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August 01, 2006


Dan Jacobson

I'm embarrassed to know this, but Infidel was originally created back in the mid 90's in a Wizard special on supervillains. Basically, Busiek and Ross wrote a feature about designing the perfect villain for your hero. I don't follow Astro City, but I am surprised it's taken this long for the character to show up in a comic. Having said that, this is an excellent post. It really illuminates the ways that dedication to nostalgic tropes unintentionally (one hopes) reinforces the unfortunate cultural attitudes underlying those tropes (much in the way that a masked billionaire kung-fu's his way through throngs of working-class, faceless "thugs" as we cheer him on)


While I can't disagree with analysis of the iconography, I strongly disagree with this statement: he implies, however unintentionally, that Christianity and Islam, religion and science must forever remain antagonists.

I read the resolution, where Samaritan and Infidel STOP fighting each other and agree to an uneasy truce (and annual cordial dinner), as Kurt Busiek EXPLICITLY saying Christianity and Islam, religion and science, cannot remain forever antagonists without destroying the Universe, but a level of detente CAN be reached.

And while Infidel is clearly a villain (mostly for the callous way he treats other human beings), there are indications that he has a moral leg to stand on. From his point of view, it was Samaritan that destroyed his perfect utopia. His slaves where people destined to die in famous disasters that he SAVED. And in the end, the "moral, Christian" world is hungry for the advances in science Infidel has made, and are willing to ignore the almost certainly immoral methods he used to achieve his success.

I think that that Busiek and Anderson were VERY aware of the cultural and religious dynamite they were playing with, setting up exactly the Manichaean structure you describe, only to subvert it by saying the resolution of these "inflexible" conflicts will come not through repeated punching, but through long conversations over squab and coffee.


You're right, Steven, that Infidel has understandable motivations for what he does, but that seems to be a product of the same principles of villain design that tricked him out in a crescent moon and a flying carpet. Many of the classic comic book villains either have some shred of morality or think they do, and may even provoke some sympathy. Busiek is drawing from the Magneto playbook there, and doing it well.

It's a strategy that also gives him (and conscientious readers) some cover against the troubling implications of the character design--sure, Infidel looks like a generic Muslim evildoer, but he was a slave and Samaritan accidentally destroyed his home so he's not all bad. The unspoken, final term of that progression is that we're not all bad for making/reading/enjoying this villain. I mentioned Busiek's attempts to render Infidel sympathetic above because I think they're deliberate gestures at defusing the clash-of-civilizations imagery.

But they don't make Infidel any less amoral or any less a Christian-right caricature of both Islam and science. We can't feel too broken up about the destruction of his utopia because it was built on slave labor.
Rescued or not, those people were being exploited, and probably as sex slaves or guinea pigs to boot. (I wonder if that panel of Infidel pulling survivors out of the ocean was a deliberate invocation of the Immortus/Marcus storyline from Avengers #200, infamous for its blithe implications of mind-controlled rape.)

As for your point about the detente: that's an interesting reading and a much more humane message, but the truce isn't the end of the story. Samaritan keeps trying to reform Infidel while Infidel keeps trying to corrupt Samaritan. They're not locked in open, self-destructive battle anymore but it's still clear who's right and who's wrong. I don't see much subversion.

Matthew E

How can someone be a villainous atheist Muslim scientist? Either he's an atheist or a Muslim. And if he is an atheist (and the name 'Infidel' suggests that), then that's an indicator that Busiek and Ross aren't trying to create an opposition with Islam, because the popular stereotype of Muslims is that they're *too* religious, not not religious enough.


How can someone be a villainous atheist Muslim scientist?

I'll try to annotate my irony more clearly in the future; the italics aren't cutting it.

Infidel draws on several cultural anxieties at once--Islam in his iconography, science in his dialogue and motivations. If some of these anxieties appear self-contradictory, well, that's pop-culture ideology for you. Infidel is hardly the first character to hold multiple ranges of reference in uneasy suspension.

