Marvel Comics has kicked off new scripted podcast, Wastelanders: Old Man Star-Lord, and it’s so big it’s starting up its very own universe. Written by X-Force and Wolverine writer Ben Percy, the series is his second scripted podcast with Marvel after Wolverine: The Long Night launched three years ago. Percy is joined by a star-studded cast, including Timothy Busfield (The West Wing, For Life) as Star-Lord, Chris Elliott (Schitt’s Creek, Eagleheart) as Rocket, and Nadine Malouf (High Fidelity, The manageLooming Tower) as Cora with Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives) as Emma Frost, and Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon, The Color Purple) as Red.
To gain some insight into the production of an audio drama like Wastelanders, Marvel Comics gave us a chance to speak to Percy about the series. We discuss the writing process for a scripted podcast and how this story is entirely original but does owe its creation to the “Old Man” creators (i.e., titles like Old Man Hawkeye, Old Man Peter Quill, and, of course, Old Man Logan). It’s a story that is set in an alternate future, apart from Marvel’s 616 universes, where an older and slower Peter Quill and Rocket serve as some of the last heroes on Earth capable of saving the day. Well, what’s left of it, at least.
Percy also gets into how this production was different from Wolverine: The Long Night, whether or not we might see the Wastelanders cast at the celebrity-filled Hellfire Gala, and more. You can start listening right now on SiriusXM.
AIPT: With the launch of Wastelanders: Old Man Star-Lord, what can fans expect when they listen?
Ben Percy: It has all the saltiness of Old Man Star-Lord. You can shove as much of that in your ear as you want on the first day.
AIPT: And is it a 30-minute show?
BP: You know, it’s flexible. It’s elastic. Sometime it’s around 27 minutes. Sometimes it’s 36. We’re not, we’re not limited in a strict sort of sense. The first episode is meatier. It’s longer.
AIPT: So it’s like, streaming like TV shows like, they’re not beholden to the commercial break.
BP: I mean, we still have those mid-roll breaks in there. But yeah, you can go short or go long. It just the story dictates the form.
AIPT: With two seasons of Wolverine the Long Night under your belt, how does it feel to kick off a second scripted podcast series with Wastelanders?
BP: It’s a blast to write for audio, you know, it challenges me to come up with new storytelling techniques. When I first started writing Wolverine: The long night, I realized that my my arsenal wasn’t going to carry over. The way that I told a story as a novelist, the way I told the story as a comics writer did not apply. I can talk about this in so many different ways. Like, how do you write a fight scene in audio? How do you completely bewildered your audience? How do you orient your audience? If you’re reading a comic, or if you’re watching a movie you sort of take for granted all of those visual cues that you get. Here they are, it’s night. Or they’re on the docks by the ocean, and it’s foggy. Here they are in a cave here. They are in a kitchen and a tea kettles about to boil. How do you supply those via audio in a way that feels organic and not clumsy. Not forced into the dialogue. So that it’s not overly expository.
One of the things that I figured out was in studying S Town and studying Serial and studying Homecoming, that all of these podcast series were interrogative. Homecoming is about a therapist talking to a patient. S Town and Serial are about investigators, sitting down with people asking them questions. So I tried to figure out a way in which I could do that with the audio drama. So with Wolverine the Long Night, you have a group of federal agents who are investigating a series of murders, they sit down with somebody, they ask questions, they’re like, “What’s your name? You know, what were you doing this night?” So the person might be like, “Well, I was, you know, out of my craft boat going out on the water. It was still dark out. When I came across this ghost vessel floating in the water. All the crew seem to be gone. It was unmoored. I climbed up on board to look around” …and here’s where you start to immerse yourself into that environment. You hear the squeak of boots on the deck, you hear the waves lapping and the past infects the present. And I wanted to do something similar to that with Old Man Star-Lord. I wanted to come up with a way to frame it. So that this audio experience felt naturalistic, but it was also an efficient vehicle for transferring information.
And so the framework instead of having federal agents as the point of view, instead, I have a Rigellian Recorder as the point of view. A Rigellian Recorder is a sentient robot, they’re sent out as scouts by the Rigellian Empire, they are recording history. Game changers. New geographies, new civilizations throughout the universe. And so this Rigellian Recorder is accompanying our heroes. And sometimes it ends up here or there. I won’t give you too many spoilers but it’s kidnapped at one point so that we you know, are following somebody else. But as a result of that, you are housed in the Rigellian Recorders point of view. This surveillance device that is sentient, but is asking questions, and is contextualizing everything with these data entries. It was a true pleasure writing this, it’s always a pleasure playing in the Marvel sandbox. But the one of the reasons that it was such a pleasure is that it was such a challenge, because here is comics, a visual medium. How do you completely reinvent that to give your ears a party.
AIPT: How do you write this ear-party? Obviously, when you’re doing a comic script, you’re writing for the artists? When you’re writing this are you thinking about sound effects? Or is that someone else’s job? Is that integrated into the script?
BP: No, it is very much integrated into the script. If you look at a movie script, or TV script, you’re not supposed to be too bossy, right? Right. Or you’re not supposed to talk about camera angles, or or belabor special effects. More is better. In that, you know, we’re all in conversation, you know, the production team, the director. We’re all in conversation as I write. I’m turning in multiple drafts. But oftentimes, the question is, what is this sound? Like? How do we provide a better auditory clue here, as to what’s going on and so forth? So you will find all sorts of ambient details in the script related to the sound design? Now, I’m not going to take credit for how awesome it sounds. That’s the job of the audio wizards. Yes, radio plays have been around for a long time. But these audio dramas are radio plays on steroids. There is sort of unlimited potential to what you can do with sound design now. And so we’re kind of inventing things as we go along. And sometimes the question is, “Is that possible? Let’s make it happen.” Let’s figure it out.
