One of the things that has made Marvel’s recent movies unique is how they connect to one another [Click here to see how they link up!]. And while Nick Fury might be the face that brings them together, there’s another man working behind the scenes making it all happen: Agent Coulson. Played relatively straight-faced by actor Clark Gregg, Coulson’s importance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent has grown from his debut in Iron Man to appearances in Iron Man 2, Thor and his starring role in Marvel’s direct-to-video short films. And yet, he’s the only Marvel movie character with no connection to the comics that birthed these movies. The only comics he’s appeared in were special movie tie-ins that are firmly placed in Marvel’s movie continuity and not that of its traditional comics universe. But why is that?
“Coulson has always been the official/unofficial face of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Marvel Studios’ Creative Manager of Research and Development Will Corona Pilgrim tells Newsarama. “As fans know, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been a major character in the films as they clandestinely monitor the workings of various super powers; and while Nick Fury is the one in charge, Coulson is definitely the one in the trenches.”
Originally intended as a one-off performance, the interest in Coulson as part of the post-credits formation of S.H.I.E.L.D. led the studio to make him a continuing part of the movie franchise.
“After seeing such a positive reaction to the character in the first Iron Man movie, we never had a problem finding excuses to include Coulson,” says Pilgrim. “Like Nick Fury, the characters both expanded into the bigger Avengers picture as each film moved forward.”
Coulson isn’t the first “comic” character to debut outside of comics. DC’s Harley Quinn debuted in Batman: The Animated Series years before she made her comics debut. An even more astonishing debut was Superman’s secret weakness, kryptonite: it made its debut in a 1943 radio serial and was brought into the comics fold six years later. For Coulson, that time hasn’t come yet; and may never. When we asked Marvel about the possibility of a true comics debut for Agent Coulson, they declined to comment.
One new place Coulson will be appearing soon is in the upcoming Ultimate Spider-Man animated series. Gregg is set to reprise his role in this voice-over, with Coulson taking on a dual role as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent as well as working undercover as Peter Parker’s school principal. Although Nick Fury will also play a part in the series, Marvel’s Head of Television Jeph Loeb described Coulson’s role as more substantial to the story.
“Nick Fury will play a major role in ultimate Spider-Man having an effect on Peter and Spidey’s life,” Loeb explains. “But we wanted to have someone who could interact with Spidey on more regular basis -- Fury is a pretty busy guy -- so Coulson became our more day-to-day connection with S.H.I.E.L.D.”
This appearance by Coulson in this animated series might suggest to some that it is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity, but Loeb says that’s not the case necessarily.
“Marvel TV properties in general will exist within the Marvel Universe in comics. That’s the continuity we watch,” stresses Loeb. “There’s nothing in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that goes against the publishing Marvel Universe, so we’d pretty much follow in that way.”
Currently, readers hoping to see more of Coulson can look into the recent series of short films Marvel’s released as part of the Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger Blu-Ray releases.
“We wanted to show how this man operates in situations outside the high-stakes of our films’ plots. Plus, it was an opportunity to work with Clark Gregg,” says Marvel’s Director of Development Brad Winderbaum, who also severed as a co-producer on the shorts. “He’s an amazing actor and elevates everything he’s in.”