The root of fiif’no plant can be used to purify the souls of people who become the monstrous Jinoo – or to kill them. Which is the better solution? And who is the mysterious monster who knows the Sangeryes by name?

Bitter Root #2 ReviewBITTER ROOT #2

Writer: David F. Walker and Chuck Brown
Artist: Sanford Greene
Colorist: Rico Renzi and Sanford Greene
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: December 12, 2018

Previously in Bitter Root: During the time of the Harlem Renaissance, the Sangerye family works hard to purify the souls of Jinoo – humans consumed by hate and transformed into monstrous creatures. Berg supervises the training of Cullen, who needs to fight them, and has to improve his skills. At the same time, Blink is learning from Ma Etta how to prepare the serum that purifies the Jinoo. They save a couple of people, and as Cullen and Berg take them to the park to let them wake up and return to their lives, they are confronted not only by the police, but by a new monster.

INTENSE STORYLINE AND STUBBORN CHARACTERS

Bitter Root #2 is an intense story, and one of the things that I really like about it is the sense that the characters we meet have something inside that drives them. We see some of the motives for a few of them; for others, those motives may run deeper, but there is a strong sense that there is something there. I think this is what makes the compelling. Whether we like them so much or not, we can certainly respect them.

This issue opens where the last one ended, in southern Mississippi in 1924. Under a noose, suddenly the only survivors are the young black man who was the intended victim, Ford Sangerye, and a young white man. He accuses Ford of killing everyone – but he hasn’t yet. The hooded bodies rise as monsters and then Ford dispatches them.

Back in Harlem, Cullen is trying to help Berg. The white people (formerly Jinoo) are starting to wake up. The creature, which is humanoid but very bird-like, identifies Cullen as a Sangerye and tells him to step aside. One of the policemen regains consciousness enough to shoot the monster, to no avail; it swipes a claw through him. Cullen grabs Berg’s staff and attacks, but Berg advises him to retreat as the monster flings him aside. It proceeds to grab the two purified people and stalk away with them.

At the slaughter in Mississippi, the young white man accuses Ford of killing his folks in cold blood, to which he retorts that they were getting ready to lynch someone, so he doesn’t think that what HE did was cold-blooded. Things are obviously tense. Ford is prepared to kill the young man, but he then admits that they weren’t really his folks, and he’s never actually lynched anyone. Ford knows this to be the case, because this one – Johnnie-Ray Knox – did not become a Jinoo. Ford advises him to keep his soul clean, whatever that means.

In another part of New York, Dr. Sylvester is working in his lab when the creature from the park shows up, carrying the two people. Dr. Sylvester is happy that the creature spoke to Cullen and Berg – it is time for the Sangeryes to know they’re in the picture. And the creature transforms and becomes Miss. Knightsdale. We learn a little more about what’s going on. The Sangeryes still believe in purifying the souls of the Jinoo, and their serum is the strongest purifier. But Dr. Sylvester and Miss Knightsdale need the souls of the purified to keep themselves alive, with whatever it is that they’re becoming.

There’s another scene in Mississippi as Ford returns the young black man to his grandparents. They know his people, and lament that there aren’t enough purifiers left any more. Ford tells them he is no purifier – he prefers to amputate. “But,” the grandfather asks, “ain’t they… human deep down inside?” Ford gives them his special gun and a few shells, and tells that that soaking pellets in fiif’no root pulp is what kills the Jinoo. When Ford leaves, Johnnie-Ray is there, waiting. He saw that the dead men weren’t men and wants to know what happened. He also thinks he knows where there are some more Jinoo.

At the Sangerye establishment, Cullen brings Berg in. Cullen says he thinks they were attacked by a Jinoo, but he’s never known one to speak. Blink says that’s not possible. Ma Etta cuts them both off – it was not a Jinoo. It is something that causes an infection.

CHARACTERS THAT ARE FULL OF CHARACTER

Make no mistake, Bitter Root #2 is a dark story. Many of the Sangeryes have a fair amount of optimism, although Ford is cynical, but what they’re faced with is pretty horrible. We see that right from the start. Johnnie-Ray is justifiably horrified and desperate, and he doesn’t yet see the monstrous faces of his former fellows behind him. Ford has scars across his face and looks resolute and really hardened. The contrast between the two of them is stark, and we clearly understand the heightened emotions running through them.

The same goes for the fight Cullen and Berg have. The monster that is Miss Knightsdale is huge and terrifying, powerful and very fast indeed. When we see her looming over Cullen, there is no doubt that she could have stopped him, had she wanted. The contrast between her monstrous self and her normal self is stark. That’s one of the things that makes the scenes with Dr. Sylvester so creepy – things quiet down a little, and he seems like just a normal, if somewhat mad, scientist. That they need purified souls to feed on reminds us that they are horrifying. And they’re complicated – they may want to somehow work with the Sangeryes, but they also seem to be diametrically opposed to each other.

BOTTOM LINE: ANOTHER FANTASTIC CHAPTER

If you like horror, and especially if you like horror that has relevance in our world, read Bitter Root #2. It is deep and thoughtful, well executed, and a rip-roaring good read. It’s such a great take on the theme of the monsters within us and how we can deal with them. And read through the entire issue – there are a couple great essays at the end.

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About Author

By day, she’s a mild-mannered bureaucrat and Ms. Know-It-All. By night, she’s a dance teacher and RPG player (although admittedly not on the same nights). On the weekends, she may be found judging Magic, playing Guild Wars 2 (badly), or following other creative pursuits. Holy Lack of Copious Free Time, Batman! While she’s always wished she had teleportation as her superpower, she suspects that super-speed would be much more practical because then she’d have time to finish up those steampunk costumes she’s also working on.

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