This article consists of nothing but Justice League spoilers. You’ve been warned!
The Justice League movie is full of DC Comics references. While not everyone has loved the shape of the DCEU early on, one thing you can’t argue with is how well they’ve created this larger, interconnected universe in relatively few films. Man of Steel got it started, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice gave us our first indication of a wider superheroic world, Suicide Squad brought in the villains, and Wonder Woman gave us a better idea of the DCEU’s past.
But it’s up to Justice League to bring it all together, and despite its faults, it does this in remarkably efficient fashion. There’s so much crammed into nearly every scene that this has become one of our longest reference guides ever. Because there is just so much to unpack here, I’m not going to try and go chronologically through the movie. Instead I’ve broken this up into relevant sections.
Here’s how this works: if you spot something I missed, shout it out in the comments or give me a yell on Twitter. If it checks out, we’ll update this until it becomes the most complete Justice League reference guide on the internet.
While the Justice League have been around since 1960 (they first appeared in Brave and the Bold #28) the broad strokes of this movie are based on Justice League: Origin (which was adapted as the animated movie, Justice League: War), the comic book story that revamped the team’s initial team-up for a new generation. The villain of the comic was Darkseid not Steppenwolf, but the Parademon hordes, the Mother Boxes, and the tying of Cyborg’s origin to Fourth World technology all come straight out of this story.
The similarities to that story echo even in the early scene in the movie with Batman taking on a self-destructing Parademon on a rooftop. We should probably get some of this weird alien stuff taken care of early, since it’s all so crucial to the story.
Speaking of Parademons…
The weird insectoid drones making everyone’s lives miserable are Parademons, the foot soldiers of the planet Apokolips, a hellish world which lives in opposition to New Genesis, the home of the New Gods and Forever People. All of this great stuff was created by the brilliant Jack Kirby, by the way. Steppenwolf (more on him in a minute) and the Parademons are trying to collect three Mother Boxes left on Earth.
What is a Mother Box, you ask? Simple! (it’s not really simple)
The Mother Box is the unifying piece of technology of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World epic. Think of a Mother Box as an alien smartphone that can do anything from heal the injured to teleport you across time and space. It’s pretty cool hearing their trademark “ping. ping. ping.” sound for real.
I don’t recognize any of those three priest figures who appear to worship the Mother Boxes, although I suppose they could be visual cousins to what I would expect a movie version of Jack Kirby’s Desaad to look like.
Mother Boxes are often used to call down Boom Tubes, the preferred method of transport of the New Gods and their friends and foes. We see them deployed quite a bit throughout this movie, obviously.
Super Powers fans of the 1980s may remember that on Super Friends: Galactic Guardians, boom tubes were referred to as star gates.
Throughout this movie, Steppenwolf keeps on trying to bring about “the unity” with these Mother Boxes, but as far as I know, that has no correlation to anything in the comics. It’s just an excuse to have a weird tech quest for the villain to go on throughout. If anything, Steppenwolf’s quest and the movie’s backstory has more in common with the Lord of the Rings saga than anything Jack Kirby did, with magical tech being distributed across the different races of the world to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.
In fact, let’s talk about Steppenwolf…
Steppenwolf is the first Jack Kirby creation to show up in a DC superhero movie (for comparison, nearly the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe owes its entire existence to Jack Kirby). They don’t really give us much to go on with Steppenwolf in this flick, but to be fair, he wasn’t one of Kirby’s most inspired creations and it’s not like he has the longest comic book history.
For now, what you need to know is, they swapped Darkseid out for him in this story (have to save the big guy for something), and the version we see here looks the most like the version from DC’s Earth 2 series, where he did indeed lead the invasion and murdered that world’s versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.
Steppenwolf has always been known for that axe of his, which here, when he strikes the ground, creates flaming craters that kind of look like the fire pits of Apokolips.
Apokolips is a pretty awful place to live, where after a hard day making fire at the fire pits, the peasants get to come home to worship their tormentors.
– We do get to hear Steppenwolf say “I will take my place among the New Gods,” which is obviously a reference to Kirby’s Fourth World epic, and we periodically hear a battle cry of “For Darkseid!” Darkseid is the absolute ruler of Apokolips and the ultimate baddie in the DC Universe.
In the comics, Steppenwolf was Darkseid’s uncle, and responsible for the war between Apokolips and New Genesis, but here he appears to be his nephew instead.
