INFIDEL #1 / Writer: Pornsak Pichetsote / Artist: Aaron Campbell / Colorist and Editor : Jose Villarrubia / Letterer and Designer: Jeff Powell / Publisher: Image Comics / March 14, 2018
Infidel hits all the right beats in its first issue.
That’s not generally how you want to start a review but I’m just throwing it right out there. Also apparently having the title in your first paragraph helps with search engine optimization, so there’s that as well.
It’s becoming quickly apparent that I am going to be the resident reviewer of politically charged books here at Do You Even Comic Book?…which is fine. While many may malign the concept of politics and social issues in their comics, I welcome it. Marvel at one time advertised itself as “the world outside your window”; and, for me, that’s one of the great many things that media and fiction should be.
Welcome DYECB-ites, I’m Dexter Buschetelli, the Drunk Comics Fan (one of ’em anyway). I read books and tell you about them. I also complain on Twitter about how tater tots aren’t really french fries. That’s a whole other thing, though. I’m here today to talk about Infidel #1.
You’re not really supposed to talk about yourself in reviews, it takes away from the objectivity that you’re supposed to be beholden to as a journalist (I get to call myself that now, right?); but if we’re being honest, aren’t we all a little biased? I couldn’t really talk about Infidel and its content without addressing why this debut issue landed so well for me.
Perhaps I could, but I feel it is worth noting that there are specific reasons this book works for me on a personal level, and I believe it will be the same experience for many who pick it up. This book has two distinct traits that make it successful in its storytelling: politics and horror. In 2018, aren’t those really one in the same?
The story centers around its main protagonist, Aisha, a Muslim woman engaged to a non-Muslim widower living with his mother and daughter in a building that has been mostly abandoned after what seems to have been an act of domestic terrorism…and which may also be haunted. Jesus, that’s a mouthful and on paper seems like an unnecessarily convoluted setup. Trust me, though; it’s not.
In its first three pages, before it delves into the setting and cast, Infidel introduces us to our monster—or, perhaps, one of them. That much is not clear yet. As Aisha’s narration recounts a story of her having left some ground beef out before leaving town and the ensuing smell she returned to, we are treated to some wonderfully bizarre and macabre visuals. This scene of Aisha being attacked by some sort of ghoul perfectly sets up the tale we are embarking upon, and Aaron Campbell’s art is visually striking, reminiscent of illustrators like Bill Sienkiewicz. Assisted by Jose Villarrubia’s color work, the art is a tonally magnificent accompaniment to Pornsak Pichetsote’s writing.
The scene that follows Aisha’s bizarre dream (but was it a dream?) moment of the first few pages is a wonderful nod to geekdom as Aisha and Kris, said widower Tom’s daughter, discuss Boba Fett while Leslie, Kris’ grandmother, puts the finishing touches on a Sarlacc Pit bundt cake. The dialogue and family dynamic convey a deep understanding on Pichetsote’s part of both nerd culture and of the modern American family. The latter is where this book works best. This tale, while being horror wrapped in socio-political commentary, is, at its heart, about people and the divides we put between ourselves while being tied together at the same time.
In a short 25 pages everything one needs to know to connect to these characters is laid out deftly, with the greater mystery and horror taking a backseat to the character building and world development. This is horror at its finest, and any horror fan truly worth their salt will attest to that. The reason we love writers like Stephen King and Robert Kirkman is that their focus is never on the monsters; it is always first and foremost on the characters. They know that if you connect to the players in the story first, their torment will impact you on a deeper level. Pichetsote plays this to great effect.
There are only seven pages in this story that give us so much as a glimpse of the monsters in it, and Campbell and Villarrubia milk those seven pages dry. The visuals are truly disturbing in these moments, made even more so by the contrast of how they portray the setting in every other page. Campbell’s style is gritty, but in the lighter moments it feels clean. In the daylight characters are presented clearly and with a gentle feeling, but the darkness feels ugly, sharp, and grotesque.
This is a fantastic first issue of a book that looks to become a sleeper hit for its creative team. I eagerly await its second issue, learning more about its characters and being disgusted by Aisha’s visions. If you love horror, you will love this book. If you love commentary on social issues and the treatment of Muslims in America, you will love this book. Most of all, if you love writers who can present multiple characters and clearly outline their differing perspectives without breaking the narrative, you will want to eat this book and allow your body to absorb it like nutrients.
And as far as writing reviews that go against every rule of how a review is supposed to be written, which I am continuing to defy by starting a sentence with and; expect more of that from me. One of the greatest tips I was ever given in my training in creative endeavors came from the fantastic illustrator Jeff Preston. “I want you to listen to everything I tell you to do. I want you to follow through with my instructions, to the T, and not deviate from them. Then, when you have finished here, I want you to go out and throw everything I ever told you out the window and throw everything into your work but the kitchen sink.” As a reviewer, straying from objectivity and gushing about how amazing this book is goes against everything I am supposed to do. So screw what I’m supposed to do. Infidel #1 is an incredible start to a book I am frothing at the mouth to continue reading and I want to scream that from the rooftops.
I live in a small town, though, so my roof is not very high…
Verdict: 5 out of 5 would eat the Sarlacc Pit again.
Editors Note: I support this anti-review, review.
Dexter Buschetelli thinks he is really clever, but you know better; don’t you? Do you? I dunno, I’m not your mom. Dexter can be found here on DYECB writing reviews and opinion pieces as well as on the website for his podcast, Let’s Get Drunk and Talk Comics.