It should have been the successful beginning of the relaunch for Marvel's X-Men comic book line, but last week's X-Men: Gold No. 1 has become the center of a controversy over references snuck into the artwork by Indonesian penciler Ardian Syaf that attack Jakarta's governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama.
The issue - which is the flagship launch for Marvel's new RessureXion branding for both the X-Men and Inhumans families of comic book series - features at least two specific references to issues relating to Purnama, the Christian leader of a majority Muslim nation, and a man who is currently facing blasphemy charges after saying that politicians who referenced the Quran as evidence that voters should reject Purnama were lying. Although he later apologized, saying that he had no intent to insult Islam or the Quran, his comments sparked a number of large-scale protests in Jakarta in November and December.
One of those protests is referenced in Syaf's X-Men: Gold artwork, with the number 212 - for 2/12, or Dec. 2, the date of the protest - appearing in the background of a crowd scene. Elsewhere in the issue, the X-Man known as Colossus is seen wearing a shirt reading "QS 5:51," a reference to the Quran passage that the politicians speaking out against Purnama were citing. (That passage, in some translations, warns against taking "the Jews and the Christians" as allies, instead suggesting that they are not working in Allah's favor.)
Following the issue's release on Wednesday, news of Syaf's hidden messages slowly spread across social media before hitting peak volume this weekend, with coverage on comic book sites that prompted an official response from Marvel itself.
"The mentioned artwork in X-Men Gold No. 1 was inserted without knowledge behind its reported meanings," Marvel said Saturday in a statement. "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."
In response to the controversy, Syaf has defended the messages, telling The Jakarta Post, "Making friends [with Jews and Christians] is okay. Who said it's forbidden? I have a lot of Jewish and Christian friends. [But] choosing a non[-Muslim] as a leader is forbidden. That's what the verse says. What can I do as a Muslim? If I worked at DC, I could put [the messages] in a Superman comic book."
He wrote on Facebook Monday, "My career is over now."
G. Willow Wilson, writer of Marvel's critically acclaimed Ms. Marvel series and author of the memoir The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam, wrote passionately both about the Quran verse and Syaf's actions online.
"Keep in mind that 75% of Muslims are non-native speakers of Arabic (I'm one of them), and of that 75%, most know a few phrases of Arabic at most; just enough to be able to perform the five daily prayers, plus some tangentially related religious terminology (I know a bit more)," she wrote, arguing that Syaf's interpretation of the verse he referenced was not only based on an inaccurate translation, but also "has very little relevance [today] to a democratic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious state." The problem, she argued, was that Syaf's actions - which she called "career suicide" - "will continue to affect the scant handful of Muslims who have managed to carve out careers in comics."
Arrow and The Flash producer Marc Guggenheim, who writes the series, remained relatively quiet about the issue on social media over the weekend outside of two tweets: one linking to Marvel's statement, and a second in which he wrote, "Lemme tell you, the support has been amazing. From fans and pros alike."
Beyond its statement on Saturday, Marvel has yet to confirm Syaf's status with the company. His artwork for the second and third issues of X-Men: Gold have already been completed and are scheduled for release across the next month, but he was already scheduled to be taking a break for a number of issues following.
X-Men: Gold No. 1 currently remains available in print, although the digital edition has been temporarily withdrawn to make art corrections. The second issue remains set for release April 19.
April 11, 4:51 p.m. Updated with Syaf's Facebook post.