The numbers 212 and 51 might not mean a lot to most people, but to those closely watching this year's race for Jakarta governor, they represent political turmoil. Indonesian artist Ardian Syaf has been accused of sneaking coded political references into the latest "X-Men Gold" issue after an outcry by fans online.
The codes are references to two contentious points swirling around the Jakarta Governors race. The number 212 represents the December 2 protests in Jakarta, which saw millions hit the streets to demand the resignation of Jakarta's current governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama or Ahok, after accusations of blasphemy were leveled against him.
The number 51 references the Quranic verse of Al Maidah 51, which some have tried to use to convince muslim voters to only elect muslim candidates and not the incumbent and christian Ahok.
Those aren't the only coded and somewhat odd references in the issue published last Wednesday. In a scene where the Jewish character Kitty Pryde is making a speech about becoming the new leader of the X-Men, the "Jew" part of "Jewelry" is seen next to her head. A somewhat anti-Semitic panel for a company and franchise that was created by two Jewish people, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
The secret references came to light after an Indonesian comic book fan, Haykal Al-Qasimi, posted an open letter to Marvel on Facebook. Marvel released a statement promising to take "disciplinary action" against the artist and to withdraw all copies of the controversial X-Men Gold issue. This actually made the issue an unlikely collectors copy, fans immediately started to snap up all the copies they could find of the now misprinted comic.
Even with all the media scrutiny, Ardian has been fairly calm in his responses and has not publicly apologized. After the controversy, Ardian even encouraged people to buy the new "X-Men Gold" issue since now its value has probably gone up because of recall.
Comic book curator and researcher Hikmat Darmawan said that comics aren't the place for artists to preach politics. "The problem here isn't the artist's political views, beliefs, or his right to express them. He misused another person's property to broadcast his own political views without the knowledge of the property owner," Hikmat told VICE Indonesia.
"It's difficult since most people blame his political views. His political views are not wrong since they're his...so it's only right that he doesn't feel bad about them," said Hikmat, "However, he should've felt sorry for breaching his contract. He doesn't respect professional ethics."
Ardian told Republika what motivated him to include the controversial references. "I was drawing those numbers after I had returned from Jakarta," said Ardian "The 212 protest was a memorable moment for me, so I included it."
But now since the issue is in high demand and Marvel isn't currently planning on firing Ardian, the real losers in this controversy are many struggling Indonesian artists. "The impact of this incident, from what I've heard, is Marvel has started to ask other Indonesian comics artists about their political views. It's giving a bad name to Indonesian artists and the Indonesian interoperation of Islam," said Hikmat.
Fellow comic artist Aji Prasetyo voiced the same concerns on Facebook. Aji said that Ardian Syaf's actions have jeopardized the jobs of fellow Indonesian artists who work for foreign companies, "Stop voicing your anti-zionist ideology while you're still getting check from a 'zionist' enterprise. That's what people call hypocrisy. On top of being a hypocrite, you jeopardize other people's livelihood, that's worse," Aji said in a Facebook post.
"Ardian Syaf doesn't realize that his message is considered to be too strong for other people. Many media organizations and fellow comic artists have claimed that he just committed career suicide," said Hikmat.