Clint Barton/Phil Coulson

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Pairing: Clint Barton/Phil Coulson
Alternative name(s): Bowtie, Blackhawk, Phlint, Shieldhusbands[1]
Gender category: Slash
Fandom: The Avengers (Marvel), Marvel Cinematic Universe
Canonical?: Non-canon
Prevalence: high
Archives: Clint/Coulson @ AO3
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Clint/Phil is a slash non-canon pairing of the MCU characters Clint Barton (Hawkeye) and Phil Coulson.


Clint/Coulson in Secret Avengers (2015)

They are the third most tagged MCU pairing on AO3 although they only interact for 47 seconds in the movie Thor and never actually appear onscreen at the same time. They were later featured together in a few pages of panels in one of the Avengers prequel comics.[2]

Since 2015, they've started to be featured together in the main comics universe as well. The new canon content often features surprisingly fandom-savvy elements in line with popular fic tropes, e.g. the two working together at SHIELD, Coulson crossdressing on a mission, etc.


Clint/Coulson fic was posted on AO3 as early as June 2011 after the Thor film was released, but the fandom took off in anticipation of The Avengers film in early 2012, and exploded after the movie's release.


Clint/Coulson first started as a ship on the Thor kinkmeme, probably because it was the only viable slash option that a) wasn't incest and b) didn't break up a canon couple. The foundation for the pairing might have been thirty seconds long but it also followed a well-loved tradition of snarky/deadpan pairings, so there was an easy setup there. Also, they were both blank characters with little backstory in the MCU who had no visible love interests, which lured in fans who are otherwise hesitant to write for comic book movies. Thanks to a couple good prompts and fills, C/C gained a modest but loyal following.

Then the Avengers came out, which provided a huge blow up in MCU fic in general, but also a) gave Coulson more characterization and b) resulted in people picking up the Fraction Hawkeye comics in an attempt to characterize Clint better. Upon the realization that Coulson was a secret dork and Clint might be a secret failboat, plus the fact that neither of them had an onscreen love interest, the pairing took off.

It also helped that some of the early fics were both longer and really, really good. People would click on the pairing tag out of curiosity, and find good fic--of course it got big.


Thor came out in the US on May 6, 2011. In that movie was the first small cameo appearance in the MCU of Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. A small scene, yes, and a scene where his only point of actual contact was, yes, one Phil Coulson. Even if the combined screentime of their actual conversation amounted to about 47 seconds, there was a sense of familiarity there, and of having worked together before. Probably more than once. In short, well, a tiny little seed for a ship.

Three days later, on May 9, the first Clint/Coulson prompt was posted to norsekink, the LJ kinkmeme for the movie. It got a fill within three hours. By the end of that month, another four fic prompts for the pairing had been posted, and one ‘Coulson/Any’ prompt got filled twice with C/C endgame. The ball had well and truly started rolling, if in a small way.

On June 19, the first Clint/Coulson fic was posted to the AO3. (It was a crosspost of one of the fills from the first handful of kinkmeme prompts.)

The general quality of the early works were not all that bad, and they spurred more prompts and more fic, continuing the rolling of that ball down that hill.

By the time Avengers came out the next year, there were already over 500 works for the pairing on the AO3. It’s kept growing since.

But people like numbers!

To get a decent sense of the numbers and the rate of growth, I went over to to look at the number for the ship tag on the AO3. In general, I looked at the number of works on the first snapshot of every month available. (Plus the most recent numbers available before and after the release of both the Avengers movie and the first episode of Agents of SHIELD). Some months didn’t have any snapshots, and some had ones only late in the month, so it’s not a particularly consistent progression, but it will definitely give you an idea. So here we go. Number of works by date. (As a note, these will not include any works locked to AO3 users only, so the numbers will in most cases be slightly off, but not by a whole lot.)

  • 09 Oct 11 - 20
  • 08 Dec 11 - 56

(The founding of the Clint/Coulson AIM blast group known as Feelschat happened in early January of 2012. It led to a lot of fic enabling.)

  • 31 Jan 12 - 143
  • 23 Feb 12 - 243
  • 08 Mar 12 - 291
  • 08 Apr 12 - 416
  • 01 May 12 - 533 * Last snapshot pre-US release of The Avengers (May 4)
  • 10 May 12 - 631 * First snapshot post-US release of The Avengers
  • 11 Jun 12 - 879
  • 18 Jul 12 - 1163
  • 03 Nov 12 - 1873
  • 04 Dec 12 - 2064
  • 01 Jan 13 - 2306
  • 07 Feb 13 - 2519
  • 17 May 13 - 3180
  • 18 Jun 13 - 3371
  • 03 Jul 13 - 3473
  • 09 Aug 13 - 3688
  • 10 Sep 13 - 3877
  • 15 Sep 13 - 3893 * Last snapshot pre-AoS pilot (Sep 24)
  • 05 Oct 13 - 4018 * First snapshot post-AoS pilot
  • 11 Nov 13 - 4271
  • 13 Dec 13 - 4435
  • 17 Mar 14 - 5066
  • 09 Apr 14 - 5187
  • 07 Jul 14 - 5782
  • 12 Oct 14 - 6253
  • 27 Dec 14 - 6664

erindizmo, Archived version


There were several things at work (in fandom, movies, and elsewhere) to make Clint/Coulson a juggernaut, and the pairing wouldn't have been nearly as...overwhelming if ALL of them were not present.

