I took the plunge and signed up for Stitcher Premium, so that I could listen to Marvel’s new scripted podcast, Wolverine: The Long Night, starring Richard Armitage as Wolverine (a.k.a Logan). The first two episodes dropped on Monday, and they are really well done.
This is essentially a police crime drama, swirling around encounters with Logan, a man who remains on the edges of the story, at least in the first two episodes. If you are a fan of police stories, old-time radio dramas, and/or Wolverine, then I would recommend this experience. After Hugh Jackman’s long-running stint as Wolverine and his excellent performance in Logan in particular, Armitage has big shoes to fill. So far, I am very impressed with his performance as Logan.
The story is set in the small fictional town of Burns, Alaska, where a boat full of dead and mauled fishermen has been found. Added to this are the recent separate deaths of two women, in what local Sheriff Ridge (Scott Adsit) has characterized as a bear attack. However, federal agents Tad Marshall (Ato Essandoh) and Sally Pierce (Celia Keenan-Bolger) — each with very distinct personalities — have come to town to investigate these deaths whose methods sound remarkably like the work of Logan.
What I am fascinated by in this podcast is the clever and seamless way that the writer (Benjamin Percy) and director (Brendan Baker) introduce information to the listening audience. We hear eyewitness accounts, interviews of witnesses by the federal agents, and conversations between the various investigators, and the story will flip from those conversations to the actual scenes they are discussing, allowing the actors to bring you right to centre of the action. There is also a newbie cop, Bobby, played convincingly by Andrew Keenan-Bolger, who asks the questions the audience might have about the methods that the agents are using. Each interview, conversation, or scene advances our knowledge just a little bit more, building on what we have already learned. But the information from different parties can be contradictory and unreliable, so we are kept constantly guessing as to who or what the murderer may be. There is a wide cast of characters, each with their own secrets and stories, and even including a cult that sends unsolicited messages over the radio waves to the public.
The sound is really amazing. I had really enjoyed The Martian Invasion of Earth, which was also done as a radio play, but sometimes the voices were difficult to hear over the sound effects. Wolverine: The Long Night takes sound to a whole new level, by the use of ambisonic microphones, which have four sub-microphones pointed in different directions to create a three-dimensional sound space. And rather than having the actors stationary in a studio, they move around (or even roll around as above right) a measured space with appropriate furniture, effectively bringing realism to the sound. Some background sounds were actually recorded outdoors in Westchester, New York, while others were done in a Foley studio. (More information on the sound design can be found in this article in Wired which Servetus found for us.)
For Logan/Wolverine/Armitage fans, patience is a virtue, as we are introduced to him very gradually and mainly through the stories of others. He has just one line in the first episode (at 26:30 in the 30 minute episode), but it is a very effective and even humourous line and Armitage nails the growling menace and laboured breathing of the Wolverine. The episode ends with the audience finally learning his name — “Logan… His name was Logan.” — ending the episode with a chill of anticipation. We come closer to him in the second episode, but again we don’t hear him until 23 minutes in, where he has a much longer passage as he reads a letter he has written. Had I not known this was Richard Armitage, I would never have guessed it — his accent is flawlessly North American, and he has a very deep and gravelly voice. But Armitage is recognizable for the acting ability we have come to know, as he plays the troubled and tortured Logan who is not even sure himself just what he may have done.
For those who would like to listen to this, the podcast for now is only available on Stitcher Premium, although it will be more widely available in the fall. Stitcher has a one-month free trial which can be combined with a second month free by using the code MARVEL. As well as the podcast itself, there is also The Marvel After Show, hosted by Christina Harrington (“Women of Marvel”) and Jerah Milligan (“Black Men Can’t Jump In Hollywood”). The first half is the two hosts gushing over each episode in an overly-enthusiastic way (in my opinion). Thankfully, though, you can fast forward through that to their well-conducted (if still somewhat giddy) interviews. It’s worth it to hear the incredibly deep bass voice and insights of writer Benjamin Percy (at 17 minutes into Episode 1) and to hear producer Dan Fink talk about being in the studio and in the Foley studio (at 18 minutes into Episode 2).
I am eagerly awaiting the third episode of Wolverine: The Long Night, which I assume will drop on Monday. The story is good and well-executed, the sound is amazing, and the acting is good from everyone, and especially from Richard Armitage in what we have heard from him so far. Below is the behind the scenes video, including Armitage discussing his work in the studio and how when your agent says, “Marvel would like…”, you just say, “Yes!”