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Spoilers for all works set prior to Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame are unmarked.

Agent / Director Phillip J. "Phil" Coulson / Ghost Rider IV

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/mcu_coulson_s6.png
"This isn't my first rodeo, Mr. Stark."
Click here to see him in Captain Marvel 
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Birth Name: Phillip J. Coulson

Species: Enhanced human

Citizenship: American

Portrayed By: Clark Gregg

Voiced By: Ricardo Tejedo [main movies and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Disney dub], Mario Castañeda [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Sony dub] (Latin-American Spanish dub); Alberto Mieza [main movies], Paco Vaquero [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.] (European Spanish), Jean-Pol Brissart (European French dub), François Godin (Canadian French dub), Ronaldo Júlio (Brazilian Portuguese dub)

Appearances: Captain Marvel (chronologically) | Iron Man | Iron Man 2 | The Consultant | A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer | Thor | The Avengers | Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. | Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Slingshot

"With everything that's happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned."
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An agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Nick Fury's right-hand-man. He was first introduced trying to debrief Stark of his captivity by the Ten Rings, and later assisting him in pursuing the Iron Monger and curing his poisoning. Sometime later, he was assigned with excavating Mjölnir, and bumped heads with Thor and his new human companions. Those efforts paid off in recruiting the Norse god to the Avengers, and once assembled he remained a major figure in escorting the heroes.

During the events of Loki's raid on the Helicarrier, Coulson was mortally wounded in an attempt to attack him. He was reported as dead to the Avengers and most of S.H.I.E.L.D., who promised to honor his memory and stop Loki for him. However, only those Level 7 and above knew what really happened to Coulson, and soon after these events, he was given a new job in assembling a team to investigate strange events and rogue supers around the world.

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After the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s first season he steps up to become the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., tasked with rebuilding the agency after the internal HYDRA threat tore it apart.


