Why The Latest X-Men Comic is Causing an Uproar in Indonesia’s Muslim Community

A new Marvel comic book series has sparked a heated political discussion on Indonesia’s social media after an artist inserted several hidden references in the comic’s maiden issue.

Indonesian Muslim Ardian Syaf, a freelance contributing artist, was recently fired from his job after his recent work on Marvel’s latest X-Men Gold ignited a backlash among Indonesian netizens, Bleeding Cool reports.

The disgruntled social media users accused him of “spreading hatred” for what they perceive to be anti-Semitic sentiments in his illustration in the issue released last week.

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“Keep your bigotry out of the X-Men,” a Facebook user was quoted as saying.

According to the BBC, Syaf placed two political references in the comic.

In one of the panels in the issue, the Russian mutant known as Colossus can be seen wearing a normal-looking printed shirt bearing the seemingly random words “QS 5:51”. It turns out, the words referenced a passage in the book of Koran which some people interpret as to meaning that Muslims should not delegate leaders who are either Jews or Christians. Syaf would have the number 51 appear again several times throughout the issue. Some Indonesians view the verse as support of intolerance towards other religions.

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Many Indonesians see the references as drawing attention to the case of Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who drew ire from many hard-line Muslims after he also made a reference to the passage last year during his campaign.

Purnama, a Christian, is now on trial for blasphemy, with prosecutors accusing him of insulting Islam. The governor, for his part, maintains that his comments were a commentary against politicians who “incorrectly” use the verse against his re-election campaign.

In another comic panel, X-Men leader Kitty Pryde can be seen on a street addressing a group of people. A building wall in the scene had the number “212” emblazoned on it.

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Netizens made the connection to the massive street protest organized by Muslim demonstrators against Purnama on December 2 (2-12) 2016. Syaf said he was a participant in this rally.

It is no secret that X-Men storylines have traditionally served as allegories of social injustice and statements against bigotry since the comics debuted in 1963 by creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, both of whom are Jewish. In the eyes of many readers, the fact further highlights the inappropriateness of Syaf’s hidden messages.

In response to the public outcry in Indonesian social media, Marvel released a statement to ComicBook.com:

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“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.”

On Tuesday, Syaf returned to social media after a momentary hiatus to address the backlash.

“My career is over now. It’s the consequence [of] what I did. Please, no more mockery, debate, no more hate. My apologies for all the noise. Good bye. May God bless you all,” he wrote on his personal Facebook page.

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The entertainment giant would later release another statement to Comicbook confirming that Syaf was being let go:

“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.”

Syaf, who had also worked for other comic publishers such as DC and Dynamite entertainment, has been known to occasionally hide Easter egg references to political figures in the backgrounds of his work. Back in 2012, he included a shop sign that referenced the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, in Batgirl (Vol 4) #9 (July 2012).

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