Thomas said the story of Siegfried -- the teen hero of the last two operas in Wagner's cycle -- is an important origination myth for contemporary heroes who are becoming "less and less likable." "Nowadays, it's all about the flawed hero. And so was Siegfried. He's a snotty kid," Thomas said from his home in South Carolina. "Maybe his attitude is due to the fact that he doesn't have time to grow up. He has to slay a dragon, resurrect his lover and then die."
Thomas later embarked on another "Ring"-related project by writing a graphic-novel version of Wagner's cycle for DC Comics, featuring illustrations by Gil Kane and published in 1989.
And then there's Wotan, the king of the gods and Siegfried's grandfather. DC Comics found a place for him as an enemy of the Green Lantern and Dr. Fate, but in a vastly altered form. Whereas Wagner's Wotan is a powerful, one-eyed deity with ambiguous motives, the DC Comics version is a goblin-like villain who wears a green cape and red tights.
Still, the two Wotans share a number of traits: They both have the power to shape-shift into different beings, and both are able to hurl destructive bolts of electricity. More recently, Wotan has appeared in Cartoon Network's "Batman: The Brave and the Bold."
Marvel's Thor and DC's Green Lantern are both being made into feature films -- with "Thor" directed by Kenneth Branagh -- that will likely be seen in 2011.
The fanboy allure of Wagner's "Ring" is difficult to explain, but some say that the attraction comes from the intensely pictorial nature of the operas, which can appeal to those weaned on comics.
Wagner, who studied theater and drama at university, was said to visualize his operas before composing them. He wrote his own librettos and spent several years conceiving the "Ring" project before composing a single note.
In his 1955 memoir "Surprised by Joy," C.S. Lewis recalled that his first encounter with the "Ring" wasn't via the music but through an illustrated adaptation by Arthur Rackham.
Lewis' account of the incident conjures a striking mental image -- "pure 'Northerness' engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer. . . ."
L.A. Opera's production is being staged by Achim Freyer, a theater director who is also a painter. Freyer's interpretation employs a succession of frieze-like poses that have more in common with the sequential imagery of a comic strip than traditional stage production.
Others say that the comic-nut appeal of the "Ring" lies in its total-immersion complexity -- its profusion of characters, gnarled family trees and multi-chapter timeline. Like a long-running comic-book series, the narrative of the "Ring " can be difficult to grasp for the uninitiated. Those who comprehend its many intricacies can claim a nerdy superiority.
Rob Tapert, a co-creator of "Xena" who is now working on the series "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," said the entertainment industry's attraction to ancient heroes such as Wagner's is cyclical in nature due to advances in screen wizardry.
"The technology has changed and that means you can tell these stories all over again," he said from the "Spartacus" set in New Zealand. "These stories have withstood the test of time. It's really a matter of how we can do it all new for a new audience."