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    A-C 
  • Accidental Misnaming: In season 3, Skye starts going by her birth name, Daisy, but he keeps forgetting.
    Coulson: Hard to get used to, huh?
    Hunter: No.
    Mack: No, just you.
  • Action Survivor: Agent Coulson seems like an average government agent with no outstanding abilities shown so far beyond basic Badass Normalcy, yet he's managed to survive attacks from both Iron Monger and The Destroyer practically unscathed. Also, he knows kung fu.
  • Adorkable: On the job, deadpan and stoic. Off the job, a goofy teddy bear of a man who collects superhero trading cards and squees over antique spy gear.
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • Fury calls him "my one good eye" when lamenting his death.
    • Thor and other Asgardians also call him "Son Of Coul".
  • Almighty Janitor: By Season 4, he's somewhere between this and an unofficial The Consigliere to Director Jeffrey Mace. Having stepped down from the Directorship back to field agent work, he is far more capable than his chosen rank. At the same time, he is automatically the new Director's go-to guy for advice and under-the-table operations.
  • Amputation Stops Spread: In the season 2 finale, he makes what he presumes will be a Heroic Sacrifice, grabbing a tainted Terrigen Crystal before it can shatter and disperse its deadly mist across the ship. Mack promptly hacks off his petrified hand before the corruption can spread further and leave Coulson Taken for Granite.
  • Arc Words: Whenever his recovery in Tahiti comes up he says, "It's a magical place." This was implied to be connected to the Dark Secret related to his resurrection. After finding out the truth behind "Tahiti," when Agent Sitwell asks how Tahiti was, he simply says, "It sucked." Afterwards, he doesn't say anything about Tahiti when it's brought up. At the end of Season 5, he retires to the real Tahiti, and upon seeing it he admits that it's actually a pretty magical place after all.
  • Artificial Limbs: After losing his left hand, he gets a cybernetic replacement, which continues to receive upgrades as the show keeps going.
  • Artistic License – Physics: His mechanical hand is used in impossible ways throughout Season 3. Attached where it is (below the elbow), the most it should be able to do is give him a strong grip, but it has been shown to allow him to lift a full-grown man by the neck with just the one hand, punch chunks out a brick wall, and effortlessly crush Ward's chest. All of these feats would require additional mechanical strength from the elbow and/or shoulder, which the hand does not provide.
  • Ascended Extra: Originally an MCU-only side character, possibly for comic relief. Clark Gregg took the role mostly as a favor to Jon Favreau, but the character proved to be popularnote  that Coulson became an official part of the comics, Peter Parker's principal, and the lead character in a TV serial in the MCU, to Fury's successor as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and in Fury's opinion, one of the Avengers in his own right.
  • Ascended Fanboy: From a devoted S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and a fan of Fury and Rogers to Fury's successor!
  • Ascended Meme: "Coulson Lives" is sometimes seen hidden in episodes of the Stan Lee-sponsored Bad Days cartoon, then Coulson himself does in Episode 12. Then when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s teaser was revealed, Marvel announced tweeting said slogan would unlock a longer trailer.
  • Badass Adorable: There's a huge contrast between how much of a badass Coulson is and how NICE and lovable his personality is.
  • Badass Boast:
    • When meeting Raina, she, rather deceivingly politely, states that she hasn't had the pleasure of meeting him. His response? "Lucky for you."
    • Later, his response when Malick tells him that Hive is a god:
      Coulson: I've met gods. Gods bleed.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: The man can dress as well as he can kick ass when needed. His closet on the bus is nothing but dark suits and dress shirts.
  • Back from the Dead: In "The Magical Place" it's revealed he wasn't dead for eight seconds, he was dead for days, but Director Nick Fury did everything possible, no matter how ethically abhorrent, to bring him back.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: He is initially very opposed to how Fury runs things, but after becoming the director, he ends up on the same road, even outright saying that he will cross lines his predecessor was not willing to cross after Ward shoots Rosalind.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Don't ever betray Coulson's trust. Ever. Whereas Skye, who had simply hidden something from him, got off with a scolding and having to wear an electronic bracelet for the next six episodes, he points a gun at May and breaks off their friendship after finding out she was reporting on him to someone (who turned out to be Director Fury, but he was still hurt by the revelation that May would report on him to anyone). They later make up and Coulson forgives her for spying on him.
    • When Ward is finally in custody, after receiving a well deserved beat down from May, Coulson seems pleased that Melinda may have broken his larynx and flat out tells him that he's going to invent new ways of ruining the young man's life.
    • Don't jeopardize your own well-being. He explodes at Ward and Simmons in "FZZT" for jumping out of the cargo bay in midair. He considers especially Simmons to be irreplaceable.
    • "Don't touch Lola!" (his flying car)
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • On the surface, he's a pleasant man overall, but he's not called Fury's "one good eye" for no reason. Heaven help you if you betray him.
      Coulson: You have a secret, Skye, and one chance to come out with it—that's now!—or I'm done with you.
    • Coulson's confrontation with Skye is nothing compared to when he finds out May is acting as a mole for Fury, to keep tabs on him if he Came Back Wrong. He's angry enough to point a gun, not an ICER, at her (although at the time he thought she was working for the Clairvoyant). Afterwards, he breaks off their friendship (though they make up not long after).
    • May got off easy compared to Ward; spying for Director Fury is nothing compared to being a mole for HYDRA.
    • His plan to take down HYDRA in Season Two is both ingenious and ruthless: use a high-ranking HYDRA agent that they captured as a pawn by convincing him that there's a faction of the organization that is plotting against each the rest. This convinces HYDRA leadership to kill each other to prevent a coup, so S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Army can take down the leaderless grunts with ease.
  • BFG:
    • He loves these. He uses one (a prototype reverse engineered from the Destroyer) in The Avengers and several times in Ultimate Spider-Man.
