Fri
Oct 12 2012 2:00pm
“Agent Coulson Lives”: A New Movement Springs Up in Avengers Fandom

Agent Coulson Lives: A New Movement Springs Up in Avengers Fandom

There are certain things that fandom cannot bear. Death to beloved characters is easily in the Top 10 on that list, but most of the time that merely results in tears and rage and LOTS OF SPEAKING IN ALL CAPS ONLINE.

But sometimes fans react to what hurts them with hope. On a bridge in New Jersey (quite close to where my grandmother lives) the words “Frodo Lives” are spray-painted on steel. Who knows how long that piece of grafitti has been there – it could be decades. This past winter, subway posters and lampposts and bulletin boards where papered with art, hashtags and phrases; #believeinsherlock; we are Watson's Warriors; Richard Brooke was a fake.

And now the Avengers fandom has joined their ranks – where Phil Coulson is very much alive and well.

In retrospect, fans should have probably seen his death coming (and it was rumored in spoiler posts for months leading up to The Avengers' release). Take the thread that binds these characters together and cut that thread to unify them. It seemed like a classic Joss move to many who knew the creator's work, but Whedon has insisted since that the idea wasn't his at all. It was a Marvel directive; the studio wanted that death to hit home.

But in the midst of so many divas and drama queens, the presence of someone utterly ordinary can be so vital. It's not that fans necessarily disagreed with Marvel's decision (though many of them did), it's simply that it's so hard to imagine these films without Agent Coulson. His wit, his impervious poker face, his little-boy glee over Captain America – how can we survive more movies without him?

In the 1960s and 70s, the “Frodo Lives” slogan was adopted mostly by kids of the counterculture, who discovered Tolkien's work when the Lord of the Rings was released as a paperback book. There are several theories as to what the words might have meant among their number, one being that some fans believed that Frodo's journey to Valinor meant he would live forever. Though Tolkien debunked that line of thought, it's entirely possible that those two words simply embodied what fans want to believe for Frodo. It was certainly what I thought the first time I saw the phrase under that Jersey bridge.

The Believe in Sherlock movement stemmed from a core of dedicated BBC Sherlock fans (most of them on Tumblr) who imagined how they might react if they had lived in Sherlock's world, followed John Watson's blog as fans, and then heard the news following “The Reichenbach Fall.” It became a way of finding friends across the world, an open movement to spread the word and share grief over the loss (however temporary) of a hero.

So when Agent Coulson was shuffled off in The Avengers, the fandom did something a little new… they refused it outright.

Looking on Tumblr and over countless pieces of fanfiction on Archive of Our Own and elsewhere, you would think that nothing had happened to Phil Coulson at all. He's still there, in fandom's narrative. Perhaps S.H.I.E.L.D. had the technology to bring him back to life, perhaps the whole thing was an elaborate hoax, perhaps that wound wasn't as bad as it looked. And so Coulson is still there, being smarter than all the heroes and putting everyone in their place. He's in every group piece of fan art and every GIF set. His crush on Captain America has reached epic proportions.

It may sound silly, but it's actually incredibly touching.

And then Bleeding Cool discovered this in Manhattan the other day….

And of course, there's this lovely artwork from Timothy Lin (and this truly is the tip of the iceberg, y'all...)

Our own Production Manager recently returned from DragonCon and hung this lovely piece by Drew Blank over his desk:

Sometimes fans don't write angry letters. Sometimes they don't demand rewrites, or compose eulogies, or bombard the internet with sad fan videos set to Evanescence or Enya songs. Sometimes they just up and give a character life after death.

Live on, Son of Coul.


Emily Asher-Perrin has a hat that says “Frodo Lives.” She is perfectly happy with this alternate Marvel universe where Coulson sticks around. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.

8 comments
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1. herewiss13
If there was ever a fandom where death is deniable, it's Marvel fandom. I'm totally down with Life Model Decoys, a non-aired stinger with Coulson unconcious in an ICU or even a Vision brain-engram ressurection. The possibilities are endless and I'll be very disappointed if Marvel doesn't ever consider the idea on film.
David Thomson
2. ZetaStriker
I'm still hoping that wont carry over to the movie franchise. I really, really hope Coulson stays dead. Sometimes likeable characters die. Sometimes Josh Whedon directs things. Most times those events are related, but if they don't stay dead we can never trust that move again. What's more, is that his death worked well for the movie, and I'd hate to have that emotional impact removed. If it is, the tone of the finale will fall far flatter on future rewatches.
nentuaby
3. nentuaby
Much as I liked Agent, I'll be appalled if he comes back in the cinemaverse. The absolute cheapness of death in the mainline superhero comics is closely tied to the reason I can't stand to read the damn things anymore. Everything always comes back to the freakin' status quo. The best thing about these movies has been that they only expect to go for a few more sequels, they can afford to actually HAVE SOMETHING IMPORTANT HAPPEN and just live with it.
nentuaby
4. Improbable Joe
I wanna punch herewiss13 in the brain engram, because when I saw this in my RSS feed my first though was "Vision" too.
Chris Meadows
5. Robotech_Master
I highly doubt he's dead for good. Mainly because we never saw the body after the "dying" gasp, and Nick Fury lies more often than the Doctor. (That little trick with the trading cards, for instance.) And rumor has it Clark Gregg, Coulson's actor, was in talks to appear in Iron Man 3 and Thor 2.

We'll just have to wait and see.
nentuaby
6. Megpie71
I think at least part of it is that if you know anything about the Marvel Comics universe (and what it implies for the Marvel Cinematic Universe), then you know that nobody of any importance stays dead. Jean Grey has her own personal revolving door in the afterlife, Captain America survived a plane crash and a seventy year spell as permafrost, Uncle Ben has come back, Gwen Stacy has come back, heck, even Bucky Barnes is back (and he was the one who stayed dead for the longest of the lot of them). So why shouldn't the fans be prepped and ready for Agent Coulson to reappear, either using the classic Marvel Avengers vehicle of The Vision (an android body reanimated with a human brain engram overlay; more fuel for this one is that Phil Coulson apparently has a cellist he's fond of, the Scarlet Witch plays cello, and The Vision was the Scarlet Witch's husband for a long time in the comics), or just through standard comic book "oh, it wasn't that bad" anatomy and physiology. Or the Phil who got killed could have been the Life Model Decoy of the biological Phil Coulson.

Given the world the characters are living in, and the universe it's based on, I'm not surprised the fans aren't willing to accept that Agent Coulson's death in the line of duty is a permanent thing. I know I won't be surprised to find out he shows up in Iron Man 3 (although, if the studio is actually wanting that to stick, it might be as "flashbacks" to previously unscreened encounters) or that he's been written into Thor 2 (again, the same trick could be used). The one to watch would be Captain America 2: Winter Soldier, because by then "flashbacks" won't be acceptable. It'll be interesting to see how it's played.
nentuaby
7. dizmo
I have said for a while now that I have never personally seen such a case of flat-out fandom denial as I have for this (non!-)death. From all the fic, to filk, to t-shirts, to the full-on dedicated tumblr (http://coulsonlivesproject.tumblr.com), it always makes me smile, as Coulson has been my favorite character in the MCU since nearly the beginning.

Fandom will never cease to amaze me.
Alan Brown
8. AlanBrown
And now, we find out that he will star in the new SHIELD television show. I KNEW he was only mostly dead.

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