The Coulson Protocols: Agents of SHIELD #1-6 Story Arc Recap

Full disclosure: I'm a huge fan of the Agents of SHIELD TV series. Yeah, it started a bit weak, but then it got way better, and has been consistently good ever since.

So when I heard that there was a comic, simply titled SHIELD, that had the characters from the show but was set in the main Marvel Universe, I was ecstatic and devoured it all. It was pretty great, and it had, at one point, Kamala Khan and Phil Coulson geeking out together, and I realized that was all I ever needed.

So, I was naturally delighted when they released a continuation of the series, now with a title matching the show's, along with all the other various All New series.

The first issue opens with a scene that feels like it could have been from the show, if it was a bit bolder and had a bit more of a budget. Someone wearing an outdated Iron Man suit (AKA the Iron Thief) breaks into the Pentagon, while Tony Stark (there's the budget issue) is looking for Coulson, who's busy escaping from an evil organization with the help of his team.

Soon, we're introduced to two important aspects of this arc: Lola Daniels, and a series of files called the Axiom Protocols.

Lola is an old flame of Phil's, and, according to him, totally unrelated to the fact that his car shares her name. Meanwhile the Protocols are a database of all known superheroes, and information on how to defeat them in case any went rogue.

Yes, thank you Phil
Coulson also discovers that the information came from himself. Being a huge fan of analysing superheroes, he had also come up with ways of defeating them, all in his mind. Lola, who as it turns out is a telepath, had extracted these files from his mind, and given them to her bosses at the Pentagon. These were the files were then stolen by the Iron Thief, and he plans to show off their potential before selling them to the highest bidder.

As far as a premise for the story arc goes, it's an excellent idea. Since the plot revolves around the weaknesses of the major superheroes, it's a great opportunity for the relatively minor players that are Coulson's team to step up without it feeling forced. The fact that the Protocols came from the hero of the story himself makes the situation all the more intriguing.

Fitz, Mockingbird and Deathlok (who is a regular on this team, unlike his sparse appearances on the show) break into an aircraft flying above North Korea to discover the location of the sale, while Coulson and Lola head to Paris to try and get the same info out of a contact of his. It's typical secret agent stuff, and it's a ton of fun.

I'm a doctor, not a skydiver, dammit!
Coulson finds Lola betraying him by leaking info to the Pentagon yet again and, in doing so, also discovers the secret behind Pleasant Hill, dragging the SHIELD team into that crossover for the next two issues.

Coulson assignes Quake, Deathlok and Simmons to take in Rick Jones, aka the Whisperer, for questioning. They succeed, but only briefly as the New Avengers show up, manage to defeat them, and take Rick for themselves. It may have seemed like an unnecessary side plot for the sake of it, but it actually had ramifications for both teams, as Deathlok discovers Simmons' deadly illness, and Songbird is revealed to actually be a double agent for SHIELD.

He  clearly doesn't know what Simmons is capable of
I had honestly forgotten about Fitz's traitorous subplot until the auction (hinted at in the last series), when he leads May and Bobbi to take down the guards surrounding a decoy of the case containing the Protocols, allowing the Pentagon's agent, former Captain America John Walker, to buy it for them unhindered.

Fortunately, Coulson (disguised as the deceased Wolverine, because apparently that's how you stay inconspicuous) attacks Walker in his boat and throws the Protocols overboard. Unfortunately, the Iron Thief shows up and kidnaps him.

Back at his evil lair, he unmasks himself to reveal his identity as... Grant Ward! Naturally, we then get a flashback explaining how Ward became evil in this universe too.

As it turns out, him and Coulson were SHIELD buddies, and together they hatched a plan to send Ward undercover to infiltrate HYDRA. Unfortunately, Ward does his job of fitting in a bit too well, causing his boss, the Gorgon, to take notice of him and bring him over to the dark side.

I didn't think they'd manage to make those ridiculous green uniforms sinister, but... they did.
Back in the present, Ward reveals that he brought Coulson in to extract the Axiom Protocols from his very mind, and for that purpose, he kidnapped Lola Daniels, and is threatening her younger sister whom we have never heard of nor will ever hear of again. She complies, and Ward gets what he wants.

