COMIC REVIEW: Infidel Issue 1

Mixing up genre comics and the hot topics of the day isn’t anything new, but Image Comics do it particularly well. Take, therefore, the issues of racism and anti-Muslim hatred and highlight it via the medium of a traditional ghost story. There’s a fine line between giving a voice to those who have previously been silenced and hitching a ride to something far more serious than fiction, but with the first issue of Infidel, creative team Pornsak Pichetshote (Swamp Thing), Aaron Campbell (The Shadow) and José Villarrubia (Promethea) have nailed the former.

A haunted house story for the 21st century, Infidel follows an American Muslim woman and her multiracial neighbors who move into a building haunted by entities that feed off xenophobia.

Dreams are a commonly used trope for introducing the reader to a character and Infidel grimly uses it to welcome us to Aisha; a Muslim, with an unspecified troubled past. She is engaged to Tom, a non-Muslim, and living with him, his mother and his child (who’s own mother is deceased). She’s at college with her best friend. Aisha is fairly liberal, but still wears a headscarf when out in college. However, she doesn’t wear it all the time when she’s out in public. Which seems to scare some of her neighbours.

Talking of which…there aren’t many left. And here’s where the ghosts come into it. Aisha and her new family live in a block that was witness to a mass murder. Rooms are still blocked with police tape and Tom wants to leave. He doesn’t trust his mother, or the neighbours. Aisha continues to have her nightmares, and now she’s hearing things while awake. All this is played out to a backdrop of subtle public racism and debates on the TV, concerning the so-called rise of radical Islam.

Tricky subjects to handle sensitively, and Pichetshote does it by putting our heroine in several pickles at once. Best known as an editor (and this is his debut as a writer), he has a clear vision and a story to tell. He doesn’t hold back. There are moments of disturbing behaviour from some of the characters, that are balanced by some levity. When we’re introduced to Aisha and Tom’s family, it is with the conversation concerning Star Wars characters. Of course, this has been done before (see Clerks) but it is a way of making the reader feel comfortable before the nasties arrive.

As with many Image titles, the art is heavy on the shadows and the washed out colours. Aaron Campbell’s art is perfect for this story – rough yet detailed (especially the backgrounds and the characters’ faces). The colours are from another creator best know for editing. Villarrubia uses colour to highlight some of the horrors of this story. I particularly like the scene on the tube that features a red handbag. But it does make me wonder why Aisha’s best friend wears a red scarf. When we get to the ghost story elements, the artists don’t hold back in terms of grimness. A full page of Aisha’s encounter towards the end of the book is a case in point. Ugly doesn’t quite cover it. Panelling is fairly standard. More a case of looking at the story as whole rather than individual scenes. Although there are little gems of detail scattered here and there.

It is great to read a horror comic with a Muslim female lead that doesn’t feel like its too forced when addressing the serious issues of our time. There’s a lot to recommend in this book. The writing contrasts the real horrors with the fantasy. The art is gruesome and oddly affecting, dowsed in shadows and nightmare images. I wouldn’t say that Infidel is an enjoyable read – it certainly stirs the emotions however – but maybe it’s a necessary one for our times.

GS Rating: 4 out of 5
GS Reviewer: Ian Simpson

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