This article contains nothing but Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and DCEU spoilers.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the second movie in the DC Extended Universe series, which began with Man of Steel, and continued in the Wonder Woman movie, will continue further with the Justice League movie, and more. As a result, it’s positively packed with references to DC Comics, and hints about the future of the DC Extended Universe.
Here’s our complete and spoiler-filled breakdown of everything you might have missed in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
– Just as Man of Steel opened with Superman’s origin (his literal birth, in fact), so does Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice open with Batman’s origin story. Thank heavens for that, because if we don’t see what motivated young Bruce Wayne to become the Batman, we might never know! That is, of course, a joke.
While Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, we didn’t see his actual origin until a two-page segment in Detective Comics #33. To make up for that six month gap, DC Comics and their media partners are now contractually obligated to re-tell Batman’s origin in some form, whether it’s in the comics, on the screen, or via finger puppets, every six months in perpetuity. That’s not true, but it sometimes feels that way.
The visual inspiration for this origin sequence is, like many things in the film, taken from Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns, which was first published in 1986. Things like the mustachioed Thomas Wayne and the string of pearls caught on the barrell of the gun are right out of there, as well as the (dream?) sequence where young Bruce is surrounded by bats after accidentally discovering the bat cave.
The Waynes leave the movie theater after a revival screening of the 1940 version of The Mark of Zorro starring Tyrone Power. That particular Zorro film holds up really well, is a great watch, and feels like a superhero movie before there was ever really any such thing. Totally worth your time. I also believe that The Dark Knight Returns was where it was first revealed that this was the film the Waynes saw on that fateful night.
You can also spot Excalibur on the marquee, which is John Boorman’s highly stylized, overly serious 140-minute take on the King Arthur legend (sounds like another movie we know), here to help illustrate that this sequence takes place in 1981. Excalibur feels like a very long film at 140 minutes. Batman v Superman, on the other hand, feels even longer than its 153 minute run time.
We wrote lots more on John Boorman’s Excalibur right here, if you want to learn more about this crazy movie.
I owe a special thanks to Peter in the comments for catching this next little detail, Excalibur is listed as “coming next Wednesday.” Now, aside from the fact that the movie actually opened on Friday, April 10th, 1981, “coming next Wednesday” is still pretty significant. First of all, new comic books come out every Wednesday, so this is a nod to that.
The Justice League can be seen as a modern day Knights of the Round Table. Couple that with the fact that the Excalibur movie is “coming soon” (and on a Wednesday, no less!) it’s kind of an in-joke about how the Justice League movie is next on the schedule. That’s pretty cool.
There’s more on Excalibur coming down below, just be patient…
– Visible in the Wayne graveyard is the name “Solomon.” Solomon Wayne was Bruce’s Great, Great, Great Grandfather. When the Batman comics decided they wanted their Gotham City to look a little bit more like Anton Furst’s Gotham designs from Tim Burton’s Batman movies, a story was crafted to make it happen, and Solomon Wayne was part of that.
– It’s also worth noting that this movie marks the first time we’ve seen Bill Finger’s name in the opening credits of a Batman movie. That’s a huge deal, as Finger was a major creative driving force behind Batman and his supporting cast, but for years, Bob Kane took all the credit. We have a little bit more about Bill Finger’s bat-legacy right here.
The Supporting Characters
– Anatoli Knyazev is known to comic book fans as (wait for it) the KGBeast, because he was created in 1988 when that was what you named these kinds of villains. Anatoli has appeared in non-beastly form on a number of episodes of Arrow, as well. He first appeared in a story called “Ten Nights of the Beast” which is a pretty cool read if you can track it down.
– The photographer who is apparently working for the CIA during Lois’ misadventure in the desert is played by Argo‘s Michael Cassidy. And yes, as credited and as revealed in the film’s Ultimate Edition, he is indeed Jimmy Olsen. “Superman’s Pal” is promptly and brutally murdered. So, yeah, you can forget about that little piece of Superman mythology in the DC Extended Universe, as well.
– Alfred Pennyworth first appeared in 1943’s Batman #16. Like most enduring Batman characters, he was created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson. Alfred cut a rather different figure in his early appearances, and through the years he has become more of an aggressively badass figure.
– Lex Luthor has been around since Action Comics #23 in 1940 (you’ll note that at the end of the movie, his prisoner number is AC23-1940), and as we see here, he had lustrous red hair. Later appearances alternately identified Lex as a shortening of Alexander or Alexei, and even later appearances revealed he was a childhood friend of Clark Kent, before a lab accident stole his luscious locks.