      Coulson: [points a prototype gun at Loki] Even I don't know what it does. [activates it] Do you wanna find out?
    • The Destroyer gun makes a return in "Beginning of the End".
      Coulson: [activates gun] I know what it does.
  • Big Good: His position as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. marks him as this through seasons 2 and 3.
  • Breakout Character: He started out as a random suit, but around Iron Man 2 and Thor, his current characterization began to emerge. Once his popularity reached its peak in The Avengers, he then received his own show. To top it all off, he has been promoted to the position of Big Good in that show as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s director. Coulson far and away has the greatest amount of screentime of any character in the setting due to being the focus of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and for having some significant roles in the films themselves.
  • Break the Cutie: Coulson's faith in S.H.I.E.L.D. is tested repeatedly throughout the series: the truth and circumstances about his resurrection are kept hidden from him by both his superiors and his close friend. S.H.I.E.L.D. itself no longer exists due to HYDRA's infiltration. However that faith is ultimately rewarded as Fury picks him to be the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and to rebuild it.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: A rare heroic example from Coulson towards Anton Ivanov.
    Coulson: All of these things you've done, all of the energy spent, the hatred, and you know what the funny thing about it is? I have no idea who the hell you are. I've been on hundreds of missions in my time. This one you're so upset about... I was sent to retrieve an object. If I'm being honest, I don't even remember what it was! As far as I'm concerned, you're just another redshirt like so many others who tried unsuccessfully to stop me from saving the world. 'Cause that's what I do. So... cool origin story, bro, but this means nothing to me.
  • Came Back Wrong: His revival is implied to have missed or changed some things, such as finding his muscle memory doesn't quite work the same when he can't field-strip a pistol. May assures him it's just Resurrection Sickness. "The Magical Place" reveals that he was dead for days and required extensive surgery and memory manipulation to get him back to normal, which apparently missed a few spots. Furthermore, the GH serum used to bring him back, distilled from an alien's blood, had severe psychological side-effects which Coulson seems to have mostly avoided, though the stinger to "Beginning of the End" shows him writing out alien script on a wall, something that envelops into a full-blown story arc during the first third of the next season to the point where there are reminders from time to time that Coulson made May promise to terminate him if it turns out he came back wronger than he thought. Thankfully, it stops when he catches sight of a 3D model, in the form of a model railroad, resembling the alien script he'd been writing out on what Skye had taken to calling the "crazy wall".
  • Canon Immigrant:
    • Finally made his debut to the main Marvel Universe on the miniseries Battle Scars. He isn't revealed as Coulson until issue #6. He later shows up in the Deadpool ongoing series and his TV team is now going to get their own title within the main Marvel Universe.
    • He's also Peter Parker's school principal in Ultimate Spider-Man, voiced by Gregg.
    • He's a full-fledged NPC in Marvel: Avengers Alliance as of Season 2.
    • In addition to being Fury's go-to guy, he's the voice of Mission Control (read: hints on how to not die) in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (again voiced by Gregg), and is an unlockable character.
    • He's an unlockable team-up and a interactable NPC in Hell's Kitchen in Marvel Heroes, once again voiced by Clark Gregg. He's very protective of the character.
  • Catchphrase: Sometimes reminds others that S.H.I.E.L.D. is "the good guys" when they're called out on their questionable tactics, or similar methods to the bad guys.
  • The Chains of Commanding: When he becomes the new director of S.H.I.E.L.D he's the one to make the tough decisions regarding saving the importance of the mission of the safety of his people. Because he's The Spy Master he has to keep people Locked Out of the Loop since there is some stuff they don't need to know for security reasons.
  • Character Death: Twice!
    • The first was in "The Avengers" where Loki, stabbed him. Fury brought him back though.
    • The second is near the end of "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Season 5. Coulson's deal with the Ghost Rider cost him the Kree blood in his system which was keeping him alive, meaning his days are numbered. The team is aghast at this, and tries to come up with ways to save him; Coulson however is perfectly content with his fate, believing he was living on borrowed time anyway. Coulson leaves the team to spend his remaining time with May in Tahiti.
  • Character Tics:
    • Whenever Coulson is talking, he has a tendency to keep his arms folded. Sometimes even when he isn't talking.
    • When anyone mentions "Tahiti," he automatically responds, "It's a magical place." As of "Yes Men", he's broken that compulsion.
  • The Chessmaster:
    • Rewatch Iron Man 2, Thor, and the shorts starring him. It becomes apparent that he knows exactly how people are going to react, but feigns ignorance to confirm it and make them think they had a choice. Nick Fury is the same, but Coulson augments it by managing to seem remarkably inoffensive to those who don't know any better.
    • In "0-8-4", he was able to pin down that Reyes was gonna turn on them and used that to motivate the team into working together. He also may know about Skye being The Mole for the Rising Tide, when Fury asked him whether Skye could be trusted in The Stinger.
    • He reaches entire new heights in "Aftershocks", killing the entire remaining leadership of HYDRA in just a few hours, thanks to playing Bakshi like a champ.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Though he was joking when he said it, "Super Nanny" is an apt description of his relationship with the Avengers, or at least with Tony Stark.
  • Collector of the Strange: Coulson has acquired a vast collection of Captain America memorabilia and classic spy gear. The trading cards are the most well known.
  • The Comically Serious: He's quite snarky and sarcastic, but you'd never pick up on that from his demeanor.
  • Cool Car: He gets one named "Lola" in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Don't touch her. It's revealed to be capable of flight by the end of the first episode and later on it's revealed to have a pair of machine guns hidden behind the headlights.
  • Cool Shades: Wears sunglasses while on ops. According to "The Man Behind the Shield", May suggested it because his eyes tend to dart when he lies.