Aquaman has been around since 1941, and he was created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris. The version we see on screen feels most similar to the way Geoff Johns has been writing him, which has helped give the character more of an edge. Bruce Wayne’s “I hear you talk to fish” crack is a repeated refrain in Johns’ Aquaman comics as well as his run writing Justice League, and a lot of work has been done to kind of make Aquaman less of a joke all around.
Aquaman’s general look in this movie feels pretty inspired by his ’90s comics look…
And this is also who how he appeared on the excellent Justice League animated series and his mid-90s makeover.
– Is Aquaman the first person to call Bruce “Batman” in the DCEU? In Batman v Superman it was all “the Bat” this and “the Gotham Bat” that. Did I miss him getting called “Batman” at some point? Please don’t make me watch that movie again to find out.
In any event, Bruce returns the favor by christening him “Aquaman.”
Since Zack Snyder sure loves his Biblical imagery, Aquaman essentially “parts the sea” in the tunnels under Gotham Harbor, Ten Commandments style.
Aquaman spearing two Parademons with his trident reminds me of this…
…which like many things in this movie comes from Justice League: Origin.
Amber Heard shows up as Mera, the future Queen of Atlantis. We get some exposition in this scene indicating not only that this is the first meeting between Mera gand Arthur, but that Arthur has completely rejected his destiny as the rightful ruler of Atlantis. This will likely be squared away over the course of his solo movie. Mera has been around since 1963, and she was created by Jack Miller and legendary Aquaman artist Nick Cardy.
We do get a mention of Arthur’s mother, Queen Atlanna, though.
– There are a few moments that once again help to reinforce just how long Batman has been operating in the DCEU. For one thing, Bruce tells Arthur that it’s been about “20 years” at one point.
But there’s a more fun moment when Alfred makes a joke about “exploding wind-up penguins.” We know what that’s referring to, and it’s the kind of whimsical Batvillain craziness we’re glad exists here.
– One other thing to note about that opening scene is that you can see a “JANUS” sign on a building. This could be a reference to the company owned by Charles Sionis, the father of Roman Sionis, better known as Batman villain, Black Mask. Is this a clue to who will menace Batman in his solo movie?
Bruce Wayne’s crack about “I’m rich” being his super power sounds like something that Most Excellent Super Bat from Grant Morrison’s Super Young Team would say.
– Is it my imagination or are there a lot of vintage cars on the street in Gotham City when Wonder Woman goes to meet with Cyborg? I only bring it up because it would make the Gotham of the DCEU feel a little like the Gotham of the Tim Burton Batman movies.
– Bruce’s collection of armor, notably samurai armor, feels like a nod to a scene in Batman (1989), as well.
– Most importantly on the Batman ’89 front, the whole movie was scored by Danny Elfman, who liberally uses his themes from that movie throughout this one.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was heavily influenced by The Dark Knight Returns comic. But one thing we never got to see in that was any kind of homage to that famous panel of Batman charging on horseback.
Whether it’s intentional or not, having Bruce Wayne on a black steed in the snow here feels kind of like one last nod to DKR before we move on with the rest of the story.
Fun bonus fact! Early drafts of the 1989 Batman movie script did indeed feature a scene with Batman riding a black horse as an homage to this very moment from the comics!
Despite the fact that Bruce is taking on a Parademon here, this shot is a pretty obvious homage to the cover of Detective Comics #27, the first appearance of Batman.
– JK Simmons makes a great Commissioner Gordon, even in just the few minutes we spend with him.
And just in case you’ve forgotten, they’re in Gotham City, but what you’re seeing across the river there is Metropolis. Anyone who has ever stood on the high ground in Hoboken or Jersey City and looked across at Manhattan is familiar with a view very much like this.
Also, Gordon’s line about seeing Batman “playing well with others” is a fun reference to how Bats is basically less of a dick when he has friends. It was heavily hinted at in Batman v Superman that one of the things that pushed ol’ pointy head over into fascism was the death of the Jason Todd version of Robin at the hands of the Joker.
– The detective Gordon talks to who is suspicious about the whole Parademon scenario is Crispus Allen (played by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith). In the comics, Crispus Allen eventually becomes The Spectre, the nearly all powerful supernatural/undead avenger. Please let this happen on the big screen. This might be another hint of the Justice League Dark movie that we will probably never see.