– Lex Luthor’s prison garb has the prisoner number of 16-TK421. TK421 is a reference to Star Wars when Luke and Han took on Stormtrooper disguises. You know, “TK421, why aren’t you at your post?” Batman v Superman and The Force Awakens were tweaking each other with little social media crossovers during filming, but it appears this is the only one of those in-jokes made it to film.
Also, while orange prison jumpsuits certainly aren’t just a DC Universe thing, Lex was looking a bit like Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s vision of the character from All-Star Superman in this scene.
The Lex of this film is “Alexander Luthor, Jr.” Which means his father’s name isn’t “Lionel” as it was in the Smallville TV series or a handful of the comics that followed. Something tells me that Alex Sr. didn’t die of natural causes.
Luthor has been something of a jerk-of-all-trades during his career, from straight mad scientist to captain of industry to President of the United States. I wrote much more about that stuff right here.
Mercy Graves is Lex Luthor’s bodyguard, a super strong badass, although you don’t see any of that in this movie. Mercy was first introduced in Superman: The Animated Series where she had considerably more to do than she does in this film, and has recently appeared on the Supergirl TV series.
Let’s get into a few notes about Kryptonite…
– It’s amazing that Man of Steel went an entire movie without going down the Kryptonite road, but we do finally get it here. Kryptonite was actually a creation of the (awesome) Adventures of Superman radio show, a necessary plot device so that original Man of Steel Bud Collyer could take a vacation from the radio show’s punishing, almost daily schedule. For weeks, Superman was played by another actor, who was only required to groan in agony while Supes was at the mercy of the alien mineral.
– Here’s something I never would have noticed (thanks to JACS in the comments!). Ralph Lister is credited as Emmett Vale, and he isn’t the guy who finds the hunk of Kryptonite in the Indian Ocean as I initially thought, but he appears in Lex Luthor’s laboratory. Dr. Vale is the creator of Metallo, the cyborg with the Kryptonite heart who would be a great choice to give Superman a headache if we were ever going to get another Superman solo movie, but since who knows if that will ever happen, well…forget it.
The way Kryptonite looks in this movie is a little like how it was shown in Superman: The Movie. Later in that film, when Supes is debilitated by the effects of Batman’s Kryptonite spear, Lois chucks it in the water to get it away from him. That kinda’ reminds me of the Supes/Miss Teschmacher exchange from the end of that movie, too.
Speaking of that Kryptonite spear, wireman (cool handle, by the way) in the comments found this little gem from the comics, that I wasn’t aware of:
The Dark Knight Returns Influences
In The Dark Knight Returns, a comic which obviously has influenced this movie quite heavily, when Batman first returns to action he lends a hand to two cops in pursuit of suspects, one who isn’t old enough to remember Batman in action, and one veteran who advises him to chill out and enjoy the show.
The rookie cop and the veteran cop, who Batman encounters while out whupping ass, remind me a little bit of this pair from Dark Knight Returns:
It can also be noted that this exchange played out much the same way in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises when Christian Bale’s Batman first returns from retirement, much like in the iconic Frank Miller graphic novel.
By the way, the two officers in question are named “Officer Rucka” and “Officer Mazzucchelli.” Greg Rucka was the writer of the excellent Gotham Central comic, and David Mazzucchelli was the artist on Frank Miller’s other great Batman story, Batman: Year One.
The news montage (which, rather surprisingly, features a cameo by Andrew Sullivan!) is another nod to The Dark Knight Returns, which helped set up its near-future vision of the DCU via TV news clips. You may recognize some of the anti-superhero sentiment from these, as well. Also, we get the return of Glen Woodburn from Man of Steel, too.
– Alfred’s quote about “the next generation of Waynes” facing “an empty wine cellar” is lifted straight out of The Dark Knight Returns. You’re going to read words very much like that a lot in the course of this article.
While most Batman costumes are fairly similar in essence, the proportions and lines on this particular version are also right out Frank Miller’s artwork:
Pretty cool, right?
The bit with Batman sighting a rifle atop a tower calls to mind still more stuff from Dark Knight Returns, albeit there it was a “grappling hook” gun, while here it’s to fire a tracer.
– Also, I don’t suppose that I need to explain Bruce’s “freaks dressed like clowns” joke, right? Of course I don’t.
The shot of Superman lifting the Russian rocket (numbered 300 of course) over his head has a hint of this page from The Dark Knight Returns to it…
Batman’s opening gambit in his fight with Superman is to hit him with a sonic blast, this (again) is straight out of Dark Knight Returns. Same with the Kryptonite dust/gas projectile.
