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As a comic book fan with a well noted love for Marvel, how could I not be watching Disney's Marvel's Joss Whedon Presents a Disney Marvel Production Marvel's Agents of SHIELD?
There are things I like and things I don't, but that's not important right now. What is? The central mystery: WHAT'S UP WITH PHIL COULSON?! We saw him die in The Avengers, but here he is, alive and having prime time adventures. It doesn't seem like he just "survived". There's conspiracy afoot, and with SHIELD involved it's going to be something big.
With time on my hands and a working knowledge of Marvel, I feel more than qualified to give this mystery the ol' Scooby-Doo try. After all, what's more comic book than coming back from the dead?
Most of these characters have been/are dead. Multiple times for Thor.
Phil at least appeared to die.
Something has happened and Phil is not in the loop.
Phil thinks he was recuperating in Tahiti, which, from other SHIELD Agents, seem to be implanted memories.
Phil does not have the same muscle memory he once had.
Phil's personality is subtly different from who he used to be.
The last thing the Phil remembers, that can be confirmed, was taking an alien staff through the ol' ticker.
Something like this
A pervasive theory that posits Phil Coulson becomes the powerful, witch marrying, density shifting android The Vision. There are a lot of supporting factors in this. First and most convincing, in the comics The Vision was created using the brain patterns of a dead character (in the comic's case Wonder Man). Second, the Vision was built by Ultron to undermine the Avengers. Ultron, you might remember, is the villain for Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. Spooky!
Not to mention other, more conspiratory details. In The Avengers Nick Fury remarks on Phil's death saying he "lost his one good eye." Eye! Vision! Get it? Joss Whedon is also a big fan of classic Avengers, sticking in Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver despite the characters having heavy ties to the X-Men franchise. Scarlet Witch, by the way, marries who? That's right, The Vision.
The resemblance is uncanny!
Why That's Probably Not It
If Phil's a synthezoid, he doesn't know it. As of yet, he hasn't demonstrated any of The Visions trademark abilities, i.e flight, strength, solar blasts, density shifting. Of course, they wouldn't just lead with any of that, but he hasn't demonstrated any remarkable abilities that can't be explained with a lifetime of training. In fact, he's a little rusty on everything. A little worse.
Okay, so maybe he's a sleeper agent? Well there's a few issues with that. Ultron, as far as we know, isn't online yet. In the comics, it was a result of Hank Pym's work, but it's known that Tony Stark will be bringing the genocide bot to life this time. As far as the timeline is concerned, Tony is dealing with a bunch of his own problems during Agents of SHIELD, most notably Extremis and PTSD. Even if he had somehow created Ultron by this time, why would Maria Hill and Doctor Whose Name Escapes Me know what was up?
Most damning of all is in the second episode, he bleeds. Bleeds blood. In a fight with a South American guerilla force on his plane, he's shown to be hurt and bleeding. If he was a sleeper robot, what's with the blood? Is it synthetic? Is it real and they just stuffed him full of human blood? Not so I say. I say he's flesh and bone.
Hard to tell, but it's this scene. There he is bleeding blood
Not a theory that's as popular as The Vision theory, but one I've heard multiple times. Marvel is awash with aliens, most of whom are obsessed with Earth, and some with shape shifting abilities. It would fit in the alien-centric spin the Cinematic Universe has set up not to mention a big intro to the universe.
Guardians of the Galaxy is on its way, so it's clear Marvel's willing to take a step into the alien biz. WIth fan favorites like Skrulls, Kree, Eternals, and Shi'ar, who knows what kind of aliens are meddling on Earth. And what better way to infiltrate Earth than through the biggest authority on the planet?
Why it's Probably Not That
It seems pretty obvious that Disney is sticking more to the movies than the comics. They reference them multiple times an episode, yet neglect the 70+ years of stories in the comics. So I'm not sure how plausible it is that they'll trot out a big complex idea like an alien just living on Earth, hiding out in Phil's body, let alone something like a Skrull invasion.
More over, until Guardians of the Galaxy actually does come out, the only aliens to have been set up are the Chituari, and they didn't appear to have shape shifting abilities.
Also, as mentioned above, Coulson bled red blood. This would rule out Skrull or Kree, the only two species known for infiltrating Earth on a sizable scale.
Really, he was bleeding blood
An emerging theory that I think gets it the closest. It explains away everything that we know about Phil's situation without having to bring in a new, shoehorned aspect of the Marvel Universe. His programming, his implanted memories, his reply of 'it's a magical place' whenever asked of Tahiti all scream of cloned Coulson.
In the comics, Marvel is rife with cloning, most notably Spider-Man and his various Spider-Clones. It's a common comic book move that would play into the habit of Whedon skewing more classic comics.
Why it's Probably Not EXACTLY That
Cloning is not set up in the Mavel Cinematic Universe. In the comics, each explanation of cloning is always convolted, whether it top secret government program or insane college professor/jackal enthusiast. It would be quite the undertaking to set it up and make it fit with the pre-established world
Also, just the questions it rasies makes it too messy. Why now? Why just clone Coulson? And it had to be fast too, because not a ton of time has passed since The Avengers and Agents. So did they just have this on standby?
Not only that, but why Coulson? He's an ideal, but still aging agent with no extraordinary skill or accolade. He's eqaul parts beurocrat and field agent. I like the character, but how is that just not replacable?
Woah, sorry man
A clone would be close, probably, but I think it goes deeper than that. Why clone Coulson? What's so special about him that they would invent a way to clone just him? In short? Because he's the perfect agent for SHIELD. Obedient, loyal, well trained, doesn't ask questions, willing to die.
But that doesn't validate going through the whole process of pefecting cloning in order to keep him around. There in, I think, lies the failing of the theories. Who says this is the first time Coulson has died?
Imagine it. Coulson is a limitless reusable Agent. For year, decades, this one ideal agent has done SHIELD's trickiest work, each time programmed with false memories. When one bites it, another comes back from whatever magical place they "sent him" to recuperate. He's rusty at first, but he's still functional. Still Phil.
"Eh, get the other one."
Think about Phil's personality. He collects old things, often espousing the virtue of having a solid connection to the past. Almost like some part of him is feeling drawn to the old ways. He has Captain America cards and grew up as his biggest fan when there's no way he's that old. Unless he has been coming back over and over again for over 50 years.
It's not like SHIELD is above it. In the Cinematic universe, they were planning on using Hydra technology to make bigger weapons. They're not above doing shady dealings. In the comics, SHIELD is even more morally ambiguous.
Not only that, who knows how many of these Forever Agents there are? Maybe Fury himself is a link is a long chain of Nicks. SHIELD is run by some kind of International cabal, why shouldn't there be a Nick Fury always there run the troops? How deep does this rabbit hole go?
What do you think? What are your theories?