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The X-Men franchise sometimes tackles controversial issues in the name of social progress, but a recent conflict surrounding a new X-Men comic book left some international readers feeling so upset that Marvel decided to pull the artwork from its product and discipline the artist behind the debacle. After readers had taken to social media to express their dismay about the first issue of X-Men Gold, Marvel released the following statement:
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.
According to The New York Times, Marvel decided to pull artwork from the first issue of X-Men Gold and pursue disciplinary action for an Indonesian artist, Ardian Syaf, because he injected Islamist and anti-Semitic symbolism into art panels without the approval or knowledge of the company. The issue in question was supposed to mark the beginning of a reboot in the X-Men franchise, but readers in Indonesia noticed panels throughout the comic book that raised red flags, and they took to social media to voice their concerns about anti-Christian and anti-Semitic symbolism.
The social media criticisms indicated that artwork by Ardian Syaf referenced opposition movements against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the governor of Jakarta. Purnama, the first Christian to become the governor of Jakarta in decades, is up for re-election. Indonesia has a vast Islamic population, and many of Purnama's opponents believe he is unfit to lead because of his religious beliefs. Critics of X-Men Gold #1 examined how Ardian Syaf, who has worked for Marvel since 2007, added "QS 5:51" to the shirt worn by Colossus, one of the X-Men characters in the issue. The critics said "QS 5:51" was an apparent reference to Quran chapter Surah 5, verse 51, which some opponents of Governor Purnama have cited and interpreted as to argue against the appointment of Jews and Christians to leadership positions.
Another symbolic number, "212," appeared on the front of a store in a panel from the issue. Critics said this number referenced a protest that took place in Jakarta on December 2 of last year--the "212 protest"--during which conservative Islamist groups voiced their firm opposition of Purnama. In the same panel featuring "212," critics claimed the word "Jew" showed most prominently on the signage of a jewelry store adjacent to Jewish character Kitty Pryde.
Syaf previously stated that working for Marvel was a dream come true. In the wake of the controversy, Ardian Syaf posted on social media that he does not hate Christians or Jews; he has since removed the post. Unfortunately, it is too little, too late for Syaf; Marvel announced today that it had terminated its contract with him. His artwork will remain in X-Men Gold #2 and #3 because there is not enough time to recommission the art for the bi-weekly series. However, one of the other artists working on the X-Men Gold project will take over the art for issue #4, which Syaf was originally supposed to do.
It will be interesting to see what precautions Marvel takes to avoid similar situations in the future. We'll keep you posted on any updates in this story.