Fanfiction Fridays: Howling Commandos HQ by rageprufrock

phil coulsonAs presumably all of us know by now, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. started when The Powers That Be over at Marvel decided that Coulson hadn’t died at the end of The Avengers after all. Instead, he was resurrected through the judicious use of spoilery alien technology and given his own team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to boss around. The Avengers, and the rest of the world, were told that Coulson was definitely dead. As the series has continued, though, more and more people have been finding out that Coulson isn’t dead—even Lady Sif, Thor’s Asgard pal, who was sworn to secrecy about it. But the Marvel universe stubbornly continues to sidestep how the Avengers, and basically everyone in the films, has stayed in the dark for so long—a move that I find to be frustrating at best and fantastically poor writing at worst. It’s gotta be hard to figure out a plotline that spans a TV show and several movies, but surely someone at Marvel understands that not all of Coulson’s associates are going to take his so-called death at face value. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait around to see if Marvel will ever get it together—there’s already a great fanfic that deftly handles the emotional residue from both Coulson’s death and the fallout from his death.

User Since is a relatively short fic, the general gist of which is that Phil Coulson, during his life pre-death, was the co-creator and co-moderator of an internet forum for history buffs who were fans of Captain America and the Howling Commandos. (Considering Coulson’s canon interests, this is shockingly plausible.) After the Battle of New York—after Coulson hasn’t posted on the forum for days—Coulson’s internet buddies start trying to hunt down his brickspace identity, eventually reaching Nick Fury, who tells them that Coulson died in the battle.

Howling Commandos HQ > Home > Forums

Posted by Bucky1956 on May 20, 2012

This is really fucking awful and I don’t know how else to start this message so I guess I’ll just write it: PC is, as far as we can tell, missing and unaccounted for in the aftermath of the Battle of New York.

To give some context for newer members, or people who weren’t fortunate enough to talk often or much with our fearless forum head mod, PC has been the brainchild and den mother for this seething pit of Cap trivia and anger toward the History Channel’s devolution into Ancient Aliens and away from its apparent previous mission statement to show every WWII documentary 2x a day since its inception.

Here is what we know:

PC was a New York City resident.
PC was in law enforcement.
PC has not commented or logged into his account since May 4.

Look, I know we operate under pretty pervasive and unspoken rules of anonymity here, but I think this is an acceptable time to call on our collective resources.

So this is an open call:

If you have any information on PC, contact information, personal information, any knowledge on how we can reach out to his family, friends, etc. — please DM me, Bucky1956 or email me at bucky1956 at yahoo dot com.

If PC is busy or tied up, that’s fine. But it’s been weeks, and no one has been able to get ahold of him and I don’t know about anybody else, but if this is just PC trolling me for fun, I would like to get in touch so I can convey our collective, worried sick and overjoyed he’s okay punch in the face.

Thanks. I hope to hear from you guys soon.

The fic may be short, but it packs a huge emotional wallop, especially for those of us in fandom. Coulson was part of an internet forum, communicating with his friends through virtual means—emails, posts, messaging programs. That’s how a lot of us have made fandom friends over the years, whether it’s by leaving comments on fics or shouting into Tumblr’s malfunctioning inboxes or asking people desperately if they can move to gchat or just something that isn’t Tumblr. We rarely know fandom friends’ real names or contact info, but the relationships we make aren’t any less real for it. That’s the part of this fic that really hits home for me. User Since is an epistolary story, told entirely through forum posts, emails, and texts, and it paints a very clear, very touching picture of the community that Coulson was a part of for so long. Every original character has a distinctive voice, and when I read it even now, three years after Coulson’s miraculous return to life, their grief still has a real quality to it that the MCU lacked.

howling commandos

A whole forum about these guys. Of course Coulson would be into it.

Speaking of things the MCU lacks, the sequel to User Since, Track This Thread, finally lets us see what it would be like if the Avengers found out that Coulson was alive. It’s told entirely from Clint Barton’s point of view as he reads over Coulson’s old forum posts, trying to figure out what Coulson’s life was like with his fandom friends. JARVIS, realistically enough, discovers that someone new has been posting on the forum—someone who has a writing style that’s algorithmically similar to Coulson’s old posts. Tony wastes no time in tracking down the new poster, who, of course, turns out to be Coulson, on the Bus with his new team. (Track This Thread was written in the early days of S.H.I.E.L.D., so some Hydra revelations remain unknown to our protagonists.) Not only does the fic treat the Avengers’ intelligence realistically—do they really expect us to believe that a team of super spies and scientists can’t find out that Coulson is still alive?—the fic also offers an unflinching look at the betrayal, confusion, and anger that the people closest to Coulson feel when he shrugs and says that not telling anyone he was alive was for the best. It’s a much more satisfying emotional conclusion than S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s one episode about Coulson’s ex-girlfriend was.

If you’re disappointed with how the MCU has handled the fallout from Coulson’s “death”, definitely check these fics out. User Since is about 4k and Track This Thread is a good bit longer, at 30k, but both are well worth your time. You can find them here on the AO3.

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