'From Stories to Worlds: The Continuity of Marvel Superheroes from Comics to Cinema'

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Sweeney, David (2013)

Abstract\ud From Stories to Worlds: The Continuity of Marvel Superheroes from Comics to Film\ud David Sweeney, June 2013\ud The Avengers (2012), the third most profitable film of all time, built upon the success of, and was interlinked with an entire range of, superhero films from Marvel Studios. Such narrative cohesion across individual texts is virtually unprecedented in American cinema but is the standard practice in the production of superhero comics. As this essay discusses, this approach towards narrative was pioneered by Marvel Comics in the 1960s under the editorship of Stan Lee and developed further by the recruitment to the company of avid superhero fan Roy Thomas during that decade. Having grown up during the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of superhero comics, when individual issues of comics presented self-contained stories and had little relationship to each other beyond a consistency of character representation, Thomas nevertheless developed a fascination with the implied history of ‘beloved’ superheroes and the world they inhabited, what is known in the comic book field as ‘continuity’. This fascination motivated his involvement in the establishment of American comic book ‘fandom’ and later characterised his work as a professional writer. \ud Drawing on the theories and concepts of the narratologists David A. Brewer and Lubomir Dolozel I explore how Thomas may have developed this fascination, relating Brewer and Dolozel’s work to the business practices of superhero publishers in the mid- twentieth century. I then demonstrate how these practices have been repeated by Marvel Studios and refined by them not only for cinema but also, with the advent of their Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show, ‘spun-off’ from but also ‘in continuity’ with The Avengers and the movies that came before it, for what the media scholar Henry Jenkins has called ‘transmedia storyetelling’.\ud I conclude that Thomas’s desires as a fan have fundamentally shaped superhero narratives across media and suggest that in Joss Whedon, the director of The Avengers, and the creator of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Marvel Studios may have found a twenty-first century equivalent of Thomas.
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