In a battle between fear and despair, can there ever be any winner? Find out in this week’s review of Bitter Root #4 from Image Comics.
Writers: Chuck Brown and David F. Walker
Artist: Sanford Greene
Colorist: Rico Renzi and Sanford Greene
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc.
Cover Price: $3.99
Release Date: February 20, 2019
Previously in Bitter Root: After the deaths of two policemen at the hands of a monster, violence erupts in Harlem, but that’s not the only place in the country that’s dealing with either monsters or violence. Dr. Sylvester, who himself turns into some sort of monster, comes to believe that he does not need to be cured, but rather that this gives him the means to solve the problem of Jinoo and, by extension, racism. The Sangeryes can barely restrain Berg, who has also become a monster, much less cure him, and Cullen decides to bring Uncle Enoch into the mix. In Mississippi, Ford realizes that the places where Jinoo have been attacking may be gateways – and one of those is in Harlem!
A PROBLEM WITH NO GOOD SOLUTIONS
Bitter Root #4 continues with the ongoing fight in Harlem, a monster attack as an allegory for race rioting, in which many of the monsters are police-turned-Jinoo. A couple of the police do remain human, and Sullivan stays behind to cover for Samuels as he tries to get people to safety. But there is precious little safety in Harlem that night. At the Sangerye establishment, while Blink holds off Jinoo, Ma Etta talks to Berg. She may be old and small, but she is as tough as nails. She reaches him – he may be a monster, but he gets a grip on himself and begs to be allowed to help Blink, and he references the tragedies of 1919.
I looked this up, because I didn’t know this off the top of my head, and in fact, this is something that I had not learned, even with having studied and read a fair amount of history. That year was also known as the Red Summer, with hundreds of deaths due to racial riots across this country. Bitter Root is set not long after that, and suddenly this story took on a lot more clarity for me. That’s where the Sangerye family has had some losses, and one can only imagine how deep this cuts.
As Ma Etta conversationally admits that Uncle Enoch was right, we cut to him and Cullen racing back across town. Along the way, they run into – literally – Miss Knightsdale in her monstrous form. Enoch knows that she is not a Jinoo – she is something worse. Remember, it is fear that turns white people into Jinoo. Black people do not become Jinoo; however, their souls can become tainted and corrupted by great sorrow and pain, a condition called Inzondo. Dr. Sylvester is afflicted by this, but he views it as salvation, as the solution to the problem, as the way to prevent the deaths of his people.
This is an amazing discussion point, even if it has the potential to make people (such as me, a Midwestern white woman) uncomfortable. Racism, and the fear which begets it, are huge problems. Is the better solution to work with Jinoo one by one to try to save them – which seems good on the surface, but which seems too slow to be effective on a large scale, or to become monsters and fight back against them – which means more people could die? (And, knowing the long memories that people so frequently have, will it ever quell the conflict, or are we doomed to keep being drawn in?) I’m not exaggerating when I say this book makes you think.
Ford arrives, in time to remind us about the gateway that he hasn’t found yet. However, Cullen and Enoch are up against Dr. Sylvester, who is letting even more creatures into our world.
The art in Bitter Root #4 is tremendous. There is so much raw emotion on display, and it is shown to us with brutal honesty. The Jinoo are relentless and terrifying. The innocents are absolutely panic-stricken. But I really love the conversation between Berg and Ma Etta. She may be old, but she shows no fear, and her focus is matched by his. Last issue he looked like a mindless monster; here you see him get a grip on his humanity. And when he charges into battle, he is utterly explosive.
Despite the seriousness of the battle and the sheer horror of the story, it has its moments of humor, which is welcome with this degree of tension. Enoch and Cullen’s entrance, where they nearly run into a paddy wagon full of Jinoo, is a breath-taking double-splash, absolutely full of motion and excitement. There are plenty of Enoch’s little guard-creatures throughout, and their expressions are amazing.
The coloring is gorgeous. While the palette for each scene is fairly simple, the use of a contrast color for lighting really makes things pop, and over the linework here, it’s very effective at directing focus and drawing us in so we absorb every detail.
BOTTOM LINE: ABSOLUTELY GRIPPING
Bitter Root #4 is terrific. It takes advantage of being a horror story to show us truths – such as that in this world, it is us – the humans – who are the monsters. Uncomfortable? Maybe, but such is the nature of truth.
Bitter Root #4
A tension-filled monster battle that fearlessly reaches in and pulls out some hard truths.