    D-K 
  • Deal with the Devil: Did one with Ghost Rider in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 finale in order to kill Aida. Turns out it cost him the Kree blood that kept him alive...
  • Death Faked for You: According to Coulson, Fury faked his death on board the Helicarrier to help motivate the Avengers. Coulson claims that he "died" for forty seconds; Hill corrects him to eight, but mentions that he keeps extending the time each time he re-tells it. The truth is that he really was dead and it was for days but Director Fury "moved heaven and earth" to revive him.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Going by promos, synopsis, and posters for the show, not to mention the way it was advertised, it would appear he's the lead character of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, once the show starts we're introduced to Skye/Daisy, and the two share about as much importance to the plot, until Coulson's character arc is resolved and he's no longer tied to the show's myth arc. Though still important to the show, Coulson is more a mentor to the cast, while most of the plot focus is on Daisy.
  • Defiant to the End:
    • Even when mortally wounded by Loki, Coulson refuses to let the son of a Frost Giant talk him down.
      Coulson: [BOOM] ...so that's what it does.
    • He still has this in the series, as shown when The Clairvoyant has him facing down a firing squad and is trying to recruit him.
      Coulson: I would die before serving HYDRA, you sick son of a bitch.
  • Despair Event Horizon: What had really happened to him after he died; he lost the will to live. It took that memory of Tahiti to pull him back.
  • Disney Death: Twice!
    • While seemingly killed by Loki, the knowledge that he survived was kept secret to all but Level 7 and higher agents.
    • In “Inside Voices”, his heart seems to stop following a single gunshot, but Creel manages to apply an electric solution to that.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: It seems Coulson likes hanging lampshades on his jokes. In the pilot, he makes a dramatic statement while stepping out of the shadows, then apologizes for it and says he thinks a bulb's burned out (which ended up making up for his surviving his fateful encounter with Loki being spoiled before the series was even broadcast). In episode 8, he puns on the fact that they have to dig for an artifact, then immediately points it out.
    Coulson: See what I did there?
  • Dork Knight: He's what happens if your stuffy and uptight math teacher decides to go out and become a secret agent. "Providence" establishes that he's a gamer, and according to Hunter, he hogs the mic on karaoke night.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: Coulson, already a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, briefly becomes the Ghost Rider by making a deal with the Spirit of Vengeance and manages to absolutely obliterate Aida with the powers that come with it.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
  • The Everyman: Despite Coulson being called "the most recognizable face in the Marvel Cinematic Universe", he is depicted as an "Everyman" in a universe full of superheroes — "the glue that binds" the characters together. In Thor, Coulson complains that Tony Stark "never tells [him] anything." In an interview with WNBC, Gregg explained his portrayal of the character as "just a guy grumbling about his job."
    Clark Gregg: He's the guy who's tasked — a very disciplined guy in my opinion who possesses secrets that would turn your hair white — but at the same time he's tasked with handling these kind of diva superheroes, you know? Oh, really, Asgard? Dude, just get in the car.
  • Fanboy: Of Captain America. He even has the trading cards. Also, he watched Rogers while he was sleeping... we-we mean, he was... he was present, while Rogers was unconscious... from the... ice.
  • A Father to His Men: Coulson cares a great deal for his team and would do anything to protect them, even if it means going into the field alongside them. Skye in particular seems to look to him as a Parental Substitute.
  • Fearless Fool:
    • It takes a particularly special kind of badass to go up against an Asgardian single-handedly, even if he is wielding an experimental weapon based on alien technology.
    • He does it again on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. by attempting to take on Garrett and a group of Centipede-fueled soldiers on his own. It doesn't go so well, but he gets back up and tries again.
  • Finger Firearms: He claims to have a laser finger in his artificial hand. Is this the truth or a bluff? Sorry, that's classified.
  • Flat "What": In "Nothing Personal", after finding out he was responsible for Project T.A.H.I.T.I. all along.
  • Good Is Not Soft:
    • Coulson is one of the friendliest characters in the MCU, but there is a stone-cold ruthlessness hiding behind his grin. Whereas Whitehall and The Doctor crack the normally unflappable Raina with threats of violence, Coulson can have her tearfully begging for her life by just staring at her.
    • Coulson tells Bobbi Morse that he believes S.H.I.E.L.D. exists to protect the innocent and that potential threats should kept out of everyone's hands and not stored away to be studied and turned even more dangerous. He also adamantly states that he doesn't believe in acceptable losses. Yet later, when Mack becomes seemingly possessed and non-lethal approaches prove useless, Coulson unhesitatingly orders lethal action be taken and that Mack be sealed away.
  • Good Is Old-Fashioned:
    • This is exactly what Coulson believes that the world needs right now in Avengers. The TV series continues this theme, with Coulson commenting to Reyes that "with the world changing so fast around us, we need some anchors to the past". The room they're talking in is filled with such things as a first-edition walkie-talkie wristwatch in perfect working order.
    • His belief seems to be proven in the field when the team uses Trips' grandfather's Howling Commando spy gadgets to assist them in taking down Centipede to great effect against vastly superior tech.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars:
    • Has a vertical scar on his chest from when Loki stabbed him through the chest.
    • As of the second-season finale of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Phil can add... er, subtract, his left hand, thanks to quick thinking from Mack saving Coulson from petrifying due to exposure to Diviner metal.
  • Guile Hero: Coulson is incredibly adept at throwing opponents off-kilter with his deadpan affability. If it wasn't for the fact that he is a truly friendly person who tries to see the best in everyone, he'd be a Manipulative Bastard on par with Nick Fury.
  • Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: The receding hairline he has in the present is replaced with '90s Hair in Captain Marvel.
  • The Heart:
    • Fury considers him to be this to S.H.I.E.L.D., calling him his "one good eye." Fury later states this verbatim in the episode "The Beginning of the End".
    • Also functions as this to his team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Compared to Melinda May and Grant Ward, he tends to be more compassionate and favors nonlethal solutions to the problems they face whenever possible. Although Skye seems to be edging toward this role as well.
    • The "Building a Universe" documentary confirms that he's deliberately set up to be this for the Avengers.
  • Heartbroken Badass: While he's hidden it very well, it's revealed in "The Magical Place" that the loss of his relationship with his cellist girlfriend post Avengers hit him pretty hard. You can see it practically kills him to be near her and not be able to tell her he's alive.
  • Hero Antagonist: In Thor, he leads the S.H.I.E.L.D. group trying to investigate Mjölnir. To keep it hidden from outsiders he screws over Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis, and Eric Selvig in all ways possible, but thankfully once Thor gets his powers back, he acknowledges both him and S.H.I.E.L.D. are fighting the same cause.
    Coulson: [confiscating Jane Foster's stuff] Sorry, ma'am, we're the good guys!
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Coulson's choice in facing Loki alone could be interpreted as one, especially given the fact that he thought his death would get the Avengers to stop bickering with one another to avenge him, as it were.
    • At the end of Season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., he grabs a falling Terrigen crystal so it won't explode and kill everyone, a death sentence for a non-Inhuman. Luckily, a quick-thinking Mack cuts off his hand before the petrification can spread.
    • Allowing Ghost Rider to possess him in order to destroy Aida is revealed to have been one in Season 5 as this resulted in the Kree Blood keeping him alive being burned out of his body and slowly killing him. He makes another sacrifice at the end of the season by giving Daisy the Centipede Serum, the only thing that can replace the Kree Blood, in order to give her enough power to kill Graviton and save the world.
  • Hero's Classic Car: Coulson has a '62 Corvette that he calls Lola. It was a beat-up old clunker that his dad had been working on and kept dragging him in to work on it. Now he keeps it with him and has it modified to fly.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Adopts this moral from Fury more and more as the series progresses much to the shock and frustration of his team.
  • Improvised Weapon: We get our first glimpse of Coulson's physical abilities in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer, when he takes care of two armed robbers with only a bag of flour and martial arts. All because he couldn't decide on chocolate or powdered doughnuts.
  • In-Series Nickname:
    • Skye calls him "A.C." because it's "cooler" than "Agent Coulson."
    • Asgardians tend to have trouble with his name, assuming it means "Son of Coul", which, to be fair, is the literal meaning of the name Coulson, though Midgardian naming conventions make it quite possible that there hasn't been a Coul in his ancestry for quite some time.
  • In the Back: Courtesy of Loki and his scepter in the Hulk cell room.
  • Irony: He was the agent in charge for Project T.A.H.I.T.I., as revealed in "Nothing Personal". However, he was so horrified at the side effects of the procedure, he threatened to quit if it wasn't shut down. After his death, Director Fury subjected him to Project T.A.H.I.T.I., complete with the memory alteration process.
  • It's Personal:
    • When Akela is found comitting crimes, he goes after her himself because she was his apprentice.
    • When he hears that someone's popping off T.A.H.I.T.I. patients, he decides he has to get to the only other one of the first six remaining before the T.A.H.I.T.I. killer does because he was the project's director. To do this he locks up Skye in his place to keep her from interfering.
    • After Ward murders Rosalind Price, he declares himself perfectly willing to cross lines not even Fury crossed if that's what it takes to destroy him once and for all.
    • Coulson tries to avert this while searching for Holden Radcliffe after he kidnaps May, if only because she would hate it. However, it's well established that hurting his teammates (particularly May) tends to make things very personal for Coulson.
  • Insistent Terminology: He has the most trouble with Daisy's name change in Season 3, still calling her "Skye" in the first few episodes. It mostly drops after that, but he occasionally calls her "Skye" in high-stress situations.
  • Killed Offscreen: He passes away between Season 5 and Season 6.
  • The Knights Who Say "Squee!":
    • He's very fond of Captain America. He's got the trading cards, plus he designed Cap's modern-day outfit.
    • He has a love of classic spy gear. When Tripplet shows off his collection of his grandfather's Howling Commandos gear, Coulson goes full fanboy on the spot.
    • In "Emancipation", he tells May that along with Cap, Peggy Carter was one of his childhood heroes. In the first episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Slingshot, he reveals that he had a special S.H.I.E.L.D. pin that Peggy Carter was given after the foundation of S.H.I.E.L.D.
    • In "Identity and Change," which takes place in the Framework alternate reality, Coulson geeks out once he meets the Patriot, not unlike when he met Captain America.

