Cover of the ’79 Ariel Books edition of BLOODSTAR

I find the fantastic work of Richard Corben endlessly inspiring. Tonight I dug out my cherished copy of BLOODSTAR and treated myself to a re-read. This classic tale of post-apocalypse sword and sorcery is a great example of why Corben is a legend.

BLOODSTAR is an adaptation of my favorite Robert E. Howard story, “Valley of the Worm,” but it is so much more than that. One of the first true graphic novels ever published, it originally saw print in 1976 and was reprinted in 1979 (I have the ’79 edition from Ariel Books). Rather than doing a straight adaptation of Howard’s “Worm,” Corben and his collaborator John Jakes crafted a longer, more detailed story and wove Howard’s tale into their own creation.

Whereas Howard’s tale is set in the primordial age of humankind, BLOODSTAR tells that same story as the “Act 3” of a drama that occurs in the distant future, after mankind has been driven back into the stone age by a cosmic catastrophe. This is actually quite fitting, however, as Howard intended his original story of Niord the Worm-Slayer as an archetypal monster-slaying legend that was played out again and again through history. So it makes a kind of weird sense that the story would play out in the far future as well.

Howard’s barbarian character Niord is renamed Bloodstar, and he’s given a much richer history in this tale of tribal warfare, jealousy, vengeance, and primal love. What Corben and Jakes added to Howard’s concept was a depth of character for the admittedly savage tribesmen who inhabit the tale.

The story of Bloodstar’s heroic self-sacrifice to avenge his slaughtered tribe is told in the form of a flashback by his old friend Grom. Grom is telling the story to Bloodstar the Second, the son of the original hero. Grom reveals how his tribe and Bloodstar’s tribe went from war to peace, and how Bloodstar spared his life and became his friend.

Grom’s narrative carries through the blossoming romance between Bloodstar and Helva, the chieftain’s daughter who is ordained by tribal custom to wed Bloodstar’s friend Loknar when he takes on the duties of chieftan. As in any good romance, true love cannot be denied, and the passion between Bloodstar and Helva bursts forth and results in Bloodstar’s banishment from the tribe. Helva, Grom, and Bloodstar form a singular family unit in the wilderness and enjoy a peaceful existence and the birth of a son.

When Bloodstar and his family attempt to return to the tribe of Aesir they discover a terrible slaughter. At the same time Helva is abducted and the trail leads to the cursed valley where Grom’s people believe a demon called the King of Northern Abyss dwells.

Without giving away the plot, which is far more intricate than you might expect from a sword and sorcery book inspired by 30s pulp and retooled in the mid-70s, let me say that the final confrontation with the hideous, Lovecraftian monstrosity of the cursed valley is the stuff of legend. It is in this confrontation that the adaptation cleaves most closely to Howard’s classic tale.

BLOODSTAR has never been reprinted as far as I know, but you can still find copies on eBay and from various comics retailers. If you’re a Corben fan, it’s a must-own. If you’re a Robert E. Howard fan, likewise. And if you haven’t yet discovered the genius of Richard Corben, there is no better place to start than BLOODSTAR.

Now, it’s time to re-read my way through Corben’s other masterpiece, the DEN series.