– Barry’s enthusiastic “naming” of the Batcave is, surprisingly a callback to a little known piece of DC Comics lore. It has long been applied that Batman himself would never call stuff a “Batmobile” or a “Batarang” or a “Batcave” for that matter, and that it would have been the youthful enthusiasm of Dick Grayson/Robin bestowing such ridiculous names on things. Barry fills that role here, although that doesn’t mean that Dick didn’t do it first!
– When Bruce is talking to Diana about resurrecting Superman, he says they have to do it if there’s “even a fraction of a chance” of success. This is a massive turnaround from his dialogue in Batman v Superman, where he felt that if there was “even a 1% chance [of Superman turning bad] we have to take it as an absolute certainty.”
– Batman’s “final battle” costume reminds me more than a little bit of Nite Owl’s costume in the Watchmen movie. This is a compliment, as despite my misgivings about that film, I think that Nite Owl suit is better than any live action batsuit ever.
Vic “Cyborg” Stone has been around since 1980, and he was created by the legendary team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Historically, Vic has been most associated with the Teen Titans, until he became a Justice League member with the New 52 reboot in 2011, which tied his origin story to the formation of the League. Like we pointed out above, this movie is really inspired by that version of the origin story.
So, while nobody really loved Cyborg’s design when the promotional materials for this movie started surfacing, he turns out to be one of the most fascinating characters in the movie. And he does get a neat redesign at the very end, which should help.
– This is Dr. Silas Stone, who we saw briefly in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice when Batman was watching videos of all the other superhumans in the DCEU. He’s Vic “Cyborg” Stone’s father, and a leading mind at STAR Labs.
– Just to be certain: STAR Labs was definitely namedropped in either Man of Steel or Batman v Superman, right? I’m not imagining this? Otherwise, this movie marks its first official DCEU appearance? Please feel free to correct me.
I love that they absolutely nailed his sound cannon from the comics in the movie, too…
– Having Cyborg get his limbs ripped off in battle is a tried and true Cyborg trope from the comics too.
– Cyborg utters his Teen Titans catchphrase of “Boo-yah” exactly once in the film, too!
The DCEU is doing its best to distinguish itself from the version of The Flash on TV right now, notably via his costume and making Ezra Miller’s Barry Allen younger and more awkward than Grant Gustin’s. In fact, the characterization of Barry Allen we get in this movie feels a lot more like what we would expect from a younger Flash, like Wally West. They also lean a little more into the whole “Flash has to consume a ton of calories” angle than the show does, which was also a hallmark of not only Wally West’s early days as Flash, but which was also often referenced on the 1990 Flash TV series starring John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen.
But a few similarities to the TV version are unavoidable since they come right out of the comics, namely the fact that they’re gonna have to reckon with the fact that Barry’s father, Dr. Henry Allen, is in jail for the murder of his mother.
The whole “hands on the glass” thing was done quite a bit between the TV versions of these characters, played by Grant Gustin and the great John Wesley Shipp. Mr. Crudup was cast as Henry for the upcoming Flash solo movie, which may or may not focus on the Flashpoint story, where Barry tries to correct the injustice of his father’s incarceration. Henry’s line to Barry that he should “make your own future” would seem to foreshadow the events of Flashpoint, as well.
But there’s one other similarity to the TV show worth pointing out…
Henry is rocking the Jay Garrick look with the grey hair at the temples thing. With certain developments on The Flash TV series, this could also be an indicator of how things will be handled in the DCEU. I wrote lots more about Jay Garrick, one of my favorite characters, right here.
– It’s interesting to note that Barry is only now just on the path to becoming a police scientist, rather than already having been driven to do so. It’s almost like his time with the League inspires him to do more with his professional life, as well.
– He is, however, already proficient in primate sign language, which should come in handy when it’s time to take on super-intelligent Gorilla Grodd.
– It’s interesting that the Barry Allen of the DCEU is Jewish, if only because we’ve never had any hint of Flash’s faith (or lack thereof) in the comics or on the TV show. The closest Barry Allen has to any kind of religious or ethnic identity has always been “midwestern.” Brian Cronin at CBR thinks this could be a reference to a throwaway line from a late ’80s DC story, but I don’t necessarily think that’s considered canon. I’m open to corrections, though!
– One fun thing about Barry’s personal HQ. If you look carefully on one of the TVs, you can spot that he’s a Rick and Morty fan, and a particular season two episode, which involves a chemically-enhanced Summer and Rick beating the crap out of unsavory types like Nazis, is playing in the background.
