The Ring of the Nibelung
Craig Russell (Writer and Artist), Lovern Kindzierski (Colours), Galen Showman (Letters), Patrick Mason (Translation)
Dark Horse Comics
2 January, 2019
The three maidens of the Rhine have, for eons, safeguarded the Rhinegold, a magical gold that give its possessor the power to rule the world. But to possess it, one must relinquish all love, so as to fashion the Rhinegold nugget into a ring. Who could ever do such a thing?
Alberich the Nibelung dwarf, cast out from his people to dwell in a dark cave, hears the maidens’ sweet song to the Rhinegold and rises to the surface. He tries to lure the maidens to him, but they tease him and run away. This angers him so much that he curses love, and thus forges the Ring of the Nibelung.
High up in the sky, Voton the All Father has made a terrible mistake. He gambled with the giants Fasolt and Fafnir and, in jest, promised his sister-in-law Freia as prize. But when the giants come to collect, Voton is unable to accede to it. Fortunately for the gods, the jester Loge has a plan. He knows of the Ring of the Nibelung and has a plan for Voton to steal it and exchange it for Freia’s freedom. But the ring comes with a terrible curse. One that will affect Voton’s beloved child, the Valkyrie Brunhilde, and the hero son of the star-crossed lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde, Siegfried. As betrayal becomes the name of the game, the balance of the universe will be set right, or destroyed, by those who wear the ring.
This epic, mega-sized book collects four volumes of Dark Horse Comics’ The Ring of the Nibelung, a graphic novel adaptation by P. Craig Russell of Richard Wagner’s famous opera of the same name. With 450 pages to its name, this is a doorstop of a graphic novel and equally as engrossing. The four volumes—The Rhinegold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried, and Gotterdammerung: The Twilight of the Gods—are Russell’s magnum opus, created from 2000 through 2014.
What is most fascinating about this story is its origin: Wagner’s play. Russell had his work cut out for him adapting an opera as a graphic novel, but it is something he has had experience with. He previously adapted Mozart and Strauss. Still, adapting The Ring of the Nibelung is no small feat, and that, in itself, is reason enough to be captivated by the book.
It helps that the story is incredibly fascinating. Gods and giants and Valkyries; tales of love and revenge and betrayal. These are what epics are all about. Russell took some liberties with the source material and with Patrick Mason’s translations, as mentioned in the notes at the end of the book, but the plot never loses its thread.
The Ring of the Nibelung feels very much like a story ahead of its time. There are moments in this narrative where my jaw dropped from the unexpected twists. This tells you something about Wagner’s imagination, that his story still has that power two centuries later! There are plot points that I really didn’t expect here and, though the female characters are mostly relegated to being damsels in distress, I was pleasantly surprised at how powerful the Valkyries were, even though their story is curtailed by Voton being an ass.
I did find some of the dialogue a bit dreary, and I wondered whether a few pages could have been shortened. The scene where Siegfried forges his father’s sword, Nothung, feels needlessly overlong, and though I realise that Russell was being faithful to the beats of Wagner’s music, some scenes didn’t translate as well onto the page as others.
Russell’s art is beautiful, and it gets more detailed the further you read. I was particularly fascinated by his renderings of the human characters. Their expressions were spectacularly life-like. It seems like a strange thing to say, but the art in this book that really stood out for me were the panels with no colour. I felt like these were packed with more detail and shaded better.
This is not a slight against Lovern Kindzierski’s gorgeous colours. We’ve seen Kindzierski’s work in Gabriel Rodriguez’s Sword of Ages, and he clearly has a way with colours for epic stories. His colouring of the human characters’ faces, particularly his expert use of light and shadow, is a marvel to behold. Though most of this book is stunning to look at, it’s the close-ups of the faces that will arrest the reader’s attention.
Considering the era that this comic book is being published in, the visual material could have been more refreshing. I appreciate Russell’s attempts at grounding his visual work in the time that Wagner created The Ring of the Nibelung, but for modern audiences, this book looks a bit derivative. The mermaids, for instance, look like Ariel and her sisters from The Little Mermaid. It would have been interesting to see a different interpretation of these fantasy characters. Loge the Jester looks like he could be a twin for Puck from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The scene where Siegfried draws the sword from the tree—an obvious nod to the tales of King Arthur and Excalibur—could have been depicted differently as well. On the other hand, the characters’ faces, many of which were modeled on real actors, look far more original, and draw the reader in with their expressiveness.
The lettering in this book did disorient me, however. I didn’t like the constant font changes, even if it was to depict the varying tones the characters adopt when they speak. I much preferred the speech bubbles being altered, such as the red-white gradient speech bubble for Loge, or the rectangular bubbles for the giants. Those were much easier to read and helped to identify the characters better.
If you love fantasy, this story is definitely for you. You can spend a solid day, or a weekend, reading this book, immersed in an incredible tale and in the lives of characters so unlike anything else you might encounter. Highly recommended for every comic bookshelf.