The fierce political war being waged by religious hardliners against incumbent Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama has been dominating real-world headlines here in Indonesia, but it has now crossed over into the fictional Marvel Comics Universe after Indonesian artist Ardian Syah snuck references to his support for the anti-Ahok protests into the first issue of a new X-Men comic book series.
Local fans of Ardian, a prolific comic book artist who has worked for both Marvel and DC Comic books and professionally drawn some of the world’s most popular superheroes including Superman and Spiderman, noticed that his work on “X-Men Gold #1” featured numerous references to the anti-Ahok movement.
The 212 in the panel above is a reference to the massive rally that took place in Jakarta on December 2 (i.e. 2/12), which was organized by hardliner groups including the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), to protest Ahok’s alleged blasphemy against the Quran.
Another even more obvious reference is the above panel from the same issue in which the character Colossus (a classic X-Men character who was seen on the big screen in last year’s Deadpool movie) is wearing a shirt that says QS 5:51, which is a reference to Al-Maidah 51, the Quranic verse that Ahok referenced during his allegedly blasphemous speech in Jakarta’s Pulau Seribu district in September.
Quickly after these references were discovered, Facebook user Haykal Al-Qasimi put together this post, which quickly went viral, laying out the evidence of what Ardian had done and explaining the situation to Marvel comics (full text below)
Dear Marvel ComicsMy name is Haykal, I am from Jakarta, IndonesiaAnd I would like to inform you something about your…
Dear Marvel Comics
My name is Haykal, I am from Jakarta, Indonesia
And I would like to inform you something about your recent comics, X-Men Gold.
I’m a fan of Marvel comics, and I also enjoy your movies
Now from what I’ve known, Marvel stands for diversity.
You included minorities on your rooster of superheroes
We have more female superheroes now, we have LGBT superheroes, we have biracial superheroes, and even Muslim superheroes, which is all great.
But I found out that on X-Men Gold comic, there’s a subliminal message of hatred towards minorities
It was done by this person, a Muslim penciller from Indonesia
And he’s using your comics to spread hatred against non muslim minorities in Indonesia.
The “QS 5:51” on Colossus shirt refers to the Quran verse used by Muslim extremists to discriminate against the current governor which is also one of the governor candidates in the current election in Jakarta, Indonesia.
That verse is used to coerced voters NOT to vote for a non muslim candidate, the tension got so bad in Jakarta that the muslim extremists are even threatening that they won’t perform a funeral prayer for those who vote for a non muslim candidate. And there are hate banners all over Jakarta regarding this.
And the writing “212” on the building refers to the date of a big rally by muslim extremists in Jakarta to force the police to arrest the non muslim governor for alleged blasphemy when he cited the aforementioned Quran verse, in which this penciller joined the rally.
I also got information that this penciller also made a comic regarding voting for a non muslim, the language in Indonesian (third picture) but I can’t verify this because the facebook page that hosted the picture is closed now.
Now that I’ve explained the meaning behind those references, it is up to you as a publisher what to do about this penciller.
But I don’t think you and your comic readers would want your comics to be used to spread hatred based on person’s religion.
Thank you for your attention
– An Indonesian Marvel fan
PS: I missed the Jew reference next to Kitty Pryde’s head, who happens to be Jewish
The PS at the end of Haykal’s post refers to Kitty Pryde, the leader of the X-Men in the new comic book and a prominently Jewish character. Ardian has not commented on whether that was intentional, but considering the placement and the lack of any story-related reason for a jewelry store being placed in the scene, some have inferred that he was indicating his displeasure with the choice of a Jewish character as the group’s leader.
However, Ardian did confirm that the other references to the anti-Ahok movement were intentional, explaining why he supports the movement and why he included the references in this screenshot, which shows a conversation he supposedly had with one of his fans that contacted him through his Facebook page.
(Based on his conversation, Ardian seems to believe that 7 million people took part in the 212 rally – a number that was often repeated by local Islamist media outlets – when in fact the actual number of participants was estimated to be somewhere between 200,000-500,000. Just to give you an idea of where Ardian gets his news.)
“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.”
Marvel has not elaborated what “disciplinary action” might be taken against Ardian. Previously released preview art for “X-Men Gold #2” has shown that Ardian has already completed work on the issue.
Ardian is, of course, entitled to hold any personal beliefs he likes and express them however he likes – in his private life. But as many have noted, his sneaking references to the anti-Ahok movement into the artwork he was paid to create for Marvel, a company that prides itself on diversity, was utterly unprofessional and may have serious repercussions not just on his own career but that of fellow Indonesians and Muslim artists (G Willow Wilson, one of the creators of Ms. Marvel – Marvel’s most popular Muslim superhero – and a Muslim herself, had a particularly scathing response to Ardian’s actions).
Ardian and some of his defenders have protested the furor over his hidden references to the anti-Ahok movement by noting that this is not the first time he has put messages about Indonesian politics into his work. Back in 2012, he inserted this panel into an issue of DC Comic’s “Batgirl” featuring a billboard (apparently located inside Gotham City’s “Little Jakarta” neighborhood) in support of current-President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s campaign at the time to become governor of Jakarta.
Jokowi’s running mate was Ahok, who became governor of Jakarta when Jokowi was elected president (indicating that Ardian was at least somewhat of an Ahok supporter in the past).
But it’s easy to understand why nobody got upset about that reference. Jokowi and Ahok ran on a campaign championing a new era of Indonesian politics, one celebrating diversity and tolerance. The current anti-Ahok movement is, no matter what Ardian seems to think, is not about defending Islam from blasphemy but promoting a particular form of religious intolerance (in addition to the denial of funeral prayers for Ahok Muslim supporters mentioned in Haykal’s Facebook post, those who attended an anti-Ahok prayer rally on February 11 were asked to pledge that they would only vote for Muslim leader) that is in direct opposition to the Indonesian state creed of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity).
It’s a creed that could easily also be applied to the X-Men. The famous superhero team was created by two Jewish artists, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, who intended the comic book’s mutants to stand as a symbol for all minorities fighting for peace and acceptance from the majority who hates and fears them. The team has, at times, included Jewish, LGBT and Muslim heroes amongst its ranks.
In what would have been quite the ironic twist, officials from GNPF-MUI, the organizing body behind 212 and the other anti-Ahok rallies, briefly considered Ardian’s inclusion of a reference to Al-Maidah 51 on the clothing of a comic book character to be blasphemous act in and of itself, but after a meeting of officials decided not to group Ardian and Ahok together as blasphemers.
Subscribe to The Coconuts Podcast for top trending news and pop culture from Southeast Asia and Hong Kong.