From Singa the Lion to Soaper 5, Singapore really loves creating mascots, and recently, we saw the introduction of a new team of superheroes by the name of “Virus Vanguard”.
Introduced to the public on 20 April 2020 via the gov.sg website, members of this team are supposed to help in the fight against the spread of coronavirus. Each member had their own power to fight the virus: MAWA Man, Circuit Breaker, Dr Disinfector, Fake News Buster, and Care-leh Dee.
As we all know by now, the promised superhero action turned out to be a total drama and was taken off the gov.sg website barely a day after it was put up. There are many reasons swirling around, but these are just some of the issues for their takedown:
Criticism 1: Celebrate healthcare heroes instead
While the characters look superhero-y enough, the criticism was about the lack of empathy of the campaign. By highlighting aspects like fake news with Fake News Buster who “wields the Mallet of Truth and… knocking sense into people”, many felt these characters made light of the coronavirus situation.
Many even suggested creating superhero versions of our essential workers instead – the medical staff, the F&B providers, the cleaners, and more.
Criticism 2: Liverpool fans were not happy
Fans of Liverpool soccer club felt that the character MAWA Man was a direct insult to their favourite team. They took MAWA – “Must Always Walk Alone” – as an obvious take on Liverpool’s motto, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. To add insult to injury, MAWA Man is a fan of ManU.
Criticism 3: Plagiarism of characters
Perhaps the biggest boo-boo committed here is plagiarism. Eagle-eyed comic book aficionados were quick to point out a few similarities between Virus Vanguard characters and those that were created by other artists.
Circuit Hero: The teen girl, Mini Moh, who controls the large mecha bears striking resemblance to a fanart of Peni Parker by Korean artist @SteelScarlet – mecha aside, her facial expression, hair, and pose look like they were practically traced.
Care-leh Dee (pronounced Care Lady): The character Care-leh Dee not only sounds like she should be a Care Bear, her name is also spelled really oddly. In any case, the major beef here with fans of X-Men is the fact that Care-leh Dee seems to be really similar to an artwork of Storm, by CrimsonArtz on DeviantArt.
The drama continues
When the Virus Vanguard campaign was abruptly taken down due to complaints, Gov.sg revealed that the project was a collaboration with local arts collective, Band of Doodlers (BOD). Some netizens wondered if this was just a finger-blaming exercise:
In the latest twist to this superhero drama, Mas Shafreen, the creator of Virus Vanguard and the founder of BOD, has announced recently that he would quit the group he founded.
In his recent Facebook post, he said he would leave BOD and take responsibility for the Virus Vanguard, and hopes that BOD would not be associated with failed campaign. “BOD has been about inclusivity and collaboration and I am so very proud of how it has grown,” he wrote.
Interestingly, Shafreen has posted a work-in-progress for the Virus Vanguard project:
How it evolved from these original artworks – which have a local flair – to the final version is a mystery.
In any case, you can stay tuned to the response from Gov.sg when they release the findings of their review.
Pop culture news site Geek Culture first published an article on Tuesday highlighting the similarities between Virus Vanguard character designs to the works of other artists.