    L-Y 
  • Last-Name Basis: In The Avengers, Tony Stark snarks that Coulson's first name is "Agent", as opposed to "Phil", but after the agent's mortal wounding, Tony has a change of heart and when boasting to Loki about the various Avengers who are going to be coming for him, he finishes by referring to him by his first name.
  • The Leader:
    • He's in charge of The Team, and for all that he's a very nice, very good man, he never forgets his position. After S.H.I.E.L.D. goes defunct in "Turn, Turn, Turn" Simmons points out that he's technically no longer in charge and things go more democratic. However, the team still follows him into the middle of nowhere.
    • As of the season one finale, the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., officially his team and Agent Billy Koenig. He has expanded it quite a bit by the start of the second season.
    • Even after he steps down from the directorship, Mace is constantly going to him for advice and he is usually looked to as the de facto leader, such as just after arriving in the Bad Future, when Daisy immediately looks to Coulson to resolve a disagreement about their plan of action.
  • Limited Wardrobe: He's almost never seen wearing anything other than a collection of dark suits. One episode has him choosing between two different shades of gray. The first episode of Season 3 show that he does in fact own other types of clothes.
  • Living Legend: Not as instantly recognised as May or Fitz-Simmons, perhaps, but it's clear that since the Battle of New York everyone in S.H.I.E.L.D. knows his name and what he did. (Though not many of the rank-and-file know he's still fulfilling the "living" part of the trope.) See Memetic Badass, below.
  • Locked Out of the Loop:
    • Despite believing he didn't die in The Avengers and just faked his death to motivate the team, it appears there's more to it than that. Maria Hill cryptically says to Dr. Streiten that Coulson can't ever find out the truth. During "A Magical Place", Coulson confronts him and the truth is... he's still a human being. He had simply lost the will to live during the procedure to bring him back to life, so they had to put that memory of Tahiti in his brain.
    • Inverted for another instance of the trope in "Providence": Agent Koenig reveals to Coulson that Nick Fury's alive, but to keep it to himself, hence making Coulson the only member of his team in the loop.
    • As of season 2 it's his job as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D to lock everyone else out of the loop. Like Fury said, no-one is supposed to know everything, except the guy in charge.
    • Unknown to him, there's another S.H.I.E.L.D. out there — it considers itself to be the real S.H.I.E.L.D. Bobbi and Mack have been acting as double agents for them the entire season with the end game of acquiring Fury's Toolbox. And they've taken great pains to keep their secret from Coulson to the point of kidnapping Hunter when he realizes what's going on.
  • Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: The latest model of Coulson's prosthetic hand is able to project an energy shield strong enough to withstand an explosion, with an appearance not unlike Captain America's own shield. He thought it would be cool if the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. used an actual shield of their own.
  • Magnetic Hero: Gonzales remarks that Coulson's ability to inspire Undying Loyalty in people, even from mercs who are Only in It for the Money, makes him more dangerous than a Gifted.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Once Mace is revealed as a fraud, but still a good man trying to do the right thing, Coulson leaves him in place to handle the PR and politics that Coulson isn't fond of, but he makes clear that he is the one calling the shots from here on out.
  • Memetic Badass: "Providence" confirms that he's become one In-Universe to other high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. He's even acquired his own Fanboy, in the form of Agent Eric Koenig. Eric's brother Billy seems to have just as much affection for Coulson when they meet.
  • Mission Control:
    • Plays this role in the LEGO Marvel Superheroes video game; he's even voiced by Gregg.
    • In season two of the series, he also plays this role because he's the new Director and has to coordinate things.
  • Moment Killer: Seems to be a Running Gag. Many times when his team members such as Fitz-Simmons or Bobby-Hunter have Ship Tease arise between them, Coulson interrupted their moments, either accidentally or intentionally. In the first episode of Season 4, he did again to Mack and Elena.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: When he finds out that he was the one in charge of Project T.A.H.I.T.I. and that he recommended that it should be shut down or he would quit S.H.I.E.L.D. because there were too many ill side effects on the test subjects. His haunted expression says it all.
  • Mythology Gag: in Deadpool Bi-Annual #1, he's shown actually in Tahiti getting a massage from a hot girl... complete with lampshade hanging on the scene.
  • Nice Guy: One of the nicest S.H.I.E.L.D. agents there is.
    • He was outraged when he learned the lengths that Fury went to for his revival, and yet he makes the same decision when one of his own subordinates was in critical condition. However, he's incredibly conflicted about it, breaking down when he admits to Skye what he knows about the GH325 used to save them.
    • In a heroic version, he, like his idol Captain America, is officially a vigilante ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent working against HYDRA after it began the civil war within S.H.I.E.L.D., a state he finally acknowledges fully in "Ragtag".
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: By killing Ward instead of leaving him trapped on a barren planet, he unwittingly allows Hive to return to Earth, thus accomplishing HYDRA's ultimate objective for them. Hive can't do much of anything without a dead body to possess, and his previous host body had just been destroyed, but thanks to Coulson, there was a brand new one lying just a few feet away.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • The events of the first Iron Man film ain't his first rodeo.
    • In "0-8-4": remember the panic when an anti-matter meteor nearly devoured Miami? No, you don't, because S.H.I.E.L.D. kept it contained.
    • In "The Laws of Inferno Dynamics", Coulson tells Daisy that he witnessed the previous Ghost Rider escape from Hell. Daisy naturally wants details, but Coulson waves it off as It's a Long Story.
  • Not So Different: Throughout the first half of Season 3, he becomes dangerously similar to Grant Ward in his pursuit of vengeance against Ward.
