“Only one who is willing to forswear love completely…only that one can forge the ring. And everything in creation wants love…”
Der Ring des Nibelungen, Richard Wagner’s classic and influential cycle of operas originating in the 1800s, remains a hallmark of mythology, music and pop culture to this very day. Written with great ambition over 20 years and brought to life by fascinatingly eccentric financiers and all new tools, the Ring Cycle, is to this day performed and enjoyed by many. It’s a remarkable work of grand and mythic scope, so steeped in the realm of music, utilizing new instruments and even new notions (for their time) such as leitmotifs, that it is hard to translate into anything else. Wagner’s work was meticulously put together, boiling with a grand vision for a complete artwork and experience that was unlike any other, which could be enjoyed by anyone. The Cycle is, as implied, four parts- Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Each stands on its own with its various acts and segments, while adding up to a greater, larger story that builds to a mighty crescendo.
Drawing upon the Norse Mythology, specifically Nibelungenlied and The Völsunga Saga, The Ring Cycle weaved together its own rendition of the great mythic legends about the Norse Pantheon, the heroic Volsung clan, Dwarves, Valkyries, magical weapons and much more. Being a fascinating mix-and-match blend and distillation of an array of contrasting and complex source material, the Cycle is a beast that presents us with a refreshed look at age old stories, much in the same way creators like Jack Kirby would go onto do nearly a century later with works such as Thor, New Gods and even Eternals. The Ring Cycle is the true predecessor to such works we now know and understand so intimately. Adapting such a significant, influential and beloved piece of work is a hard task in and of itself, that is without question. But adapting it from musical opera, a realm all about the the audio, to comics, a medium of absolute silence, with no audio component whatsoever? That’s even more impossibly difficult. And yet, somehow, P. Craig Russell manages to pull off the incredible deed.
Working with the terrific translator Patrick Mason, magical colorist Lovern Kindzierski and dazzling letterer Galen Showman, Russell writes, pencils and inks all of The Ring of the Nibelung, crafting over 400 pages of magnificent and masterful comics. Russell has long been adapting operas into comics, so with years of prior experience aiding him in his ambitious endeavor, he manages to capture the astonishing experience of Wagner’s work. Pacing out key moments and pages, to build the appropriate rhythm or suggest a theme, Russell manages to get to the spirit of Wagner’s own musical approach which utilized leitmotifs to great effect. One might not have music to hear the sound of water droplets, but Russell’s work, especially with silent panels is extraordinary it conveys beats and suggests things, letting the reader’s own mind produce certain effects and in doing so, becoming far more intimate.
Patrick Mason’s impeccable translation also becomes essential here in conveying the spirit of Wagner’s musical, especially matched with Galen Showman’s letterwork, as Russell works with them to imbue the work with an almost lyrical quality, with precise dialogue choices and methods of speech. There’s a poetic beauty to The Ring of the Nibelung which rings out and resonates, making it truly feel like an age old epic myth of grand scope and operatic majesty. Russell is a master of composition, consistently framing his characters and moments with vivid clarity and ingenuity to both maximize impact and convey their visceral emotions, while also getting across their subtle nuances. The team’s ability to convey feeling is perhaps the strongest in the work, as it’s what time and time again makes the work land with the thunderous impact it does.
Kindzierski’s coloring choices are nothing short of astonishing on the work as well. No matter the scene, from raging gods emerging from stormy skies to the smaller and more intimate moments of passion, he’s able to bring it to life. The aesthetic may be retro, especially given how long ago the work came out, but it fits perfectly with the story being told, suggesting a time gone by, whilst enhancing Russell’s artwork. Kindzierski knows and understand precisely when to bring what shade to express the right feeling for the moment and even more importantly, which ones to not bring at all, with some of the colorless pages end up being some of the most striking. And when the story calls for it, the bright, gleaming power of his colorwork is delightful, especially when gold comes into play.
Russell’s art is a tad reminiscent of Mike Mignola and Jill Thompson’s styles and as a veteran like the other two, he brings a keen eye for paneling and clear storytelling with the gorgeous style. It’s minimalist with appropriate texture work and when it needs detail, it’s there without feeling out of place in the slightest. There’s even a touch of Chris Sprouse, especially with Siegfried, which readers will find a lot to like in.
Beginning with the creation of existence and concluding with its renewal, the cycle is a sprawling, mythic saga firmly about love and power. Exploring the struggle and dichotomy between love and power, the book also focuses on the theme of parents and children. The lineage from Voton, the All-Father to The Volsungs and The Valkyries and the lineage from Alberich to Hagen are key points in the narrative and the entire epic hinges on those relationships and how love, as well as power play into them. This eternal, cosmic yet intimate struggle between things makes up the backbone of the entire narrative, delivering a poignant, heartbreaking strike at every necessary turn.
A Wagnerian tragedy full of romance, magic, battle, lust, greed and betrayal, The Ring of the Nibelung is a magnum opus for the ages. One for both Wagner and Russell, the work is a stirring, touchingly potent myth all should experience. It transports you to being a kid discovering myths for the very first time and then it breaks your heart the way the best of things do. As epic as any tale woven by Tolkien or Kirby, this is a masterpiece.