Literary history is firmly founded in an oral tradition. Humanity learned to speak and communicate, they learned to tell epic stories we still tell today, all before they were etched into stone or stained in patterns along papyrus or paper. Before the Golden Age of Comics, we had the Golden Age of Radio. The entire nation was hypnotized by the magic of the spoken word. Orson Welles’ reading of War of the Worlds in 1938 was so convincing it purportedly caused a mild panic.
As with all inventions, there was soon a new wonder to replace radio, and within a few decades, the serialized adventures of so many heroes had moved onto television. Photographs of folks gathered around the radio for their regular program, or even the fireside chats of President Roosevelt seem fixed in amber; a historical anachronism, like VHS or audio cassette tapes. Indeed, books on tape have their early roots in the Golden Age of Radio, and as the internet grew and developed, new technologies improved upon the idea. While tapes are now hard to find, services like Audible are everywhere. Podcasts, originally the realm of hobbyists, are now a major part of popular culture, whether it’s news, science, stocks or nerding out over comic books and television.
It’s little surprise that an actual comic book character would find their way into a podcast, in a serialized adventure for the 21st century.
Wolverine is often more hero than anti-hero; while he is rarely above violence and killing, unlike the Punisher, he’s still vulnerable. He has friends, loved ones, family. He’s terrifying, fierce, and if you’re a fan of Wolverine, you have your own favorite moment where he goes full berserk. Despite the bloodshed and body count, whether it’s Ninjas, demons, the Orphans of X, or the twisted revenge saga of Wolverine Volume 4, we somehow still keep rooting for Wolverine. Much like Game of Thrones’ Arya, who is rightly described as a “serial killer”, we cannot get enough, but part of that is because we never see these characters from another angle. We know there’s collateral damage, but we’re off to the next page, the next adventure before we can ever get a true sense of it.
Wolverine: The Long Night starts with a chilling explanation of how there are 1000 ways to die in Alaska. Logan, the Wolverine, is quickly implied among these gruesome fates. There’s a new stranger in the small coastal town of Burns, Alaska, and people are going missing and questions are being asked. Two very unwanted Federal Agents (from an undisclosed agency) are on the scene, a situation reminiscent of the opening of Twin Peaks. The sound of water on the docks, semis, creaking chairs all paint a tense scene. The power of Jaws or Halloween is not when you see the monster, but knowing it’s there, lurking. That music starts, and your heart rate skyrockets.
The Long Night sounds austere, full of the type of black and white sound production you might find on a Steve Albini-produced record. It’s tense. Every exhale, clink of the bottle or splash of the waves is center stage. Without the stunning visuals of Jim Lee or Mark Silvestri or any of the artists who have put Wolverine to paper, we’re scrambling to mentally fill in the pregnant pauses and deep breaths of the characters with a stark and stunning vision of a small Alaskan town and its population.
When Logan first shows up, it’s a firsthand account that’s both a fantastic visual ripped from the comics and absolutely terrifying. The narrarator may be slightly unreliable, but there’s more than enough truth in what he’s telling. While we’re rooting for Wolverine from the other side of the page, those trapped in there with him are scarred for life, sometimes literally. The terror, confusion, paranoia and fear are palpable, and rather than turning the page to the next adventure, in The Long Night, we’re trapped there with the people that are always left behind. The mind continues to race to fill in the scenery, all the way down to the beads of sweat and wide, terrified eyes.
The sound design and Foley skills at play are masterful, but the voice acting is incredible. Some voices will be familiar, with 30 Rock‘s Scott Adsit as the cantankerous Sherriff and Ato Essandoh as a fidget-spinner-carrying Federal Agent. Richard Armitage, also known as Thorin Oakenshield, is on deck as Logan. You only hear him once in the first episode, but it’s more than enough. As Writer Benjamin Percy states, Logan “has a tremendous offstage mythology” and Armitage uses that to full effect.
While we’ve been with Wolverine through many adventures in the colder reaches of North America before, the pacing here is slow and deliberate. It feels cold. It feels like the daylight might leave and not come back. There’s a cult in the woods, broadcasting bizarre sermons onto the radio waves, a drifting fishing boat and government coverups. The stage is brilliantly set, unmoored from the trappings of the grind of regular monthly publishing and often convoluted arcs. We’re left with a polar-crisp distillation of Logan, lurking in the woods, running with wolves and swimming impossible distances through icy waters. It’s absolutely terrifying.
Logan is a character uniquely suited to rumor, supposition and legend. He is a modern aamalgamationof so many mythic heroes, from Beowulf to Achilles. Those images of people gathered around a radio don’t seem so strange all of a sudden.
The Long Night is available through Stitcher, which is coincidentally offering a free trial period with the code “Marvel” to help promote this exciting new medium for the world of comics.