Meanwhile, one of his underlings in another Iron Suit uses the Protocols to defeat Spider-Man, who is saved by Bobbi and May. It's kind of a pointless diversion, especially since the cover implied the SHIELD folks would be going up against Spidey, but it's fun anyway.

Having acquired and tested Axiom, Ward now reveals the next part of his plan to the Gorgon: a legion of Iron Man suits, all ready to do is bidding.

The final issue opens with Sam Wilson attacked by one of the suits, and May taking it down. It's basically a repeat of what happened with Spider-Man, but it serves as a decent enough reminder of what the villains are capable of. And that the suits can be taken down by really big laser guns.

Coulson manages to escape his guards and free Lola, while in the mean time another Iron suit attacks the SHIELD battlecarrier, and causes some havoc before Iron Man, the real one, shows up to save they day. Fitz uses the GPS on the disabled suit to something backtrace something something and get the location of Ward's base!

Coulson and Lola are holding out in the mean time, he even manages to take down the Gorgon, albeit temporarily, but then HYDRA reinforcements show up and then Ward suits up too, making the situation pretty dire.

And they say Wolverine was the best there is at what he did...
But then, the Avengers show up to save the day! It's a bit of a weird way to end an arc about how the SHIELD folks are supposed to be the ones saving the heroes, but it's incredibly enjoyable nonetheless.

So, I take it She-Hulk read Civil War II
Victory seemed pretty much guaranteed, but then Iron Ward grabs Lola and bargains with her life for his safe escape. While he makes all the heroes stop in their tracks, Lola is having none of that damsel in distress stuff. She elbows him in the face, manages to free herself from his grasp, and he... vaporizes her. (More thoughts on that below)

It's a pretty dour note to end the arc on, and it carries through with the final reveal: Daisy confronts Coulson in his office after all is said and done, and Ward is safely imprisoned. She tells him that during the fight with Ward's army, the suits were able to use the Axiom Protocols against her, and the other members of Coulson's team as well.

In return, Coulson tells her the truth: him coming up with way to stop all of the Earth's superheroes and, yes, his own team members, was less of a fanboy thing and more of a Batman thing. It wasn't so much idle thinking as it was the planning of cold, calculated tactics to take down his friends and heroes in case any of them went rogue.

Shut up Phil
It's a darker side of Coulson, and one that we've been seeing more and more in his role on the TV series, so it fits in surprisingly well here.

The team doesn't take the news so well, and whispers of dissension among them begin to hint towards... Civil War! (Damn, this comic is getting dragged into that mess too?)

Overall, this was a fascinating, well plotted story arc. The stakes seemed high enough to make the whole thing compelling, and all the characters were given plenty of moments to shine. It's worth noting that, unlike the show, the comic has Coulson as the main lead with the rest as supporting characters, as opposed to an ensemble. As such, he gets the most screentime page time, and undergoes the most character development as well.

With that in mind, let's take a moment to appreciate how well all the dialogue is written, and how the lines feel like they're coming straight out of the mouths of the characters' on-screen counterparts. The back and forth banter between Coulson and Ward in particular feels like it could have been taken right out of the show.

Now, for one of the problematic elements: Lola Daniels.

While she seemed like an interesting character at first, it soon became apparent that she was nothing more than a plot device in Phil's story. She shows up as Phil's old flame, Phil sleeps with her, Phil discovers that she betrayed him and locks her up, Phil takes her on a mission, where she betrays him again and makes him feel betrayed again. Ward kidnaps her to get info out of Phil, Phil frees her, then Ward grabs her again to get Phil to back off, then she dies to put Phil in a moral conundrum as to whether or not he should kill Ward.

And now Phil doesn't even seem like a real word anymore.

Regardless, it's was a pretty big disappointment to see the character handled in such a way, and it is one of the drawbacks to an otherwise excellent series, which I highly recommend.

Aranwe Quirke is a totally real, definitely not made up name. No, you may not see the birth certificate.