Not every Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fan is a comic book fan. Some might simply not be interested, some might see it as daunting to get into thanks to long standing plots and sometimes confusing timelines. But as Phil Coulson served as the audience’s bridge into the Marvel Universe of the movies, he might also serve as the bridge for a new reader into the world of comics. In this two part series, we’ll run through some of Coulson’s most important comic book appearances as well as some of my personal favorites.
This isn’t meant to be a definitive list of every Coulson comic book appearance by any means. For completions’ sake, Comic Vine has fairly accurate list of all of Coulson’s appearances thus far. Most if not all of these titles can be easily found in print or digital format, with many already added into the Marvel Unlimited library. Minor spoilers for all the books mentioned will be discussed, including a major one for Battle Scars, so you have been warned.
Movie Tie-In Comics
Iron Man 2 Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Writer- Joe Casey, Artist- Felix Ruiz)
One of Coulson’s first appearances in comic form was back in April of 2010 in a web comic entitled Iron Man 2: Phil Coulson: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. That and other tie-in comics surrounding the release of Iron Man 2 would be collected in the Iron Man 2: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comic, which would again be collected in 2012’s Avengers: Road to Marvel’s The Avengers trade paperback. It’s a great quick read with a lot of nice moments from Widow, Fury and Coulson behind the scenes leading up to the events of the sequel. Coulson’s segment focuses on warming up a new S.H.I.E.L.D. recruit in the most elaborate hazing/training session ever. Coulson isn’t kidding when he says he likes his new agents “razor sharp”.
Marvel’s The Avengers: Fury’s Big Week (Writer- Christopher Yost, Eric Pearson Artist- Luke Ross)
Coulson’s next major appearance would come from the Fury’s Big Week comic tie-in to The Avengers movie. The eight-issue collection is an excellent companion piece to the Phase One movies. In it, we get glimpses of events from the different movies leading up to The Avengers, all of it told from S.H.E.I.L.D.’s perspective as the various agents run around trying their darnedest to contain what rapidly shapes up to be an uncontainable situation. Highlights are Coulson’s scenes from during Iron Man 2 from his perspective, where he appeals to Fury to check out the strange occurrences happening in New Mexico. We also see that Coulson not only had a bit of input on Captain America’s new costume in The Avengers, but we also see him spend time with the research team in charge of creating his one of a kind Destroyer gun. Writer Christopher Yost does a stellar job at finding each character’s voice and this series would prove to be just a warm up for Yost when it came to matters pertaining to S.H.I.E.L.D.
Marvel Mainstream Universe- Earth 616
Battle Scars (Writer- Christopher Yost, Cullen Bunn, Matt Fraction, Artist- Scot Eaton)
Movie tie-in comics aside, Phil Coulson had not yet made his debut into the mainstream Marvel comic book universe, designated Earth- 616 (The Bus’ call sign, also 616). But that changed with Christopher Yost, Cullen Bunn and Matt Fraction’s Battle Scars six issue mini series in early 2012.
Battle Scars focuses on Marcus Johnson, an army ranger brought back from Afghanistan to first mourn then investigate the death of his mother. What he finds out thrusts him front and center into the world of superheroes and supervillains thanks to his estranged father’s legacy. His best friend, nicknamed ‘Cheese’, who proves at every turn to have Marcus’s back no matter what, accompanies him on his mission. The solid friendship between these two new characters is one of the best things about this series and gives it a nice buddy cop action movie vibe.
*No really, SPOILERS coming up, last warning*
Marcus turns out to be Nick Fury’s son, and takes the name Nick Fury Jr. This proves to be the introduction of ‘The Ultimates’ version of Nick Fury (the one that Samuel L. Jackson’s MCU portrayal is based on) into the 616 universe. And as an added touch, it is revealed in the last few pages that ‘Cheese’ is none other than Phil Coulson and joins S.H.I.E.L.D. along with his best bud. It’s a great reveal and is mostly hidden by the fact that ‘Cheese’ isn’t drawn by Scot Eaton to look all that much like Clark Gregg on most of the pages. But upon re-reading it, there are a few Coulson-isms that slip through, such as ‘Cheese’s infatuation with Captain America. Eaton also draws ‘Cheese’s eyes very much like the Coulson we know and love, even though he's sporting slightly dirty blond hair and a super buffed out body could give Thor a run for his money.
While I wouldn’t call Battle Scars a complete stand alone, it’s still easy enough to read for those coming in fresh without any knowledge of what was happening in the 616 universe at the time. The series gives both Marcus/Nick Fury Jr. and Phil Coulson a backstory of their time before S.H.I.E.L.D. and it remains to be seen if Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will follow along the same lines or create a completely new history for these two.
Coulson’s inclusion marked one of the first times a character created solely from the movies would become established in a mainstream comic book universe. Battle Scars opened the door to Phil Coulson being used by a multitude of writers and artists for even more stories outside of the MCU.
Stop back later this week for Part Two, where we delve into the era of Marvel NOW! and even more Phil Coulson comic book appearances.