The future is young — unless China says otherwise.
DC Comics has removed a piece of artwork from social media that was meant to promote a new Batman comic after Chinese critics claimed the artwork showed support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
The image by artist Rafael Grampa shows a version of Batwoman holding a Molotov cocktail in front of pink lettering that says: “The future is young.”
DC briefly used the image on Twitter and Instagram to promote Dark Knight Returns: The Golden Child, a Batman story that follows his young successor, Carrie Kelley (now Batwoman). The comic was written by Frank Miller, whose original Dark Knight Returns comic reshaped Batman in the 1980s and inspired recent film versions of the character.
DC Comics pulled the image from all of its accounts on Wednesday amid outcry from online users in China. The publisher has not commented publicly about the move, but it comes after strong backlash against the image on Chinese social media.
“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???” one critic wrote on China’s Weibo social media service, according to Variety.
“No matter what the reason, to put an image like this up at a sensitive time like this means you have a death wish,” another user wrote.
The image also received negative coverage in the Global Times, one of China’s state-run newspapers. The paper claims that DC “implied its support of Hong Kong’s rioters” with the image.
Hong Kong has been locked in a near-constant state of protests for the last six months, as pro-democracy demonstrators fight to hold off China’s more authoritarian influence. The protests started in June over a proposed law that would have given China the power to extradite Hong Kong citizens to the mainland, where the Chinese Communist Party has more power to punish people who criticize the government.
Opponents feared the extradition law was a step toward eroding democracy in Hong Kong, a former British colony that was guaranteed semi-autonomy when the U.K. handed it over to China in 1997. China has recently tried to claw back some of the freedoms it once afforded the people of Hong Kong.
China has responded angrily to any outside expressions of support for Hong Kong’s protesters. Hong Kong’s Chinese-backed central government has claimed that foreign “black hands” are determined to destroy the city.
Many pro-democracy protesters wear black and hide their faces to avoid reprisal from Chinese-backed forces in Hong Kong.
Batman also wears black and hides his face to avoid reprisal — a trope that’s been in place since the character was created in 1939.
DC Comics has not issued any comment on social media or to various publications that have reached out for comment.
Artist Rafael Grampa retweeted a story about the situation on Wednesday, adding the comment: “Surreal.” He later tweeted the full image along with the words “The future is young.”
Most comic book writers work on contract, meaning they are not required to fall in line with the company that buys their work.
Although the image triggered anger in China, its disappearance sparked a counter-backlash in other markets.
“DC has surrendered to China,” wrote Twitter user @emotion_att, whose profile features a pro-Hong Kong hashtag. “I really thought they had a spine.”
“Really disappointed,” user @meigi_elf tweeted on Wednesday at DC Comics. “China is affecting U.S. freedom!”
DC Comics is only the latest Western company to run afoul of the powerful and politically sensitive Chinese market.
The NBA became embroiled in a China-related controversy in early October after the Houston Rockets’ general manager tweeted his support for Hong Kong’s protesters. The uproar in China prompted apologies, denials and arguments from various corners of the NBA. It also sparked renewed conversations about the influence China’s authoritarian government holds over corporate powers in the democratic West.
U.S. President Donald Trump stirred up the issue again on Thursday after he signed two bills supporting human rights in Hong Kong. China responded by summoning the U.S. ambassador to denounce the move.
Frank Miller wrote The Golden Child and Rafael Grampa drew the artwork. Their comic is due out on Dec. 11.
Global News has reached out to DC Comics for comment.