Ok, that's out of the way. Whew. Over the weekend I saw "The Avengers," finally. Yes, yes, I know, I'm slow on the uptake, I'm sorry.
Anyway, one of the things that happen in this roller-coaster of a movie is that Agent Phil Coulson of SHIELD dies at Loki's hand.... Or does he?
Look, I have been reading comics for a very long time, and most of those were Marvel comics; and in those particular comics, there is a strong rule that is very rarely broken: Nobody dies, but if they do they are not dead for long.
We hear (off screen)--and mainly for the benefit of the Avengers themselves--that Coulson is hurt badly, and that the paramedics have "called it."
That's really vague, isn't it?
Also, Nick fury outright pulled a fast one on the Avengers with the whole Captian-America-Trading-cards-were-bloody-and-not-in-Coulson's-locker gambit. Why did Fury lie? To give the team a rallying point--a reason to gel together--a reason to Avenge.
Couple this with the simple fact that SHIELD is in possession of some really advanced stuff, it is not out of the realm of possibility that they either (a) froze Coulson until such time as he could be healed; or (b) he's fine, recuperating, but fine, and will reappear in either Iron Man 3 or Avengers 2. And everyone will be all like "WTF? You died!"
Coulson will simply state something like, "Come on, this is SHIELD, we have certain abilities that you are unaware of."
But by that time, it won't matter--the team will have come together, for good or for ill, and they'll have bigger fish to fry (Thanos, anyone?) and won't worry too much about a little ruse on Fury's part.
Coulson will return. He's too cool to just lose like that.