More Than Just a Cool Horror Tale, BITTER ROOT #5 Review
Writers: David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, Sanford Greene
Artist: Rico Renzi, Sanford Greene, Clayton Cowles
Covers: Sanford Greene, Jarreau Wimberly
Publisher: Image Comics
Horror is a genre that has always dealt with current social fears of the times. In the 1950s and 60s, Alien invasion and giant monster movies were a reflection of the Cold War paranoia and the threat of science and technology gone wrong. The 70’s and 80’s brought forth slasher films and zombie flicks that were an allegory on classism, racial tension and the dark corrupt underbelly of suburban America. All the best horror tales invoke thought from it’s audience. Bitter Root is a perfect example of a horror story that is loaded with diverse layers of subtext. Created by African American writers and artists, it brings a new level of representation for people of color in comics and pop culture while staying true to the horror genre.
This fun and entertaining horror comic follows the Sangeryes, an African American Family who fights demons in Harlem during the early 1900s. When the world is being overrun with Jinoo, monsters that feed on negative energy, the Sangeryes come together to battle these hellish creatures. Armed with magic and lo-tech steampunk weaponry, the family delivers bloody damage in this fast paced horror action comic that’s a mash-up of Evil Dead and Penny Dreadful.
Quick Recap: Minor Spoilers
Bitter Root #5 is the final entry in this first story arc. Harlem is under attack by cops who have been possessed by the Jinoo. Matriarch Ma Etta struggles to cure Berg from his infection while Blink holds back the demon horde. Bad ass monster slayer Ford arrives from the Deep South with redneck sidekick Johnnie Ray in tow to aid in the battle, Uncle Enoch’s magic may not be as powerful as expected and of course, last issue Cullen has been sucked into the demon world and faces off with the creatures from beyond. Meanwhile tragic couple, Dr. Sylvester and Miss Nightsdale have also turned into entirely different demon creatures known as Inzondo and choose to use their monstrous forms to fight back against the Jinoo. This issue fires on all cylinders culminating into this final climax and delivers an epic conclusion to this horror series. This finale also manages to raise even more questions and leaves the reader hungry for more.
Writers David F. Walker and Chuck Brown have done a marvelous job juggling all these separate plot lines throughout the series. They have managed to introduce a whole team of heroes with the Sangereyes Family as well as several side characters with their own backstories and subplots. What could have been a convoluted mess, Walker and Brown found a way to balance it all into one unifying story. The action in this comic book storms forward at a break neck pace but is still able to pack plenty of character development. Being that there are so many different plot lines in this series, it’s absolutely amazing that the writers give each character some depth and a moment to shine. The only drawback to this epic monster battle is that it ended too quick.
The art in Bitter Root is magnificent as well. Rico Renzi, Sanford Greene, and Clayton Cowles have delivered an incredible looking book that provides the perfect foundation for this thrilling story. The world building and imaginative approach to the character design totally reflect the fantastical horror elements of the story. The use of color present an incredible depth with rich backgrounds and the panel compositions highlight the action in amazing bloody detail. The characters are also given exaggerated expressions to push the emotional tension within the story. Bitter Root might carry a campy monster movie aspect, the art style, however still manages to pack plenty of dramatic action as well.
As fun and exciting as Bitter Root is as a horror story, it is filled with plenty of social and political commentary. The demon cops attacking Harlem, is a total criticism on police brutality and the recent protests and riots that have plagued America. In most horror movies, cops are viewed as saviors, such as the final girls in slasher flicks who find safety with the police. However, for People of Color, the police are often viewed with caution.
The cops in this story are not the helpful saviors like they’ve been portrayed in most horror movies. That important detail is coming from a Colored Person Perspective which brings a new element to the horror genre. It shifts the audience’s expectations and their traditional classic fears and offers a glimpse into the African American experience and their everyday anxieties and fears. In the movie Get Out, when the cop car shows up at the end, it’s a very terrifying moment in the film. When it turns out to be Chris’s friend Rod, the audience is relieved. It wasn’t the cops who offered safety, it was a fellow citizen who was the savior. Bitter Root takes a similar stance as it is the Sangeryes and not the police who protect Harlem from the evil that plagues them.
Racism is the main theme that is at the forefront of Bitter Root. The very concept of the Jinoo is a total allegory for racial prejudice. These demons feed off fear, hate and ignorance that are a result of bigotry. The Jinoo are simply a physical embodiment of racism and it spreads throughout the world like an infection. Racism is a product of fear and fits perfectly into this tale of horror.
The characters Dr. Sylvester and Miss Nightdale are also metaphors of racial terror. It is revealed that they are survivors from the Tulsa Race Riots and Bombings in 1921. They have been infected with an evil known as Inzondo. Unlike the Jinoo, the Inzondo are demons who feed on pain and sorrow. As the Jinoo represent the fear and ignorance of racism, the Inzondo symbolize the trauma and anger that is caused by racism. These two forces are at constant odds and are heading on a collison course that is sure to cause more destruction.
Dr. Sylvester and Miss Nightsdale are so racked with grief from being victimized by racism, they want to use the Inzondo to take vengeance upon the Jinoo. With the Sangeryes Family caught in the middle, Bitter Root begs to ask; how do we fight racism? Can we combat fear and ignorance with pain and anger? Can one negative force be extinguished by another equally powerful negative force? Or does it require a far more complicated understanding? There are no easy solutions as the Sangeryes Family soon realize. It’s these ideas that Bitter Root brilliantly encourages the audience to ponder.
Bitter Root is an amazing horror comic and an absolute blast to read. The plot is fun and fast paced with exciting action. The writers do an excellent job balancing all the characters and the art totally reflects the fantastical elements of the story. This comic is more than just a cool horror tale, it is layered with so much social critiques on racism and police brutality that it will surely get readers thinking about these uncomfortable issues. With a diverse creative team, Bitter Root breaks new ground for representation for people of color in comics. This inclusiveness gives readers a new point of view in horror storytelling. By offering a fresh diverse perspective, Bitter Root expands the horror genre and elevates it into a new direction. Indubitably.
An amazing horror comic and an absolute blast to read.