Review: Stitcher's Marvels Podcast
Stitcher's 3rd Marvel collab illustrates the strengths and drawbacks of the podcast medium.
Between November of last year and the end of January, Stitcher released weekly episodes of Marvels, its third podcast collaboration with Marvel (if you missed them, you can see my reviews of seasons 1 & 2 of the Wolverine podcast). The show is based on the 1994 Kurt Busiek comic of the same name (magnificently illustrated by the iconic work of Alex Ross).
Even as a former comic book fan, I was pretty skeptical I'd enjoy this podcast. For starters, whereas I thoroughly enjoyed the first season of the Wolverine podcast, Wolverine: The Long Night, I was less enthusiastic about its follow up, Wolverine: The Lost Trail. A big reason for this was the change in format between the two seasons. Long Night followed a pair of federal agents on an investigation (with Wolverine acting as a critical supporting character with limited lines); this essentially allowed the podcast to operate similarly to other investigative podcasts (Limetown, Serial etc.). And we all know that investigation just works via audio. Lost Trail on the other hand took a more conventional comic book approach as we follow Wolverine/ Logan on his adventures and see (or in this case, hear) lots of action along the way. For perhaps obvious reasons, action works less well with audio. What might make for a magnificent fight sequence in film is reduced to a series of shouts and grunts when all we have are our ears.
The other reason I was a bit skeptical of Marvels was that the primary superheroes it deals with are the Fantastic Four. This could certainly be a matter of personal taste, but I've long found the FF perhaps the least interesting of all of Marvel's top tier of characters (which perhaps at least is a contributing factor to why their movies are so abysmal).
To put it simply, I was wrong to be skeptical. While Marvels doesn't have the atmosphere or mystery of Long Night, it engages listeners by borrowing from the playbook of that podcast to put us in the POV, not of superheroes, but of a group of reporters (one of which happens to be voiced by Method Man) trying to understand why the Fantastic Four would fake an alien invasion in New York City. The story has added interest in how it takes place in the 1960s during Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement, and over the course of the ten episode run, we see several fun cameos by Marvel favorites. By the end of the podcast's run I was left with a kind of dual feeling. On one hand, the Marvel/ Stitcher team-up once again satisfied. On the other hand, I wondered how many types of stories other than mysteries or investigations the podcast medium could support if Stitcher had additional Marvel podcasts in the works. I suppose we'll have to wait and see.
Bottom line: if you're a fan of comics and the superhero genre, give Marvels a listen.