Incidentally, given the time and place of Infidel's origin there's nothing contradictory about his fusion of Islam and science. He was a slave in Persia, "one of the world's greatest seats of learning," during the Middle Ages, when Arab and Persian cultures led the world in scientific knowledge. He's culturally Muslim, methodologically a scientist, and philosophically an atheist (or some sort of unbeliever). Plausible enough, especially if you're willing to accept the whole immortal alchemist part.

But I was amused at how those traits contradict themselves in the West's present-day, foreshortened perceptions of Islam. (And in modern "political Islam," for that matter.) If you were looking to create a caricature of the nightmares of the religious right you couldn't do much better than to invent an evil atheist Muslim scientist. (Well, you could make him gay.) The apparent paradox of those traits, which I tried to flag up, makes him seem that much more propagandistic.


They're not locked in open, self-destructive battle anymore but it's still clear who's right and who's wrong. I don't see much subversion.

Since I agree with you almost entirely, consider this only a slight clarification of my interpretation.

Busiek is NOT subverting who is morally good or morally bad. Samaritan is good because he saves others, Infidel is EVIL because he enslaves and kills others, in the name of science.

What Busiek subverts is the superhero/supervillain trope itself, which argues that no compromise, no matter how small, with evil is possible, and that the only solution is eternal, violent conflict until one or the other is annhilated (Rorschach would be VERY unhappy with Samaritan having dinner with his enemy every year).

Busiek almost explicitly states that real change and true peace could only be achieved by finding common ground (like both Samaritan's and Infidel's homes were turned into Taco Huts when Samaritan changed history) understanding motivations (which is why I mentioned Infidel's), and necessary compromise.

The idea that evil, obvious evil, can never be destroyed but CAN be contained, dealt with, and, amazingly, learned from, is a rejection of the way almost all superheroes operate AND our current foreign policy! That's what I meant by subversion.


Ah, I see. I might disagree over whether Samaritan and Infidel have learned to compromise or simply shifted to another mode of conflict--Infidel seems more interested in annihilating Samaritan's ethics than finding common ground--but I agree with and very much like your point about the superhero genre conventions.

All objections to this comic's ideological implications notwithstanding, I think it's a well-written story for the reasons you mention. I like the way Busiek points out the pointlessness of most hero/villain conflicts and gives us something different. I like the subtle differences in characterization, the way Infidel assumes the Chateau Etranger bottle is a deliberate joke because he does nothing by accident. (If I'd given this post a subtitle it would have been "Coincidence and Design.") I can even admire the precision of Infidel's character design from a certain clinical distance--if I can overlook the way, as Dan cogently puts it, the devotion to design principles unintentionally conveys some unpleasant cultural beliefs.

(I don't even attribute that to nostalgia as much as sheer mathematical logic; if Samaritan hadn't been a crypto-Christian superhero to begin with, Infidel probably wouldn't have been an evil atheist Muslim scientist. It's funny how the creation of the opposite number brings out an exclusionary, xenophobic element that wasn't present in the hero--how there didn't seem to be anything wrong with having a Christian superhero until he was given an infidel to beat up on.)

But the fear is still there in the Infidel's motivations and iconography. The Samaritan special is a well-made comic that leaves a vile aftertaste; this post is my attempt to wash it out, I guess.


In superhero comics, the broad strokes of the imagery -- in this case, good Christian versus evil Arab -- are what really matter. The niggling details about Infidel's motivation or religious leanings or ethnic identity are basically just fine print, covering the comic against liability in case of "misunderstanding" by readers who see what those broad strokes are saying.

If a writer creates a villain who has big ears and a big nose and his primary motivation is greed, the writer can say "He's not Jewish, we specifically said he isn't Jewish, you're crazy if you think he was supposed to be Jewish" until said writer is blue in the face. It still won't change the fact that the imagery comes straight out of an anti-Semitic stereotype, and invites that reading no matter how much the fine print tries to rebuff it.

