Bitter Root #1 is a comic about monsters. Not just those with ripping claws and snarling teeth (though that’s definitely a big part of it).
Rather, the book is about the monsters that lurk in every shadow, every day. It’s about how those monsters manifest themselves…and how people fight back to protect their own humanity.
Our protagonists, the Sangerye family, are in the business of hunting down monsters called Jinoo. Set against the contrasting backdrops of the Harlem Renaissance and Deep South Mississippi, the family struggle to keep their mission alive in this fresh and poignant allegory of race in America.
It’s hard not to gush about the writing contained in these 24 pages. From a craft angle, Bitter Root #1 is a testament to the skill of writers David F. Walker and Chuck Brown. They hook the reader’s attention right from the opening panels, and manage to not only hold on, but draw you in deeper with each page turn.
There’s hardly any need for narration or framing devices throughout. Instead, we get a clear impression of each character’s personality and their relationships with one another through sharp, believable writing. Each member of the Sangerye family has a distinct, interesting persona and elicits genuine pathos. From Ma Etta’s anguish at those lost serving the family’s cause, to Blink’s frustration with the role she’s confined to, you feel for each character in a unique manner.
Even beyond the skillful storytelling, Bitter Root #1 is a brilliant commentary about race in the United States, both in-period and today. The book hammers home how society lays responsibility for dealing with the monster of racism at the feet of those who experience it, and the shape that specter can take in different environments. But as the authors discuss in their column at the back, there is also “hope in fighting this vicious monster.”
Measuring-up to the impeccable writing in Bitter Root #1 is a high-bar, but Sanford Greene’s artwork hit the mark. The linework is superbly stylish, with impeccable design. The book grounds the reader in the aesthetic of Renaissance-era Harlem, while also throwing-in tasteful splashes of steampunk.
Of course, I can’t neglect the colorwork by Greene and fellow artist Rico Renzi. Bitter Root #1 employs a gorgeous palette of vibrant reds, blues, and purples, allowing supernatural greens and yellows to pop out with an alien quality.
Panels are laid-out with expert precision, catching every beat and matching the action on the page, so the reader never feels lost. The lettering work stands out as well, with the font and weight of the lettering responding to the natural cadence and volume of each character’s speech without fail.
Bitter Root #1 is one of the most promising first issues I’ve seen this year. I expect great things from this series, so buy this comic NOW.