How 'Wolverine: The Lost Trail' Is Blazing The Trail For The New Medium Of Podcast Audio Dramas

In a cramped, soundproofed room, Richard Armitage is ordering a drink. Or rather, he's ordering a drink as Logan, aka Wolverine, the lead character in the upcoming Marvel and Stitcher podcast drama, Wolverine: The Lost Trail. Standing around a cheap IKEA table and clinking glasses full of water, Armitage and co-star Rodney Henry, who plays a young teen named Marcus Baptiste from New Orleans, read from the scripts on the iPads they have in hand, as if rehearsing for a stage play. Except they do two takes. Then another. Then another. This is no rehearsal, this is the real thing and it's all being captured on a special ambisonic microphone for the second season of the unique Marvel audio drama podcast following the adventures of Wolverine as he searches for his memory and his lost love.

The follow-up to last year's iHeartRadio Award-winning original podcast series Wolverine: The Long NightThe Lost Trail is an anomaly of a podcast, fictional or otherwise. Scripted in the style of an old-school radio play but with modern innovations like atmospheric foley effects and cutting edge audio technology, The Lost Trail is part of Marvel's pioneering of the last frontier that it hasn't yet dominated: podcasts.

"It's still a piece of clay," Wolverine: The Lost Trail producer Daniel Fink told /Film along with a group of journalists visiting the podcast recording at Stitcher Studios in November. "We wanted to push the envelope in the medium, which I think Marvel does in a lot of spaces. But we want to push the envelope of what this content can be, from both a technical perspective and storytelling perspective."

It's a curious next step for a genre that began as the most visual medium you could think of. That's something that the team behind Wolverine: The Lost Trail, Fink and Stitcher Studios' Jenny Radelet Mast had to take into consideration when putting together the second season of the very first scripted Marvel podcast. But Fink said they think they nailed how to "paint a visual picture from the sound perspective."

What is 'The Lost Trail'?

Wolverine: The Lost Trail picks up after the events of Wolverine: The Long Night, in which Logan has made his way from the desolate snowscape of Burns, Alaska, to the bustling, swampy New Orleans in search of his former lover, Maureen (Rachel Holmes). But where the first season was an eerie crime drama in which Wolverine was more myth than man, Logan takes center stage in The Lost Trail.

"Season 1 was a whodunit in [the style of] True Detective or The Killing," Fink said. "This is not a whodunit series, this is an odyssey. Just like The Odyssey where Homer is looking for his wife, there is a searching here and a journey that takes place both in a true physical journey but also, for Logan, a journey within."

But for Armitage, that journey is as much about this unseen Maureen, a new character for the podcast, as it is about himself. "He's lost her and he's on a mission to find her," Armitage said, adding:

"And in a way it's sort of a reversal of the last season, because whereby last time Logan was the hunted, he's now kind of the hunter, the detective. But on another level, and it's something that occurred to me after reading and performing all 10 episodes, I feel like there are so many layers of life that feel very current and relevant on a metaphysical level. But I feel like we've kind of lost our way as people. It's sort of baked into this story that we're trying to find ourselves. Through Marcus and his community, there is a kind of redemption at the end of this trail."

Marcus is a new character introduced in season 2, a young son of a mutant who finds himself sharing a mission with Logan, much to the grumpy mutant's displeasure. But this is "odd-pair" dynamic is something that drives the emotional and character arcs of The Lost Trail, Henry said. "You get to see a different side of [Logan]," Henry added.

And you'll get to see more of him too. The first season skirted around the eponymous character, showing him through the memories of other characters or in brief skirmishes or scenes. But in The Lost Trail, Logan is at the forefront and bringing plenty of others into his fold, including a few familiar comic book names.

