Did you read Ninjak #1 or X-Factor #10 this week? Stan Lee used to refer to the Marvel Universe as "The world outside your window", set in New York rather than Metropolis and Gotham. Jim Shooter tried to take that further with the New Universe. But superhero comic books have always tried to reflect the changing world around them in one way or another, and ripping stories from the headlines not only gives your story veritas but also helps you come up with a plot. And two superhero comic books out this month doubled down on that.
The launch of Ninjak #1 by writer Jeff Parker, and Javier Pulido opens with a restaging of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. You may recall, journalist Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia in September 2017 and went into self-imposed exile, writing newspaper articles critical of the Saudi government and royal family. In 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents related to his planned marriage, but was never seen leaving. Amid news reports claiming that he had been killed and dismembered with a bone saw inside, an inspection of the consulate, by Saudi and Turkish officials, took place. Initially, the Saudi government denied the death, but following shifting explanations for Khashoggi's death, Saudi Arabia's attorney general eventually stated that the murder was premeditated and the CIA had concluded that Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's assassination.
Ninjak #1 has an opening scene set in an Arabic embassy in Istanbul where a team of assassins is there to kill a journalist who is criticising whichever state they are from. The assassins are going to dismember the body but take the journalist's clothes so that a double can be seen leaving the embassy. That's before Ninjak steps in to perform a public service, joking as he does so.
That was just the first. Because also published this week,Leah Williams, David Baldeon, David Messina, Lucas Werneck, and Israel Silva wrote and drew X-Factor #10. The issue is noted for one comic book murder at the end, but focused on another during the rest of book. Now, X-Factor is part of the recent X-Men Krakoan storyline that sees mutants of the world resurrected after they die as part of the work of Professor X, Cerebro, and The Five.
The comic sees mutant character Prodigy uncover the details of his own murder, committed before he was resurrected, and following clues set by himself. They take him to a gay bar in Los Angeles where he proceeds to track down Buck Thatcher, a film producer who has targeted and murdering young black gay men he takes home with him. And, it seems, inspired by the case of Ed Buck, who was arrested and charged with three counts of battery causing serious injury, administering methamphetamine and maintaining a drug house. Two black gay men, Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean had been, separately, discovered dead in Buck's Hollywood home and the court has heard about other victims as well. The case continues.
In X-Factor, Prodigy seems to have been complicit in his own murder in order to point the finger at Buck Thatcher, which has sat very uncomfortably with some, especially given the levity and laughter in the comic book subsequent to the discovery. Some people appreciated the comic book's take, some people really did not.
There are concerns that such portrayals cheapen the actual events, especially when they are still going through the courts. However, this is hardly the first time events have from the news have been fictionalised in comic books, you couldn't move in the seventies for that. But maybe people are now more sensitive to real-life tragedies being turned into fiction, so soon, especially in a world where media and news flows so much more freely.