The Transmedia storytelling strategy and structures of heroes in Marvel Avengers films


Jaekyu Kim


Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, China Korea School of New Media

182# Nanhu Ave., East Lake High-tech Development Zone,

Wuhan, P.R.China






The transmedia storytelling contributes on creating new contents with fusions and expansions. The content that has established this and actively using is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Marvel’s contents are applying the transmedia storytelling – a newly evolved form of beyond explaining the phenomenon that cannot be explained by original story repeating OSMU or crossmedia. The Avengers series is a new series recreated by combining the individual hero series and made the result of overcoming the box office performance and cinematic quality than other Marvel contents. This study focuses on the transmedia storytelling structure of the Avengers series that is gaining responses with a new story expansion. The analysis was made on how these features and strategies have diverged and extended successfully while making the contents group started as a comics into movies.


Keywords-Transmedia; Transmedia storytelling; Movie; Avengers; Hero


1. Introduction


The phenomenon of diverging or extending the original story into another independent story is called as Transmedia storytelling. A new story diverged from original story shares the concept or background of the original story and becomes an expended storytelling. This is distinguished from OSMU (One-Source Multi-Use) or Crossmedia.

 OSMU uses one source to tell an identical story with various media. Which means, that the same story is recreated repeatedly depending on the media [1].

The crossmedia is a method of delivering one story with various platforms. Which means, that a consistent story is repeatedly delivered to users suiting with various media.

The transmedia storytelling is created as an individual story with multiplatforming[1] on various media. During the process, the story is not created repeatedly, but expended. However, the basic story concept or original story is shared in same category. In addition, each individual story becomes a connecting story to original story or make a big contribution on understanding the concept.

The Marvel hero series contents were distributed in comic book type since its establishment in 1939. It continuously grown as published comic books from 1939 to 1950’s, but faced management crisis with comics code authority (CCA) after the 50’s saying that the comics are harmful and economy hold back [2]. The Marvel maintained the company with selling copyrights of hero characters and faced bankruptcy crisis in 1996. The Marvel came out of crisis by making profits from toy character business of the film rights of Spiderman sold to Sony/Columbia Pictures in 2002 with huge success of the movie. Afterwards, X-Men, Dare Devil, Hulk, Punisher, Fantastic 4 and others made success in movies and related character businesses started making profits. The company with 90 million dollar business loss in 2000 made business profit of 74 million dollars in 2007.

The Marvel saw the success of copyright sold hero characters and started to make films. The Marvel selected their 8,000 characters, introduced ‘MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), and started making movies. The movie ‘Iron Man’ filmed by Marvel in 2008 made box-office profit of 8.5 billion dollars. Since then, 19 movies were filmed until 2018 with profits of 16.5 billion dollars. And about 6 mega hit movies made over 10 billion dollar profits.


Table. 1 MCU Box-Office Record[2]


Box-office Profit








20 billion







Avengers: Infinity War



15 billion

The Avengers

$1.518 billion



The Avengers: Age of Ultron

$1.405 billion



Black Panther



10 billion


Iron Man 3

$1.215 billion

Guardians of the Galaxy 1

$773.3 million


Captain America: Civil War



Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2




Spider-Man: Homecoming




Thor: Ragnarok

$854 million



The table. 1 shows that the Avengers in 2012 made box-office profit of about 1,518,812,000 dollars. 1,405,000,000 dollars for Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015 and 2,046,548,000 dollars for the Avengers: Infinity War in 2018. The profit of Avengers: Infinity War was recorded as the world’s fifth most profited movie. [3].

The Marvel’s hero characters built transmedia form from comic books to movies. The Marvel characters succeeded in comic books have their own series but the narrative structures are incomplete and continues until now. It does not reproduce the existing stories with movies but connects with the comic books or expanded into new series. Sometimes, the comic books work as the story connection of movie series.

A noticeable transmedia storytelling from the Avengers series is that the main story forms multiple narratives and multiple characters and properly places the weight of each role. In order to form a transmedia storytelling structure, a study for a certain structural strategy like the Avengers series is necessary [4].


2. Transmedia storytelling Structure


  The transmedia storytelling has the feature of self-breeding narrative with sharing or enjoyment as the base and individual texts are independent and non-sequential. It is a concept which the sum of variant individual stories from multiple media within the entire story sharing its concept or showing the story theme. Multiple separate stories having identical concept are multiplied and mutually connects with others to build a transmedia world. The term calling such contents creating method is called as Media Franchise or Transmedia Franchise [5].

The parts marked as a media includes novels, movies, TV, animations, performances (musicals) and various media. The starting point of original story for each content starts from various media. Transmedia storytelling can be considered as the concept expanded to include the story expansion of prologue, main story, spinoff, reboot, sequel, prequel and others or the storytelling method of various forms of narratives containing the story’s connections.


Fig. 1 Transmedia Storytelling Structure of Individual Story’s Sum (Plus) Expressing Entire Story[3]


3. Transmedia storytelling structure of the Avengers series


Since the success of Iron Man 1 movie filmed in 2008 after the establishment of Marvel Studios, the Marvel has released a movie making line of its own comics as the base as a term called MCU.

Twenty movies made until now since 2008 shows that each film proceeds its story individually but shares MCU. Also, all movies include Avengers series related themes. Seven heroes appear in the Avengers 1 and nine heroes appear in the Avengers 2. The Avengers 3 has twenty-three super heroes, the most heroes for the series.

