Justice League: Who is Steppenwolf?

Who is the villain of the Justice League movie? We look at how Jack Kirby's Steppenwolf fits in the DCEU and his relationship to Darkseid.

Thor: Ragnarok is a loving tribute to all things Jack Kirby. Nearly every frame of the film burst forth from the imagination of “The King” to create a wonderful film that is truly a testament to the enduring power of Kirby’s imagination. In fact, when you come down to it, just about every Marvel film and most of Marvel’s TV is painted in Kirby’s artistic DNA. Soon, the characters anc concepts of “The King” will come to the DC Extended Universe with Justice League.

When it was announced that Kirby’s New God creation Steppenwolf would be the villain of DC’s Justice League, many fans were surprised. After all, many assumed, especially after the teases in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, that Kirby’s ultimate big bad Darkseid would be the only villain worthy to take on the newly formed Justice League. But Steppenwolf is a fascinating character in his own right and could be a perfect harbinger to the coming of Darkseid.

Steppenwolf has always been a minion of Darkseid, so many would be surprised to learn that the axe wielding villain is actually Darkseid’s uncle (although in the movie, he is apparently his nephew instead). Interestingly enough, Steppenwolf’s earliest appearances in Kirby’s Fourth World titles were in flashbacks. Steppenwolf first appeared in New Gods #7 (1972), and in this fateful issue it was revealed that Steppenwolf had a hand in starting the war between Apokolips and New Genesis, the twin planets of the New Gods. Apokolips was ruled by the evil Darkseid and was the home world of the dark gods while New Genesis was ruled by Highfather and was basically DC’s version of Asgard. The twin planets engaged in a war that burned for millennia and that conflict was kindled by Steppenwolf. 

Steppenwolf was charged by Darkseid to murder the wife of Highfather, who in return led his forces against Darkseid. During the many battles, Steppenwolf was killed. Highfather became so bloodthirsty that he prayed for a way to end the brutal conflict. From there, Highfather became one with The Source (a mystical universal energy that ahem inspired George Lucas to create that thing he created) and renounced war. Darkseid and Highfather traded sons to broker a peace treaty as Highfather’s son Mister Miracle was sent to Apokolips while Darkseid’s son Orion was sent to New Genesis. The entire foundation of DC’s New Gods saga was laid because of Steppenwolf’s brutality. 

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Steppenwolf became part of the present day DC Universe in 1996. In Mister Miracle #4 (1996) by Kevin Dooley and Steve Crespo, Mister Miracle ends up confronting Steppenwolf in some weird cosmic plane of reality. Miracle was imbued with godlike powers over life and death at the time, and went at Steppenwolf with a terrible vengeance. At the end of it all, Mister Miracle shows pity on Steppenwolf and resurrects the man that killed his mother. From there, Steppenwolf takes his place as the commander of Darkseid’s armies and becomes a force to be reckoned with in the DC cosmos. Not Mister Miracle’s best choice, I guess.

The character’s most notable moment came when Kenner graced the world with a Steppenwolf action figure as part of its immortal Super Powers line of toys. The original comic version of Steppenwolf had a strange green face and wore a jaunty little cone hat, but the new Steppenwolf was an axe wielding badass and joined the other more notable minions of Darkseid on toy shelves everywhere in the mid to late 1980s. When Steppenwolf returned to the DC Universe proper in 1996, it was in the Kenner outfit. 

Steppenwolf has also been a pretty important part of DC’s New 52. The new Steppenwolf appeared in the rebooted DCU in Justice League: War (a story that will have a profound influence on the movie) by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee. Here, Steppenwolf actually murders the Earth-2 versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman upping the badass quotient for the modern Steppenwolf considerably. This seems to be the inspiration for the cinematic Steppenwolf in Justice League.

So there you have it kids, from matricide to action figure to Justice League killer, Steppenwolf may not have made many appearances, but where this minion of Darkseid goes, carnage follows. Between kicking off the war between New Genesis and Apokolips and murdering the greatest heroes of one Earth, Steppenwolf leaves change and destruction in his wake. What could this mean for the DCEU? It certainly won’t be an easy fight for the Justice League.

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Justice League opens on November 17.