets. The man may be a spy and a soldier, but this time, with the right vocabulary and the right attitude, he proved that he was also a chameleon, successfully and convincingly impersonating someone that is incredibly hard to emulate.
4. HE CREATED THE MEANS TO HIS OWN DEATH
In the early days of the MCU, there were a few comics released that filled in the blanks between various movies. Such was the case for The Avengers Prelude: Fury’s Big Week. The comic told several short stories all pertaining to one MCU movie or another, and one particular story showed Coulson after the Destroyer’s attack in 2011’s Thor.
We come to learn that after Thor vanquished the Destroyer, Coulson and Clint Barton brought the weapon back to S.H.I.E.L.D. in the hopes of studying it. It’s there that Coulson ordered scientists to make it infinitely smaller, and with the added feature of a trigger. Fans of 2012’s The Avengers might recall that Coulson brought a Destroyer-based weapon to face Loki, which led to him getting fatally stabbed. This means that Coulson ordered the creation of the weapon that would lead to his own death.
3. HE PULLED A BATMAN
In writer Marc Guggenheim’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comic series, Coulson and his team embarked on a crucial mission: to retrieve the Axiom Protocols. These protocols were on a Quantum Drive, and they contained detailed information on how to take down the world’s greatest superheroes. It just so happens that these plans were devised by none other than Phil Coulson.
However, Coulson wasn’t exactly the one to compile these protocols. In actuality, years prior, Coulson’s ex-fiancée Lola Daniels had used her telepathic abilities – powers that she had kept a secret – to extract the information from Coulson. Apparently, just like Batman, Coulson is a man who likes to be prepared and, like Batman, he was smart enough to figure out how to take out the world’s superheroes.
2. CLARK GREGG IS ACTUALLY A BETTER FIGHTER THAN COULSON
In the MCU, Coulson is a man surrounded by strong agents and fighters. Sure, he can hold his own in a fight, and he can pack a punch when he needs to, but he is nowhere near the fighting machine that other agents are. This is actually an area where the man who portrays him, Clark Gregg, surpasses the character he plays.
In fact, a quick visit to the actor’s own Instagram account shows countless pictures of the actor taking courses in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu martial arts. The man is devoted to his craft, and is clearly passionate about it: after 11 years of training, he earned a black belt. And that was a few years ago already. This makes us wonder how an actual fight between Gregg and Coulson would shake out. No guns, no energy shields — just good old-fashioned hand-to-hand combat. Our money’s on Gregg.
1. THE AVENGERS STILL DON’T KNOW HE’S ALIVE
In phase 1 of the MCU, Coulson interacted with every founding Avenger. He had worked alongside both Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton for years, he admired Captain America, he established a relationship of trust with Thor and he had been at Tony Stark’s side for almost three movies. His death was a brutal blow to all of the Avengers – it was the incident that led to them putting their differences aside.
Coulson had a relationship with all of these characters, and each of them felt his death. They fought in his name, and they became Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Now, Coulson is back among the living, and yet the Avengers have no idea. Coulson could always reveal himself to his friends, but he chooses to keep that a secret for the time being. Only time will tell if he will ever tell them that he is alive.
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