Podcast of the Week: WOLVERINE: THE LONG NIGHT
I was initially skeptical of Marvel and Stitcher’s new premium podcast, WOLVERINE: THE LONG NIGHT. Considering that it’s only available behind a paywall, produced by a major pop culture powerhouse, and has no plans to move to be freely accessible after a certain period of time a la THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, I approached it from a position of resenting the fact that the big league players were taking over the entertainment medium that’s one of the last bastions of populist freedom. But, as many have surely told you beforehand, WOLVERINE: THE LONG NIGHT is good. Honestly, very good. And while some of its implications are still a little tricky to unpack, it ultimately represents a movement that I hope will finally and fully legitimize podcasting as something to pay attention to.
What’s most immediately notable is the fact that for a long-form story with his name in the title, WOLVERINE: THE LONG NIGHT is not about our adamantium-clawed hero from the jump. We mostly stick with federal suits Agent Marshall (Ato Essandoh) and Agent Pierce (Celia Keenan-Bolger) as they get called into the remote sticks of Burns, Alaska to investigate the brutally murdered crew of a local ship. As they pick up local deputy Bobby (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) into their crew and do as much investigating as they can despite the apathetic nature of Bobby’s superior, Sheriff Ridge (Scott Adist), they uncover a wide-sprawling and turbid underbelly of local culture involving a string of murders, a mysterious cult, and, yes, Logan himself.
Podcasting as a medium does seem like an antidote for many of the criticisms lobbied against Marvel media, as it eliminates any sense of visual flair and forces a story to be told for its own merits. WOLVERINE: THE LONG NIGHT sees a more tender attention and care given to characters and narrative. Cutting between Marshall and Pierce as they learn more about Wolverine and his own commentary on what really went down lets us get a valuable and intimate insight into his motives while also establishing a secondary cast of characters as equally layered, if not more so, than the man himself. No CGI, no action scenes, just a sordid, violent mystery and several conflicting accounts of who is responsible. Not to mention, you should believe what you read! The sound design and production value are befitting of Marvel’s gargantuan budget, and the acting is stand-out across the board, with Richard Armitage turning in a commendable performance as Wolverine and career Hollywood actors such as Bob Balaban stopping by for minor roles. All this is to say that this seems like the podcast with the largest chance of catapulting podcasts into mainstream legitimacy. Marvel has one of the largest and volatile fanbases the world has ever known, and moving the hordes towards Stitcher is an exciting influx, proving that the radio drama is still kicking and can captivate large audiences in a modern context.
That being said, I feel as if it’s a little irresponsible to not discuss some of my remaining misgivings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting I don’t appreciate WOLVERINE: THE LONG NIGHT’s sense of risk-taking and the fresh way it tells a superhero story, but there is still the sense of another step in a long line of them that is moving towards a cultural MCU hegemony that will render many more IPs unmarketable and unprofitable. Because it is such an admittedly resounding success, I’d wager we’re about to get a lot more studio interest in new media and long-form podcast storytelling, and I have some trepidation that those with the largest advertising budgets will end up pushing independently produced shows off of the charts. Podcasting is the final frontier of highlighting diverse and varied voices that other media forms have historically not valued and I hope that continues to be the case (even if I’m already salivating over the thought of a Batman mystery done right).
So take it from a skeptic, WOLVERINE: THE LONG NIGHT is definitely worth paying attention to and giving a spin (they do offer a one-month free trial, after all). It may not be perfect (not quite sure how long I can continue to hear about the Strawberry Kids with a straight face), but it’s probably the most daring thing Marvel’s done in quite some time. With a little luck, it can help prove that podcasts and the more complex, carefully considered stories they can hold are worthy of everyone’s attention.