Character, Personality & Art Save Bitter Root #1 From Conventional Storytelling

by Josh Davison

[*Mild Spoilers Ahead!]
The year is 1924, and the place is Harlem, New York. A family, named the Sangeryes, lives here and protects humanity from an ancient evil. The names of that evil have changed, but it’s now called the Jinoo. The Sangeryes are few, but they continue the fight. Berg, an elder member of the family, is attempting to instruct Cullen, a younger member, the ways of fighting the Jinoo and curing people of the evil’s hold. Meanwhile, Blink chafes in the tutelage of Ma Etta. Blink wants to be a part of the fight, but Etta tells her that it’s not her place. The Jinoo is alive and active in New York, and the Sangerye are all that stand in its way.

Bitter Root #1 cover by Sanford Greene and Jarreau Wimberly
Bitter Root #1 cover by Sanford Greene and Jarreau Wimberly

Bitter Root #1 begins the new and ambitious fantasy series about racism and survival from creators David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene. Walker and Greene’s Power Man and Iron Fist was among my favorite Marvel titles in its time, so my expectations going into this were pretty high.
I can’t say that I’m disappointed with Bitter Root, but I can’t say my expectations were met either.
It suffers from a first issue sickness that many fantasy comic series about mystical forces, clandestine orders of heroes, and establishing those forces in a specific time period face (see also, Magic Order, which Bitter Root is far better than). The story is almost predetermined; we have to learn about this secret order and the evils it fights, how the secret order fights the evil, and meet the characters in the margins.
Bitter Root #1 does better than many stories like this by putting characters more in the forefront. Blink and Cullen are very promising characters. Berg is pretty annoying, though; the trope of smart characters using ridiculously over-elaborate language to display their intelligence does him no favors. Nothing about the Jinoo particularly stands out, but we don’t get too much about what the Jinoo actually is either.
Bitter Root has personality, and that goes a long way in making this first issue actually readable. Also, watching a dude with a steampunk gun cap klansmen is pretty damn awesome.
Bitter Root #1 art by Sanford Greene, Rico Renzi, and letterer Clayton Cowles
Bitter Root #1 art by Sanford Greene, Rico Renzi, and letterer Clayton Cowles

Sanford Greene’s artwork does not disappoint in the slightest. Greene may be one of the most interesting artists currently working when it comes to pure stylism, and the personality and identity he can imbue into a world is sometimes staggering. You can discern many things about a character drawn by Greene upon first seeing them. He also makes the Jinoo creatures look downright awesome. The color work from Greene and Rico Renzi is phenomenal as well, giving the world a slightly psychedelic and mystical visual atmosphere.
Bitter Root #1 is tripped up by some of the tropes of its narrative, but its characters, personality, and artwork help it rise above the drawbacks of its predictability. Walker, Brown, and Greene have something interesting here, and I hope to see it flourish in issues to come. This one still earns a recommendation. Feel free to check it out.
Bitter Root #1 comes to us from writer David F. Walker, artist Sanford Greene, color artists Sanford Greene and Rico Renzi, letterer Clayton Cowles, and cover artist Sanford Greene with Jarreau Wimberly.

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