'Infidel' combines scares with emotional and existential drama

‘Infidel’ combines scares with emotional and existential drama

Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Infidel’ #1, out March 14 from Image Comics.

Cover to 'Infidel' #1. Art by Aaron Campbell and José Villarrubia/Image Comics

Cover to ‘Infidel’ #1. Art by Aaron Campbell and José Villarrubia/Image Comics

By Brendan F. Hodgdon. It’s no secret that we live in divisive and vitriolic times, particularly when it comes to issues of race and religion and how they seem interwoven into things like terrorism. Plenty of people live in fear of the explosion or the gunshot they won’t see coming, in the name of a cause they don’t understand, from a threat that is just foreign enough to make them hate it. But what does it feel like for someone perceived to be that threat, even if she isn’t? What sort of fear and paranoia grows when you’re the subject of all the fear and suspicion of the people around you? It’s very fertile ground for storytelling, and Infidel very much seems like a seed that will blossom into a healthy, if unsettling, piece of art.

In this debut issue, we follow a young Muslim woman named Aisha as she, her white fiancee Tom, his daughter Kris and his mother Leslie have all moved into a building that was recently the target of a bombing and mostly abandoned. There is plenty of tension just from this arrangement, as Aisha’s mother has basically disowned her for being with a non-Muslim man, Tom is suspicious of his mother’s newfound tolerance, and Aisha struggles to cope with the self-doubt and paranoia that all of this dredges up. These elements of the story are handled effectively, as Pornsak Pichetshote’s script and Aaron Campbell’s art sell the grounded emotionality of it all.

Pichetshote captures a lot of nuance in the interpersonal dynamics. Throughout the issue, Aisha seems desperate to believe that Leslie isn’t racist, even though Tom and Aisha’s friend (and Leslie’s own actions) argue against it; before we even get to the supernatural angle of the story, Aisha is stuck in a position of self-doubt, which only makes what comes after even more intense. This is furthered by the intolerance of Aisha’s own mother, which puts even more pressure on Aisha because she doesn’t feel like she can go back to her roots. Even in the face of resentment and discomfort from her new neighbors and family, Aisha hopes to build something positive, in part because she doesn’t have any other choice.

Variant cover to 'Infidel' #1. Art by Jae Lee/Image Comics

Variant cover to ‘Infidel’ #1. Art by Jae Lee/Image Comics

If Infidel‘s emotional stakes weren’t fertile enough ground for horror, the setting is very evocative as well. The detail of the building having been the target of a bomb attack adds an extra layer of tension and anxiety to the proceedings, and the creative team does a lot to make what could be a very benign location feel like a perpetual threat to Aisha and her family. The backdrop itself feels like an open wound representing the very sort of danger that Leslie fears. While this would resonate plenty on its own, it is doubly effective as the emotional basis for the more supernatural dread lurking throughout the book.

Like the best horror stories, Infidel combines its scares with emotional and existential drama. The haunting visions that Aisha confronts throughout the story are both tangibly gross and spiritually upsetting, and straddle the line between the ephemeral and visceral. In this regard, a lot of credit is due to Aaron Campbell and Jose Villarrubia, who maintain the grounded innocuousness of everyday life only to twist it into misshapen corpses and menacingly dark hallways at the drop of a dime. They blend these two sides of the story at least as well as the script does, which very clearly conveys Aisha’s uncertain state of mind (and state of being) as the story unfolds.

I think what might be the most remarkable aspect of this story is that it’s a horror story where everything, both good and bad, is born out of fear. It’s not just Aisha’s fears of being ostracized or not belonging that fill her surroundings with such dread, but also the fears of the people around her that generate the dreadful atmosphere in the first place. Infidel smartly depicts the cyclical nature of this sort of fear, and how the violence that it inspires is only the next step and never the ending. Even so, Pichetshote largely avoids making excuses for the bigots in Aisha’s life; he doesn’t try to wave away their awfulness, only to contextualize what brings it out.

Fear is an omnipresent element of society, for good and bad people alike. It only stands to reason that those fears would make great fodder for horror stories. If only they could all be as impactful and intelligent from the get-go as Infidel.

Image Comics/$3.99

Written by Pornsak Pichetshote.

Art by Aaron Campbell.

Colors by José Villarrubia.

Letters and design by Jeff Powell.

7.5 out of 10

‘Infidel’ #1 hits stores on March 14.