– Since Vic Stone has traditionally been a Teen Titans character, and he and Barry are by far the youngest members of the League, it makes sense that they would bond. Especially since, as I mentioned before, this version of Barry has more in common with the comic book version of Wally West than anything else, and Wally was a member of the Titans with Vic.
From the opening moment of the movie, it’s clear that they’re trying to redeem Superman. Having Supes sticking around to talk to kids and offer some folksy/corny wisdom is a nice touch right out of the gate. The problem is that they try so hard to paint the world as worse off for Superman’s absence, when in actuality, we never saw much indication in either Man of Steel or Batman v Superman that he was particularly beloved by the world at large.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’ve changed their tune, but this seems a little bit off. But this is a minor complaint considering that it looks like they even brightened up the colors of his suit a little bit.
The headlines proclaiming the death of Superman are reminiscent of the ones we saw in the comics after Superman died in 1992.
There’s another clever touch with the movie’s newspapers though, which put Superman’s 2016 death alongside that year’s deaths of similar pop culture “aliens” like David Bowie and Prince.
– So, in the Daily Planet newsroom they’re watching Channel 9. But in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, it was Channel 8 that was a GBS/Galaxy Broadcasting affiliate. I want my GBS, damn it!
– Clark Kent was buried in a conservative dark blue business suit, with a red tie, and black shoes. That is the exact outfit that the comic book version of Clark Kent wore in virtually every single comic book appearance from roughly 1938 until 1986. Henry Cavill’s Clark was a little more fashionable in life, but not in death.
– It takes some quality nonsensical comic book style teamwork to get the resurrection process going, and I actually found that rather endearing.
– When the team enters the Kryptonian ship to start the resurrection process, you hear Hans Zimmer’s “Krypton” theme from his excellent Man of Steel score playing. At other key points throughout the movie, we get bits and pieces of John Williams’ classic Superman: The Movie motifs, as well.
– When Superman wakes up, well, it’s not pretty. This scene serves two purposes, though. For one thing, it demonstrates how he is more powerful than the entire team combined, lest anyone think that Superman is lame. But his disorientation and raw fury are a slight nod to how in the comics and cartoons, at several points, Superman has been manipulated by Darkseid. While that doesn’t quite happen here, the role of Fourth World technology in his resurrection feels like it’s not a coincidence.
– As Flash warned Bruce in Batman v Superman, Lois is indeed the key to getting Superman back on their side. The question is…when did Barry go back and warn him? Or has Barry’s warning to Bruce not happened yet, and he won’t have to implement it until Flashpoint or some other (ahem) crisis? I honestly don’t think this is a plot hole, I think they’re deliberately saving that moment for something.
Note, however, that Lois apparently calls Superman “Clark” in front of a couple of Metropolis cops, who probably don’t need much help putting two and two together.
– The morning after Superman wakes up, with Clark standing in the cornfield wearing a red-checked flannel shirt, and then having Lois come out to meet him in the sunrise, feels a lot like the scene in Superman: The Movie where young Clark wakes up early and realizes he has to leave Smallville. There, it’s Martha Kent who comes out to meet him, although Ma does get here eventually.
– Once Supes gets himself together, he says “How do I help,” which is the appropriate Superman response to anything. I expect to hear more of it in future DCEU movies. More importantly his “truth” and “justice” crack is obviously a nod to the old “Truth and Justice” tagline that has always been associated with him. And before Fox News has crying fit over the lack of “the American Way,” allow me to point out that it was ALWAYS “Truth and Justice” until World War II, when “The American Way” was added in for the duration of the war and then dropped…until the early 1950s and the rise of McCarthyism, and that’s when it became “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” in pop culture. But in reality, it’s “Truth, Tolerance, and Justice” often in that order.
– And the final shot we see of Superman in the film, with Clark Kent becoming aware of trouble and doing the classic “shirt rip” is another iconic moment from throughout the character’s history, although it’s never better than it is in Superman: The Movie right before the big helicopter rescue. I believe this is the first “shirt rip” for Supes in the DCEU? Why was this kind of imagery avoided in the previous two movies?
– Amusing detail about the Kent Farm being foreclosed on…there’s already some awful suburban McMansion built right across the road.
– I don’t think the “Shrine of the Amazons” temple that ignites with the signal is a real thing, but if anyone would like to correct me, please do so! It does feel like a Lord of the Rings nod, though.
