Comics: The Ring Of The Nibelung

Written by Roy Thomas. Drawn by Gil Kane (w/assist by Alfredo Alcala). Lettered by John Costanza. Coloured by Jim Woodring. Edited by Andrew Helfer. Published in 1989-90 by DC Comics.

Summary: A squarebound, four-issue mini-series adapting Der Ring des Nibelungen, Richard Wagner’s epic musical drama, aka the Ring Cycle, based on Norse Legend and the German epic poem Nibelungenlied.

Read more about Der Ring des Nibelungen on Wikipedia. (Saves me writing a synopsis!)

The Ring has also notably been adapted in comics form, at much greater length and more faithfully to the Wagner source, by P Craig Russell in 2000; and of course, there is the two-part 1924 silent movie by the great Fritz Lang, Die Nibelungen. The Thomas & Kane version is perhaps not so different from their work on various Conan projects—it has an old school adventure comics feel. If you like those books as much as I do, you won’t see that as a drawback.

The Ring Book 1
Epic Kane art from THE RING Book One.

One of the key visual differences from the older Thomas/Kane comics would be Jim Woodring’s painterly colours. Jim is, of course, a well-known underground cartoonist, but from the mid-to-late 1980s he also worked for the Ruby-Spears animation studio, at the same time as did Gil Kane. Woodring, I believe, did get to work on some of Kane’s conceptual drawings for R-S (as well as some of Jack Kirby’s), either as inker or colourist or both, and this connection was likely the reason he got this gig for DC Comics, which was his first mainstream comics credit.

(Side note: I used to own the original art for a conceptual drawing Kane did during his R-S period, which he’d inked himself and which was hand-coloured, possibly in marker. I did email Jim to ask if the colouring was his; it wasn’t. Maybe Kane did it himself. I digress.)

Jim’s colour work is pretty interesting here. It’s a little more “bright” than you’d expect from a DC book of the period—a deceptively simple yet artsy feel well-suited to fantasy, which Kane no doubt appreciated a great deal, being famously critical of mainstream conventions. Personally I think it makes Gil’s work look a little more cartoonish at times, but it does fit the subject well enough and gives it a more unique look.

The Ring Book 3
Gil Kane at his best from THE RING Book Three.

Gil’s work is, overall, superb, and the best visuals in this series are amongst his very best work, period. But it is a little inconsistent. To be fair, there are major mitigating factors. While working on this series, Gil got sick with lymphoma (which would plague him on-and-off for the rest of his days), which necessitated a bit of uncredited inking assistance from Alfredo Alcala (also a Conan stalwart, not to mention another Ruby-Spears alumnus) (I’m unsure if Alfredo inked any of Gil’s R-S work—though it’s very likely—but he did ink lots of Kirby’s stuff). It’s been said a number of times that Alcala only assisted on Book Four of this series, but IMO while I see little trace of his hand in Book Three, I’m sure he is nominally present in Book Two (see below). He does a reasonable job of suppressing the full extent of his own, florid style and emulating Gil’s trademark forthright inking, but it’s not a perfect match… better than I’d have expected, though.

The Ring Book 2
These panels, especially the third, show traces of Alfredo Alcala’s work, from THE RING Book Two.

I love the visuals in this series. It’s worth it for the drawings alone. Luckily, Thomas does a great job with the script, too—Roy’s real niche has always been fantasy more than superheroes, I think, even though he has done some excellent hero work (the Kree-Skrull War arc in Avengers may be his pinnacle)… his best work on Conan is unsurpassed in the comics adaptations. The Ring isn’t quite up to those peaks, but it’s very good.

Of interest to Thor fans, too, would be the Norse Mythology link. Wagner naturally used the Germanic variants, so one-eyed Wotan is of course one-eyed Odin, and Donner is not meat from a kebab but none other than Thor himself—brother of Wotan’s wife, not his son! The differences are curious and fascinating, but it’s easy to spot who the various folks are. (Similar fun can be had from reading of the Roman variants on Greek mythology.)

The Ring is a pretty typical fantasy adventure, really, but it does have adult themes which are not spared in this deluxe, mature readers format—Gil gets to draw naked breasts for the first time since his work on Blackmark in the early ’70s, and the ill-fated lovers depicted in book two (“The Valkyrie”)—Siegmund & Sieglinda—are long-lost twin siblings who don’t think twice about their union when they realise their true relation.

The Ring Book 4
Title page art from THE RING Book Four.

If you haven’t seen this series, it comes highly recommended! There was a TPB collection which is now OOP; buying the individual issues may be cheaper.

While I’m here: I have owned a number of Gil Kane originals over the years… currently, I own this signed splash page layout for Savage Sword of Conan #8, which I think it pretty neat.

Savage Sword of Conan 8 pg1
Gil Kane original layout art for page 1 of “Corsairs Against Stygia”, SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #8, 1975.

Bookcase Cleanup

My living space is pretty cramped at the moment, but I did tidy up the bigger of the two bookcases last week. Trying to make the best of it until I have more space, I guess… and it always feels good to clean things up.

Anyhow, a few snaps of some of the shelves. It’s only part of the books I have, but some of the more rare/valuable ones are here (such as, in particular, the first editions of the Bernie Wrightson Frankenstein and Lee-Kirby Silver Surfer books). This stuff is very heavy on graphics novels, for sure, but I do have proper books too!

BTW: two of the Marvel Omnibi, as pictured at the right of pic 1, were paid for by selling Providence #1-12 (full set, Alan Moore) and Batman Damned #1 (first edition, bat-dick)—who said modern comics were worthless? 🙂