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In a “justice” league of their own: transmedia storytelling and paratextual reinvention in LEGO’s DC Super Heroes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

For Derek Johnson, “transmedia storytelling suggests cultural artistry and participatory culture, ‘franchising’ calls equal if not more attention to corporate structure and the economic organization of that productive labor” (2013: 33). For the LEGO Corporation that “cultural artistry” and “productive labor” is epitomized in the multiple collaborative partnerships the company shares with the likes of Disney and Warner Bros. who own some of the most iconic and popular entertainment brands including Star Wars, Marvel, Harry Potter and DC. Together with its partners LEGO has designed and released hundreds of plays sets and minifigures based on characters that populate the ever-expanding worlds of TV, film and comics. From humble beginnings as educational toy manufacturer LEGO is now the largest toy company in the world and its licensed products for global media franchises are central to their strategic financial plan. Part of this success is due to product diversification – it’s not just about the toys but also the media content and video games that LEGO now commission. TV series and short films based on Star Wars, Marvel and DC characters such as LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures (2016-present), LEGO Marvel Superheroes: Maximum Overload (2013), and LEGO Batman: The Movie – DC Heroes Unite (2103) exemplify the company’s drive to create new and original content that extends the traditional format of the parent universe, adding their own brand of humor and character interpretations. Popular Traveler’s Tales games for consoles allow people to “play” the super hero as well as literally rebuild and reenact iconic scenes from famous movies.

I argue in this chapter that LEGO’s original content is an example of brand synergy across transmedia platforms. The toys, animated series, associated merchandise like books and guides, and video games all contribute to a complex narrative network of LEGO texts, working in tandem to underscore the preeminence of the new storytelling strategy: television and films “reimagine” classic scenes from the movies and comics; reference books fill in backstories to characters from the expanded universes; and the toys and video games allow players/gamers/fans to adapt and control characters in self-created narratives and spaces. Where Robert Buerkle suggests that “LEGO acts as a signifier for childhood and toy play”, creating nostalgia for past texts within a framework of “toydom” (2014: 148), I would take this further and argue that LEGO‘s animated series are part of their strategy for creating brand synergy; reinventing established canon through paratextual production in order to create new audiences as well as offer their franchise partners space to retell and resell older characters and storylines. Thus, this chapter seeks to highlight the interconnected nature of corporate production, media content creation and transmedia world-building in the contexts of character development.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCultural Studies of LEGO
Subtitle of host publicationMore Than Just Bricks
EditorsRebecca Hains, Sharon Mazzarella
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Pages23-46
Number of pages24
Edition1
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-32664-7
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-32663-0
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2020

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