Bring together the Harlem Renaissance, racism, and supernatural action, “Bitter Root” #1 is an exciting first issue from David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene. Read on to see the rest of our thoughts on this series debut issue.
Written by David F. Walker and Chuck Brown
Illustrated by Sanford Greene
Colored by Sanford Greene and Rico Renzi
Lettered by Clayton Cowles
In the 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance is in full swing, and only the Sangerye Family can save New York—and the world—from the supernatural forces threatening to destroy humanity. But the once-great family of monster hunters has been torn apart by tragedies and conflicting moral codes. The Sangerye Family must heal the wounds of the past and move beyond their differences… or sit back and watch a force of unimaginable evil ravage the human race.
DAVID F. WALKER and SANFORD GREENE, the creative team of Power Man and Iron Fist, along with indie veteran CHUCK BROWN(Trench Coats, Cigarettes and Shotguns) bring you 24 action-packed pages of monsters, mayhem, and family dysfunction in a brand-new ongoing series.
BITTER ROOT Cover As by SANFORD GREENE will be connecting through the first story arc.
There is so much to talk about with “Bitter Root” #1, it’s hard to decide where to start. So, I think I’ll start with the very end, the back matter essay that ends the issue. Back matter is often a hit or miss proposition to me. But in this case, the essay, called ‘Deep Roots/ Rich Soil’ almost works to make the review I’m writing moot. It takes an academic approach, and analyzes the influences of “Bitter Root,” making it a cultural critique that is both better written and more thought out than anything I could manage for this review.
It could seem almost egotistical, to include what amounts to an extremely positive critique of the book at the very end of the pages. But this essay engages so in-depth with the background of this series and the influences on it, that it helps to show part of what makes “Bitter Root” #1 so compelling. It helps show how well thought out the aesthetics, the story, the ideas of “Bitter Root” are. But really, the main reason this essay is able to work is that the issue itself is just so damn good.
The issue opens with a two-page spread, a party filled with jazz, dancing, and a couple moving away, to find a little private space of their own. The page is jampacked full of detail, bodies dancing and musicians playing. The pencils, by Sanford Greene have an energy to them. It’s an energy, a kineticism that is packed into every single panel of the issue.
Throughout “Bitter Root” #1, Greene’s panels never feel like still images. His almost cartoonish lines move dynamically around the page. His figures are exaggerated, but never so much that anything feels out-of-place. And on top of the fantastic character and line work, there are a number of stylistic flourishes throughout the issue that bring the entire project together. On this first page, there are musical notes, dancing around the crowd, floating around the panels as the couple leave to find a place a bit more private. But, as something happens to them, and their trip takes a turn for the worse, the musical notes begin to disintegrate, falling to pieces around them. It’s a small thing, but it’s an example of the attention to detail that is found throughout every moment of this issue.
As dynamic as Greene’s pencils and inks are, they would be nothing without the colors, with which Greene had assistance from Rico Renzi. The colors bring the art to life, with two main aesthetics that the issue brings to life. First there is the lush greens and heavy shadows of the forest and scenes without super natural influence. Then, there are the purples and reds of scenes where the supernatural is present. These two pallets help to separate the scenes, and also help to show the transition from a regular scene to something more supernatural, when these color pallets blend together. Every single page, every panel, is full of motion and detail. Every part of the art in “Bitter Root” #1 works together, and it’s all pretty universally great.Continued below
But, as pretty as a book can look, if the script isn’t up to snuff, none of that matters. Luckily, the dialogue by David F. Walker and Chuck Brown is another great piece of the puzzle. Walker and Brown are able to give a voice to give a distinct, particular voice to each of the characters in this issue. Along with the designs of each of these characters, it makes them all feel real, fully formed characters. Even the minor, bit players in this issue, through the combination of dialogue and character acting, feel real and alive.
If there is a problem with the issue, it’s the way the issue as a whole is paced. Within scenes, the pacing works perfectly, from panel to panel, the issue works great. There is a pacing from moment to moment, the panel layouts by Greene, the dialogue by Walker and Brown, and the lettering by Clayton Cowles, make the pacing within each scene work perfectly. However, the transitions between scenes can be a bit rocky.
While the main thrust of the issue, following the Sangerye family dealing with a pair of people transformed into devil like jinoo, works really well, the issue has a few short cutaways to other characters, whose relationship to the main plot isn’t entirely clear yet. These sequences, one which comes in the middle of the issue, and one that comes at the very end, throw off the pacing. It’s a common first issue problem, trying to cram in information about what the series will be, even if it isn’t that quite yet. And while these scenes feel like they contain ideas that “Bitter Root” will be exploring going forward, but they feel so detached from the main story of issue #1 that here they feel a bit out-of-place.
This is hopefully a problem that will disappear as the series goes on, allowing the characters in these small scenes to have some extra space to breath, and become as integral to the story as the character of the Sangerye family are to this first issue. All of the words in this review, and I haven’t even talked about how this issue has an almost all black cast, how it tackles ideas of racism, all while being an exciting, fun story about a family fighting the supernatural. “Bitter Root” #1 is a great comic, and a first issue that everyone should pick up.
Final Verdict: 9.0 – “Bitter Root” #1 is a great first issue, tackling racism and the supernatural, and looking fantastic while doing it.