When hate and evil turn people into the monsters known as Jinoo, the Sangerye family is there – not just to hunt them, but to save them! But there’s a new Jinoo in town – what can this mean for them, and all of us?
Writer: Chuck Brown and David F. Walker
Artist: Sanford Greene
Colorist: Rico Renzi
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: November 14, 2018
It is 1924, and the midst of the Harlem Renaissance in New York. The Sangerye family has been here since 1905, tracking down monsters and attempting to save and purify their souls – which is not as easy as task as it might sound. The family has gotten smaller over the years, but the monsters keep showing up and must be dealt with.
THE SANGERYES AND THE JINOO
Bitter Root #1 is a mature readers’ book, and some pretty serious issues are front and center. That said, it is a terrific read. We’re introduced to the setting right away, as it starts out at a jazz club in Harlem in 1924. A couple walks home from there through the park, even though word is that it isn’t safe, and when we last see them, it’s in a panel framed by something with claws.
The next night a couple police are leaving the Sangerye establishment. One of them says they give him the creeps almost as much as the things they caught in the park. “What do you mean?” says his partner, “They’re your people.” I’ll tell you right out, this book deals with racism and ostracism – the Sangerye’s are fighting the good fight, but their particular fight is so weird and their methods are so strange, that it sets them apart by more than just their race. We also learn that it didn’t use to be that the police brought things to them, but there simply aren’t enough of the Sangeryes left to do all the tracking themselves. This discussion is between Ma Etta, the matriarch, and Blink, a young woman.
Meanwhile, up on the roof, two more of the family (Cullen and Berg) are fighting a Jinoo. Or rather, Cullen, who is young and needs the practice, is fighting one (wearing a pack and special gauntlets), while Berg observes and pontificates. I love Berg’s speech patterns – he uses some wonderful vocabulary and it has great cadence.
The sound of the fight echoes through to downstairs where the women are working on an herbal serum. Blink wants badly to go up and fight. Ma Etta insists that in this family, the men do the brawn work and women do the brain work. Blink is really a fighter though, (and this is 1924 after all!) and before too long she storms up to the roof and takes down the Jinoo. Quite handily, I might add. She was born to be a fighter.
A pigeon watches all this, and it flies back to the lab of Dr. Sylvester and his assistant, Miss Knightsdale. Dr. Sylvester needs to know what the pigeon saw, and does this by eating it alive (thankfully off-panel, although we do see some blood spatters). He does see everything that happened. We also learn that they are making some kind of serum, perhaps similar to what the Sangeryes make, but their formula is weak. They want to get the Sangeryes on their side, but for what, we do not yet know.
Back at the Sangerye establishment, their serum is done, and Blink brings it up to Cullen. Injecting this turns the Jinoo back into humans, who are rather confused. Cullen and Berg take them to the park to release them, and are heard by two beat cops, one of whom is rather on edge, anticipating that it might be the “creeps” who have been attacking people. The cops come across Cullen and Berg – two black men carrying two white people. You can just imagine how this goes over. Berg beseeches them to talk to Sullivan – the cop who knows them and what they do. And then it is apparent that they see something behind the cops. Berg tells them not to shoot, but the tense cop does anyway. Berg deflects the bullets, and an enormous Jinoo kills both policemen and flings Berg aside.
And that isn’t the end of the story yet. That same night, in Mississippi, a KKK lynch mob prepares to hang a young black man on suspicion of messing with a white woman, which he did not do. But a black man with a futuristic gun shows up and shoots them all. It’s a hell of a dramatic place to end an issue.
VIBRANT TO LOOK AT
The art style fits Bitter Root #1 so well. It’s a bit loose, and figures have somewhat exaggerated expressions and a cartoon-like flavor. But it is gloriously full of movement and feeling. The opening splash at the club is full of music and people having a good time, which contrasts darkly with the couple who leave to go home through the park.
When we meet the Sangeryes, each is so distinctive. Ma Etta is small and somewhat wizened, yet hard as steel underneath. Blink has Josephine Baker curls at the sides of her face – she’s young, modern, and determined to forge her own way. Her fight scene with the Jinoo is glorious. And the Jinoo – we don’t really know exactly what they are or why they look like they do, but these have teeth, horns, reddish fur, claws, and horrible tongues. It’s like something out of a nightmare.
The color palette is so interesting. A lot of this story takes place at night, and there are a lot of rich purples and dark magentas, sometimes lit with orange as a contrast. There is continued great use of color contrast to make important details pop, such as the bright green tubes of Cullen’s gauntlets and pack (and also used for the serum), or the bright yellow of Berg’s staff, or the red of a monster’s eyes. The scenes of the park and Mississippi at night both use a lot of deep greens. It is beautiful to look at, and so intense that I find it powerful.
BOTTOM LINE: A STRONG START TO AN AWESOME STORY
Bitter Root #1 is action packed and really neat to look at. The story is upfront about racism – and the associated hatred and fear that are behind it – which the monsters represent literally as well as figuratively. It is a fascinating touch to have the monster hunters not just killing the monsters, but releasing the humans from having become monsters, which is also strongly symbolic. This is a book that has something to say, is set in an interesting time period, and is told from a point of view we don’t see enough of. I highly recommend this one.
Bitter Root #1
Bitter Root #1 is action packed and really neat to look at. The story is up front about racism – and the associated hatred and fear that are behind it – which the monsters represent literally as well as figuratively. It is a fascinating touch to have the monster hunters not just killing the monsters, but releasing the humans from having become monsters, which is also strongly symbolic. This is a book that has something to say, is set in an interesting time period, and is told from a point of view we don’t see enough of. I highly recommend this one.