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From 'The Mighty Thor' to 'Xena: Warrior Princess,' Wagner's influence runs deep in superhero land

April 10, 2010 |  9:00 am

Thor What do Thor, Xena, Hellboy and "X-Men's" Jean Gray all have in common?

Besides being popular superhero figures with big cult followings, they can trace their roots all the way back to 19th century composer Richard Wagner and his four-opera epic "The Ring of the Nibelung."

Wagner's 17-hour tetralogy is considered one of the most influential operatic works ever written, but its tentacles reach beyond plush concert halls and into the ink-stained studios of some of today's most prominent comic-books artists.

(Los Angeles Opera's first-ever presentation of the complete cycle kicks off May 29.)

P. Craig Russell, who has worked on numerous comic franchises such as Dark Horse's Hellboy, said that Wagner has been a source of inspiration for years. He said there's a clear evolutionary line from Wagnerian characters like Wotan to contemporary superheroes like Superman.

Comics330Perhaps the most influential of all of Wagner's creations is Brunnhilde, the Valkyrie protagonist who is typically portrayed wearing a horned helmet. 

 Wagner's intimidating she-warrior has inspired the creation of many modern female superheroes -- most notably Xena, the sword-wielding protagonist played by Lucy Lawless in the popular television series.

As more superheroes like Marvel's Thor make their way to the big screen, the time is ripe to look back and examine their twisted Wagnerian roots. 

Read the full story in Sunday's Arts & Books section, and be sure to check out the photo gallery too.

-- David Ng

Photo: The Mighty Thor. Credit: (c) 2010 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.