Marvel’s in the World Building business

On October 14th, 2013, Nellie Andreeva of “Deadline” reported that Marvel Studios was planning to produce four new television programs (all based on pre-existing marvel comics properties) as well as a miniseries event for digital distribution through either Netflix, Amazon, or WGN America. On November 7th Marvel announced the roster of these shows and confirmed that Netflix would provide the means of distribution through their streaming function. The four shows will focus Marvel characters Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica jones, and Daredevil, respectively, all culminating in a mini-series team-up event entitled “The Defenders.” This development represents the ever widening scope of Marvel Studio’s grand experiment in trans-media storytelling.
In his book “Convergence Culture” Henry Jenkins uses the Matrix Franchise an an example of trans-media storytelling. The overarching narrative of the Matrix franchise spans multiple mediums, from the films comics to anime shorts and even the video game Enter the Matrix. Each media facet enhances the other, providing information that may not be explicitly present in another, but still pertinent to understanding the story. He also cites the expansion of the Star Wars franchise through the novels and comics, as well the Indiana Jones franchise with the TV show “The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones.” He further develops the concept of trans-media into the concept of world building, which he describes as such: “storytelling has become the art of world building, as artists create compelling environments that cannot be fully explored or exhausted within a single work or even a single medium. The world is bigger than the film, bigger even than the franchise- since fan speculations and elaborations also expand the world in a variety of directions.”(Jenkins, pg. 114). This identification of he fans role in world building is rooted in the concept of participatory culture, as it helps the viewer to become fully immersed the media rhetoric.
The work done by Marvel Studios since the 2008 release of the movie Iron Man typify this idea of world building. Along with Iron Man they produced four over movies (The Incredible Hulk, Iron man 2, Thor and Captain America) and then united the leads in the 2012 superhero blockbuster “The Avengers,” establishing a wide network of narrative continuity that mirrors that of the comic books from which these characters have been adapted. This overarching film narrative has grow beyond The Avengers into what Marvel is referring to as “phase II,” a series of sequels and new films (Iron Man Three, Thor: the Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy) that will build up to another avengers movie, to be followed by a phase III. Even the Blu Ray releases of higher films feature short films called “Marvel One-Shots” featuring small in-between stories to supplement the film viewing experience (for an example the Iron Man Three release came with a One-Shot starring Hailee Atwell reprising her role as WWII spy Agent Carter from Captain America: The First Avenger). However in September, 2013, Marvel expanded the scope of their cinematic universe beyond film with the ABC television series “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” created Avengers director Joss Whedon and telling the story of the agents of the spy organization whose presence has connected all of the Marvel films, S.H.I.E.L.D. As evidenced by the news articles cited earlier, the momentum of Marvel’s world building shows no signs of slowing with upcoming Netflix streaming exclusive shows Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica jones! and Daredevil, as well their crossover mini-series “The Defenders,” which is clearly an attempt at duplicating the successful Avengers formula for a new medium. This latest development not represents them expanding the world of their films to television, but Internet streaming services as well, which is an expansion of televisual media in and of itself. In’s announcement of the news, the president of Marvel Entertainment Alan Fine was quoted saying: “This deal is unparalleled in its scope and size, and reinforces our commitment to deliver Marvel’s brand, content and characters across all platforms of storytelling. Netflix offers an incredible platform for the kind of rich storytelling that is Marvel’s specialty,” […]”This serialized epic expands the narrative possibilities of on-demand television and gives fans the flexibility to immerse themselves how and when they want in what’s sure to be a thrilling and engaging adventure.” Therefore, Marvel’s primary objective appears to be the enhancement of their viewers media participation through this expansive world building experiment.

By Phil Grippi, 11/ 24/13

Works cited:
-Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture. 2006. New York University Press.
– “Disney’s Marvel and Netflix Join Forces to Develop Historic Four Series Epic plus a Mini-Series Event.”
-Nellie Andreeva, “Marvel Preps 60-Episode Package Of Four Series & A Mini For VOD & Cable Networks.”

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