I'm also a little surprised that this book garnered so much praise when, in terms of storytelling, it's the sort of thing Kurt Busiek has already shown he can do in his sleep. The actual story content here is slight: the majority of the comic is yet another collection of highlights and references glossed over in flashback with first-person narration. That's the main narrative voice of Astro City, of course, but he usually manages to tell a proper story with that technique -- this time it felt hollow. In fact, he wrote a far superior and more nuanced version of this same story in Avengers Forever issue #9, in which Kang the Conqueror reminisces about his chronally-twisted life.


Busiek has always been better at implying stories (or entire histories) than telling them; I'm happy to see him stick to his strengths. Any one of the Samaritan/Infidel battles he glosses over would almost certainly be far less interesting than their summary.

I can see this issue setting up a fantastic story down the road--one in which an exhausted Samaritan allows himself to falter, just a little bit, in some seemingly harmless way, and horrible consequences result for all the heroes of Astro City--although whether that story would be as good in execution as it is in glossary is, as always with Busiek, an open question.


I'm really glad you wrote this post, Marc. This issue really rubbed me the wrong way, as enjoyable as the story itself might have been. We're clobbered over the head with Infidel's muslim iconography, from his dress to the architecture of his palace to the font used in his internal dialogue, to the point where I found myself desperately hoping he wasn't going to turn into an obvious supervillain (the enslaving and world-conquering pretty much put an end to that).

Kevin J. Maroney

I suspect I have more to say about this, but what's itching at me most is that it seems that in 21st-century America there is an almost complete disconnect between "Arabian Nights" imagery and "Islam"--just as no one would look at a Byzantine palace and immediately think "Christian" in an environment where the most visible Christians are the Left Behind lunatics. Osama, Saddam Hussein, the Ayatollahs, and the Taliban are the (very disparate) faces of Islam now, not fairy-tale Ubbayyid palaces and flowing purple robes.

I'm not saying the imagery isn't there. I'm just saying, he's an Islam of a thousand years ago, potted and dead, not an Islam that is an active force in the world. He is a remnant turned revenant.

And on a different thrust, I didn't find it a well-made comic; I thought it was a comic full of interesting ideas (potentially some of the best yet gathered in Astro City) told very poorly. The flashback narration put all of the events at an arms-length emotional distance; everything is told, nothing is shown. Busiek could have depicted exactly the same events, in exactly the same order, without the narrative glue of Infidel telling us why he was telling it to us, and it would have been much stronger. It feels like the author did not trust the reader to understand without a constant nudge. (I see RAB had a similar reaction to mine.)

Also, I thought that the presentation of Samaritan was very clumsy in an uninteresting way. Yes, he's not crafty and guile-filled, but there's a difference between "honest" and "cowed", or, worse, "dumb". In his few previous appearances, Samaritan has always exuded confidence, even in trying situations; why did that go away, just because he's around someone smarter than he is? If it was a ruse, it was poorly presented.


OK, I feel the need to jump in here and point out that Samaritan is explicitly NOT meant to be Christian. He's meant to be JEWISH. Of course this is never made explicit, but Busiek definitely envisioned Samaritan as Jewish, a nod towards Superman's origins in Jewish culture. (Check out the notes next to Alex Ross's character sketches in the first Astro City compilation). Does this change the reading in Marc's essay? Perhaps only subtly. But if we have an omnipotent Jew standing in for America, one's interpretation of the story's subtext undoubtedly has to shift somewhat, especially when we consider that, as has been noted, the character was created long before 9/11.


Can you elaborate more on those notes? I ask because a character named "Samaritan" with a white dove on his chest does not strike me as drawing on a lot of Jewish iconography.

There is a certain Moses element to his origins--cast out of his home, he delivers his people into an idyllic future/promised land that has no place for him--though as you point out that could just as easily stem from the Superman allusions. But he's named after a Christian parable (which would have drawn much of its original strength from the historical enmity between the Samaritans and the Jews) and he's got a Christian symbol on his chest.

