July 22, 2024

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Comic Review: Bitter Roots Volume 1

An African American family uses its knowledge of roots to fight racism...racism that appears in the form of demonic possession.

Well, looks like I got another batch of trades read, so it’s time for a bunch of reviews this week.  True, that Young Justice rewatch post held this slot yesterday, but that doesn’t mean I can’t put up four quick trade reviews for the rest of this week.

Anyway, first one is Bitter Roots from Image Comics with the first volume subtitled Family Business.

Bitter Roots tells the story of the Sangeryes, an African American family most of whom live in Harlem during the era commonly known as the Harlem Renaissance.  The family has maintained a longstanding tradition of using root magic to combat Jinoos.  These are demonic monsters that possess racist white people.  Using certain roots can cure the Jinoo and revert it to human; however, there are less Sangeryes around then there used to be, and as such, there are less people who even know how to use the roots, let along what a Jinoo even is.  That said, the Sangeryes seem to be something of an open secret to the people of Harlem where even the local cops seem to be vaguely aware of what the Sangeryes do.

However, there are some problems brewing.  Matriarch Ma Eta is trying to uphold the family traditions where the men do the fighting and the women do the brewing, but young Blink wants to fight alongside the men.  If anything, she might be better at it than her cousin Cullen, who seems to be a bit clumsy.  There’s also big, bearded cousin Berg who likes to use large words and traveling cousin Ford who believes in killing Jinoo hosts instead of curing them.  Finally, there’s Enoch, an older relative who Ma Eta isn’t happy with.  How exactly all these people are related I am not entirely sure, but “cousin” seems to be the best word I can use here.

As it is, the Sangeryes will need to work together and fast since one Doctor Sylvester seems to be working with magic and science to breed a new form of Jinoo, one that is much more contagious and resistant to the roots.  Can the Sangeryes get their act together long enough to stop Sylvester before he opens a portal to somewhere evil?

Now, my trade actually ends with a lot of dedications and essays by African American academics talking about how important the story of Bitter Roots is at recognizing key aspects of Black folklore.  There’s talk that Regina King will direct a film adaptation and, quite frankly, I’m all for that.  There’s a really good story here at the core of this trade.

However, I do want to say this about the story as it is exists:  I often felt there was too much happening all at once.  I would have liked to have a better grasp on who the Sangeryes were and the world they lived in, but everything from writers David F. Walker and Chuck Brown plus artist Sanford Greene seems very rushed.  Some of the Sangeryes are better developed than others.  Ford and Blink come off pretty well, and Enoch has his moments, but Berg seems to be limited to just the guy with the big vocabulary.  Cullen’s story seems to be set to be carried out in the second volume, but ultimately, as good as the central story is, as a comic, it was a bit bumpy.  I look forward to more, but this one needed a little more work.  I just felt like there wasn’t enough space between fight scenes to really get into who these people were, and that did affect my enjoyment of the book.  I still recommend it, but I was hoping for something a bit better than what I got.

8.5 out of 10 reformed Klansmen.