1) Very little movie backstory, but what's implied is ready-made for tropes popular in spy fiction. They clearly knew each other and had backstory, but it was never explicitly stated, so headcanons galore, plus a lot of plug-and-play case fic. Need a mission? Insert foreign country, maybe a kidnapping and light torture, possibly HYDRA.

2) Banter. Fandom does love its banter.

3) The new Hawkeye comics set Clint up as professionally competent but emotionally a failboat, which is always a popular character type. You'll see that characterization/backstory in most Clint/Coulson. He was a designated woobie, and Coulson seemed like the obvious healthy counterpart to take care of him, since he was hypercompetant. (Woobie!Coulson is pretty rare, not surprisingly.)

4) Kinkmemes were a lot bigger in fandom a few years back, and Clint/Coulson was the only slash pairing to come out of the movie that wasn't incest. If you don't like het or incest, what else were you going to ship? Kink meme niche.

5) Some of the early Clint/Coulson fics are actually very good. It had a snowball effect; people had no idea who they were, so they looked them up on AO3 and found enjoyable fic, and then they wrote more.

6) Didn't conflict with any existing juggernaut post-Avengers. They were actually pretty inoffensive until they started getting in everything.

7) Personal taste. I find both actors attractive enough to ship, but not so attractive that I have a hard time slapping my favorite insecurity trope onto either character. Good for pining.

I'm sure there's more, but seriously; it was a perfect storm of things, and it makes perfect sense.


Prior to Agents of SHIELD premiered in September 2013, Clint/Phil was a popular pairing for the fandom despite the fact that there are currently no plans for Clint to be on the show. The pairing is still popular in that fandom.

Six Degrees Influences

There have been several fics that reference previous roles for both Jeremy Renner and Clark Gregg; crossovers with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (in which Renner played the spy character of William Brandt) tend to be the most common. Some notable examples are the Just Twinny verse, in which Brandt and Clint Barton are look-alikes but not related; Every Hero Needs an Origin Story, which references Gregg's previous role as Mike Casper on The West Wing; and the one out of many and all of them the same series, in which all of Jeremy Renner's previous character roles have been Clint Barton undercover.


Controversy and Criticism

It has received some criticism for being a Whitecock ship[3][4][5] much in part for the little screen time between the two characters of this pairing.

Clint/Coulson is seen as whitecock because it has more prominence in relation to possible relationships of Barton and Phil with other characters - usually a POC characters - who have greater development with each of them, but who are never considered to be their pair.

An example of the criticism is "why can't Coulson be paired with Fury?" as they've both been working together since before the Avengers Initiative. The answer is that because it's an interracial pairing, fans don't send it the same way they would if Nick's character was white, thus confirming the theory that sending white pairings has more fans due to racism. Because Fury has a great development being a participant in the MCU from the beginning along with Coulson, but both are never sent in the same way as Coulson with other white characters out of pure and simple racial prejudice.

In contrast, many fans of the Clint/Phil ship support that the pairing is more prominent for its chemistry and rapport than for being an all-white shipment.

Common Tropes in Fanworks

  • Fix-it fics for the big spoiler in the movie quickly became one of the most common tropes in the pairing after the release of The Avengers.
  • Espionage: Clint's job as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and assassin tends to get more focus in Clint/Phil fic than superhero adventures. Tropes spy fiction lends itself to are also popular: mission fic, undercover work, pretend relationship, kidnapping & rescue, torture as a part of hurt/comfort, handler/agent pining, etc.
  • Hurt/comfort with Clint most often taking the role of the hurt character.
  • Origin story: How Coulson recruited Clint for SHIELD. Clint's comicsverse background as a carny and ex-criminal is often incorporated.









Archives and Fannish Links

LiveJournal Communities




  1. ^ The Avengers Ships: Master List
  2. ^ We were asked to make this answer from yesterday a rebloggable post, so here it is!. (Accessed 08 July 2012)
  3. ^ Comment by transemacabre on LiveJournal (2014) (Accessed 26 September 2017)
  4. ^ Ask received by whoistorule on Tumblr (April 2014) (Accessed 26 September 2017)
  5. ^ Thread on fandomsecrets on Dreamwidth (2014) (Accessed 26 September 2017)


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