Why do ghosts haunt houses? In most stories, it’s because they have unfinished business or want to wreak revenge upon the living after having their mortal existence curtailed so abruptly. Or sometimes it’s because they just can’t find their way into the light and need a sympathetic mouth-breather (like Poltergeist’s Carol Ann) to lead them towards salvation. Or maybe what killed them occurred so violently and unexpectedly that their spirit is somehow imprinted into the walls, unable to stop repeating the final moments before its demise. Whatever the reason, few haunted house stories have taken the tack Infidel has, and that’s probably why it was optioned by Tri-Star films two issues into its original five issue run.
Like all the best haunted house stories, Infidel is disarmingly simple. Aisha is a young American Muslim woman who has moved into a rundown apartment building to live with her future mother-in-law and step-daughter. This apartment building has a history, because an extremist neighbour was concocting bombs in here when one of them accidentally exploded and killed several of the residents. It was an incident that’s made living here especially unpleasant because now the surviving neighbours are all suspicious about having someone with Aisha’s background and beliefs living among them. Even Tom, Aisha’s fiancé, is uneasy about his mother’s motives for allowing Aisha to be here. In fact, if it wasn’t for Aisha’s best friend Medina - who lives in another apartment - she would feel totally isolated.
Medina doesn’t share Aisha’s opinion that Tom is overreacting about his mother, which makes Aisha reluctant to tell her what else is going on… like the grotesque phantoms with strangely morphing faces and bodies that are terrorising her through the walls, screaming obscenities at her, seemingly determined to unhinge her mind. Because no-one else can see what Aisha sees until it’s too late, and by the time it’s too late, Tom’s mother lies dead, Tom’s daughter lies critically ill, and everyone thinks Aisha is responsible. These are phantoms are driven by the most heinous, relentless emotions of all - hatred and xenophobia - and none of the living are going to escape unscathed.
Let’s make this wrap-up quick. Swamp Thing’s Pornsak Pichetshote has made an inspired comic-writing debut with this story, and Aaron Campbell’s fantastically creepy art doesn’t let him down. Despite the fact that horror comics are a popular genre, it’s hard for us to think of one that’s ever really got under our skin. After all, horror comics can’t have the same unconscious power as a novel or a movie because they always keep us at arm’s length, unlike a well-turned Stephen King phrase crawling into our subconscious or that moment in a film when the camera pans through the darkness and you can never look away.
Well, Infidel’s changed our mind about that and it might change yours too. On top of everything else, it also does that other really cool thing great horror stories do - it has an important underlying theme, and its ultimate message isn’t about death, it’s about our urgent need to reconnect with our own humanity and stop being afraid of the living. Let’s hope the big screen can do Infidel justice, because on the page it’s already a hard act to follow.
INFIDEL / WRITER: PORNSAK PICHETSHOTE / ARTIST: AARON CAMPBELL / PUBLISHER: IMAGE COMICS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW