DC Comics is the latest entertainment company under fire for submitting to the will of the Chinese government after they pulled a promotional poster for a new Batman run after the Chinese complained that it showed support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Variety reports that DC Comics “yanked a poster for a new Batman title” by Frank Miller that showed Batman “throwing a Molotov cocktail against a backdrop of hot-pink words spelling out the new comic book’s tagline, ‘the future is young.'” The DC Black Label comic, “Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child,” is slated to hit shelves December 11th and is hotly anticipated.
#DCComics removed this Batman's Future is Young image from Instagram after Chinese accuse it as support to #HongKong protests.#Batman #HK #Comics #Censorship #DCBlackLabel #FutureIsYoung pic.twitter.com/9mHbxHqZcX
— Darren L. (@SanJoaquinDelta) November 27, 2019
It’s also hotly debated.
Pro-government Chinese commentators pointed out the similarities between Batman’s actions on the cover and actions taken by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, who recently holed up in the city-states colleges and universities for a showdown with Hong Kong police, armed with a number of home-made defenses including Molotov cocktails. Demonstrators managed to hold off law enforcement for nearly two weeks before being forced out under threat of arrest and potential interrogation by Chinese-backed forces (and an uncertain future that could include life in prison or worse).
“Is Hong Kong really becoming Gotham City? But Hong Kong rioters are not Batman. Instead, they are the criminals of Gotham City,” one user of the Chinese social media site, Weibo, commented, according to Newsweek. Others, who could have been Chinese officials sent to foment opposition to the Hong Kong protests among the Chinese population, accused DC Comics of encouraging violence.
“[T]he poster came under fire from Chinese internet users who contended that it contained coded messages in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests,” according to Variety. “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.”
Batman, of course, typically wears a black suit (though some iterations have been shades of blue or purple). Molotov cocktails are a generally recognized symbol of guerilla warfare and street-level resistance. And the “Golden Child” reportedly refers to an Earth-bound boy with extraordinary super powers.
The figure on the front cover might not even be Batman, technically. It’s actually Batwoman.
“[T]he 48-page one-shot book follows a new Batwoman, Carrie Kelley, who teams with Lara Kent, the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman, to tackle the latest imminent threat in Gotham City. The protagonists discover that Lara’s little brother, Jonathan Kent, might have the most formidable superpowers on Earth, hence The Golden Child subtitle,” Newsweek reports.
That explanation did little to deter the Chinese critics: “No matter what the reason, to put an image like this up at a sensitive time like this means you have a death wish,” one suggested.
DC Comics pulled the cover and then, of course, came under fire for capitulating to Chinese censors, who have been looking to scrub any far-fetched mention of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong from the internet. The “mentions” don’t even need to be explicit; censors have scrubbed the Disney character “Winnie the Pooh” from the web in China because anti-Chinese government protesters in China and in Hong Kong have suggested that Chinese president, Xi Jinping bears a striking resemblance to the cartoon bear.
Disney, video game company Blizzard, and DC’s comics rival Marvel, have all come under fire for adjusting works of fiction to fit the tastes of Chinese censors. Regardless, the protests in Hong Kong have worn on, and now have the explicit support of the American government, a move that drove Chinese government officials to threaten American interests.