Marvel terminates Indonesian artist’s contract over hidden religious messages in X-Men Gold comics

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2017, 6:08pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2017, 9:46pm

Marvel has fired Indonesian artist Ardian Syaf after controversy over the politically charged hidden messages in the first issue of X-Men Gold.

“Marvel has terminated Ardian Syaf’s contract effective immediately,” the company said in a statement that also explained that Syaf’s work will still be seen in X-Men Gold Nos. 2 and 3 because the next two issues of the biweekly series have already been shipped to the printer.

“Issues No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 will be drawn by R. B. Silva and issues No. 7, No. 8 and No. 9 will be drawn by Ken Lashley,” the statement continued.

“A permanent replacement artist will be assigned to X-Men Gold in the coming weeks.”

Featuring superheroes fighting to save humanity despite the fear and bigotry they often have to face as mutants, “X-Men” has always been political. But Marvel found their latest comic unexpectedly thrust in the conversation around the complicated religious and political reality of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Readers pointed out that it seemed Syaf had included some anti-Christian and anti-Semitic messaging within the pages of X-Men Gold No. 1. Others more attuned to Indonesian politics said the messages seemed to be referencing the current tensions around Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who is facing accusations of blasphemy against Islam and is currently up for re-election.

Elected in 2014, Purnama is the first ethnic Chinese Indonesian to be elected governor of Jakarta and the first Christian to serve in the office in 50 years. Last year, video surfaced of Purnama telling voters they were being deceived by politicians who said the Koran prohibits Muslims from voting for a non-Muslim, which led to multiple major protests.

Readers noticed that X-Men Gold seemed to make reference to both the Koranic passage in question as well as the date that more than 200,000 conservative Muslims rallied in Jakarta to protest Purnama.

The first reference was spotted on a shirt worn by Colossus, which read “QS 5:51” (for Koran, Chapter 5, Verse 51) while the second was the number “212” (for December 2, 2016) spotted above the character Kitty Pryde on a building.

Readers also noted that the latter image included a jewellery store with the first three letters of “jewellery” placed right next to the Jewish Pryde’s head.

While translations of Koran 5:51 vary, hardline Islamists in Indonesia have reportedly used the verse to defend their views about non-Muslims. Syaf also reportedly shared in a Facebook post (that has since been removed) that he was inspired by the December 2 protest. In a subsequent post, Syaf revealed his “career is over now”.

As backlash to these revelations spread over the weekend, Marvel released a statement on Saturday explaining that it was unaware of the meaning of these references inserted into X-Men Gold and that the artwork would be removed from all upcoming versions of the issue, including the digital version and trade paperbacks.