“Bitter Root Volume One: Family Business” is a brand-new release by David Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene that was nominated for a Best New Series Eisner. It comes to us from Image Comics, and is available from May 15, 2019. The story takes place during the Harlem Renaissance; basic premise surrounds the Sangeryes family, who were the greatest monster hunters of all time.
The women of the family make serums from Fiif’no root which can be used to cure the monsters known as Jinoo. The Jinoo are what happens when hate and irrational fear combine, corrupting a human soul. Racism turns people into Jinoo, and the root work done by Ma Etta and Blink turns them back. Berg and Cullen, the Sangerye men, aim to fight the Jinoo. Cullen is a novice fighter, but Berg hopes to make him more competent. Blink would rather be battling with Berg, but Ma Etta fears losing another daughter.
Things get complicated when Berg and Cullen encounter a creature that is significantly larger and more powerful than the Jinoo they’re used to tackling. The new creatures are unique because, in addition to being bigger and more powerful than the monsters they typically fight, they can also speak.
…and that’s just a little bit about issue one of the five included in this volume.
I really can’t say enough good things about Bitter Root. As one might expect, the historic setting gives the series, at least up to this point, a very nostalgic feel. Despite this, the story and plot move quickly. Things move so rapidly, in fact, that I find I enjoy Volume 1 more with each read through.
Sanford Greene’s artwork is beautiful. His characters feel like real people caught up in a fantastic situation rather than something completely detached from reality. Part of this might be attributed to the realness of the setting. However, regardless of where the story is based, that isn’t common in horror comics. The people, regardless of their importance to the story-line, all have incredibly expressive features.
Their emotions shine through every panel which is wonderful for setting and conveying tone. This is especially true across scenes or when shifting from one setting to the next. The action scenes are stunning and dynamic, while the monsters themselves are just as visually interesting. Other creatures are also inventive and fun, which is a nice change of pace from the grotesque Jinoo.
My only criticism of Bitter Root would be that some of the page layouts aren’t the most intuitive, but since the story is one you’ll want to read back through it’s not a hindrance. It just makes you think a bit harder as you read. This story is one worth taking time with, and giving deeper consideration to, as opposed to just a cursory glance. In a way, the creators are doing their readers a favor by making us focus as we read.
Between the visual storytelling and the plot, a great deal of world-building and story development occurs in the first few issues. Thankfully, they also leave many questions unanswered, so you’re perpetually left wanting more. Do yourself a favor — if you haven’t read Bitter Root go ahead and start with Volume One: Family Business. It is the perfect place to begin the series, because any single issue will leave you craving the rest. Invest now, before you have more to catch up on.
In addition to the comics themselves, Family Business contains the variant covers of the different issues. It also features several character additional designs and sketches, further cementing Sanford Greene’s remarkable talent, alongside fan art for the series.
Family Business also shares what the series calls ‘Bitter Truths.’ The first was a letter from two of the creators, Chuck Brown and David F. Walker, about the horrific events which occur throughout regular life. Human misery is a tough topic for a letter, but it’s an even tougher topic for a comic and they accomplish both with ease.
Likewise, quotes from Toni Morrison, WEB DuBois, and James Baldwin are intermingled with artwork at the end of the book. Essays from John Jennings, Dr. Kinitra Brooks, Dr. Regina N. Bradley, Dr. Qiana Whitted, Stacey Robinson, and Dr. Ceeon D. Quiett Smith on history, popular culture, and race also feature. The thoughtful essays at the end of the Family Business shed further light onto the cultural and creative context of the series and the world we live in. A must-buy and a must-read, several times over.