After last week’s X-Men: Gold #1 hit stands, some fans were quick to notice hidden political and religious messages inserted into the art by artist Ardian Syaf. First pointed out by Reddit user 'wdowney', the messages refer to specific verses of the Quran and use codes that make reference to the current political situation in Syaf’s home, the Republic of Indonesia – messages that, in context, can be taken as anti-semitic and anti-Christian.
The primary message inserted into X-Men: Gold #1 is an image of Colossus in a shirt that reads “QS 5:51,” a reference to chapter 5, verse 51 of the Quran, which in common English translation reads “O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you – then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.” However, the commonly-used Indonesian translation of the verse uses the term “leaders” instead of allies.
While different interpretations of the Quran ascribe different meanings to chapter 5 verse 51, in Indonesia the verse has been used as a rallying point against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Christian governor of the capital city of Jakarta. Some Indonesian Muslims have accused Purnama of blasphemy against the Quran, a crime in Indonesia, and have called for his removal from office or arrest.
This is where the second image which appears in X-Men Gold #1, the number 212, connects to the situation. The number was primarily seen juxtaposed on a sign next to Kitty Pryde – an Jewish character, who was posed between the number 212 and a sign reading “Jewelry” in the scene in question.
The number “212” has been used as a reference for a specific peaceful protest against Purnama which took place on December 2, 2016, in which an estimated 200,000 Indonesians marched against the politician. 212 is also coincidentally the Manhattan area code, the area where X-Men: Gold is set. Marvel’s headquarters also falls in the area covered by the 212 area code.
"212" is also, coicendetally, the Manhattan area code where X-Men: Gold took place, and where Marvel's headquarters is based.
Since the discovery of the imagery, Syaf has confirmed its meaning. In a statement released via Facebook (originally in Indonesian) Syaf asked for those discussing it to remain civil. In further commentary on Facebook, Syaf has taken the position that he is using his art to protest Purnama’s blasphemy, but has not yet apparently addressed the anti-semitic and anti-Christian message that many have taken from the hidden references. Syaf’s Facebook page has since been deleted entirely.
A statement from Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson, arguably Marvel’s most prominent Muslim creator, decried the Indonesian interpretation of the Quran verse and Syaf’s personal philosophy as “garbage.”
Meanwhile, Marvel has issued an official response to the controversy, saying “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 did not disclose what "disciplinary action is planned. It is worth noting that Syaf, like most Marvel creators, is likely a freelance independent contractor and not an actual employee.
This isn’t the first time an artist has snuck inflamatory hidden meanings into a Marvel comic. In 2000, Marvel fired staff inker Al Milgrom after the artist was found to have added a derogatory message about then-outgoing Marvel Editor-in-Chief Bob Harras into Universe X: Spidey #1.
At the time of this writing, the hidden messages remain in the version of X-Men: Gold #1 that is available on Comixology.