Bitter Root #3
The Story So Far:
Bitter Root #3 is the nexus where the separate stories in Bitter Root #1 and Bitter Root #2 begin to converge. We have Berg’s infection by Ms. Knightsdale, the deaths of two policemen in St. Nichols Park, then we have Ford following a lead that Johnny Ray gave him on more Jinoo.
Walker, Brown, and Greene take the threads of these three tales and weave them together, subtly showing how each is in turn related to the other. In Bitter Root #3, we begin to see the shape of the intricate story tapestry that the Bitter Root team is bringing to life.
Writers: David F. Walker, Chuck Brown Artist: Sanford Greene
Cover A: Sanford Greene Cover B: Mikia Soto, Larry Stroman, Skottie Young
Issue Rating: 5/5
From MAJK’s Coffee Corner:
You can see it coming, from the first panel. The minute a cop says “…Just a few blocks from here, two of your fellow officers were brutally murdered last night. The killer is still on the loose — probably somewhere in Harlem.” I knew what was going to happen.
Not because the comic is predictable (it’s not) but because people are predictable. Humans are predictable and art imitates life.
Because we, as a society, have seen it happen in the past, even now it still happens. Fear takes hold of the human and tempts them to abuse their power, hiding behind the mask of righting a wrong or avenging another. When that power happens to come from/with a badge or a uniform it complicates the situation so much more. The line between Police Officer and Angry Human blurs. “Protect and Serve” becomes “Punish” and when that happens, people get hurt…innocent people. People also get angry, then people want revenge. It’s a cycle, just as it is in real life.
Bitter Root #3 shows us how powerful the cycle of hate and fear truly is. Hate and fear causes and is caused by situations like what we see happening in Harlem, which bears some striking similarity to events that were occurring historically about that same time. It is this hate and fear that creates monsters. It also feeds them creating more monsters.
Spoiler Warning: If you have not read Bitter Root #3 There May Be Spoilers Below
Men Become Monsters
In Harlem, the death of the men that Ms. Knightsdale killed in St Nichols Park has set off a chain of events. White police officers raid club in downtown Harlem, searching for the killer, and things get out of hand very quickly. The truth is, they were never really in hand. Two of their own had been murdered. We’ve seen it happen before. We know it will happen again.
Bitter Root #3 is very true to life in many of these scenes. Even in the cases where we see some of the officers questioning their fellows about the excessive violence, they are shut down and their concerns dismissed. Helpless and innocent people are beaten not because they are suspects but because they are “other”.
As this thread of events weaves through the other lines in this story, we see that many of the human police officers have become Jinoo and many innocents are suffering at their hand. Page fourteen broke my heart. The Masterful way these events tied into the rest of what is going on in this issue culminates at the end of the book and sets up a frightening face off.
The Importance of Kin
Ma Etta is my favorite character in this issue. She reminds us of something that we all need to remember. The importance of kin. Family bonds are the strongest kind of magic if they’ve been nurtured and well-tended. It’s not just the way Ma faces down the raging beast that Berg has become (I’m still kind of mad about that, guys. **meaningful stare at Walker, Brown, and Green**) but in all of her actions throughout the series.
Bitter Root #3 shows us that Ma Etta is both amazing and limited. She can’t cure Berg but she isn’t going to be afraid of him either. He’s her kin and she’s not running from kin. She can’t cure him but she can and will settle him down until help for him can be found. Also, give the lady some credit – I had to go back over the issue to see where she got the gauntlet. Greene did a great job setting up her sly move on that. If you missed it go back and re-read. It’s a thing of beauty.
Cullen’s insistence on involving Uncle Enoch, whom we haven’t met yet, also tells us a lot about Ma Etta. Ma Etta is one of those rare humans that know what she doesn’t know and make no mistake Ma Etta knows a lot. In spite of Blink’s protests, Ma gives Cullen implicit permission to go get Uncle Enoch. Ma’s pride isn’t going to get in the way of her helping Berg. No matter what has passed to make Enoch such a disappointment to her, Ma acknowledges that Berg is beyond her help and it’s clear helping Berg is more important to her than anything in the past.