More Mutants in Season 2

Marvel fans may recognize the names Remy LeBeau and Jason Wyngarde, played in The Lost Trail by Bill Heck and Bill Irwin, respectively. The two are longtime Marvel characters, better known by their names Gambit and Mastermind in the comics. Where season 1 of the podcast never dared to even say the word "X-men," The Lost Trail is all about the human-mutant conflict taking place in New Orleans, where dozens of both have gone mysteriously missing, including Marcus' own mother. It's a story that could have been ripped right out of the comic books, especially with the presence of Weapon X, which is hot in pursuit of Logan and Marcus as they attempt to uncover the sinister plot by Jason Wyngarde. And this time, the characters in The Lost Trail are not afraid to say "mutant," "Gambit," or even "Wolverine." And with that, comes all the social parallels that mutants were first introduced with.

"In this season, I think there's a sort of social relevance going on at the moment where you instantly feel, 'I need to protect these people who desperately need it, and are kind of ostracized and rejected by society,'" Armitage said. "That's what I bring to Logan. He is a mutant, so he's one of them, but he's also weaponized. So again, there's a love-hate relationship with his community and with himself, so that creates a really good lynchpin."

This becomes most apparent with the character of Jason Wyngarde, which Armitage compares to a certain real-life political figure:

"I'm really fascinated with Jason Wyngard, I think he's one of the most incredible character creations — just this idea of somebody who can manipulate the mind of somebody to believe something that isn't true in the absolute physical here and now, to me that's an allegory for...propaganda. It didn't occur to me until I was reveling in 'wow what an amazing villain,' and then realizing... 'are we living in that time?'"

The word "mutant" itself gains a new meaning, Holmes added. "The thing about mutants, that's just straight Latin, mutare, to change. That's all that means. And as a human, I hope that I'm changing all the time. It scares me, that's why I'm so terrified when I see a leader who doesn't change, no matter what. I wear a ring on my finger that says "believe," I think that's the most dangerous word in any language, "believe." Because it means no matter what's put in front of you, you already made the decision that you won't be changed. So there's something beautiful in how mutant, that word itself is shifted and used differently throughout the second season."

From Visual to Audio, to Visual Again

Comic books began as stories published on pulp paper that could be bought for 25 cents a pop. They were a distinctively visual medium that came to define American pop culture, introducing a new mythology of gods and men, heroes and villains. So how does this distinctly visual medium get translated to audio? Through cutting edge audio technology in the form of an ambisonic, or three-dimensional, microphone.

"[We're] trying to evoke that frame-by-frame feeling," Heck said. "[The] 3D mic... sort of acts like a camera because it captures directionality. We're all in the room together. More these days, you're usually recording your part by yourself, but we're all in the same room, they're setting up a table, we have props. It's this really new technology that's also harkening back to original foley scripted series from the days of radio where you can hear the room."

The microphone technology had thus far only been used for VR recording to capture location and orientation, but Stitcher Studios brought on director and associate director Brendan Baker and Chloe Prasinos from the nonfiction world (Reply All and Love and Radio, respectively), to bring their expertise to revolutionize audio dramas, Radelet Mast said.

"You have to understand that this mic is kind of your stage, it's your camera, it's your lens," Fink said. Within that stage, the actors block, use props, interact with each other and even occasionally, as Heck said, slam each other across the room. "This time, you can get into a room and play, and you kind of forget yourself," Holmes added.

It will never be the same as a comic book, but that's a good thing — it's something new and exciting that Marvel has never done before. "Audio drama podcasts is still a genre within the podcasting sphere that's really undeveloped and untapped," Radelet Mast. But if you're still a little old-fashioned, Marvel and Stitcher have released a comic book adaptation of Wolverine: The Long Night. But although Wolverine: The Lost Trail is something new in the realm of podcasting, it's as old-fashioned as you can get in its employing of a radio drama. And that's all you need to lose yourself in.

The podcast will premiere with the first two episodes on Stitcher Premium on Monday, March 25, 2018 at 12AM PT/3AM ET, with additional episodes rolling out weekly after that.