What will MDA do to this comic?

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By Pang Xue Qiang

Archie: The Married Life Volume 3 may be the first comic to depict a gay wedding, but it is not the only one.

In Marvel Comics’ Astonishing X-Men #51, Northstar marries his partner Kyle Jinadu.

Unlike the Archie comic though, this publication is sold in Singapore’s bookstores.

A search on Kinokuniya Singapore’s web catalogue showed that the Astonishing X-Men #51 issue is on the shelf.

Bill Teoh, owner of Comics World bookstore, also said he is carrying the issue.

A physical check confirmed the book – which was wrapped in plastic and labelled “Unsuitable for the young” – is available at Kinokuniya Singapore Main Store in Ngee Ann City.

The availability of Astonishing X-Men #51 – but not Archie: The Married Life V3 – raises questions over MDA’s review process.

On the decision to ban the Archie comic from sale, MDA had said it had received a complaint, and found that the comic breached content guidelines after an assessment.

“MDA reviews public feedback or complaints and takes action on a case-by-case basis if there are breaches of its guidelines,” said an MDA spokesperson in the previous press statement.

So, it seems that the Astonishing X-Men #51 issue could have possibly gone under the radar of conservative pressure groups.

“The content guidelines are really rather broad in nature, and their strict application would lead to whole sections of bookstores going missing. It’s really about how they choose to apply the guidelines,” said Sonny Liew, the comic artist who first discovered the ban on Archie.

He added that MDA’s review process needed better transparency and accountability:

“I think the danger lies firstly in government bodies reacting to pressure groups, in this case conservative groups, that may be coordinating campaigns to remove media they feel uncomfortable about.

“The second issue is that much of this is happening covertly. Of course, every side will fight its corner – but it should be done with transparency, in a public space.”

Astonishing X-Men #51 was first published in June 2012.

Northstar, also known as Jean-Paul Beaubier, was the first openly gay superhero.

On the comic’s depiction of gay marriage, Marvel Comics’ editor-in-chief Axel Alonso said: “Our comics are always best when they respond to and reflect developments in the real world.”

LGBT themes in comics are not uncommon.

In 2006, DC Comics reinvented Batwoman, also known as Kate Kane, as a lesbian.

Still, avid comic fans are worried.

“As a pro-LGBT Singaporean, I am starting to fear if the Singapore censors will start to target the comic shops here and force them to pull out Astonishing X-Men #51 – the one with Northstar’s gay marriage, Young Avengers – just because it has homosexual characters, and any comic books with LGBT characters,” said Mitch, in a post on Tumblr.

“As far as I can tell, things will carry on the same way. If MDA decides to restrict a book, it can do so without anyone finding out. There’s still not going to be a public listing of restricted media,” said Liew.