Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘The Ring of the Nibelung’ TPB, out January 2 from Dark Horse Comics.

The Ring of the Nibelung

Cover to ‘The Ring of the Nibelung’ TPB. Art by P. Craig Russell/Dark Horse Comics

by Mickey Rivera. P. Craig Russell is known to be one the best illustrators of the old-school, 1980s-era fantasy school. His work evokes all the best aspects of antique fantasy illustrations such as Ivan Bilibin and Art Nouveau, blending it into the American pulp comic tradition so seamlessly that kids reading his work in 1982 may have mistaken him for an old wizened master. He is perhaps most well known for his adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories starting with 1979’s Elric: The Dreaming City, and also for his work with Neil Gaiman on various Sandman stories, including the Ramadan stand-alone tale.

Russell’s love of fantasy led him to appreciate an oft-overlooked and oft-dismissed, sometimes ridiculed genre of drama and music which was all the rage among the educated elites of the 18th and 19th centuries: opera. The man loves his opera, and it’s not hard to see why when one considers the fact they were as close a thing as people in olden times had to a blockbuster superhero movie. Russell has made a ton of opera adaptations throughout the years. But there is only one which he considers his magnum opus, and that is The Ring of the Nibelung, his adaptation of what’s often considered the king of all fantasy operas: Der Ring des Nibelungen, also known as The Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner.

Some background on the opera: It is based on ancient Germanic mythology, with its story catalyzed by a dwarf who steals a mythical piece of “Rheingold” which gives its bearer immense powers. The dwarf fashions a ring from the Rheingold, prompting ambitious gods and others to come after him and take it. Like Tolkien with The Lord of the Rings, Wagner drew from these European myths (specifically German) as a way of telling a story about the perils of ambition and covetousness. (It might be worth addressing the fact that Wagner was a legit anti-Semite, but this doesn’t really factor into the material.)

Russell’s adaptation of this epic old opera gives him the opportunity to show off what he does best. Almost every page of The Ring of the Nibelung is packed with ornately drawn fantasy landscapes, mythical swords and clothing, scheming Gods and heroes. Being cut from ancient cloth, this story’s characters are rarely purely good or evil, but instead a problematic mix of strong-willed emotions: jealousy, pride, greed, all the usual suspects. There is incest, patriarchy, and revenge — the bread and butter of Western mythology.

The Ring of the Nibelung is for those who adore Russell’s intricate and iconic style, a style which harks back to a time when it was becoming clear that comic books were giving birth to contemporary mythology. It can be a slow read at times, with characters that speak with antiquarian gravitas befitting the operatic tradition. But the artwork has the clarity and mystical air of comics like Prince Valiant. It’s a lovely book, and worth delving into if you have an appetite for classic fantasy.

Dark Horse Comics/$24.99

Written and illustrated by P. Craig Russell.

Translated by Patrick Mason.

Colors by Lovern Kindzierski.

Letters by Galen Showman.

Edited by Daniel Chabon.

7.5 out of 10

‘The Ring of the Nibelung’ TPB hits stores January 2.

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