The Singapore COVID Superhero Kerfuffle Is Incredibly Silly

Singapore Superheroes Virus Vanguard

Singapore released a set of COVID-19 fighting superheroes and it pissed off football fans. Everything is super weird.

The Virus Vanguard is a set of Singapore based superheroes aimed at creating awareness about the pandemic and educating people about good practices during the outbreak. While some feel that putting money towards a comic in the middle of a pandemic is a waste of money, I disagree. I think that, at its heart, this could be a very helpful thing for disseminating information to different groups and educating the public. But for some strange reason, the creators decided to poke at Liverpool FC fans and it’s all very strange.

The Virus Vanguard has various heroes stressing important messages about the pandemic, each with a costume and set of powers or weapons that highlight a particular aspect of the crisis. It’s certainly not the first comic aimed towards spreading information during the pandemic (see: PUBG MOBILE Encourages Players to Stay Safe with #ChickenDinnerAtHome) and it won’t be the last. This is what comic creators do and, in general, I support the idea behind it.

The Virus Vanguard team has Dr Disinfetor, who can detect viruses and bacteria with sight, smell, and sound. There’s also Fake News Buster and his ‘Mallet of Truth’ (lol). Then there’s Circuit Breaker, which is a highly advanced robot piloted by a twelve-year-old girl, which educates people about the electrical grid. And then we have Care-Leh Dee, a trillionaire philanthropist who absorbs negative energy.

So far, so good, right?  It’s a bit silly, but I get what they were aiming for. While they aren’t the best-developed characters ever, they accomplish the goal of highlighting a message and that’s that. But then we get to MAWA Man and it all falls apart.

MAWA Man (MAWA stands for Must Always Walk Alone) is intended to educate people about social distancing with his “repelling power” that pushes things away to a safe distance. Okay, sure. I can appreciate that. But then his backstory takes a bizarre turn. He is described as a “fanatical Manchester United fan who grew up in the 80s when Liverpool kept winning titles and he was constantly taunted by his two Liverpool fan brothers”. 

And that there is the problem.

The character was apparently intended to be a play on the Liverpool FC slogan ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ but needless to say that little play on words did not hit right. Instead, he just seems like a guy you’d want to steer clear of due to his extreme fanaticism. Who wants to hang out with a guy that bashes things other people love and makes that a core aspect of his personality? Keep your distance, folks. He’s a hater. Keeping a good social distance isn’t a problem when he’s someone you definitely don’t want to socialize with in the first place.

There was, predictably, a lot of backlash against MAWA Man. Liverpool fans launched a petition to have the comic removed and it built up a lot of steam really fast. The Singapore government pulled the comics offline in less than a day as a result of all the hate and both the Singapore government and the artist have issued apologies for causing offense. And, honestly, the artist’s apology does kind of make me feel bad for him.

I apologise that the characters came across insensitive. […] Band of Doodlers is a local art group and was founded by me, hence the association. BOD should not be held to this.

It started because a group of us in BOD, including myself, created superhero characters to show appreciation for our frontliners, including healthcare workers, and how we can battle this together. It is also a way for us artists to collaborate together while practising social distancing. That was when I was approached to develop a comic series to help raise awareness on circuit breaker measures.

As for MAWA Man, I am a Man Utd [Manchester United] fan and I will be the first to admit that Liverpool is doing well, unlike Man U. MAWA Man was more about how we should practice safe distancing but the aim is that he will realise that it takes all of us, regardless of which team we support, to pull through this together. And we cannot just do this alone.

The current situation has affected us all and I know as an artist myself, I am very appreciative of such opportunities given that jobs are hard to come by. I am sorry for the trouble caused and I hope local artists can still be supported with creative projects.

Others seem to have been moved by his statement as well, and have since rallied around him in support.

This is just an incredibly weird situation all around. It’s clear the artist was trying to be clever and accidentally kicked a hornet’s nest in the process. I don’t think he intended to come off so negative, but everyone is stressed out right now and they’re clinging to the things they love harder than ever. It’s a rather strange choice to lean negative right now and poke at people like that when we could all just really use some support.

The blame doesn’t fall completely on this artist, though. There were likely plenty of people along the way that could have seen the potential for backlash and stepped in, but they simply didn’t. BOD itself is a group of artists that could have noticed that this might not have been a great direction to go. And surely the Singapore government had some sort of oversight over this? They didn’t just hand the keys to a national campaign over to an artist and let them go wild, did they? But somehow this went forward and nobody stepped in to say this might come off poorly.

In general, while this was a silly choice with bad foresight, I do hope this doesn’t impact the artist too badly. All things considered, this was a mild error. It’s only getting so much backlash because 1) we are all tense and any negativity is hitting us way harder than normal and 2) football fans are particularly intense passionate. Had this been any other time and any other group of fans, it likely wouldn’t have caused so much drama.

Let’s just all try to be a bit more supportive of each other, okay? And let’s try to understand each other when we maybe aren’t our best selves.

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They identify as queer.

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