Ford and Jonny Ray arrive at the home of an old man rumored to have a monster that eats Black folks. Upon encountering the monster, Ford and Johnny Ray discover there’s more going on than just a corrupted human that has turned into a Jinoo. Ford discovers something that indicates something really bad is going down in Harlem or will soon. Given what we, the readers know, I’d say the sooner Ford gets back to Harlem the better.
I’d love to know more about Ford. He’s a great character. He hangs somewhere between Ma Etta’s ideology and Dr. Sylvester’s, I’d bet. I’d love to see how he got there. Also, he kicks serious ass so I’m thinking with Berg out of commission, the Sangeryes could use a badass like him around.
We also see a big change in Johnny Ray. He puts himself in danger in an attempt to help Ford. He could have sat by and not gotten involved but he dove right in. I’m kind of hoping he accompanies Ford to Harlem. I’d like to see a bit of redemption. Standing up once is great and for Johnny Ray, it’s a huge leap forward but it doesn’t guarantee a changed heart. It’d be good to see this former Klan member become a full-blown ally. Whatever Walker, Brown, and Greene have planned for the scrawny Mississippi kid you can bet it will be interesting.
Dr. Sylvester and Ms. Knightdale are the most enigmatic characters in this entire issue. They aren’t the “bad guys” but neither are they “good guys” which again brings me back to the realness of this story in its character designs. Rarely, are people entirely good or evil. Most people can be either under the right (or wrong) circumstances.
I am eager to hear more about their background. I want to know what happened to them in Tulsa. I’m curious to see if they are tied to the 1921 Tulsa massacre. It would make sense especially since in Bitter Root #2, Dr. Sylvester mentions that without Ms. Knightsdale he would have died with all the others. We already know that whatever is going on with both Dr. Sylvester and Ms. Knightsdale they need the Fiif’no Serum Ma Etta makes. Their ideology is clearly different than that of the Sangeryes but we don’t yet know exactly what it is or why.
We see how profoundly the events occurring in Harlem affect him even though he is in San Juan Hill. The pain, hatred, and fear reach across out across the miles and transform him both in body and mind. He becomes convinced that the way to defeat the monsters is to embrace that self-same monstrosity and use it to fight back.
Whether it intends to or not, Bitter Root #3 holds up a mirror and lets us see the monster of racial hatred in a non-threatening light. It shows us the ugly creatures that racial hatred evolves a human into and subtly tells us that there are two active responses to it. We can seek to cure it like Ma Etta, and her family. Or we can become an equally horrific monster, as Dr. Sylvester does, and seek retribution.
We can choose as a society to work toward racial harmony using the powerful roots of love, compassion, empathy, education, and kindness – all of which allow us to eradicate the monster by helping the human become a better, healthier, and more whole being.
Or we can embrace the hate, and rage infecting others around us with the mindset of revenge and retribution. In this mindset, the only means of eradicating the monster is to destroy the person infected utterly.
MAJK’s Age Recommendation:
Older Teens 17 +
Other Info: This is the 1920’s there’s a lot of racial violence in this issue. These themes might be difficult for a young or sensitive soul to deal with, I’m neither and the police raid in this issue just broke my heart. This is also a horror comic with a fairly complex storyline. It also deals with / discusses / and is based on traditions that might be uncomfortable or offend some readers so fair warning. There’s a lot of supernatural in this comic and while I can’t say there are overtly occult themes – for more sensitive readers there are themes that may be interpreted as occult (monsters, Hell, dead rising, etc.)
Best Line & Why
Ma Etta “Like I said – Too old to run… and too stubborn to quit.”
Ma Etta is one of those amazing women. She reminds me much of the Black women I grew up around. She embodies love, family, and deep wisdom. She’s both tough and fair. She’s old but not frail. She is Bitter Root’s Yoda. She’s had her moments of failure but she doesn’t quit.
Take the time to check out Blood and The Rut by Dr. Regina N. Bradley in the back matter. As a Southern Woman, I truly recommend it.
Next Issue: Bitter Root #4 will be available February 20, 2019