X-Men Gold artist embeds controversial religious and political messages in artwork

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Comic books are a nuanced medium. They can, and often are, more than just kids’ stories about spandex wearing Men’s Health models shooting eye lasers at each other. Some of the best comics of all time have been used to tell tales that tackled real world politics and beliefs, but usually this happens as part of the intent of the writer/publisher. Not so for X-Men Gold, it seems.

As we recently reported, the brand new X-Men title is the flagship title of a revamped X-Men line in the wake of the ResurrXtion event, which looks to restore Marvel’s mutants to their eminent heroic roles again. And when X-Men Gold #1 dropped at the end of last week, first reactions were that writer Marc Guggenheim and artist Ardian Syaf had done just that. However, upon closer inspection over the weekend, some fans (via BleedingCool) noticed the numbers and letters “212” and “QS 5:51” scattered throughout the comic’s art, which are highly charged religious and political references.

In Indonesia, “212” is used to refer to a mass protest that took place on 2 December last year as 200, 000 members of the Muslim faith marched to protest the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. Several hardline conservative Islamic groups had accused Ahok of blasphemy against the Quran after the governor had reportedly told Indonesians that they had been lied to by these groups as the Muslim holy book did not prohibit them voting for a non-Muslim. This was specifically in reference to Qu’ran Surah 5:51,  a verse in the holy book which can be translated to mean that Muslims should not appoint Jews or Christians as leaders.

What makes inclusion of these references in the comic even more controversial is that X-Men Gold sees the team of mutants now being led by the Jewish Kitty Pryde (one piece of art has her standing next to the “Jew” part of the word “jewelry”), and also prominently featuring Nightcrawler who is a devout Catholic. The X-Men comics were created in 1963 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, both Jews, and actually began their life as a commentary on the oppression of minorities. Having it be used like this to supposedly speak out against the Christian minority in Indonesia really rankled several fans.

As soon as these references were picked up and started generating controversy on social media, Marvel issued a statement to ComicBook.com revealing that they had no prior knowledge that Syaf, who is an Indonesian Muslim, had inserted these into his art.

“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.”

Fans also took to Syaf’s Facebook page to inquire about the artwork, where the artist initially just confirmed the religious intent of the messages. However he later followed that up with a message saying that his “career is over now”.

“Hello, Worlds…

My career is over now. It’s the consequence what I did, and I take it. Please no more mockery, debat, no more hate. I hope all in peace.

In this last chance, I want to tell you the true meaning of the numbers, 212 and QS 5:51.

It is number of JUSTICE. It is number of LOVE. My love to Holy Qur’an…my love to the last prophet, the Messenger…my love to ALLAH, The One God.

My apologize for all the noise. Good bye, May God bless you all. I love all of you.

-Ardian Syaf-“

Marvel have not yet issued a statement on exactly how they will be dealing with Syaf, as previews have shown that he’s already completed his artwork for X-Men Gold #2 and he’s supposed to be the interior artist up until #4. Syaf is billed as part of a three-man art team rotation with artists R.B. Silva and Ken Lashley, with Silva already pegged to be the artist of issues #5 and #6. With X-Men Gold #2 scheduled for release next week, it’s too late to do anything about that. The same is possibly true for the rest of Syaf’s run based on how artists often draw with significant lead times. After that though Marvel will more than likely pull in Silva, Lashley or other replacement artists to continue the art.

As for X-Men Gold #1, Marvel will reprint the issue with the controversial portions of the art removed, while the original print is already becoming a bit of collectors item as its rarity drives up prices.

UPDATE: Marvel have now officially terminated Syaf’s contract, issuing the following statement on the matter via ComicBookResources.

Marvel has terminated Ardian Syaf’s contract effective immediately. ‘X-Men Gold’ #2 and #3 featuring his work have already been sent to the printer and will continue to ship bi-weekly. Issues #4, #5, and #6 will be drawn by R. B. Silva and issues #7, #8, and #9 will be drawn by Ken Lashley. A permanent replacement artist will be assigned to ‘X-Men Gold’ in the coming weeks.

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Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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