Review - Bitter Root #1 (@ImageComics)

"Now, dispense with the lollygagging and pay attention to the task at hand before you do get killed--which would be most insalubrious."

Racism is an institution at this point. It's something that's so pervasive throughout every society that it's practically unavoidable; despite best efforts by some to the contrary. Society kind of sucks right now, which is why a book like Bitter Root #1 is a welcome breath of fresh air. The issue is written by David F. Walker and Chuck Brown, illustrated by Sanford Greene, colored by Rico Renzi and Greene and lettered by Clayton Cowles.

In the 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance is in full swing, and only the Sangerye Family can save New York—and the world—from the supernatural forces threatening to destroy humanity. But the once-great family of monster hunters has been torn apart by tragedies and conflicting moral codes. The Sangerye Family must heal the wounds of the past and move beyond their differences…or sit back and watch a force of unimaginable evil ravage the human race.

To say that Walker and Brown are tapping into unspoken anger would be an understatement, but their approach does it in a way that doesn't feel heavy-handed. The premise behind the book essentially puts a literal (monstrous) face on racism and tasks the Sangerye family with being responsible for fighting it one monster at a time in order to make society a better place for everyone. Walker and Brown make it work exceptionally well as the issue progresses, slowly revealing to the reader the history behind the Sangerye family and how they've fought tenaciously for the better world they envision. There are elements of Hellboy in the book's structure that are further embellished by a social message that racism is ever-present and perhaps attaching a physical manifestation to the concept will have a greater impact in relaying that presence. There's also a scene in the issue relevant to issues of today, in that Berg and Cullen Sangerye as attempting to move some of their latest successes to safety when they're confronted by trigger-happy police; that type of powerful message seems just as relevant during the Harlem Renaissance as it does in present day.

Greene uses a very frenetic drawing style for Bitter Root #1 that fits the book's tone perfectly and evokes comparisons to Rob Guillory. Each of the characters are illustrated very uniquely with Greene paying attention to certain details that seem to define them as characters; for instance Cullen is illustrated with an attention to his youthful naivety while Ma Etta shows an more statuesque face that conveys immense wisdom. There's a variety of panel layouts throughout the issue as well that work well to keep the story moving. Greene also does a lot with shadows that cast a darker pall over the book befitting of its focus on fighting monsters. The colors by Renzi and Greene are relatively uniform by event in that multiple page spreads tied to something happening all have a similar color tone to them.

There's certainly a lot to unpack in Bitter Root #1--everything from the book's message to the content itself--but society needs a lot of that unpacking. The Sangerye are doing an almost thankless job in fighting the monsters terrorizing society, but they know someone has to do it. The script by Walker and Brown is ridiculously solid, parlaying a reliable, monster-hunting concept into a treatise on society and how it treats others. Grene's artwork is a perfect fit for the book in that it captures the calm ferocity of the Sanerye family in their constant battle against anger and hatred. Bitter Root #1 is a book that everyone should check out when they get the chance, especially now when such poignant reflection is more important more than ever.

Bitter Root #1 is available November 14.