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SYFY WIRE Behind the Panel

Marvel cuts ties with 'Immortal Hulk' artist Joe Bennett over controversial art

By Mike Avila
Immortal Hulk #33 - Al Ewing (W), Joe Bennett (A)

In a move some would say is long overdue, Marvel Comics has severed its ties to artist Joe Bennett after readers accused him of antisemitism for a political illustration he did several years ago.

The publisher last week confirmed that Bennett will no longer be working for the company following the controversy surrounding the cartoon, which Bennett reportedly drew back in 2017. It shows Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro riding atop a horse with a sword in hand as he threatens caricatures of his political adversaries including former Presidents Dilma Rousseff, Luiz Inácio da Silva, and Michel Temer, and veteran legislator Aécio Neves. On Bolsonaro's chest plate is the Brazilian Republic symbol, and the red flags of his enemies are PTs, a leftist organization in Brazil. Bolsonaro's foes are shown having large noses and buck teeth, images that some people, including this writer, saw as being antisemitic.

We're not showing the image but what Bennett drew speaks for itself, and there's no defending its repulsive imagery. 

Credit to Marvel for taking decisive action here. The company not only declared it will no longer give the popular artist more assignments, but it fired Bennett from the upcoming special event issue Timeless #1, which had just been announced a week ago with Bennett as one of the pencilers. That comic, due out in December, is expected to be an introduction to the future of the Marvel Universe. In the updated press release, Greg Land replaced Bennett. Artists Mark Bagley, Kev Walker, and Kael Ngu, along with writer Jed MacKay, remain on the book.

Marvel Timeless Cover

But here's the question I have: Why did it take so long? This isn't the first time Bennett has been accused of drawing offensive material. It's not even the first time this year it's happened. 

Back in February, he was forced to apologize after readers of his and Al Ewing's hit Immortal Hulk series noticed that Issue #43 had a panel with a jewelry store. In the background, the name of the store is written backward and reads "Cronemberg Jewery" with a Star of David below it. The reason why the lettering was insulting is obvious. But perhaps even more offensive was the Star of David on the jewelry store’s window. It had no bearing on the story at all and there was no indication it was a Jewish-owned business. For some, it was just the perpetuation of a Jewish stereotype in that situation.

Bennett's apology — which was posted on his Facebook page and has since been made private, but which this writer personally viewed — in part said that he "had no excuse for how I depicted the Star of David ... and after listening to you all, I now understand my mistake. This was wrong, offensive, and hurtful in many ways. This is a mistake I must own..."

This all followed what some would say is a pattern of questionable social media behavior by Bennett that makes it hard to give him the benefit of much doubt.

Once that story got traction on social media, Bennett, aside from apologizing, claimed he had no idea using the Star of David in that context would be offensive. Marvel followed suit by admitting the offensive image should never have made print — it was likely seen by at least six Marvel staffers before it was approved — and subsequently removed the imagery from digital editions of Issue #43 and any future reprints.

Writer Al Ewing, who scripted that issue, did not comment publicly about the Issue #43 controversy. He did, however, weigh in last week on Bennett’s political illustration. On Twitter, Ewing wrote a series of tweets where he called the image “reprehensible” and noted the tropes it presents are obvious. He also added this: 

Ewing added that he wouldn’t be working with Bennett again, a statement, that to me, comes off as lacking.

Declaring you’re no longer going to work with a guy who drew hateful images right after you’ve wrapped a very successful run on a book shouldn’t earn you any pats on the back. Frankly, I’m still stunned Ewing didn’t say anything after what happened with Issue #43. He’s one of Marvel’s biggest writers, so I don’t believe fear of being reprimanded by management is a legitimate reason for being quiet. He even acknowledges his own silence in his tweets.

To be clear, Ewing bears no fault for Bennett's artwork. This is all on Bennett. No matter his intention, the artwork he created offended people with its bigoted imagery. Now it's cost him a working relationship with Marvel that goes back more than 25 years. Welcome to experiencing the consequences of one's own actions.

No matter how much talent you may have, at a certain point, you become more of a liability than an asset with actions like these. It doesn't matter how many books they sell, or how well that person meets their deadlines. There comes a point where enough just has to be enough. It looks like it's reached that point with Bennett, at least at Marvel.

I say it's about time.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.