DC Comics Comes Under Fire for Deleting Batman Poster That Sparked Chinese Backlash

DC Comics has yanked a poster for a new Batman title from its social media accounts after the image drew criticism from Chinese commenters who said it appeared to support the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The artwork depicts Batman throwing a Molotov cocktail against a backdrop of hot-pink words spelling out the new comic book’s tagline, “the future is young.” It was posted on DC Comics’ Twitter and Instagram accounts; both platforms are blocked in mainland China. The poster was meant to promote a forthcoming DC Black Label comic called “Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child,” due to hit shelves Dec. 11. DC Black Label is an imprint that seeks to appeal to an older-skewing readership through reprints and original limited series.

But the poster came under fire from Chinese internet users who contended that it contained coded messages in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. They said that the Molotov cocktail alluded to young Hong Kong protesters’ more violent tactics, that the “dark knight’s” choice of black attire referred to the black-clad Hong Kong protesters, and that the “golden child” of the book’s title was a veiled reference to the color yellow, which was taken up by previous pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong five years ago.

“The black clothes represent Hong Kong, the mask represents Hong Kong, the Molotov cocktail represents Hong Kong, what else here doesn’t represent Hong Kong???” wrote one angry Weibo commenter. Another chimed in: “No matter what the reason, to put an image like this up at a sensitive time like this means you have a death wish.”

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DC Comics has since removed the poster from its social media. A Beijing-based representative of Warner Bros. declined to comment on the move.

China is a critical market for Warner Bros., which owns DC Entertainment and DC Comics, its publishing subsidiary. “Aquaman” broke Chinese box office records last December to take in a cumulative $292 million, while “Shazam!” made $43.8 million in April.

With the “Batman” image, the company joins the ranks of Western entities like the NBA and Disney that have been thrown onto the minefield of Chinese politics, with Chinese nationalists threatening to boycott on the one hand and others lobbing criticism for seeming to sacrifice freedom of speech for profit on the other.

On Weibo Thursday, angry comments and discussion of the poster mixed with promotion for the new trailer of Warner Bros. “Birds of Prey,” which will debut stateside next February and is helmed by Chinese-American Cathy Yan.

In the meantime, DC Comics’ Instagram has been flooded with criticism from people who support the Hong Kong protests or are angry that the company appears to have given in to Chinese political pressure.

“So now Batman loves money more than justice?” asked one commenter.

Another wrote: “Apparently China rules the world now. The future is young? No, the future is censorship.”