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X-Men artist in trouble after sneaking in controversial political references

(Image: Marvel Comics)
(Image: Marvel Comics)

At their best, Marvel’s X-Men comics have been reliable sources for not-so-subtle metaphors about accepting people for who they are and for embracing the things that make you different or special, but the artist on the first issue of the new X-Men Gold series is now in trouble for sneaking in some political references that are a lot more controversial than usual. The artist is named Ardian Syaf, and explaining what he did requires a bit of backstory into an ongoing political conflict in Indonesia. As io9 explains, a group of conservative Islamists in Jakarta are pushing against the region’s governor, Basuki Purnama Tjahaja, because he’s a Christian. The critics are members of a group called the Islamic Defenders Front (which has been accused of committing vigilante violence), and they believe that Indonesia should not have political leaders who aren’t Muslim.

(Image: X-Men Gold, Ardian Syaf, Jay Leisten, Frank Martin)

A lot of the pushback against Tjahaja comes from a video that came out last year in which he supposedly told voters that his opponents were using Quran verse 5:51 to lie to them. That verse in particular has been the subject of a lot of controversy lately, and Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson explains that the Indonesian translation essentially says, “Oh you who believe, take not the Jews and the Christians as leaders/advisors.” The Islamic Defenders Front has cited that verse as a justification for its belief that non-Muslims shouldn’t be running things in Indonesia, and though Tjahaja has tried to apologize for making statements that were critical of the Quran, a lot of protesters have begun calling from him to be arrested “on charges of blasphemy against Islam.” This has come alongside large-scale protests, with the biggest one coming on December 2 of last year.

That brings us back to Syaf, the X-Men artist. In the issue of Gold, there’s a scene where Colossus wears a shirt that says “QS 5:51” while playing baseball against some other mutants (including Nightcrawler, who happens to be a Christian), and a scene where Kitty Pryde (who is Jewish) addresses a crowd while standing beneath a scene that says “212.” The former is apparently a direct reference to verse 5:51 of the Quran, while the latter is a reference to December 2, and if that seems too shaky, Syaf himself apparently confirmed the references in a Facebook post. So, essentially, people are now accusing Syaf of promoting an extremist agenda that promotes anti-Christian and anti-Jewish views.

Also note the placement of the “Jewelry” sign behind Kitty Pryde’s head. (Image: X-Men Gold, Ardian Syaf, Jay Leisten, Frank Martin)

This has become a pretty big controversy among comic book people, and now Marvel has released a statement to ComicBook.com in which it denounces Syaf’s references and says that he’ll face “disciplinary action.” You can see that statement below:

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.

As for Syaf, Bleeding Cool reports that he is more or less refusing to back down, claiming that his references were nothing but nods to the political situation in Indonesia and not necessarily an endorsement of either side, while also telling people to buy copies of the the first prints of his issue since it’s now collectible. Going back to that G. Willow Wilson post, though, she has provided a rather vicious takedown of what Syaf did from her own Muslim perspective and why it will amount to little more than “career suicide” for him—while still reflecting poorly on the handful of Muslim people working in the comics industry.

At this point, Marvel has not specifically commented on Syaf’s future with X-Men Gold or the company in general.

[Note: io9, like The A.V. Club, is owned by Univision Communications.]

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