Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Apparently Audio Comics Are a Thing

After our recent move across the country, I found myself working from home and often not leaving the apartment for days at a time. Without my usual commute, my exercise/calorie balance was super off. There isn't really anywhere to go around here, but luckily our apartment has a fitness center - right on our floor! My only problem was that I can't really walk on a treadmill in silence and I am still enjoying a podcast-free life. So I needed something to keep my ears busy while working out. That's when I discovered audio comics.

I think I sorta heard about audio comics before, but I never really thought much of them. I think I assumed they were more of an accessibility feature for the blind and visually impaired, like descriptive audio for movies and TV shows.

But they seem to be marketed to everyday comic fans... well they're not marketed well at all since I have never heard anyone talking about them but I thought it'd be something fun to listen to on the treadmill. And it was!

I've never listened to an audio book before. Katrina listens to them all the time and when headphones aren't involved audio books never seemed to interesting to me. A lot of them just seem like someone reading the book to you - which is still a great thing for the blind, dyslexic, anyone who wants a hands-free reading experience, etc.

But I have heard about more complex audio books. Apparently the guy who read the audio book for the last Harry Potter book won an award for doing a distinct voice for every single character. That's impressive.

The audio comic I chose to listen to first was Marvel's Civil War. I've heard it can be hard to get into audio books and it is recommended to start with a book you've read before. Civil War was the story that first got me into comics and it's one I've reread a bunch, so I figured it was a good place to start.

Civil War's audio adaptation isn't just someone describing what's on each panel and reading the dialogue. Each major character is portrayed by a different voice actor and there's a dynamic array of musical score and sound effects. At the beginning of the recording the narrator described the series as "A Movie in Your Mind" and that's exactly what it feels like.

The prologue is a cold open. It's a word for word, panel for panel adaptation of the New Warriors bungled reality show that ends in a massive explosion that sets off the series of events that lead to the iconic war. In the original comic, this scene in question is only seven pages, but the audio version expands it to about twenty minutes.

Extra description is used to set the stage and build on the atmosphere, as well as introduce all of the heroes and villains. At the conclusion of the prologue, the credits are read - a nice touch that really drives home the idea that this is more like a movie than a book. After my first workout session with the audio comic, I took a break, had lunch, and was so excited to hear more that I went back for a second run the same day.

The rest of the story is adapted pretty much the same. However, some scenes are moved around, some are omitted entirely, and some are original to this adaptation. For the most part this comes down to simplifying the overall narrative, which was a first of it's kind massive crossover event.

Things like a one page scene where Cap visits the X-Men are cut. Dialogue scenes are expanded. The famous Spider-Man press conference includes a full breakdown of exactly what the Superhuman Registration Act requires. To streamline things, the narrative is focused a bit more on its main characters: Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Mr. Fantastic, and the Invisible Woman with some of them being transplanted into other characters' roles. 

But there were also changes that pulled me out of the story a bit. Because the adaptation was produced many years after the original comic was published in 2007, some scenes are changed to fit them in with the MCU. Mentioning that Tony revealed his identity as Iron Man was only a few years ago instead of decades ago, while jarring, helped keep this adaptation standalone. Other throwaway references to things like Obamacare are really out of place.

At first I figured all of these changes were made for the audio version of Civil War. Then I found out that this audio comic isn't exactly an adaption of the original comic. This is actually an audio version of a novelization of Civil War. So that means that a significant portion of the work was already done for them.

Not to make this a review of the Civil War audio comic itself, I did poke around Hoopla to see what other audio comics there were. Marvel has quite a few, including Days of Future Past, Astonishing X-Men, the Death of Captain America, and Ms. Marvel. As far as I can tell, some of them are based on novels and some are not.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1 and 2 are both about 90 minutes despite covering about as many issues as Civil War, which was adapted into a novel that became an audio comic at over six hours. So the ones based directly on comics are probably shorter because there is less fluff added. Which makes sense. Civil War was a big story with dozens of major players that needed to be reworked a bit, whereas Kamal Khan's first adventures tell a relatively small story.

I know DC also has some of their own audio comics, some produced by the same company that did Civil War. And there are a few originals out there... although I am not sure it counts as an audio comic if it's not adapted from a comic. Adding a superhero to what is otherwise just an audio drama doesn't make it a comic. In any case, I am definitely all-in on audio comics and am totally ready to check out some more.