There are lots of other direct similarities to the comics in that battle, too…
Look familiar? Check out that first panel on the left!
That armor looks pretty familiar too:
You get the idea, I’m sure.
– When Batman shows up to take out the KGBeast, the action comes right out of the first chapter of (say it with me now, kids!) The Dark Knight Returns. Batman bursts up out of the floor to whup ass. Batman bursts through the wall to take a giant honkin’ gun from some dude. Batman says “I believe you” after armed asshat says “believe me, I’ll kill her” and then takes him out. All from DKR. Just change the names of the goons.
During the Doomsday battle, complete with lightning bolts, we get a recreation of the cover of The Dark Knight Returns #1. No, seriously, check it out…
Also in Dark Knight Returns, Bruce is often brooding over a Robin costume in a glass case, and Alfred reminds him about “what happened to Jason…” which brings us to…
The Robin Connection
Needless to say, there’s only one character who would have spray painted that on Robin’s body, so this mirrors the events of the 1988 Batman comic event, “A Death in the Family,” which allowed readers to decide (via a 1-900 number… those were different times) whether the second Robin would survive a brutal beating (with a crowbar) at the hands of the Joker and a subsequent warehouse explosion.
It’s tough to really see the colors on this, and they’re certainly muted, but the basic design certainly mirrors that of the first Tim Drake Robin costume, which also happened to be the first one in the main DC Universe continuity that looked genuinely badass.
It was designed by legendary Bat-artist Neal Adams and first brought to comics by Norm Breyfogle (thanks to our very own JL Bell for keeping me honest here!) and remains one of my favorite costume designs of all time. You can see Jason Todd’s Robin costume in a similar glass case in the above image, as well.
It’s never made clear which Robin this is supposed to be in the movie, but it’s certainly Jason Todd. After all, there’s a Nightwing movie in development and they can’t do that if Dick Grayson is dead.
Zack Snyder clarified that whoever this Robin is, he died about ten years ago. He later specified that it’s probably Dick Grayson. But since we know that this version of Batman has been active for at least 15 years (Alfred says 20), and that’s about enough time for this to line up with the Jason Todd version of the character.
During Batman’s weird little nightmare/dream sequence, you can spot several clues as to the identity of the big villain of the DCEU. There’s a gigantic Omega symbol in the sand, and Earth appears to have had fire pits (ala the planet Apokolips) installed.
Couple that with what appeared to be Parademons attacking the Dark Knight, and, well… it’s looking more and more likely that Darkseid, Jack Kirby‘s most famous DC Comics creation (and one of the greatest comic book villains of all time) was supposed to make his debut in Justice League 2.
The strange symbol carved into the desert there is Darkseid’s, while the winged creatures flying around are his Parademon minions…
For reference, here’s what they look like when drawn by Jim Lee in the New 52 Justice League re-launch, which featured Darkseid as the team’s first big threat, and which was clearly meant to inform their film efforts…
Also, the sharp-eyed JACS (who is quickly becoming the MVP of the comments on this thing) pointed out the similarities to Batman’s Mad Max garb here and the nightmarish future Batman that Damian Wayne becomes during Grant Morrison’s run as writer on the character.
– Doomsday was created by Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern in 1992 with the express purpose of killing Superman dead and driving up sales. He succeeded in all possible respects in Superman #75.
Doomsday’s Kryptonian origins weren’t revealed until much later, although he was never a Frankenstein’s Monster version of Zod, nor did he have Lex Luthor’s DNA, nor did he… ummm… you get the point. But the idea of Doomsday as a highly evolved/continuously evolving killing machine came right out of the comics, as does the “he grows more spikes as he takes damage” thing.
– When Superman and Doomsday take their battle to Stryker’s Island, we’re told it’s uninhabited. In the comics, Stryker’s Island is the home of a massive Metropolis penitentiary. Clearly that isn’t the case here…unless in the bleak moral universe of the DCEU, the inhabitants of a prison are completely expendable forms of human life.
– Superman getting caught in a nuclear explosion, becoming a weird zombified thing, and then charging up/healing via the power of the sun comes straight out of a particular Batman story that has been referenced numerous times throughout this article… you have three guesses. Go ahead. Guess.
-Superman flying to almost certain death while carrying a Kryptonian object (albeit a much smaller one) also calls back to mind a similar storytelling beat from the end of Superman Returns.
– Lex Luthor in Zod’s old ship, talking to the AI, feels similar to Lex’s infiltration of the Fortress of Solitude in Superman II.
