Over the years, Marvel comics have often found themselves embroiled in controversy whether intentionally or unintentionally. Sometimes it’s for being too socially progressive. Sometimes it’s for very much the opposite of that. Sometimes it’s just good old-fashioned nerd rage. Looking over the history, it’s interesting to see what caused these controversies and how Marvel responded to them. What are the patterns? Why do these controversies happen? How quickly are they shoved under the rug and why? This list aims to examine all of that.
The X-Men Gold Controversy
A very recent controversy ended with an employee of Marvel actually getting fired. Indonesian Muslim Artist Ardian Syraf inserted some hidden messages in his comic X-Men Gold. These were references to the current controversy surrounding Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, who is governor of Jakarta in Indonesia. He’s a Christian governor in a Muslim majority nation and recently incited accusations of blasphemy when he stated the Quran doesn’t require Muslims to vote only for other Muslims as leaders. There have been serveral large protests against him.
A scene in X-Men: Gold where Kitty Pryde declares she is the new leader of the X-Men. The number 212 seen in the background of the scene, which is a reference to the date of one of the major protests against the governor. A later scene shows the phrase “QS: 5:51”, which refers to a verse from the Quran that instructs “do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are allies of one another.”
According to Syraf, he included a reference to this verse in the comic because QS 5:51 “is the verse [governor Ahok] mocked. This is very special to me. I want to put it in my work. That page was drawn after I got back from the ‘212’ rally.” He clarified that by including these messages he didn’t mean to say that Muslims being friends with Jewish people and Christians wasn’t okay but that he felt “choosing a non-[Muslim] as a leader is forbidden. That’s what the verse says.”
Marvel has stated they were unaware of these messages being inserted into the comic and they terminated Syraf soon after. The comic was also pulled. Syraf posted on his Facebook that his career was over now.
The Northstar Controversy
Marvel’s first gay hero coming out was a pretty big deal when it happened. The Canadian hero Northstar was implied to be gay since his creation in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1992’s Alpha Flight #106 that he actually said it. The hero adopted a baby dying of AIDS…then the hospital the baby was in was attacked by another hero, Major Mapleleaf, who was upset the baby was getting all this attention because his gay son didn’t get any attention when he died of AIDS. Northstar calms him down by telling him he himself is gay. Yeah, it wasn’t the most well-written story, but it was still caused a LOT of hub-bub and the issue quickly sold out.
In Astonishing X-Men #1, Northstar married another man, which earned the ire of the conservative organization One Million Moms, who ranted about it on their website.
The Sons of the Serpent Controversy
Marvel has incensed conservatives many times. When they had Sam Wilson take over as Captain America, the mere fact he was a black man caused some rumblings in the far right. The rumblings grew even louder when Sam Wilson fought a white supremacist supervillain group called Sons of the Serpent. They were abducting and assaulting Mexicans who were trying to get across the border.
Apparently the fact these guys were anti-immigration was enough to get several conservative immigrations to identify with the supervillains. Discussion of the issue even appeared on Fox and Friends, where they lamented Captain America beating up conservatives. They wanted him to go back to punching Hitler and stop being so political. This gnores the fact that a) these villains have roughly the same ideology as Hitler and b) the fact that Captain America comics depicted him as punching Hitler before America even enter World War II WAS very political and earned Cap’s creators death threats from Nazi sympathizers.
The One More Day Controversy
Marvel has had a lot of controversial Spider-Man stories over the years, but One More Day will always be one of the biggest ones. In the story, Marvel broke up the marriage of Spider-Man and Mary Jane by having them sell their marriage and all the memories associated with it to the demon named Mephisto in exchange for Aunt May’s life. Chief Editor Joe Quesada wanted the marriage gone, but thought having the couple divorce would set a “bad example”. Apparently making deals with demons is more wholesome that divorce!
There was another statement that indicated Marvel felt Peter needed to be single in order to be relatable to the audience. Which carried an implication all comic book nerds are doomed to unsuccessful at romance. Fans were none too happy about. Other fans protested the nonsensical nature of the story, the destruction of a beloved couple and Marvel throwing out years of history and character development for Peter and Mary Jane. Others liked the fresh start for the character. The debate goes on.
