In Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s first Wolverine-based mini-series, we’re introduced to the titular hero as he stalks a bear through the Canadian wilds. It’s not the first time his solo adventures will deposit him out there, and indeed some of my favorite Wolverine stories have him traipsing through the woods and snow.
I’m clearly not alone in this, as Marvel’s first official scripted podcast, Wolverine: The Long Night wastes no time in establishing the setting of Burns, Alaska, where a series of people have been murdered, with long, conspicuous claw marks gouging their bodies. The story is told from the point of view of two investigating agents who are aware of Wolverine, and believe that he might be involved.
It’s an interesting premise for a radio drama, and let’s be frank, that’s what this is. The vehicle is the same, only the delivery method differs. I was inclined immediately to try it as I heard about it, because I love the idea of reigniting the medium—serial, episodic audio dramas are a wonderful thing to experience—and indeed this one is fairly competently done, except for one glaring flaw.
There’s no Wolverine.
I mean, he’s there, he has lines, they’re even voiced by actor Richard Armitage, who you may have seen as Thorin Oakenshield in the recent Hobbit films. But those lines are so sparse in the first several episodes that I found my attention wandering. He shows up in recountings other characters give, in discovered voicemails for ex-girlfriends, but, as of episode five, he’s not actually present within the story itself. It’s a ghost story, one where the ghost is alive, though his hauntings are only discovered after the fact.
I have an appreciation for stories that let their protagonist haunt the margins; Greg Rucka’s Punisher remains one of my favorite runs for that very reason. There’s a way to do it, though, a correct one, and part of that process is taking into account the medium you’re working in. At five episodes out of a total ten, with each episode a half hour long, to have only a few minutes of dialogue featuring the character the story is ostensibly about is asking for a significant time commitment from the listener.
That’s not to say that the story that is presented is a bad one. It’s a mystery, something that episodic audio fiction has already proven itself adept at: Limetown, The Black Tapes, and Tanis are all successful examples of the genre. The Long Night’s setting and slightly otherworldly subject matter also remind me some of Twin Peaks, so it’s effective at least in setting the mood. It’s just…not what I want in Marvel’s first foray into the medium. I want to see these characters embraced, I want to see them celebrated. I want to see (hear) Logan front and center, narrating his own adventure, the way that I’m familiar with.
That familiarity is, perhaps, some of the problem. It sets an expectation of tone and content, one that again is reinforced by the setting. The start of the show reminded me immediately of that early Claremont mini, or of my first personal Wolverine issue as a kid—the Texeira-drawn issue #65. In it, Logan ends up at the cabin he once shared with Silver Fox, mourning her death. That issue was moving to me, striking, because it presented a character who is typically the paragon of masculine coolness in a state of grief (I would not discover its thematic similarities to the departure of Cyclops post-Phoenix Saga until years later).
These are memorable, moving stories, one of the prime reasons the character is such a beloved one, and to be reminded of them, and the time I spent poring over them in my youth, is a blessing. For The Long Night, though, it’s a curse–that reminder also serves the function of convincing me that I’d rather be reading them than listening to the show. It’s fitting, too, that The Long Night was announced and released during the time frame in which the character was dead in the comics, since the podcast, at least what has been released so far, isn’t actually about him.