  • Number Two: To Nick Fury as his "one good eye"; something underlined by the insane effort Fury put in to bring him back to life. Maria Hill might be Deputy Director, but Coulson is Fury's go-to agent to send into the field to liaison with the Avengers and his most trusted agent, since they both were partners back in the day.
    • After Mace takes over as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. in season 4, he frequently looks to Coulson for advice and assistance on field operations, putting Coulson back in this slot.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: He can do an excellent impression of an affable, slightly bumbling accountant. You do not want to force him to drop it.
  • One-Man Army: Not to the extent of Ward, May, or likely even Trip, but he can still single-handedly defeat handfuls of Mooks on his own (even while unarmed), including soldiers from the US military.
  • Only Mostly Dead: Even after Loki seemingly killed Coulson, Clark Gregg maintained he might still be alive, stating that Whedon told him beforehand that Coulson would survive the events of the film (although afterwards he admitted he was lying). Ultimately it was ambiguous until Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D was announced, upon which Joss Whedon himself confirmed that Coulson survived his wounding in The Avengers...though as Back from the Dead above shows, not enough to avoid a painful/traumatic resurrection process.
  • Only Sane Man: Trapped among prima donna superheroes and morally ambiguous world security leaders.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • As mentioned below, Coulson is almost-perpetually calm. Thus, if he ever raises his voice, you know something must be very, very wrong. Additionally, he trashes his own office after Ward murders Rosalind Price.
    • He wouldn't lock up one of his own (e.g. Simmons and Skye) unless it was a very serious situation. Ward would be an exception, except Coulson had already decided he wasn't one of his own.
  • Order Reborn: At the end of Season One, Nick Fury entrusts the rebuilding of S.H.I.E.L.D to Coulson.
  • Original Generation: Retroactively; see "Promoted to Opening Titles" below.
  • Papa Wolf: He's very protective of his protégés.
    • "Eye Spy". After learning the identity of the person who was controlling Akela, he immediately springs into action in order to arrest the crook.
    • In "T.R.A.C.K.S." he instantly knocks out Quinn when the latter implies he hurt Skye, mirroring what Skye did to Raina two episodes back regarding Coulson.
    • In "End of the Beginning", he points a gun, filled with real bullets as opposed to nonlethal Icers, at May when she is hunting down Fitz, who has discovered that she is The Mole for an unknown party. To reiterate: he drew down on a member of his own team in order to protect another one.
    • In "Who You Really Are", Lady Sif attempts to capture Skye, believing her newly-acquired superpowers to be a threat. Coulson responds to the Asgardian (read: someone who can easily best him in a fight) with a Go Through Me reaction.
    • In Purpose In the Machine he threatens to turn over Professor Randolph unless he helps them save Simmons.
  • Parental Substitute:
    • Given Skye's history of being continually passed between foster homes, Coulson's probably the closest (and certainly the longest running) thing to a father figure she's had in her entire life. This has continued even after Skye finally meets her real father, which is one of the reasons why Cal doesn't like Coulson.
    • He's also this to a lesser extent to Fitz, and the only father-figure that didn't betray him in some way (Fitz's dad walked out of the family and Dr. Radcliffe (who did view Fitz as a son) ended up betraying the team).
  • Perpetual Smiler:
    • A part of his persona that he uses to help guide conversations. He's almost never seen without his serene, calm smile on his face, even during otherwise morose or trying situations. Since he never loses his cool, he never drops the smile.
    • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson seems to feature a more stoic and serious demeanor. This is more than likely due to him coming back wrong. When the situation demands it, whether it's resolving a conflict within his team, or dealing with the shadier aspects of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson has proven that you shouldn't handle him lightly.
  • Plug 'n' Play Prosthetics: In the season 2 finale "S.O.S., Part 2", Mack is forced to cut off Coulson's hand to prevent a Terrigen crystal from petrifying him. In the seasons that follow, Coulson now has a prosthetic hand which he can use with the same ease as his original hand, and contains some useful gadgets to boot (including a forcefield-shield).
  • Popularity Power: After Coulson's death in The Avengers, Twitter and Tumblr exploded with support for him to come back, campaigning the slogan #CoulsonLives. Their attempts were so successful that not only did Marvel bring Coulson Back from the Dead, but they even made tweeting #CoulsonLives unlock a trailer for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  • Present Absence: After his death post-season 5, Coulson leaves a pretty big shadow over core S.H.I.E.L.D. throughout season 6. Half of the character arcs throughout the season are directly related to him:
    • Mack taking over as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and coming into his own as a capable leader throughout the season despite the weight of being Director as well as living up to the standard set by Coulson throughout the past four seasons. Represented especially well by the holograms that Coulson left behind to give some pointers to Mack, which Mack still listens to.
    • May still coping with the loss of Coulson while simultaneously having to go up-against Sarge, an alien Well-Intentioned Extremist on a campaign to destroy an interdimensional planet-destroying entity. While Sarge is the antithesis of Coulson, May still spends the season hoping to see just one more glimpse of Coulson in Sarge when it becomes increasingly clear that Coulson is part of Sarge in some way.
    • Daisy spends most of the season avoiding the fact that Coulson is dead, having not even opened the letter that Coulson left for her before he passed and revealed to have left for space immediately after dropping Coulson off was in part due to the fact that she didn’t want to face the reality of him dying. It’s only after Sarge calls her Skye that she brings herself to tearfully read the letter and move on.
    • Sarge himself has no idea who exactly Coulson is and doesn’t have any concrete memories of his life before he began hunting Izel, which acts as the Driving Question for most of the characters, only for he himself to brush off any possible relationship between Coulson and himself repeatedly until Izel finally clues him into exactly who he is in “Leap” - a non-corporeal entity named Pachakutiq who possessed a copy of Phil Coulson’s body during his encounter with uncontained Monolith energy, which was then displaced throughout spacetime to roughly a century ago on another planet. Sarge experiences a brief Loss of Identity from this, but then once he bounces back he cements his physical transformation into Pachakutiq and pulls a complete Face–Heel Turn.
