Friday, July 29, 2005

With My Speaw and Magic Hewww-met!

Let’s go back a few years, to a graphic novel now nearly forgotten. Back…back…back to the wild days of 1990.

Gods. Dragons. Cursed hoards of gold. Love. Betrayal. A hero's broken sword reforged. A ring of unimaginable power. The end of the world. And some really, really loud music.

Yes, it's Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung, a four-opera cycle about the Teutonic gods and heroes, forever immortalized in the Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd epic “What’s Opera, Doc?”

FUDD: Ohhh, Bwuuun-hiwwda, you’we so wuvvwy…

BUNNY (in drag): Yes I knooooow it, I can’t heeeelp it…

Gil Kane and Roy Thomas adapted the story of the Ring into a four-issue miniseries for DC Comics fifteen years ago. Which, on the face of it, sounds like a monumentally bad idea. Even as a dedicated fan of the medium, it struck me as dumb, at best. “Yeah, let’s adapt a sixteen hour opera cycle, an acknowledged masterpiece of art, into a freakin’ comic book…yeah…”

How could it possibly work? Isn't that impossible?

Silly me, I forgot. We’re dealing with Wagner.

Turns out the Ring adapts to comic form quite well. Huge, sweeping visuals and emotions? Simplistic characters? A whole lotta noise? The Ring Cycle, to borrow a term from baseball, falls right into comics’ wheelhouse. Against expectations, the collected edition of the Ring of the Nibelung succeeds as a worthy book.

FUDD: North winds bwow! South winds bwow! Typhoons! Hurricanes! Earthquakes! SMOG!

Wagner fused several Teutonic and Scandinavian myths to create the story. The short form: a dwarf, Albricht, is teased by three “Rhine Maidens,” spirits of the river who guard a hoard of cursed gold. Enraged, the dwarf steals the gold and fashions a magic ring and helmet, and threatens to conquer the world. Meanwhile, the gods get into trouble with the giants and swipe Albricht’s hoard to calm down the giants. The embittered dwarf curses the gold and the ring.

The father of the gods, Wotan, fears that the ring will be used against him. However, he swore an oath not to take it back, an oath he could not break. Thus begins the tale of our mortal heroes. The hero Siegfried, a descendant of Wotan, is indirectly guided by the god towards the ring. By slaying a dragon, Siegfried recovers the cursed ring, keeping it from Wotan's enemies. Shortly thereafter comes adventure, betrayal, love, betrayal, magic, betrayal, and the end of the gods.

So yeah, it’s a busy tale.

FUDD: Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit!!

Roy Thomas’s scripting is decent. According to the opera folks who wrote the forward to the collected edition, the dialogue matches Wagner’s music. My experience with opera is limited (a polite way of saying “I ain’t never been ta one”), so I can’t judge his fidelity to the score. As comic book prose, it’s serviceable. He lapsed into faux-literary prose quite a bit, which he did not do well. However, Thomas did manage to adapt a scattered story into a semi-coherent narrative. How much of that is Thomas and how much is Wagner, I couldn’t say.

Gil Kane’s art? Kane was one of the true greats of the field. A giant. And he’s the best part of the comic. The art is beautiful, dynamic, and clear. Considering the difficulty of condensing the story, that’s remarkable. (I wouldn’t have dressed the gods in Boris Vallejo-meets-Flash Gordon costumes, but hey, I can see why he did it.)

Why dig this up, fifteen years after its publication? Why review it now?

Because dang it, Gil Kane is always relevant.

(P. Craig Russell also adapted the opera cycle into a graphic novel. If’n I get my hands on it, I’ll write a comparison between it and this one.)

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Blogger Brian Cronin said...

"Because dang it, Gil Kane is always relevant."

Excellent point, and in addition, it is always relevant to talk about good comics!

Good review, Brad.

7/29/2005 06:48:00 PM  
Blogger Brad Curran said...

I was going to correct you, but I forgot that Harvey's name is Brad, too. Makes me feel inadequate for not having a cool psudeonym. Or writing a good review. Thanks, you asshole!

7/29/2005 09:43:00 PM  
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