The comics play up the Christian angle, too. In Kurt Busiek's Astro City vol. 1 #6, Winged Victory tells Samaritan, "It's like--you're a god, pretending to be normal." This despite his secular origin! I'd have to say that Samaritan is pretty overtly Christian. The allusions only look subtle in comparison to all those Astro City heroes running around wearing crosses.

As a side note, I find it fascinating that everybody wants to talk about the Muslim elements of Infidel and nobody has really addressed the anti-science subtexts. Maybe that's because we're trained to look for and talk about ethnic or religious discrimination, but science doesn't have an easily identifiable target group. Given the astonishing disregard for science shown by the Bush administration, and its disastrous consequences for the American people and the world, I find Infidel's caricature of the unethical cloner more troubling than his Arabian nights imagery.


Well, the Samaritans were (and apparently are) a Jewish sect, not a seperate religion. The aforementioned notes in the AC trade mentions that as Asa Martin (note the Jewish first name) his Jewishness should be emphasized, and as I already mentioned, Superman's Jewish roots are something Busiek is certainly aware of; really, Superman's already pretty Jewish, so a Superman-like character is going to carry that same baggage. And that symbol on his chest could be interpreted in a number of ways, one of which might be the Star of David. I hadn't even considered the Moses thing, but yeah, that too.


The Samaritans are most certainly a separate religion (and ethnic group); they began as a Jewish sect, but they rejected Jewish codes and rabbinical wisdom and the Jews declared the Samaritans non-Jewish.

More significantly, the term "Samaritan" survives today almost exclusively because of the parable of the good Samaritan, which comes to us from the Gospel of Luke; that parable uses a Samaritan because the Jews would have considered them non-Jews, even enemies. I'm sorry, but there is no way that in the 21st century the term "Samaritan" has stronger Jewish resonances than Christian ones.

"Asa Martin" seems more significant as an anagram of "Samaritan" than as an indicator of ethnic identity. In fact, since Samaritan created the Asa Martin identity after he saved the Challenger--when he inadvertently christened himself [ahem] with the phrase "good Samaritan"--it's likely the name has no relation to his true ethnicity.

And he's anywhere from one to three points shy of a Star of David. Any Jewish elements seem to be second-generation hand-me-downs from Superman at best, but the dove and the parable name are right there on the surface, and Winged Victory's claims of divinity in human form aren't far behind.

Another interesting side note: in his origin story, Samaritan is sent back in time by advanced science to prevent an environmental catastrophe by stopping the Challenger disaster. In his special, he's locked in endless battle with an evil unbeliever sorcerer-scientist who clones his own sex-slaves.

That's the difference between 1996 and 2006 in a nutshell.

Charles Hatfield

Marc, great to read your reviews of both Astro City and the Morrison/Kubert Batman. Also intriguing to read through your Legion posts, which tell me much about a superhero franchise that for some reason never, ever snagged my interest. (I'm not sure why; subject for a longer discussion at some point, perhaps.)

After inadvertently finding the ADVENTURE anthology at my local library yesterday, I've posted a review of your fine story, "Johnny Come Lately," to my blog. Quite a surprise to find the story, and quite a pleasure to read it. When I design a course on superheroes, will you come and give a talk? :)


As a side note, I find it fascinating that everybody wants to talk about the Muslim elements of Infidel and nobody has really addressed the anti-science subtexts.

Speaking for myself at least, it's not that I didn't notice the anti-science subtext, it's just that the superhero genre is so rife with anti-science messages - typically due to overuse of the mad scientist trope - that it just didn't jump out as much as the obvious Muslim iconography. I mean, sure, Infidel comes off as a pretty stock anti-science character, but is he really any more anti-science than, say, Dr. Sivana or the Silver Age Luthor?