    • While not on the season-wide magnitude, Fitz, having been Locked Out of the Loop due to cryostasis, still tears up while Simmons has to explain to him that Coulson died to avert the Bad Future while Fitz was taking The Slow Path.
  • Promoted to Opening Titles: He started off as just a standard suit in the first Iron Man movie, but his role was greatly expanded by Thor. Now, he's deeply entrenched into the Marvel lore, even getting his own comics, short films and TV series.
  • Properly Paranoid:
    • As Director he keeps his people Locked Out of the Loop on things they don't need to know for security reasons. Which proved to be justified when he found out that Mack and Bobbi were moles for a splinter cell of S.H.I.E.L.D. who are very hostile to anything associated with alien tech or "gifted people."
    • In season 3, he says that the only agents who do not have trust issues are either young or dead.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: He is extremely tolerant of the antics his team sometimes gets into and in some cases even encourages them. As he explains to Lincoln in season 3, he expects his subordinates to speak up when they disagree with him but after he has listened to them and considered their viewpoint, he also expects them to follow his orders regardless of disagreements.
  • Resurrection Sickness: After his death during The Avengers, he was resurrected using the regenerative drug GH.325; upon his initial revival, Coulson was in terrible pain and begged to be killed again, forcing the scientists to implant Fake Memories of him going through a peaceful rehabilitation in Tahiti.
  • The Reveal: Battle Scars #6 reveals that "Cheese", Marcus Johnson's soldier friend, is actually the 616 counterpart of Agent Coulson.
  • Room Full of Crazy: After Garrett goes insane from injection of the alien compound and began etching alien writing on walls and other surfaces, Coulson starts compulsively doing the same, starting a couple of times a month, then progressing to weekly, then daily. Once he discovers that the writing is actually a three-dimensional blueprint of a city, the compulsion vanishes.
  • Running Gag: Referring to traitorous individuals as sons of bitches. Done in "Turn, Turn, Turn" to Garrett and in "A Fractured House" to Ward.
  • Sacrificial Lion: All who heard of his loss were motivated to defeat Loki for him. Especially Tony Stark.
    Tony: And there's one other person you pissed off. His name is Phil. [blasts Loki with his repulsors]
  • Secretly Dying: It's revealed that the deal Coulson made with Ghost Rider to destroy Aida resulted in the Kree blood in his body being burned out. As such Coulson is slowly dying throughout season 5 which the Team is naturally unhappy to find out about.
  • Seen It All: Hints of Type 1, as is typical of MIB. He also has Type 2's smartness as he orders his men to let Thor try and lift his hammer, and realized just in time that Destroyer's head opening and glowing is a very bad thing. When he calls Black Widow, who's been captured but then subsequently beats the tar out of her captors, his expression is of complete boredom as he listens to the resulting scuffle as if it were hold music. This trait is a case of Character Development throughout the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. In his first appearance in Iron Man, he was rather nervous and unsure of himself. Each subsequent film added more and more to his confidence.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Season One, Episode Six of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the first time he's seen without a suit. His suits get progressively sharper as we learn more about him.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: His behavior is a little more erratic post-Avengers as seen in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Coulson eventually admits this to himself and May, who tells him that dying is going to change someone no matter who they are. His revival also took a bit of a toll on his sanity and faith in S.H.I.E.L.D.
  • Shipper on Deck:
    • For Thor and Sif, as seen when Sif wonders why hearing Thor's name makes her smile:
      Coulson: Who can explain the mysteries of the Asgardian brain?
      May: I can.
    • He also encourages FitzSimmons, trying to arrange things for Fitz to admit his feelings in "Only Light in the Darkness"
  • Silent Snarker: He doesn't even have to say anything (which delighted Joss Whedon to no end). His reactions are pure gold.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: To the Avengers in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Despite not actually appearing in the film, it was he who tipped them through Maria Hill to beat HYDRA and to locate and retrieve Loki's scepter in Sokovia. It's also revealed that the Helicarrier that shows up in the film's climax and saves everyone is "Theta Protocol", which Coulson has been working on for almost a year.
  • The Spymaster: As the new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., part of his job is to handle assets and secrets. Season 2 deals primarily with how acting as The Spymaster is taking its toll on Coulson, though he proves to be excellent at it as seen with the moment Coulson wipes out most of HYDRA's leadership in one fell swoop. However it's because of this that "real" S.H.I.E.L.D. distrusts him and even Simmons and May began to lose faith when they find out to what extent they've been Locked Out of the Loop.
  • Stoic Spectacles: Part of his disguise as Simmons's "father" in "T.R.A.C.K.S." and as a Fitz Expy in "Ragtag", right down to the cardi and tie.
  • Super Strength: His robotic arm has some degree of it, enough to shortly restrain Lash, though the strain is shown to be visibly damaging the arm and the Ax-Crazy Inhuman eventually breaks free.
  • Team Dad:
    • Whenever the team gets into an argument, expect Coulson to be the one to break it up. Skye even refers to him as such.
    • Coulson so embodies this trope, there's a blog about it.
    • When Coulson shows up to debrief Jemma about her time with HYDRA, he confronts her about her food choices.
      Coulson: Sriracha? Beer? That's it?
    • In "...Ye Who Enter Here", Skye has a dream where Coulson and May are acting as parents to a baby (obviously herself). Coulson is white, May is Chinese. Skye's biological father is white, her biological mother Chinese.
    • In "SOS", when Cal confronts Coulson, the latter outright admits that Skye is the closest he's ever had to a daughter.