Fig. 2 shows that each movie are mostly based on the comic books. The Marvel continues its superhero series with no endings accumulated since its establishment. When a known comic book is made into a movie with only its popularity does not guarantee its success. When a story is simply made into a movie repeating the story, it has high risks of having audiences fed up with the story. In order to overcome this from happening, the Marvel came up with a strategy of making individual stories for the movies and include them in the MCU. It means, making a concept and allow all works made as movies get connected with each other and share the hero character or include a portion of another related movie as an event. The movie Avengers series is also base on the classic Avengers comics of its own. But its story is different from the comics. Sometimes, only the concept itself is applied and goes different entirely, and the characters in the movie Avengers differ very much from the comics. Even when the movie series tells separate stories of its own, the audiences will experience a new narrative as a movie media.

Even if the audiences do not know the original narrative, they can experience the connected concept or narrative world with the transmedia storytelling structure.

When transmedia storytelling has various contents for each media, and when these are opened simultaneously with connection; it is called as a synchronization type; and when these are opened sequentially; it is called as an asynchronous type. Also, it can be distinguished with a small and a large type and the small type has less connective contents and the large type has massive contents [6].

The transmedia storytelling of the Avengers is opening the movie contents sequentially and the story structure includes the large narrative world. This is an asynchronous type and structured with the large type.



Fig. 2 Avengers Series Transmedia storytelling Structure


4. Transmedia Storytelling analysis of Avengers series movies


4.1. Avengers 1

The Fig. 2 shows that Iron man 1 & 2, Thor 1 and Captain America 1 premiered before the Avengers 1. The narrative line of the Avengers 1 filmed in 2012 starts with the appearance of a villain. The villain leading the story of the entire story line of the Avengers 1 is Loki, the younger brother of Thor who appeared in Thor 1. The other villain who invades earth and made New York a battlefield is Chitauri Army, Loki’s collaborators. The conversation between Chitauri Army and Loki implies the existence of a strong villain. The story of the Avengers 1 is that the team avengers was formed to stop Loki; and the conflicts between the Iron Man and Captain America were told in depth during the team forming process. The story tells one story of continuous attack of villain with how Iron Man is organized, conflicts, splits, sacrifices and cooperates; another story of how the villain attracts collaborators; and these two stories progress together. In the middle of the story, Thor tells the existence of infinity stone – the core story of the Avengers 3 – and the existence of gauntlet is implied. For the consistency of the series, the events that will occur on the next episode are continuously informed.


4.2. Avengers 2: Age of Ultron

The movie starts with the actions of the Avengers in the beginning. The conflicts between heroes are also shown. Hulk and Iron Man get into a fight and a city is damaged from the fight. The birth of the villain lead the main story was born within the Avengers. A strong villain called Ultron appears by an error during the artificial intelligence building process and the Avengers team struggles to stop the villain. A new hero called Vision was born during the Ultron’s birth process. The Vision possesses the Infinity stone and contributes to the elimination of Ultron. The Vision possessing the Infinity stone appears as a key role in the next episode. The characters in the Avengers 2 conflict and confront each other in the Captain America 3: Civil War. The story continues with the Avengers 2. The independent contents has consistency with a separate series, but there is no repulsion. Even if the audiences seeing the series for the first time have no prior knowledge, they can enjoy the contents with texture speculations and potential story concept.


4.3. Avengers 3: Infinity War

The Avengers 1 and 2 had weight on the conflicts between heroes while the Avengers 3 shows the cooperation of heroes to stop the strongest villain, Thanos.

The beginning of the movie continues from the Thor 3, the story of Asgard’s fall, the home of Thor. The characters of individual contents made in advance with the Marvel’s transmedia storytelling structure possess continuity and expandability in the Avengers film. Also, the connections of events occurred in individual series share unity and concept.


5. Conclusion


The transmedia storytelling structure of the Avengers has continuity and expandability. Fig. 4 shows that each hero contents filmed separately to share the story’s concept introduces a part of the Avenger’s events. Sometimes, the continuity of main story like the Captain America: Civil War is told. The Marvel built a concept called MCU and combines the story lines or proposes events in order for the individual content stories to have continuities. These show the form of crossing (Trans) or expandability of the stories between contents – the feature of Transmedia storytelling. It can be said that the Marvel, actively using the new form of story with the conversion from comic books to movie, overcame its crisis by making contents with the transmedia storytelling. Also, not only the Marvel has gained huge fans with these types of movies filmed during the past 10 years, but also built a structure to continuously make series. I have looked at how the transmedia storytelling was successfully activated with expandability between comics and movie media through the Avengers series. I hope this study is able to offer some helps on creating comics and movie media contents.





[1] Jaekyu Kim, TaeGu Lee, “A study on transmedia storytelling structure from Kung Fu Panda series,” The Journal of Image and Cultural Contents, Vol. 12, pp.194, June 2017.

[2] Hui Kim, Sung-ho Park, “Characteristics of research The Transmedia Storytelling in the Disney Marvel,” Cartoon & Animation Studies, pp. 165-166, June 2018

[3] ECONOMY Chosun, “, May 21, 2018.

[4] Young Soo Lee, A Study on Transmedia Storytelling of Marvel Comics based on Multiverse,” The Korean Journal of animation, vol. 10, pp. 192-193, December 2014

[5] JunHee Lee, “Storytelling Ecosystem Model Based on Expanded-Type Transmedia Storytelling,” Journal of Korean Society of Media & Arts, pp. 10, vol.11 No.3, December 2013.

[6] Seong Eun Seo, “The Study on Media Conversion Storytelling”, The Graduate School of Ewha Woman’s University, pp. 31~33, Jan 2015.

[1] Multiplatforming means that either the contents or the media user goes back and forth on various platforms simultaneously or non-simultaneously. Source: Naver Media Encyclopedia


[3] JunHee Lee, “Storytelling Ecosystem Model Based on Expanded-Type Transmedia Storytelling,” Journal of Korean Society of Media & Arts, pp. 10, vol.11 No.3, December 2013. Fig 2 restructure