I don't think Sivana or Luthor are villains because they're scientists, just villains whose shtick is mad science (although Silver Age Luthor does take on a certain oedipal dimension as a dark reflection of Jor-El). But Infidel's empirical methodology and philosophy are part of what makes him a villain and Samaritan's opposite number. I really wonder if we're reticent at least partially because demonizing science isn't discriminating against a readily identifiable group the way demonizing religion is, and so we're not as comfortable identifying and criticizing it--even though it can cause (is causing) just as much real harm to real people.

Charles--thanks for the review! And inviting me out to Los Angeles? Twist my arm. :)

The Prankster

The thing about Infidel, though, is that he's not really the skeptic/scientist type of unbeliever. Sure, he seems to be rejecting God, but then at the same time he embraces astrology, alchemy, and various New Agey principles as being the equal of science. Of course, in the world of AC these things are real and actually work, but he's clearly not a full-on "mad scientist" in the classic sense; he's closer to Doctor Doom. He actually expresses contempt for people who adhere to the laws of science and ignore the ancient knowledge from which he apparently derives his power. So he's really more like...um...a Scientologist or...a Raelian?

As for Samaritan's Jewishness, what can I say? I made the connection almost right away, and since then have thought it pretty straightforward. Part of the point of Astro City is to dredge up subtext from throughout comics history and bring it at least a little closer to the surface; for that reason, it would be entirely fitting for Busiek to have given us a Jewish Superman. It's not that I don't see what you're saying, but it seems to me the argument can be pushed in either direction (the thing on his chest doesn't look much like a dove, either) and the only semi-definitive statement on the subject comes in the notes I mentioned earlier. I have them in front of me right now, by the way. They actually appear to be Ross's notes, the exact wording being: "My suggestion for Samaritan's hair[in his Asa Martin identity] is curly instead of straight bangs. This gives a more Jewish feel and definitely clashes with his superhero hair." It certainly sounds as though Busiek and Ross thought of Samaritan as Jewish in that context.

Anyway, Busiek actually fields questions in his forum, so I'll try to get his own answer on the subject.

The Prankster

I asked, and Kurt answered. Here's a link:


(Scroll down--his reply is the ninth on the page.)

Guess what, I was apparently wrong--though Kurt does admit that Asa was designed to look "semitic". He also responds to Marc's essay.


Thanks for following up on that! Here's a direct link to Busiek's reply (scroll down) if that's easier for anyone.

I'm not surprised that Busiek would disagree with my interpretation of his story, but I think he misreads a couple of my points. For example, he says that I think Infidel says something bad about blacks. Just the opposite! I think Infidel's African origins are there to complicate the character, to indemnify the comic against the implications of Infidel's Arabian/Muslim iconography and to make him more sympathetic to American readers. (Especially those who might otherwise feel guilty about the evil villain in the crescent and star?) Not a "magical Negro" exactly, but a close cousin.

I've thought a bit about the positive scientists in Astro City as counterbalances to Infidel, and the thing is, we never see them as scientists--except in that venerable comic-book sense of whipping up exactly the toy that's needed to defeat the enemy in any given story. Busiek mentions the "questing mind" of Augustus Furst as a positive counterpoint, but we never see him questing (except when he and his entire family are ignoring his granddaughter), and the series doesn't play up his ideology the way it does Infidel's. So Infidel really might as well be in a void in that sense.

Busiek calls Samaritan a secular hero, which is maybe a bit of a stretch for a guy named after a parable wearing a dove on his chest whom other heroes call a god in human form, but I basically agree (and even if I didn't, there's nothing wrong with giving Christian readers characters to identify with, although I notice no other faith or philosophy gets such representation). Or I agreed up until this issue, anyway--as I've said before in these comments, giving him an infidel scientist to battle not only makes him more exclusionary, it taps into a particularly unpleasant, xenophobic strain of Christianity.