  • That Came Out Wrong: Coulson's fanboy love of Captain America intersects with some unintentional awkwardness when talking to the man himself.
    Coulson: I watched you while you were sleeping. [awkward silence] I-I mean... I was present when you were unconscious from the ice.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: He was the one calling the shots on Project T.A.H.I.T.I. all along. His reaction? A Flat "What"-like reaction in the form of a stunned "Huh".
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: In the second half of the first season, toward May when he finds out that Fury told her about his resurrection and was ordered to keep him in the dark about it. Justified, because that's not something you forgive so easily, and even then he realizes he's been acting as such and wants to apologize for it within two episodes.
  • True Companions: He sees his team as his family, with himself as the father. When a surgeon told him and the rest to gather Skye's family before she died, he said it was already present.
  • Undying Loyalty: To S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury. His Heroic BSoD in "Providence" reflected that even though S.H.I.E.L.D. his disbanded, he still sees himself as a devoted agent that still means something. Phil was the only one who believed Fury sent him the co-ordinates of the base too.
  • Unfazed Everyman: There really isn't anything that can surprise him, be it thunder gods, men clad in flying wearable tanks, or superhuman WWII vets who were frozen for the better part of a century. note  Justified in that this is the sort of thing S.H.I.E.L.D. does. Thunder gods aren't special, they're Thursday. This makes what he sees in T.A.H.I.T.I all the more serious as it drives him into a Heroic BSoD.
  • Unwanted Revival: In "That Magical Place", we finally see the details of his "resurrection", and it's horrifying. His skull was split open and a robot operated on his brain while Coulson begged "Just let me die" over and over again. Dr. Streiten says, because of the procedures, Coulson completely lost the will to live and the Tahiti memories were an attempt to give that will back.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Coulson and May have been friends for years and its hinted at throughout the show that they could be something more. However due to their work constantly getting in the way the two never get past this phase of their relationship. By the Season 5 finale, the two finally resolve the tension and decide to spend Coulson's last few days together at Tahiti.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Gives Skye two of them. The first is in "Girl in the Flower Dress" after she betrays his trust (see Berserk Button and Beware the Nice Ones above). The second is in "The Hub" after he catches her prying into something about the mission of the episode meant for Level 8 eyes; this earns her a good talking-to and an explanation as to why secrecy is important in certain situations. He then uses what Skye told him about what she saw in those files (that nobody had been assigned to extract their teammates after they completed their mission, and that nobody had told them that before sending them in) to give another one to Agent Hand.
    • May receives one from him when it is revealed that she'd been informing on him to Director Fury and knew all about his resurrection the entire season. Fury eventually gets one of his own, but the only bit of it we hear is a flustered-sounding Coulson telling him, "Stupid, stupid, stupid! And cruel! And very stupid!"
    • He's also on the receiving end of two. First, from Skye after she finds out about the mission in "The Hub". Second, when he's disguised as Simmons's estranged father in "T.R.A.C.K.S.", he gets lectured by Stan Lee himself on good parenting.
    • Strangely enough, he also experiences a self-inflicted variation. Shortly after he cold-bloodedly murders Ward by caving his chest in, he spends a good deal of time eating away at himself for resorting to something he staunchly believed was wrong and beneath a S.H.I.E.L.D agent. When Hive reveals itself, Coulson experiences a full-blown My God, What Have I Done? when he realizes his killing of Ward is precisely what Hive needed to escape to Earth - a fresh corpse to inhabit as a vessel.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: His belief in heroes, old-fashioned notions, and in the Avengers to work together as a team can be seen as this. In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot, he manages to talk down an enraged Mike because he believes people are good. This is also why Nick Fury calls him The Heart of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  • Will They or Won't They?: With May with the two on the fence about if they want to be with each other or not. By the Season 5 finale, the two of them decide They Do and leave to spend what few days Coulson has left together.
  • With My Hands Tied: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer. Coulson doesn't need his gun to bring down petty thugs.
  • Wolverine Publicity: The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes! has a story in the comic series in which Maria Hill recaps the first season, with help from Nick Fury's records. Coulson joins her in examining the records, despite the fact he never shows up in either season of the cartoon. This also extends to Ultimate Marvel, where he shows up in Cataclysm: Ultimates without any warning, and goes on to be The Leader of the Ultimate Future Foundation. In the central "Earth-616" Marvel Universe, shortly after The Avengers, he became the go-to background S.H.I.E.L.D. agent for people to call upon to help other people, be it for a reason, like having him tag along with a hero or heroine, or for no reason, like having him brought up as someone's friend, with no relevance to the plot.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Camilla Reyes, his former flame. Justified as she started it and can dish it out as well as she can take it.
  • You Are in Command Now: In "Beginning of the End", Nick Fury gives him the resources to rebuild S.H.I.E.L.D., with Coulson as the new director since he himself is officially dead.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: A heroic example, directed at Grant Ward, in "A Fractured House". The only reason he did not kill Ward back in Season One was because he was useful for HYDRA intel. Now he is more useful as a bargaining tool.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Turns out the deal with Ghost Rider cost him the Kree blood that was keeping him alive. As a result, he is now slowly dying. By the Season 5 finale it's revealed that Coulson has only a few weeks left before he dies again seemingly for good.

Alternative Title(s): Phil Coulson

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