From a production standpoint, working in audio also gave the creative team the unique opportunity to adjust their storytelling approach midstream. Through a supercharged version of storyboarding or the audio version of pre-vis, the team was able to track which of their ambitious sequences, be they a trip to an underground cave or a flashback fight sequence, would track with any listener.
“The assistant director Chloe Prasinos and I actually made prototypes of these episodes before shooting them. So we acted out all the parts and recorded them and made this whole sort of parallel prototype series,” Baker said. “That helped Chloe and I get a better sense of what was happening in the story and also the things that were just not working in audio. And then we could go back to Ben and say, ‘We need to find a way to tweak the script in this way in order to clarify for the listener.’ And Ben was always very receptive to those notes.”
Interacting with these characters on a fundamentally different level presents a great opportunity for an emerging wing of a company that thrives on blending powerhouse fictional icons with the new fascinations of tomorrow. Dan Fink, Executive Director of Development at Marvel Entertainment said the response to the show has been encouraging, laying the potential groundwork for incorporating newer characters into this world and offering a bridge to other corners of the comics universe.
“Of course when you launch your first scripted show, you want to launch with a character that has a strong following. But being that this is audio, it’s just so different than comics and so different than film, that it kind of has to live in its own universe,” Fink said. “We are creating a lot of new characters. We are creating new IP, in our opinion. Everything from Prophet to Agent Pierce to Agent Marshall to Joe Langrock. These are all characters that we now have the ability to start thinking, ‘Do we want to put these in a future Marvel comic?’ I’m not really looking to step on the Marvel Studios’ or the cinematic universe’s toes at all. I want this to stand out on its own and not feel like anything ancillary. It should be all original.”
The best part about “Wolverine: The Long Night” is that it’s not beholden to any particular model. It can lean on the best episodic elements of a TV series and play with a nonlinear structure in a way that a tentpole summer blockbuster might not be able to. Going through the list of influences on the show — “Unforgiven,” “Jaws” “True Detective,” even “S-Town” pop up in these conversations as story references — it’s clear that as the concept of Marvel audio evolves, it’s starting its own distinct corner of this storytelling empire. For Fink, it’s one that has a connection to a tradition that’s been around thousands of years longer than Professor Xavier.
“You go all the back to ancient Greece and you have stories of gods and the mythology that comes there. Those stories, the way people consume them is they were told them. It was an auditory experience,” Fink said. “Honestly, there wasn’t sound design in 3D sound like there is now with what you have in ‘Wolverine: The Long Night.’ But hearing about these mythological beings, there’s something that your imagination does to play tricks on you. And it’s really cool that Marvel can go back to that really rudimentary form of storytelling with something like this, of course, elevating it with the sound design that Brendan and Chloe constructed.”
And with an after show podcast of its own hosted by Jerah Milligan and Christina Harrington, “Wolverine: The Long Night” listeners have a built-in way to engage with how this particular story plays out. It’s a way for the show to offer something additional for the Marvel newcomers who may not catch all the nods to other characters and stories from the comics world and a way for diehards to parse those out for themselves. With a handful of episodes left in the show’s first season, everyone involved with the show is keen to let the show speak for itself. (Baker did tease that the season’s penultimate episode was especially ambitious, clocking in at 156 different audio tracks.) But what would a Marvel project be without that trademark mix of excitement and secrecy?
“I don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun when writing. This has been a complete treat from first pitch to final draft,” Percy said. “Let’s just say that we’ve carved out our own 40 acres here. But those 40 acres are very much a part of the larger Marvel universe and you’ll understand the interconnectedness as though as the series progresses. I can’t say anything more about the future of the Marvel Podcast Universe or the Weapon x assassins would take me down. I have a laser sight on my forehead right now.”
“Wolverine: The Long Night” is available on Stitcher Premium, with new episodes premiering on Mondays.