Busiek's response basically boils down to pointing out all the complicating, mitigating factors that are meant to prevent Infidel from being a simple caricature. Those factors are all there, as I acknowledged from the start--but as I said in reply to Steven and Matthew, popular culture often creates contradictory meanings, even within the same works and characters. Just because the comic wrings its hands over presenting an evil Muslim and qualifies it by making him technically non-Muslim doesn't mean it doesn't present an evil guy cloaked in Arabian and Muslim imagery. Just because the series features a couple of heroic scientists doesn't mean the comic doesn't present a villain who animates our culture's worst stereotypes and fears about science and scientists. Busiek has complicated that, but he hasn't nullified it.


Hmmm. You know, I have to say I find myself leaning towards Kurt's defense here, Marc. You're correct when you say that we haven't seen a lot of "scientists being scientists" in Astro City--but I think that's an inevitable consequence of the way the story is told, with the emphasis pointed away from the actual superhero adventure and more towards the character stuff. This is precisely why Busiek uses pseudonymous versions of "real" superheroes--as a quick shorthand so that we can digest them immediately, with whatever nuances and subtle differences there may be being filled in in due course.

In that respect, I don't think you can reasonably dismiss Augustus Furst, for example; he's clearly Reed Richards in all the ways that matter, and in that respect, yes, he's a heroic, if absent-minded, scientist. The fact that his scientific aspects haven't been played up is probably more a function of the storytelling than a desire to marginalize scientists.

Now, if you were to say that Busiek was more interested in theology than science, I'd have no choice but to agree. But disinterest does not neccessarily connote antipathy. Nor does falling back on cliche, especially in a superhero comic that derives its narrative charge from those same cliches. And the idea of the expressly atheistic mad scientist is very much part of that stew, going back to Frankenstein.

Granted, I think I'm seeing something different than you, Marc, when I read this story. For example, Infidel's past as a slave. You say that this exists to complicate matters, to inject a note of sympathy into the character, and no doubt it does (in fact, again he seems to parallel Dr. Doom, who as I recall was an impoverished gypsy who was mistreated by the monarchy as a youth, then rose to become a monarch himself). But it's also a part of the character's emotional makeup--besides clearly turning him bitter and misanthropic, it seems to have justified the notion of slavery in his mind, so that it's something he resorts to once he gains the power he's been seeking. If you really, really wanted to, you could see that as a defense of slavery, as in, "See, the people who were enslaved would take slaves themselves, given half the chance!" But it's pretty obvious Busiek intended no such thing.

I see Infidel's atheism as more of the same--a character trait, and a clearly important one, but not something that was meant as a wholesale condemnation of atheism itself. Again turning to the Marvel Universe, I wouldn't say that Magneto represents an attempt to demonize holocaust survivors; I'd say it's merely the foundation for a specific, interesting character.

Speaking for myself, I'm wholly on board with the atheists and the scientists (not the same thing, of course) and do indeed find the demonization of science in our current time to be depressing. I did not, however, react emotionally to this story in that regard. Like Kurt says, the universe of Astro City is too clearly entrenched in the ideal of the heroic scientist for me to believe that Infidel is anything but an aberration.

Now, I can't deny that Infidel does seem to stand for everything that makes Bush voters nervous (race included), which certainly makes it odd that the character was created in 1996. But again, since Astro City is founded on the idea of taking simplistic superhero adventures and adding layers of depth to them (or, occasionally, developing the existing subtext further), presenting a villain like this doesn't neccessarily seem like a point against Busiek; merely that he's being true to the history of superheroes by creating characters who reflect the zeitgeist, and then analyzing these characters further.


Well, like I said at the end of the post, I don't see much analysis here: Infidel is about as uncritical a dramatization of the current zeitgeist as we're likely to see. And it seems like you're moving the goalposts--if Infidel does reflect that zeitgeist (which is all I've suggested), then his philosophy isn't just a character trait. I don't think Busiek meant to condemn science or atheism any more than I think he meant to condemn Islam, but the character contains those signals just the same.

