For Your Consideration: Dark Horse’s The Ring of the Nibelung

Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger


by Robert Greenberger

Depending upon your age and upbringing, you may have first encountered the stirring “Ride of the Valkyries” either in “What’s Opera, Doc?” with Bugs Bunny or the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now. Either way, you know the music and many can identify it as coming from the beginning of act 3 of Die Walküre, the second of the four operas constituting Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.

But, how many of you know the complete story?

The Ring of the Nibelung

The Ring of the Nibelung


It has been adapted to comics form before, but the definitive adaptation was produced by the classical artist P. Craig Russell. His work was collected previously by Dark Horse Comics in a 2014 hardcover, long since out of print. Now, though, you can obtain the 448-page softcover edition of The Ring of the Nibelung. The adaptation won the Eisner Award and will feature characters and situations you will come to realize you have seen used elsewhere.

“I’ve been an opera fan since I was a kid, so I was familiar with the music. But mostly I was just looking for a good story to tell, outside of the mainstream superhero Marvel comic sort of genre, which is where I started as a professional. When the opportunity came up to do comics outside of the mainstream, and with the opening up of so-called ground-level comics in the late 70’s, it was just sort of a natural fit,” Russell told Rebecca Rafferty in the Rochester City News.

The Ring of the Nibelung: The Rhinegold #3

The Ring of the Nibelung: The Rhinegold #3


So, what is the story?

The German composer Richard Wagner wrote this cycle of four epic music dramas drawing characters from the Norse myths and the Nibelungenlied, an epic poem from circa 1200 which told the story of the noble King Siegfried and of the fair Kriemhild. It took Wagner 26 years to write the cycle — Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold), Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), and Siegfried, Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) — between 1848 through 1874.

The Ring of the Nibelung: The Valkyrie #3

The Ring of the Nibelung: The Valkyrie #3


The overall story arc involves a magic ring (no, not the one ring, this came first and inspired Tolkien), forged with stolen gold by the Nibelung dwarf Alberich. When Wotan (no, not the Spectre villain) steals it to pay the giants Fafner and Fasolt for constructing Valhalla, he schemes to get it back which propels the story. It stretches through the years until his grandson, Siegfried (no, not Roy’s partner) obtains it after slaying Fafner the dragon. He, in turn, is killed by Hagen infuriating Siegfried’s lover the Valkyrie Brünnhilde (no, not the member of the Defenders) who grabs the ring to return to the Rhine maidens before committing suicide on Siegfried’s funeral pyre. Got that?

Interestingly, at the outset of his artistic career, Russell already knew this was on his To Do List. He told Comic Attack, “By the end of my first year I knew one day I’d adapt The Ring of the Nibelung and that it would be one very big project. Once I started The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, I knew I wanted to do all nine and that it would be spread over many years. Likewise, the opera projects. I knew I wanted to do 12 and I’ve completed 11. The opus numbers were simply to let readers know what might be missing if they were following my work. I once had a plan to do 100 or 101 opus numbers but now, with the development of the graphic novel, projects seem to be longer and require much more time to complete so I might not get there.”

The Ring of the Nibelung: Siegfried #1

The Ring of the Nibelung: Siegfried #1


He declared his intention to adapt 12 operas and then move on but this work may be his crowning achievement.

“One difference in adapting an opera or a play from a novel is that in the opera or play, it’s all dialogue. There are stage directions, but the story is told entirely with words, with dialogue between the characters. Where in a short story or a novel, you have a lot of descriptive writing, a lot of sections that simply describe what you’re seeing. The author can describe a person’s internal state, what they’re thinking or what their position in society is, which is much more difficult to do in a play, where you have the people talk to each other. I find that a play or opera is in a way easier to adapt because it’s all told through this dialogue and action. The book — you just have a lot more decisions to make as to what to leave in, what to take out. There is just a lot more sculpting going on with a novel than with a play or an opera,” he told Rafferty.

The Ring of the Nibelung: Gotterdammerung #1

The Ring of the Nibelung: Gotterdammerung #1


Russell has been the subject of a documentary, Night Music: The Art of P. Craig Russell, and when it came out, he told Westfield’s Roger Ash, “There are those moments where the most thrilling part of the opera is when someone just plants themselves in the center of the stage and sings this enormous piece about whatever is happening; their emotions, their ideas, their feelings. The words themselves might be trite, but the music is so profound that you have this tremendous emotional connection to what they’re saying. If you put those same words down on the flat page, all that triteness is revealed. I had to come up with something else; some visual structure that gives that same emotional punch at that point. That’s when the form really becomes visual and the solutions are visual. Not easy! Sometimes you struggle with it for weeks. When I was doing Pagliacci, which was published as The Clowns, the next to last page I think I did 15 versions of before I came up with the one that, to me, seemed to work and get that excitement across.”

It is lyrical, powerful, exquisitely illustrated and a great introduction to the cycle before you actually sit down with the four musical works.

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