AIPT: So you’re you’re not out in your backyard doing explosion sound effects that you send over to Marvel? You’re not a trained foley artist? [laughs]
BP: You know, the previous two seasons of Wolverine were shot in a Foley studio, with the actors wrestling each other and slamming each other against walls and crunching the grass. In this case, because of COVID that was impossible. But nonetheless, it still sounds fantastic. That has a lot to do with not just the actors, and the director being together on Zoom and creating this crazy fun interactive environment that I was able to spy on. Yeah. But also the audio producers. Just crazy with what they can do.
AIPT: Were there table reads with all these incredible actors?
BP: Yep. Every day, you know, there’ll be a new Zoom. Yeah. And I would hop on and listen to, you know, Chris Elliott and Timothy Busfield. And that’s amazing. Danny Glover and Vanessa Williams. It was amazing. Sometimes on the fly we’d be, “Ah this line. It just sounds a little clumsy.” It sounds more like writing than it does something that somebody was saying so I you know, edit it in real-time for the actors.
AIPT: Did they get nervous knowing God was there potentially changing the script on them?
BP: [laughs] No, they’re the gods. The screenwriter is the lowest man on the totem pole.
AIPT: Wastelanders is dubbed the beginning of an all-new original scripted podcast universe. Is there any pressure that it’s the start of a podcast universe? It’s not just one podcast?
BP: Sure. But you know what, we have great bedrock from the comics. You know, I’ve been a longtime fan of the Old Man-ah-verse.
AIPT: I like that terminology.
BP: Like what [Jeff] Lemire and and [Andrea] Sorrentino did. I’m talking about what Ethan Sacks and Robert Gill did. All the goodness that came out of those various series and everything from Old Man Quill, Old Man Hawkeye, Old Man Logan. This is not a direct adaptation of that. But it wouldn’t be possible without that foundation either. And so I hope that this will draw more people to the comics, because they’re fantastic. We are creating our own universe here. It’s separate from the MCU. And that’s the same thing we were doing with Wolverine as well. You look at the history of the characters. And and you sort of are able to tip your hat to that, but you’re playing on your own 40 acres which is fun because you’re not constrained by anything somebody’s done before.
AIPT: Right, and we don’t know what to expect from Dr. Doom to Rocket Raccoon with crazy techno cane.
BP: And you know, I got to write a bunch of villains that I love. Never written Dr. Doom before I’ve never written Kraven. And I approached Kraven as a kind of–Cormac McCarthy is one of my favorite–Cormac McCarthy and Werner Herzog had a love child.
AIPT: They should put that on the poster or the advertisements or for the Kraven movie that was just announced. Why didn’t they hire you to be Kraven? I think you’d be good at it.
BP: Just put me in a bear suit and I’ll run around.
AIPT: So it’s way too early to be asking this question, but I have to ask. Wolverine The Long Night ended up getting a comic book adaptation. Might we anticipate a Wastelanders comic book adaptation?
BP: You know, I would doubt that. But you never know. But because we already have all these great comics that exist. I’d rather people just rush to those.
AIPT: That makes sense. We mentioned Chris Elliott and Vanessa Williams, Danny Glover. Getting to watch these actors on these Zoom calls and these table reads, is there anyone who really impressed you or stands out? What’s your favorite performance in this?
BP: Well, I mean, Danny Glover is a legend, of course. He’s in the trailer, you’ve probably already heard it. And Vanessa Williams as Emma Frost, there’s no one more regal than Vanessa Williams. That was incredible to see her take on that authoritative role. The majority of my time was spent listening to Chris Elliott, and Timothy Busfield. That are the title characters they were in the studio every day. They would just rapid-fire go back and forth at each other. I’m not sure if they have a relationship, but they sounded like machine guns, sort of machine guns going back. And they were riffing off lines and snarking at each other in real life as well as on the mic. I was laughing here at home at my desk to the point where my kids who were home from because of, you know, the pandemic shutting everything down. You know, my kids would wander in my office, “Are you watching a YouTube video?!” I think that was Chris Elliott ranting.
AIPT: If they’re improving did they end up swearing? Because they’re getting into it so much.
BP: Yes. Yeah. Or Chris Elliott would say something like, “Oh could you work on this line? Ben?” And they’d go “Yeah, Ben. Why don’t you write something good?!”
AIPT: Do you get any lines in the Wastelanders?
BP: No. I just recorded a commercial for Pandora though. You might be listening to some some Biz Marquee and John Prime and my voice might, you know, pop in and growl at you and say “listen to Marvel’s Wastelanders Old Man Star-Lord.”
AIPT: That must be fun because it’s a different muscle to flex right?
BP: I’ve recorded audio books. I go around doing lectures at universities and at literary festivals and such. I’d be happy if anybody wanted to recruit me as a Pixar villain. I’m available.
AIPT: We know Marvel has invited a bunch of celebrities to the Hellfire Gala. So I’m curious. Might we see any of the Wastelanders cast at the Hellfire gala as well?
BP: You know, there are so many people who show up at the Hellfire Gala. I am honestly not sure, they could be there. I mean, the art that I’m looking at X-Fore and for Wolverine, there might be 100 different cameos, just in those two issues, including me! I show up in a flannel tux, of course.
AIPT: Did you guys manage to fit Waldo into the Hellfire Gala?
BP: I’m guessing somebody put Waldo [in the books]. We’ve got celebrities, musicians, sports stars, Marvel writers and artists, Marvel editors, the publicity team. You can go over that thing with a microscope. Lotta easter eggs.
AIPT: Now I’m going to look for Danny Glover.
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