Neil Spiers Reviews Bitter Root #1

Bitter Root #1
Writer:s David F. Walker & Chuck Brown
Line Art: Sandford Greene
Color Art: Rico Renzi & Sandford Greene
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics

My first introduction to anything written by David F. Walker and artist Sandford Greene was their highly entertaining run on Power Man and Iron Fist back in 2016. Taking both characters back to street-level and away from the grand, epic storylines of the Avengers made me more invested in these characters. Witty, fast-paced and full of nods to 70s blaxploitation, all set in modern day New York. Greene’s art was one of the main things that pulled me in and I started to track down more of his work. If you haven’t already, I insist you check Greene and Brown’s webtoon “1000”.

Jump back to 2017 Rose City Comic Con when Image Comics announced that David F. Walker and Sandford Greene would be working with Chuck Brown on a new title, Bitter Root. Set in the 1920s when the Harlem Renaissance was in full swing. Walker then went on to give some background.

“Bitter Root is going to be unlike any comic book people have seen, we're mixing action and horror, with a cast of characters unique to the medium to tell an epic tale of the Sangerye family and the sacrifices they are willing to make for humanity. I'm excited about this series for several reasons. It gives me the chance to work with Sanford again, Chuck, who is a great co-writer, and Image, which publishes some absolutely amazing comics.”
Due to having a love of horror comics my interest piqued and just over a year later, I finally get the chance to read the first issue. Let me tell you, it’s one you must pick up.

Bitter Root looks to follow the lives of the Sangeryes clan, a family that through generations has battled with Demons, Monsters and Jinoo who corrupt human souls. Souls that are consumed by hate and turned into monstrous beasts. You may be thinking that this kind of story sounds familiar. But am going to go out on a limb and say I know of no comic that is set in 1920’s Harlem, where an African American family battles hate filled Demons.

And that’s what makes the writing of this comic exceptional--it features reminders of the real issues black people faced (and still face) in America but integrates them into the supernatural elements of the world. Written by two African American writers who are passionately portraying a critically important time in American History, when white America started to recognise the creative and intellectual contributions of African Americans, who in turn upheld their identity intellectually. But at the same time, there were those that stuck to their discriminatory beliefs. Which is touched on towards the end of issue one, in a brutal but satisfying way. Add to all this the supernatural, and you have something that has never been seen before in a comic. 

Then we have Sandford Greene’s stunningly rendered artwork. Beautiful expressive characters, and monsters that show a huge affection for Jack Kirby. Greene must have spent hours scouring for historical reference material because each character's attire genuinely creates the impression of 1920s Harlem. Panel work is something totally different than what we saw in Power Man and Iron Fist. Action scenes are broken down into single pages but the different use of panel layout make these scenes accentuate the page. Splash pages are there as well in all their action-filled glory. Add to this the colour work by Rico Renzi and Greene, which is lit perfectly in every panel. From subtle purple evening skies to an eerily set forest lynching that goes hilariously awry for the Klan. Colours are beautiful, I’ll just leave it at that.

Yes, I’m gushing about this comic, but I love it. Fun, intelligent, action-packed and unique. The character Berg is one that I adore, such an eloquent beast of a man. I seriously hope people pick this one up. It’s great to see an entirely African American creative team behind this. One that could inspire and motivate others to start creating. That’s always of great importance.