Falling back on cliches is the heart of the problem--not because it's artistically lazy (Busiek works those cliches with dedication and precision) but because, as Dan suggested waaaaaayyyyy back at the start of this thread, those cliches can carry unintended but troublesome implications.

By the way, I want to thank everyone who's commented for the thoughtful, engaging discussion--maybe the best one this site's had. Keep those comments coming!


While I've noticed most of the things you've remarked on your initial essay, it's my oppinion that you underestimate the strength of the "complicators" Busiek included in the story.

Perhaps the most telling is that Samaritan, despite his Christian imagery, is a product of *science*. He was created during a time travel accident and Samaritan himself sees his powers in scientific terms.

Infidel, OTOH, whom you peg as a condemnation of scientists, employs some of the same forces as Samaritan (the "Empyream Fire"), only he first achieves control of them through *magic*. His whole background seems mystical and backward-looking, while Samaritan seems more to me like an icon of the future, science, and rationality.

One other thing I found very interesting in this tale is that the main point of the story is about two supposedly mortal enemies and polar opposites agreeing to a truce and starting to work to influence one another through non-violent, non-coercitive means. Looking past the hero/villain trappings, I'm not sure that is a bad or xenophobic message, perhaps quite the opposite.

I dunno, it's hard for me to see Astro City as some kind of Christian propaganda. Believe me, I'm extremely sensitive to this kind of stuff (never could read Tolkien or C. S. Lewis without feeling deeply uneasy myself) and I just don't see it in Astro City. Hell, this series has Winged Victory, a character that is a semi-radical pagan feminist that protects women's rights and abortion clinics, and she is a heroine.

I think it's more a case of Busiek not avoiding themes that can be seen as controversial, instead of purposefully seeking to promote any sort of agenda. If anything, from what I know of Kurt Busiek, the man is a liberal that seems to lean moderately left.


Infidel draws on several cultural anxieties at once--Islam in his iconography, science in his dialogue and motivations. If some of these anxieties appear self-contradictory, well, that's pop-culture ideology for you.

One more thing I'd like to comment on. I copied and pasted the paragraph in question.

I find it slightly unfair that you seem to put so much stock in imagery, gut feeling and first impressions that can give one a "vile taste" when reading the comic, but you seem dismissive when these same shalow/surface/quick interprations seem to argue against your point.

Yes, it is an artifact of modern, incomplete perception of Islam that it doesn't mesh well with science, but seeing as we're talking gut feeling and imagery here, the broad strokes are more influential than the deep analysis, right?

Maybe, as a Brazilian, I have a very different background, but at least to me Islam, in the common westerner's fearful mindset, seems like the very opposite of human-centered science. It's god-centered, irrational, emotional, backward, obscure, medieval, etc.

Right or wrong, that seems to be the view of Islam in the current zeitgeist. But maybe I'm influenced by my own nationality, since in Brazil, the greatest opponents of Islam aren't the conservative Christian religious folks (in Brazil, religious conservatives aren't necessarily also political conservatives).

But at least in my mind, Islam and Science are so opposite in the current climate, that having a villain representing both at the same time by necessity diminishes both negative messages, making Infidel not so much as a anti-Islam, anti-science caricature, but someone that isn't so easy to categorize.

If Busiek wished maximum effect at Christian propaganda he would likely use a evil Muslim magician in one story and in a later story a Faustian amoral scientist. Now, both in the same character it really deviates so much from the archetype, it's so jarring, that (except in the cover) the potentially negative message becomes tangled.

At worst, I suppose only one of the negative messages becomes readily impressed, making the other secondary. In Infidel's case, the Muslin thing maybe becomes preponderant, because it's so there and it's an imagery thing. The science thing, OTOH, becomes obscured to the point that you have to think to "get it", and then it doesn't quite has that gut feeling/broad stroke strength that you're warning against and that makes effective propaganda.

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