Wolverine podcast has a Minnesota backstory

A new podcast featuring Wolverine has a Northfield author
When Marvel Comics decided to branch out to podcasts as a new storytelling platform, it turned to a Northfield author who identified with the character he'd be writing.

These words in the first episode of a new podcast released Monday may set comic-book fans' hearts racing:

"What was his name?" asks a detective.

"Logan," a strained voice replies. "His name was Logan."

That's the given name of Wolverine, an iconic Marvel Comics character whose weaponized body can sprout razor-sharp claws.

When Marvel decided to create its first podcast, it turned to Minnesota author Benjamin Percy. In reply, his proposal ran to 30 single-spaced pages.

"It was basically subtitled 'Give this to me or else,'" he said.

Percy lives in Northfield. He writes literary fiction, leaning toward horror and science fiction. He's also been pumping out a host of comic books for the last couple of years; He recently finished a run on "Green Arrow," and is now taking up "Nightwing."

But writing Wolverine, Percy said — well, that's something special.

"As a grumpy, smelly, hairy, cigar-chomping, whiskey-swilling loner, this is a character I have long related to — a little too well," he said in his trademark gravel-bass voice.

And there was another attractive challenge. The podcast world has exploded in recent years, but most podcasts are nonfiction. Marvel Comics, which has become a major force in the film industry, is looking for a piece of the podcast pie.

"We are hopefully innovators in this medium, in that there haven't been that many audio dramas, fiction audio dramas," said Percy.

"Wolverine: The Long Night" will play out over 10 half-hour episodes. The first two were released Monday. The rest will follow at weekly intervals.

Percy set the story in the fictional town of Burns, Alaska. Miles out at sea on a freezing night, someone — or something — has massacred a fishing boat's entire crew. Two FBI agents arrive to investigate.

"Found bladed gouges on wood and metal alike, indicating a supernaturally high-tensile-strength weapon," reports one detective, after combing the crime scene. "In the engine room I found and bagged a spent cigar, so we can fare that off to the lab for testing. The lifeboat was still there, so, what? He either had a vessel, or he swam, which would seem impossible given the distance and conditions ... except ... ."

"Except for who we might be dealing with," interrupts his colleague.

"Yeah, except for that, yeah," the first detective sighs.

"This is the Wild West of storytelling," said Percy. "We were inventing the rules as we went along."

While dramas used to be a staple of radio broadcasting, they have been a much smaller part of podcasting. Marvel hired a top-flight cast, including Richard Armitage, best known as Thorin in "The Hobbit" trilogy, as Wolverine. They recorded on sound sets and then used sound design techniques to create a 3D experience on headphones.

Percy created a script aimed at intriguing and terrifying an adult audience. He drew on several inspirations, including the popular Serial and S-town podcasts.

"I saw a lot of potential in this investigative piece, where these FBI agents are sitting down with people and interrogating them," he said. "And what actually happened is in direct conflict, sometimes, with what they are being told."

Percy said he also drew on parts of the first season of "True Detective" and from Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven."

Wolverine debuted in the comics in 1974. Percy worries most film depictions — other than the recent "Logan" — have made him, as he puts it, a little too cuddly.

"He's been in the spotlight, and I wanted to put him in the shadows," he said. "I wanted to re-mystify him. You should know this character has holes in his head. He has been mindwiped so many times that he's not sure what is real and what is not real. He only knows he has done terrible things and he's trying to escape them."

Percy hopes "Wolverine: The Long Night" will attract podcast listeners looking for something new, as well as comic book fans and literature lovers. The series is available through the Stitcher subscription service.

Given the Marvel Universe's wealth of characters, it's natural to ask if there are more podcasts on the way. Percy just smiles and says he can neither confirm nor deny that.

"The Weapon X assassins would be after me, " he said.

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