The Caped Crusader himself, Batman, has joined the ignominious ranks of those silenced by the frenzied outcry of mainland Chinese netizens after a promotional image of the crime fighter released by DC Comics was accused of offering coded support for Hong Kong’s protesters.
The image in question featured what appeared to be Batman (though it may actually be Batwoman, judging by a brief plot synopsis) hurling a molotov cocktail against a background of bright pink block text that reads “The Future is Young.” It was released on DC Comics’ social media channels to promote next month’s release of DC Black Label comic book Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child, Newsweek reports.
It wasn’t long, however, until Chinese netizens — as is their wont — were frothing with righteous anger over the image, which they claimed was a veiled message of support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, who have been consistently vilified by mainland media.
#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
According to Variety, the social media pundits claimed that the molotov cocktail was an allusion to protesters’ increasing embrace of the homemade firebombs, while the title “Golden Child” was a reference to “yellow,” the color associated with the city’s pro-democracy camp.
Even Batman’s (Batwoman’s?) choice of black clothing, they maintained, was a nod to the color worn by Hong Kong’s protesters. (Give us a f***ing break, Chinese netizens. Batman’s been wearing black a lot longer than the protesters have.)
Nationalist state-run tabloid the Global Times, meanwhile, was happy to amplify netizens’ braying, offering up a smattering of outraged, and at times, wounded comments from Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform (because actual Twitter is banned in China, bastion of free discourse that it is).
“DC just killed Batman, Batman will never bow to evil,” said one user.
“That was not batman! Batman would not do that,” said another, clearly feeling betrayed.
But the outlandishness of the accusations proved to be no impediment to DC swiftly yanking the posts down. As Variety notes, the mainland has become an increasingly important market for Warner Bros., which owns DC, and whose Aquaman movie broke Chinese box office records last year.
DC and Warner Bros. are just the latest companies to face the wrath of the Chinese internet over content purported to support Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest movement. The street apparel company Vans pulled a custom shoe design featuring Hong Kong protesters from a contest, while the famed jeweler Tiffany hastily took down a social media ad featuring a model striking pose that rubbed mainland netizens the wrong way.
Basketball-mad China even jumped down the throats of the NBA after one of its executives tweeted his support for Hong Kong’s protesters. (The league ultimately came to the defense of free speech, but not before first setting off a major outcry in the U.S. by issuing a fawning apology on Weibo.)
The only people to openly, and gleefully, thumb their noses at China’s redoubled efforts to censor the entire world were the creators of “South Park,” who not only aired an episode mocking companies’ tendency to kowtow before the might of the mainland market, but also responded to news that the show had disappeared from the Chinese internet with an “apology” offering even more mockery.
Predictably, beyond the mainland’s Great Firewall, backlash to the decision to pull down the Batman poster was less than kind to DC, with comments pouring in to its Instagram account criticizing the move.
“Apparently China rules the world now,” one noted. “The future is young? No, the future is censorship.”
Another said they were “Really disappointed” in DC, adding that Chinese censorship “is affecting US freedom.”
One user, however, cautioned against judging DC too harshly.
“To be fair, DC can’t afford to take any chances in the only country that actually likes Batman vs Superman,” he said.
To be fair, DC can't afford to take any chances in the only country that actually likes Batman vs Superman. https://t.co/W8WyDmxi1V
— Matt Haldane (@mdhaldane) November 29, 2019