Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Bitter Root, Volume 1: Family Business

Bitter Root is a breath-taking piece of historical fiction/horror. It takes place during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's and stars the Sangeryes family, the world's greatest monster hunters. They are a motley bunch, including the hulking Berg, his diminutive cousin Cullen, elder stateswoman Ma Etta, and the disgruntled Blink, who feels she is being held back because she is a woman. There are other members of the family, too, and they are memorable both for their personalities and the unique roles they play in the family and the family business.

When humans become corrupted by fear and hate they devolve into creatures called Jinoo, and the Sangeryes specialize in battling and curing these monsters. However, in the course of this book they learn that there are things worse than Jinoos out there, things even more crafty and evil, and that is where much of the action and intrigue derive. This book contains the first five issues of the series, and I could not read it fast enough. Each chapter is a page turner, and each one ends with a compelling cliffhanger.

However, this book is multi-faceted. Not only does it feature superb action and plotting, it also provides a strong dose of scholarship. It contains bevy of historical analyses and essays from scholars in diverse discipline that give much context to the goings-on in the book. It offers much material to visit and revisit upon further readings, both in terms of an excellent story and its supplementary essays.

Bitter Root was written by David F. Walker and Chuck Brown with art by Sanford Greene and Rico Renzi. Walker is known for his work on multiple comic books series from different publishers, though I am partial to his runs on Power Man & Iron Fist and Luke Cage. Brown has been self-publishing comics for years now, and he also has worked for major publishers like Marvel and IDW. Greene has done lots of covers for Marvel Comics and has collaborated with Walker on the Power Man and Iron Fist series and with Brown on a webcomic called 1000. Renzi has worked as a colorist on a ton of comics series, most notably Spider-Gwen. Brown and Walker both share their thoughts on the Bitter Root series in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read have been glowing. Publishers Weekly concluded, "Comics fans will look forward to future volumes of this energetic dark fantasy that effectively mixes thrills and scares." Thomas Maluck wrote that the story "explodes off each page with thoughtful plotting, unique character designs, thematic color palettes, and shape-shifting lettering that always fits the bombastic and gentle moments alike." Tonya Pennington commented that "the characters won me over with their personalities, personal strengths, and weaknesses."

Bitter Root was published by Image Comics, and they offer more information about this trade paperback here. The series is ongoing, with a summer special already published and a sequel series promised to drop soon. Also, the series has been optioned for motion picture rights by Legendary Pictures.

The series does feature monsters, blood, and some gore, so I suggest it for readers mature enough to handle them.

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