Vol. 1: Family Business (Bitter Root #1-5)
by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, Sanford Greene
In terms of theme, the book is pretty simple: racism and hate make people into monsters.
The strength of this graphic novel lies in the relationships of the family members. Even though we are all acquainted with the drama and angst that familial issues cause, it doesn’t alter the fact that we are drawn to them, even for the same reason.
In this novel, the Sangeryes family has had its share of tragedy, even for a family whose business is to capture and purify (not kill) people who have been made into monsters by their hatred. Decreased in numbers, they are in the middle of dealing with an explosion of new cases when they’re confronted by a couple of new problems – portals from another dimension letting in more powerful true demonoid monsters and a transformed doctor (Sylvester) who, because of his own pain and loss, is trying to eliminate pain by eliminating the ones who cause it.
Set in Harlem a few years before the Renaissance flourished, the book jumps into action right away without time spent on the cultural and intellectual growth of that time and how it might be impacted by the racial hate that caused the killings of the Red Summer of 1919 in Harlem and the massacre that was the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. But those events are mentioned: the Sangeryes lost family during the Red Summer and the doctor-turned-monster lost his family to white vigilantes in Tulsa.
There’s much push and pull related to the characters trying to find their balance in such an environment. The Sangeryes continue to help others regardless of race, even as they argue about it amongst themselves. Doctor Sylvester starts out as somewhat admiring of the Sangeryes, but then becomes dismissive as his own hate grows to eclipse his desire to cure the new infection from the demons coming through from another dimension and causes him to decide to use it, instead.
There is despair as white policemen who know the true story, avoid speaking up out of fear, but there is also hope in a young white member of a KKK group becoming a follower of one of the Sangeryes.
The artwork is so good and the pacing is very quick, moving from one member of the family to another until the point where all of them converge in the streets of Harlem to find both a daunting challenge in Doctor Sylvester and the new – intelligent – demons, and renewed strength through family reunion.
I don’t know that I will continue with the series – I found the story to be less challenging than I like – but I enjoyed this book and consider the time on it spent well, if only for the reminders of our bloody history of racial hate and the ways people have of surmounting it and still flourishing.