DC Comics has been heavily criticized for removing an image advertising its new Batman comic on social media last week after some said it appeared to show support for the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
The image, uploaded on social media to promote the forthcoming Batman comic titled “Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child,” due to be released on Dec. 11, depicted the iconic fictional hero Batman poised to throw a flaming Molotov cocktail in front of the slogan, “The future is young.”
However, shortly after the image was posted online, some Chinese internet users said the ad was a veiled reference to the escalating Hong Kong pro-democracy protests that have continued for nearly six months.
Social media users from mainland China claimed the poster showed support for the protests through the superhero’s black mask, choice of weaponry, and black clothing—the color commonly worn by pro-democracy protestors in the city.
“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 Weibo user posted, according to Variety.
“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???” another Weibo commenter said.
Hundreds of other comments on DC Comics’ social media profiles voiced similar concerns, with some saying they would stop supporting any of DC’s projects in the future.
However, after DC Comics deleted the ad on both its Twitter and Instagram accounts, the American book publisher was met with even more intense scrutiny, as others criticized the comics giant of censorship and bowing to economic pressure from China—where its parent company, Warner Bros., makes much of its revenue.
In 2018, Warner Bros.’ “Aquaman” movie made a total of more than $232 million in Chinese box office sales, about $44 million more than from U.S. box offices, reported Business Insider.
“Really disappointed on [sic] @DCComics Just because of China citizen comment few word of Hong Kong democracy, DC choice to del the post on IG…. China is affecting US freedom,” a Twitter user wrote.
“I just don’t understand why a Chilean Batman with a Molotov cocktail has to be something with Hong Kong Independence…like excuse me are we on the same page?” another said.
The comic’s illustrator, Rafael Grampá, also shared a link to a news report about the controversy with the caption: “Surreal.”
The comic makes no reference to Hong Kong, but tells the story of Carrie Kelley, a new Batwoman, who forms a team with Superman and Wonder Woman’s daughter—Lara Kent, as they face Gotham City’s latest threat side by side, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
DC Comics isn’t the first Western company to be accused of caving to Chinese censors over the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests. Blizzard, Google, Apple, and the National Basketball Association have drawn criticism for reigning in free speech in an attempt to placate the Chinese regime.