Wed, Apr 12, 2017 - Page 6 News List

‘X-Men’ embroiled in Indonesian tensions

NY Times News Service

The X-Men have battled evil mutants, killer robots and alien invaders, but now one of the most venerable franchises in the Marvel universe has found itself embroiled in a new — and unexpected — conflict: the religious and political tensions in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation.

On Saturday, Marvel said that it would remove artwork from the first issue of X-Men Gold, part of a reboot of the X-Men franchise, after readers in Indonesia raised alarm bells on Reddit and elsewhere on social media about what they said were anti-Christian and anti-Semitic messages in some panels of the comic.

The messages that jumped out to readers in Indonesia appeared to refer to political frictions there over Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the first Christian governor of Jakarta in more than 50 years. He is up for re-election this month.

Some images in the comic appeared to refer to hardline Islamist opposition to Basuki, who is also known by the nickname Ahok. Others seemed to have less to do with Indonesian politics and more to do with anti-Semitism, the critics said.

The artist who sneaked the messages into the images was Ardian Syaf, an Indonesian.

The uproar added to headaches for Marvel, which was criticized after one of its executives seemed to blame a sales slump on reader disdain for female and nonwhite characters.

Marvel seemed surprised that references to religious intolerance had appeared in the pages of X-Men Gold, the reboot of one of its biggest properties.

The company said the artwork “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,” the statement added. “This artwork will be removed from subsequent printings, digital versions and trade paperbacks, and disciplinary action is being taken.”

Marvel did not specify what disciplinary action it would take against Syaf, a freelance artist who has been penciling comics for Marvel and other companies since 2007, according to his personal Web site.

Marvel spokesman Jeff Klein declined to answer questions about the company’s relationship with Syaf.

Marvel mentioned him in promotional materials for X-Men Gold before it debuted last week and in an interview published on the Marvel Web site last month, Syaf said the job was “like a dream come true.”

Syaf did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment, but he did address the controversy in a since-deleted Facebook post, according to the ComicBook Web site.

It quoted him as writing: “I don’t hate Christian or Jew” on Facebook and also saying that he has spoken with Marvel about the references he sprinkled throughout the issue.

Those references were specific to the tension in Indonesia — it seems unlikely that someone who did not follow the nation’s complicated politics would have understood them.

In one panel of the comic, Colossus, an X-Men character, is wearing a shirt with “QS 5:51” on it. Indonesian readers said that was a reference to a verse in the Koran that Basuki’s opponents have used to argue that Christians and Jews cannot be trusted.

Last year, Basuki was charged with blasphemy for speaking of that verse in a way that some viewed as disrespectful.

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