Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Bitter Root’ #1, out November 14 from Image Comics.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘BITTER ROOT’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Rachel Acheampong. In the 1920s, Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood was the epicenter for black writers and artists. This unique piece of history, known as “the Harlem Renaissance”, contained a wide spectrum of African-American artistic, intellectual and social expression, and many of its ideas live on today. In Bitter Root, an all-new series from Image Comics, this chapter in time is revisited in a page-turning thriller brimming with mystery, history and family.
And monsters. The Sangeryes has trained for generations to hunt them. And by upholding this virtuous tradition the family has been broken down the middle by tragedy. In this premiere issue from David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, Sanford Green, Rico Renzi and Clayton Cowles, the Sangeryes’ must put their differences aside and heal the wounds of the past in order to protect the future from these supernatural forces of unimaginable evil.
The Sangerye siblings aren’t into keeping with the (admittedly relative) traditional norms of this family of demon hunters. Blink has a keen awareness of her capabilities and who she wants to be. She’s bold, displaying a desire to go against the grain. But Blink isn’t meant to be a fighter. The matriarch of the Sangeryes, Ma Etta, is naturally overprotective of her, preferring the fighting be done by her brother Cullen. (“Men do the brawn work. Women do the brain work,” Ma insists.) And for his part, Cullen is young, eager even, but it’s clear to see from the beginning that Cullen still has a lot to learn about the family business.
So not only is there a family dynamic involved, there is a generational dynamic at play, as well. There are various points about ‘black dialect,’ as exhibited by Ma Etta and the ‘educated’ voice, as given by older cousin, Berg. It’s also made clear that Blink doesn’t share Ma Etta’s ideas of a woman’s place: “Times are changing, Ma Etta,” Blink declares. “Bessie Coleman flies airplanes.” It will be interesting to see how these ideas develop once it becomes clear to Ma that Blink has a talent that novice Cullen hasn’t quite grasped yet.
As for energy, this book has it. The book opens with lively shots from inside one of Harlem’s jumping jazz joints. In this sequence Renzi, the colorist on the book, uses a darker shade to contrast his bright color palette to create a sense of warmth. Dark shades of brown, blue, red and pink help Greene’s distinct features pop. It’s an evocative opening; I could feel the heat rising off of the sidewalk, even imagine myself lining up to dance in the nightclubs. Bitter Root #1 wastes no time in evoking the flavor of Harlem in the 1920s, its residents, and the wider black world. It’s spectacular.
The overarching element of the Harlem Renaissance was a devotion to creating work that would be reflective of the realities of African-American life. It wasn’t about transcending the bitter conditions in which it was forced to exist, but facing them directly. Many of today’s black artists are inspired by the literary aspects of this movement. With this latest bit of literary expression, amid all the supernatural things that go bump in the night, Bitter Root pays tribute to that culture for its humanity, dignity and creativity.
Written by David F. Walker and Chuck Brown.
Art by Sanford Greene.
Colors by Rico Renzi.
Letters by Clayton Cowles.
9 out of 10
‘Bitter Root’ #1 hits stores November 14.