– Luthor using the ship to turn Zod’s body into Doomsday is also quite reminiscent (intentionally or not) of Kevin Spacey’s Lex Luthor using Kryptonian crystals to make a giant Kryptonite continent in Superman Returns.
Also, when Lex is talking to Zod’s corpse (oofah), he says “you flew too close to the sun.” This is a reference to the myth of Icarus, which doesn’t remotely seem to apply to anything regarding Zod’s arc. Unless he means “you flew too close to the son,” as in “The Last Son of Krypton,” but somehow I don’t think that much thought went into this scene.
– Lex didn’t create Doomsday in the comics, but in many recent versions of the story, Lex did create Bizarro, notably as an imperfect Kryptonian duplicate. There’s a little bit of a similarity to that here. Bizarro is, of course, not in the movie, despite some hilariously inaccurate rumors.
Miscellaneous Cool Stuff
– Clark bringing Lois flowers and groceries is faintly reminiscent of their brief shot at domestic bliss in Superman II where Superman famously cooked Lois a souflee using heat vision, and flew around the world to get her some nice tropical flowers. This scene also illustrates the age old Supes/Lois problem, where she knows that he “belongs to the world” and not to her.
– Pery White refers to Clark as “Smallville” more than once in the film. That was Lois Lane’s affectionate/condescending nickname for Clark on Superman: The Animated Series, which is an excellent way to spend your time, I might add.
Later, while admonishing Clark for actually, y’know, wanting to be a reporter and tell the truth, Perry says, “It’s not 1938 anymore.” 1938 is, of course, the year that Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman, was published. In other words, here’s Perry White speaking for Zack Snyder, telling fans to stop whining over the fact that Superman doesn’t behave very much like Superman in these movies.
– It appears that the Metropolis News channel, Channel 8, is indeed a GBS/Galaxy Broadcasting affiliate station. You can also spot a GBS microphone during a press conference later on, which is perhaps representative of their cable outlet or something similar.
– You can spot a mention of Gotham’s Blackgate Prison when Clark is doing his investigation into Batman.
Incidentally, the Ultimate Edition has a lot more going on as far as Clark’s investigative reporting, and that along with Henry Cavill’s performance remind me quite abit of the better moments of the 1950s Adventures of Superman TV series. George Reeves routinely played Clark has a hard-edged reporter, and Cavill definitely channels some of that here.
– Bruce Wayne’s “one percent chance” logic is childish and horrifying, and sounds like something Donald Trump would say about immigrants. It certainly was the logic that Dick Cheney used to condone “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
– You can spot “Nicholson Terminal,” which the Batmobile obliterates. Maybe this is a nod to Jack Nicholson’s iconic take on the Joker. Maybe it isn’t. Does this movie really ever make sense?
– When Senator Finch is asked “Must there be a Superman” well, that’s a reference to a classic Superman tale. Not just any classic Superman story, either. The first published Superman story by Supes-writer extraordinaire, Elliott S! Maggin (that’s not a typo) in Superman #247 from 1972. That story is far more nuanced and interesting in its 24 pages than this movie in its two and a half hours, and it’s 100 percent worth reading.
– There’s a pretty hilarious Wilhelm Scream when the Batmobile overturns some poor hood’s car.
– Ma Kent’s “you don’t owe this world a thing” speech marks the return of evil, dystopian, Hunger Games Smallville logic to the series. For real, is it any wonder that the DCEU’s Clark Kent is such a brooding mope? Between stuff like this and hallucination Pa Kent telling Clark about the time he drowned a bunch of horses by accident, it’s a miracle that Superman isn’t just snapping necks like… oh, wait, he already did that.
– Hey, remember when the internet said that Scoot McNairy was playing Hal Jordan/Jimmy Olsen/Ted Kord/Morgan Edge/Che Guevara/Spider-Man/Ad Nauseum? Yeah. That didn’t happen. He’s Wallace Keefe, a character we’ve never heard of. The only Keef I give a damn about is Richards.
– Ma Kent is now working at Rolli’s Diner. Now, there’s two smaller Lex Luthor stories from the comics that Rolli’s ties into. Superman #9 (1987) featured a backup story called “Metropolis, 900 miles” which dealt with Lex Luthor offering a kind of “indecent proposal” to a waitress at Rolli’s.
Lex’s kidnapping of Martha Kent is also kinda’ like a story from Superman #2 (1987) where he kidnapped Lana Lang after he figured out that young Superman had ties to Smallville. He ended up figuring out that Superman was Clark Kent but refused to believe it.