The Tea Party Controversy
An earlier story involving Sam Wilson also raised some conservative ire- particularly that of the Tea Party. Sam and Steve infiltrate an un-named anti-government rally that’s pretty obviously a Tea Party rally.This is made even more obvious by the fact one of the signs says “tea bag the libs before they tea-bag you”. Apparently the letterer googled some real Tea Party signs as examples. This cause a hub-bub, especially since Sam implied the people in the rally were likely to be racist. Marvel removed that particular sign in future publications of the issue.
The Rape of Ms. Marvel Controversy
“The Rape of Ms. Marvel” is one of those controversies you can only boggle at and ask what they were even thinking. You’d think for the 200th issues of The Avengers Marvel would want to do some special tribute to the history of the team or something. Instead we got a story where Ms. Marvel is raped and then gives birth to the dude who raped her amd then goes off the live with her rapist/son in another dimension while the Avengers happily give their blessing.
The basic story is a guy named Marcus wanted to escape the dimension he was trapped in. So he abducted Ms. Marvel, then used mind control to make her have sex with him, something he outright admits to the Avengers. He sent her back to Earth, where she found herself suddenly going through a super-fast mutant pregnancy despite no memory of having sex.
She’s naturally concerned about this, but the Avengers basically “tsk tsk” at her for not being excited about having a mutant-demon-baby. When the baby is born, it turns out to be Marcus himself. He transforms into an adult and tells the Avengers this was his elaborate way to use Ms. Marvel as an escape vessel. Ms. Marvel is suddenly totally smitten with him, in complete contrast to her previous horror and disgust, and insists on going to live with him as his lover.
The Avengers shrug and just let their friend be whisked away by the guy who just admitted to brainwashing her, raping her and using her body as an interdimensional taxi without her consent.
The way it was written, this was clearly supposed to be a “romantic” tale of uppity feminist Ms. Marvel being forced to settling down into domestic “bliss” like a REAL woman, but It probably won’t surprise you to know a lot of readers found it pretty horrifying and disgusting on multiple levels. Carol A. Strickland wrote an article going into just how messed up the story was. X-Men writer Chris Claremont read the article, agreed and published a story in Avengers Annual #10 where Ms. Marvel, having escaped Marcus, comes back and tells off the Avengers off for letting a man who had clearly raped and brainwashed her take her away.
The Hydra Cap Controversy
There are a lot of ways a comic book company could choose to celebrate the anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, the largest Jewish revolt against the Nazis during World War II. Publishing a comic that reveals the Nazis were originally destined to win World War II and the only reason they didn’t is the Allies decided to rewrite history using a weird device and that a character who was created by two Jewish men to punch Hitler and fight Nazis was truly a Nazi all along in the “real” history? Probably not one of them.
The extremely unfortunately timed “revelation” that in the “correct” timeline for the Marvel universe the Nazis were supposed to win has sent shockwaves throughout the comic book community. Revealing that Captain America was working for Hydra, an organization with Nazi roots, already upset plenty of people even though they knew it would be revealed to be mind control.
However with this new revelation, Marvel is not only doubling down on the Nazi Cap bit, but even doing a story that posits the Nazis would have won if the Allies hadn’t “cheated”. This disturbs some people to the point of calling it Nazi propaganda, especially with the image of Nazi Cap being shown “worthy” of lifting Thor’s hammer.
Marvel also tried to get comic book stores involved in a spectacle to promote the event. Comic book store employees were to dress as members of Hydra. Many again felt this was in poor taste, considering Hydra’s Nazi roots.
The fact Marvel keeps pleading with fans to be patient seems to indicate they intend backtrack on this story in some way someday …but it does baffle me that they’re even trying to do with this story if they didn’t intend to get this reaction. Shock value is one thing, but it's hard to see how this plot twist will pan out in a way that DOESN'T come off as "the Nazis should have won" unless they undo it completely.