Book Review: Bitter Root

“Fear is what you should be feeling now – it is the thing that fills your diseased mind and grips your blackened heart…for it knows what is coming next.”

Bitter Root is a gritty new graphic novel set in 1920s New York, in which a dysfunctional family of monster hunters dedicate their lives to fighting hate-fueled mutants called ‘Jinoo’ and a new breed of monster lurking in the background. Described by academic John Jennings as part of the emerging “EthnoGothic” genre of race-focused horror, the book successfully manages to be both nightmare fuel and food for thought in the vein of modern classics like the 2017 film Get Out.

With an intriguing story by David F. Walker and Chuck Brown accompanied by Sanford Greene’s violent yet vibrant artwork, Bitter Root is yet another completely unique work of art from Image Comics that is completely accessible by anyone searching for a good read. Each page is full of mystery and action as the different elements of this all-new fictional world are revealed bit by bit, and different perspectives are raised to ask the question: can racism be cured?

Over the course of the five-chapter tale, we are introduced to the six members of the Sangerye family, including wise old Ma Etta, the ever-eloquent Berg and his somewhat naive apprentice Cullen. Each character has an awesome ‘steamfunk’ design and their own unique voice, creating exciting and entertaining dynamics as they bicker over how they should deal with each monster.

Artwork by Sanford Greene, courtesy of Image Comics

Shifts between each scene are made clear by Sanford Greene and Rico Renzi’s bewitching colour palettes, which maintain the book’s grim atmosphere while keeping each page a visual delight. The dynamic and expressive art style makes it a real page-turner, swiftly driving the reader towards the crazy conclusion which satisfyingly wraps up this debut adventure while leaving the overall narrative open-ended for future instalments to pick up on.

In fact, this 144-page volume reads a little too quick for the price. It can easily be finished in a single sitting, and it’s a shame that the story ends once the reader has just started to get familiar with the Sangeryes. Luckily, the back of the book is filled with extras such as art spreads from some of comics’ finest current talent and a series of essays on the Harlem Renaissance that highlight Bitter Root as one of many milestones in African-American culture and entertainment. 

While some might find the brevity of Bitter Root frustrating, especially with no word of a sequel as of yet, it’s definitely still a great book to read and discuss with fellow fans. Plus, with a feature film adaptation in the works, this is a new franchise you should really be keeping an eye on – so grab your Jinoo-hunting goggles and order a copy from your local comic shop today.

By Jamie Morris

Feature image artwork by Sanford Greene, courtesy of Image Comics

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