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.