– In the background during these scenes there’s a prominent piece of question mark graffiti, which may or may not be a reference to the Riddler. There’s some “Who Watches the Watchmen?” graffiti (not in this image), too.
– Lois boards a red helicopter on the Daily Planet rooftop, which reminds me of the best scene in the best Superman movie, the immortal Superman: The Movie.
The Justice League Connection
– So, in case you cannot tell because he’s almost unrecognizable, the lightning tornado dream sequence echo voice thing is the DC Extended Universe version of The Flash (and that’s Ezra Miller in the role). The Flash appearing in mysterious form, kind of like a dream, and possibly from a different point in time, is very much a reference to Crisis on Infinite Earths where Flash was appearing to various heroes trying to warn them of what was to come while he was busy dying later in the story fighting the very same threat.
Flash also seems to be teasing something about Lois Lane being “the key.” If Bruce is right about Superman, that means Flash is speaking to Bruce from a time in the future where Superman has become a threat, perhaps because of the death of Lois Lane…or maybe Lois is the key to turning him good again, or bringing him back to life.
This could be a reference to the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game and comics, which features a morally compromised DC Universe where heroes fight each other and Superman is a terrible person. So, you know, that sounds awfully familiar all of a sudden, doesn’t it?
We wrote more about the Injustice comics right here, if you’re interested. I’m saving some more about the implications of this for another article, too.
– I’m sure you all realized that was Jason Momoa as Aquaman during the underwater sequence, right? His look here is reminiscent of how he appeared on the excellent Justice League animated series and his mid-90s makeover.
– The weird horror movie/RoboCop sequence is the origin of Cyborg, played by Ray Fisher, who made his next appearance in Justice League. He was scheduled to get his own movie in 2020, but that no longer appears to be happening.
One cool thing about that scene is that the weird cube thing that apparently makes the Cyborg project successful is a Mother Box, which makes this the film’s second overt Jack Kirby reference, and the imminent arrival of Steppenwolf as the villain of Justice League.
– By the way, Wonder Woman first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in 1941, but the Wonder Woman in this movie is even older than that. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman garb is reminiscent of how artists like Alex Ross drew her in Kingdom Come and Darwyn Cooke did in New Frontier to make her look more like the warrior princess she’s traditionally depicted as.
You can also spot Chris Pine as Steve Trevor in that photo from 1918 and the rest of his World War I crew that we got to meet in her movie.
Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman performance is even better with a little more context after seeing her in action in her solo flick. For example, I only just noticed how immediately bored/disgusted she is with Lex Luthor when he’s giving his little speech at the party. She sees right through him. It’s awesome.
The Death of Superman
A few notes about the “death” of Superman…
I have to admit, this is really cool. Remember all the Excalibur stuff up top? It’s back! A few of you sharp-eyed folks pointed out the similarities to this scene in Boorman’s flick, and they are undeniable…
– When you see his body cradled by Lois Lane, it’s a nod to Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding’s art from Superman #75.
– In the Ultimate Edition, before Lex is captured, he’s seen communing with a mysterious figure on the ship. This is likely Steppenwolf, the villain of the Justice League movie, although there’s a slight chance it’s Yuga Khan, the father of Darkseid. But really, it’s probably Steppenwolf.
– Ending on “Amazing Grace” and an ambiguous/hopeful note is more than a little reminiscent of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which featured the death of Spock. Superman has somehow managed to show even less emotion and seemed even more alien than Spock ever did in this franchise so far, so it’s really, really appropriate.
– You can see the weird little telekinetic effect that was used to show that Superman’s powers were about to manifest in Man of Steel. So, y’know, of course he’s not dead.
I explained the implications of Superman’s death and the ending of this movie in greater detail here.
– Superman’s coffin is black with a silver “S” logo. When Superman returned from the dead during the Death and Return of Superman story in the ’90s, he wore a black suit with a silver “S” on it.
– By the way, it’s worth noting that Warner Bros. has been trying to kill Superman on screen since at least 1995. Virtually every draft of every Superman movie of the last twenty years featured some form of Superman getting croaked (occasionally at the hands of Doomsday), while most others at least teased, it, too…including Superman Returns.
– To bring things full circle, I should also bring up the fact that The Dark Knight Returns also ends a “death” albeit Batman’s (he isn’t really dead, either). That hopeful ending involves Superman overhearing Bruce’s heartbeat. Some folks claim they can hear a heartbeat as we zoom in on Clark’s coffin, and that’s another DKR reference for you!