Bitter Root #1: A Monstrously Vibrant Swing into the Harlem Renaissance

Bitter Root #1 (Image Comics, November 14, 2018)

Bitter Root #1

Chuck Brown (writer), Sanford Greene (artist), David F. Walker (writer)
Image Comics
November 14, 2018

A copy of this comic was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The 1920s brought the social, intellectual, and artistic explosion known as the Harlem Renaissance in New York. Apparently, unbeknownst to those enjoying the swing of things, it also brought monsters. The Sangerye Family can save New York—and the world—from the encroaching supernatural forces, but the once-great family of monster hunters has dwindled to just four members whose infighting and personal beefs are going to do far more damage than the monsters ever could.

Cover for Bitter Root #1 (Image Comics, November 14, 2018) - A male-female duo stands in the center of a circle of angry red-eyed monsters sporting teeth, tentacles, bat ears and more. He points a gun and looks determined, while she wields a staff and wears a calmer expression

Ma Etta, her grand daughter, Blink, and cousins Berg and Cullen each have a role to play in keeping the city safe from the monsters that lurk in the shadows that threaten New York. But they have more than the monsters to deal with. There are other players in the game. And Bitter Root isn’t all monsters and music. Racism rears its ugly, white-sheeted head, and Blink struggles with the gender role expected of her in that time period. Blink and her personal conflict get a bit more attention than the other characters, implying that she’ll be taking the lead in the story. But that doesn’t mean others don’t get their time to shine, even in the first book—most notably Berg’s penchant for extravagant language, which edges on annoying, but only just.

Greene’s artwork is brilliantly vibrant. Even the muted details and shadows of the backgrounds still pop with movement and style, while the foreground and characters practically leap off the page. Action scenes are particularly powerful, flowing smoothly through the movements of each panel. Like their personalities, each character is distinct from head to toe and from every angle. Add the details of their expressive faces and you have a book that is a delight to read from panel to panel, page to page.

As if Greene’s art on its own isn’t enough, Bitter Root boasts a significant number of variant covers from comic art icons like Bill Sienkiewicz and Mike Mignola and subsequent issues promise even more.

I like variant covers as much as the next collector, but I’ve never been quite so smitten by a collection as I am with these. Not that Greene’s cover As aren’t perfect on their own. Each of the initial issues in the series follow a similar colour scheme, with monsters in the back and foreground facing off against a spotlighted member of the Sangerye family.

Although there are several important historical figures who lived during the Harlem Renaissance, Walker told participants at the recent Library Con that he’s a stickler about including real people in the story without reasonable context. However, each issue features historical details about the era in the back matter, making this read as educational as it is entertaining.

Juicy artwork, uniquely expressive characters, monstrous action, and a taste of mystery make the first issue of Bitter Root a deliciously satisfying read.

Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.