Reflections on Bitter Root Issues 7 and 8

In one of the covers of issue seven of ‘Bitter Root’ Berg carries an ethnopunk blaster. The steampunk looking gun with healing bullets coupled with this Black man’s largeness and determination shows that he’s ready to protect by any means necessary. Berg is part of the Sangeryes, a family who fights systemic racism. It’s a continuous ongoing battle which never seems to have an end. In the first issue, he is infected but it’s not until the seventh issue where we find out that it’s not Jinoo, a monstrous disease that feeds on racist hatred. Berg instead feels the grief-stricken emotions of his ancestors, of his immediate family deep within his bones. He just wants the pain to end. We can consider this to be something close to epigenetics which is the theory of a shared trauma that is passed down genetically, specifically amongst Black people. 

These issues of ‘Bitter Root’ are not your ordinary comic. Take the historical context on the terrorist acts on Black people such as during 1919’s ‘Red Summer’ and the 1921 massacre in Tulsa Oklahoma. Both these actions show how the character Walter Sylvester became a victim of unspeakable pain. His calling out reveals a womanish figure, drawn like the dark roots of a tree that looks weather-beaten, gnarled and tortuous. Her smile is wide and all she asks for is your agony. That is the disease in which Berg and others are inflicted with. 

Issue eight seamlessly follows as we see Ma Etta, the matriarch of the Sangeryes family tired yet resilient. All this while holding onto a cane that appears to be made from wood drawn as an omega-type structure. It looks bigger than her as if Ma Etta is drawing from its strength. As this narrative takes place during the Harlem Renaissance Ma Etta can be seen as an immediate descendent, inherent with ancestral abilities. Essentially, she is a superhero. Ma Etta is the ultimate survivor of generational trauma. She’s surviving slavery, Jim Crow, Jinoo and this new manifestation of anguish that appears to feed off of Black pain. Inside the folds of this comic her granddaughter Blink is struggling to handle all the devastation around her. Still, through it all she’s reminded by those she loves that she is strong. Perhaps that is the real cure for this new disease of torment. 

One of the many things to love about ‘Bitter Root’ is the action mixed with witticisms. You’ll definitely know more coming out of reading this series. Equally as entertaining and informative are the essays at the end of each issue. They discuss everything from epigenetics to the griot and Berg’s reading list. And there’s no letting up as issue nine reveals another member of this evil-hunting family who’s just as determined in his face as he needs to be in his mindset. Most of all don’t forget the old threat of Jinoo that has to be fought. It never ends for these kindred folks. 

About Donna-Lyn Washington 611 Articles
Donna-lyn Washington has a M.A. in English from Brooklyn College. She is currently teaching at Kingsborough Community College where her love of comics and pop culture play key parts in helping her students move forward in their academic careers. As a senior writer for ReviewFix she has been able to explore a variety of worlds through comics, film and television and has met some interesting writers and artists along the way. Donna-lyn does a weekly podcast reviewing indie comics and has also contributed entries to the 'Encyclopedia of Black Comics,’ the academic anthology ‘Critical Insights: Frank Yerby’ and is the editor for the upcoming book, ‘Conversations With: John Jennings.’

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