Authorship and Authenticity in the Transmedia Brand: The Case of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is the first filmmaking endeavour of its kind: multiple separate superhero films taking place within a single diegetic world, united in a single sequel, The Avengers (2012). The third highest-grossing film in history, The Avengers drew not only on the success of its prequels, its established characters and its stars, but perhaps most of all on its writer-director, cult favourite television auteur Joss Whedon. Having delivered on the film, and with considerable experience in creating quirky, character-based telefantasy, Whedon was a natural choice for Marvel for creating the MCU's first expansion into television, ABC’s Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.LD (ABC Studios/Marvel Television/Mutant Enemy, 2013- ).
This article examines the use of Whedon's name and his presence in the promotional discourse of Agents of S.H.I.E.LD as a case study of the role of the media creator in extending the transmedia brand. With the names of creators becoming increasingly visible in association with many texts where they were previously absent, such as television series and blockbuster Hollywood cinema, the use of the author name as a brand name sees growing prevalence across the screen industries. In theorizing transmedia storytelling, Elizabeth Evans (2010) has, accordingly, named authorship as one of the key dimensions in which cohesion is established. In this context, I examine the use of Whedon's involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where the discourse of authorship operates as a guarantor of consistency and authenticity. Looking at the promotional surround of the series in the form of trailers, interviews and convention panels, I track the writer-director's function in validating the brand extension, acting as the glue that holds the transmedia universe together. I examine Whedon's place within the matrix of the franchise, as his authorship is incorporated into and potentially competes with Marvel Studios' own brand.