Marvel Will Remove Artwork, Discipline Artist for Controversial Political References in X-Men Gold #1
Hot on the heels of its “diversity doesn’t sell” controversy, Marvel is dealing with another inclusiveness issue. Artist Ardian Syaf reportedly nested hard-line Indonesian Islamist messaging in the first issue of X-Men Gold.
After X-Men Gold #1 came out on April 5, some users on Reddit’s r/Indonesia and r/Marvel began posting about what looked like references to Indonesian politics in Ardian Syaf’s artwork. Specifically, two panels featuring Colossus and Kitty Pryde seemed to refer to the current situation in Jakarta, which elected its first non-Muslim governor in 50 years in 2014.
The governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, is an ethnically Chinese Christian popularly known as Ahok. He is currently facing blasphemy charges for accusing his political opponents of “lying” by using the Quran to attack him. Specifically, Ahok cited their use of verse QS 5:51. According to the Sahih International translation (compiled by a Sunni scholar), the verse reads:
“O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.”
Conservative Indonesian groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (also known as FPI) have argued that this verse means Muslims should never elect a non-Muslim, like Ahok, to lead them. When Ahok called such an interpretation a lie, they charged that he was criticizing the Quran itself, and protests calling for him to be charged under Indonesia’s blasphemy laws erupted.
The largest of such protests took place on December 2, 2016. While, like all protests, it was a complicated affair whose participants held a wide range of concerns and political beliefs, it did include a huge contingent of hard-line FPI supporters. According to the Jakarta Post, one of the speakers said to the crowd, “Thank you for your presence today, but I ask you when you get home to keep in mind that not a single non-Muslim can be a leader in this country…Not a district leader, not a governor or even president should be [a non-Muslim]. Pick a Muslim if you have to vote.”
X-Men Gold artist Ardian Syaf, according to his Facebook post, was inspired by the December 2 protest, and therefore included references to it in X-Men Gold #1.
In one panel, Colossus wears a t-shirt that reads, “QS 5:51,” a reference to the Quranic verse about non-Muslims.
In the second panel, Kitty Pryde (one of Marvel’s most prominent Jewish superheroes) announces to a crowd that she is “the X-Men’s leader.” The building beside her is labeled with 212, a reference to the December 2, 2016 protests, and her head appears beside the “jew” in a sign for “jewelry.”
To many Indonesian readers, these references read like coded support for the conservative, Muslim-leaders-only, anti-Ahok stance.
After the controversy was picked up by comics news outlets and social media, Marvel issued a statement to ComicBook.com:
“The mentioned artwork in X-Men Gold #1 was inserted without knowledge behind its reported meanings. These implied references do not reflect the views of the writer, editors or anyone else at Marvel and are in direct opposition of the inclusiveness of Marvel Comics and what the X-Men have stood for since their creation. This artwork will be removed from subsequent printings, digital versions, and trade paperbacks and disciplinary action is being taken.”
The writer of X-Men Gold, Marc Guggenheim, tweeted a link to the statement and urged people to read it:
Please read. https://t.co/uPE7i1EhEm
— Marc Guggenheim (@mguggenheim) April 8, 2017
Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson and Black Bolt writer Saladin Ahmed both tweeted reactions as well (though Ahmed’s was jokier than Wilson’s). Wilson also posted a breakdown of the many interpretations of QS 5:51 on Tumblr.
Yeah pardon my French but f**k this guy. Kiss your career goodbye. https://t.co/jkLsJlCfEn
— G. Willow Wilson (@GWillowWilson) April 9, 2017
I promise my comics don’t have any subliminal messages please don’t be afraid white people
— Saladin Ahmed (@saladinahmed) April 9, 2017
It’s unclear what sort of “disciplinary action” Marvel will take, though it’s a pretty sure bet that Syad will, at the very least, be removed from X-Men Gold.
In fairness to Syad, there are many reasons to attend or be inspired by a protest. Indonesians could also support the 212 protests because they want to speak out against double standards in the application of blasphemy laws, criticize cronyism in Jakarta politics, etc. I certainly don’t know enough about their politics to generalize definitively.
However, Syad’s own response has been troubling. Personally, if I were accused of including anti-Semitism and bigotry in my artwork, I’d leap to explain otherwise. Syad, though, hasn’t yet apologized, and is reportedly doubling down. He even reportedly joked that the pulled issue of X-Men Gold #1 would become a rare comic.
In a shared conversation with a fan, though, he did assert, “I don’t hate Jew or Christian, I worked with them in 10 years…a lot of good friends, too.” He also said that Ahok “did blasphemy to our Holy Book” and that the protest was a “peace act” enacted “because police never take him like blasphemy doers.” He called the protest a “very special memory for me.” Perhaps we’ll know more if he releases a fuller statement – but when compared to, say, the Batgirl creators’ responses to their transphobic issue #37, Syad’s response seems to suggest that he at least partly meant what he’s been accused of meaning.
I’ll update this story as Marvel or Syad shares any more details.
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