– Danny Elfman does some really clever work incorporating his classic Batman theme at several key points in the movie, but of special note is his “orchestral” version of the guitar-driven Wonder Woman theme. It’s really cool hearing it done like that.
– There’s a cool moment when Steppenwolf tells Wonder Woman that she has “the blood of the old gods” in her veins. When Jack Kirby created the New Gods and the Fourth World, he was still working for Marvel. The original plan was for the Asgard of Marvel’s Thor comics to undergo a Ragnarok, everyone would die, and in its place would be these New Gods. Obviously that didn’t happen, and the concepts ended up at DC. But that one line, tying Diana’s Greek mythology roots directly to the cosmic New Gods of the DCEU, is surprisingly in keeping with Kirby’s original intention.
– There’s a fun thing at the end where we see some criminals being taken care of, and they were using the guise of the “J. Christopher Cleaning Services.” I have to wonder if that’s a reference to comic book writer Christopher J. Priest, currently doing amazing work on one of DC’s best comics, Deathstroke.
My question is, who is the sharply dressed lady thief being led away? Is that supposed to be Priscilla Rich, the original Cheetah/early Wonder Woman villain?
The History of the DCEU
– Incidentally, what is the “age of heroes” that Bruce thought “would never come again” that Diana refers to? Is this our first hint that the DCEU had a Justice Society in the early part of the 20th Century? Or is this a reference to general mythology? But we do get some other hints about the broader historical history of the DCEU, notably that there was once an Atlantean/Amazonian alliance, and that the Greco-Roman gods fought alongside them against the armies of Apokolips.
I’m pretty sure we see Zeus throwing some lightning at folks, but a few of you have hit me on Twitter theorizing that this is actually a historical version of Shazam, either the wizard himself or the champion/hero. I was resistant to this at first, simply because lightning throwing was traditionally not part of his power set, but the Geoff Johns/Gary Frank revamp of the character changes that a little, so I’m open to suggestions. Plus it’s such a great idea that I really WANT it to be true! But nah, it’s probably just Zeus.
But a key piece of that big battle is our first DCEU appearance by a Green Lantern!
This obscure fella is Yalan Gur, a character who has only made a handful of appearances in the comics. Gur was indeed the Green Lantern of space sector 2814 (that includes Earth) around the time this battle would have taken place. In the comics, Gur was corrupted by his own power and turned on the humans of Earth, but he clearly didn’t get that chance in the movie, as he was killed by Steppenwolf in the flashback.
But there’s a moment in Arthurian times as well…
That is totally King Arthur, and I bet you the dude with the spear and the horns is Sir Bors. They probably most recently appeared in Demon Knights, but they were best in Seven Soldiers of Victory, where the Knights of the Round Table fought an invasion from evil Faeries and lost, only to have Sir Ystina, the Shining Knight, help save the world in the present day. If Justice League Darkever happens, I BET *slaps table for emphasis* this is a big part of it.
Miscellaneous Cool Stuff
– Does one of the orphans video recording Superman at the beginning say “shut up, Billy?” If so…are these kids Billy Batson and Freddy Freeman? Because if so…holy moley!
– One of the skinheads assaulting a bodega owner is wearing a sweatshirt with metal-band lettering championing…Magahorde. Draw your own conclusions.
– I’m at a loss for which DC secret society who want to bring mankind “back to the dark ages” are supposed to be, though. If anyone has any suggestions, drop ’em in the comments or hit me up on Twitter, please!
– The STAR Labs janitor who goes missing/gets eaten by Parademons is apparently named Howie Jensen. Whenever there’s a janitor in a top secret area working with alien tech in the DC Universe, my mind immediately goes to supervillain, the Parasite. The most famous version of the Parasite was Rudy Jones, a STAR Labs janitor who ended up wallowing in some toxic waste (perhaps coincidentally because Darkseid manipulated him into it). Anyway, this isn’t Rudy Jones, so it can’t be the Parasite right?
Well…mostly. There was a previous Parasite names Raymond Jensen…which seems to be our poor, doomed, pal Howie’s name in this. In any event, I don’t think we’re likely to see him return as the Parasite in Man of Steel 2 or anything.
The fact that all this stuff goes down under red skies feels like a nod to Crisis on Infinite Earths…or virtually any DC event with “Crisis” in the title. While those usually have to do with the multiverse, it still feels appropriate as an “event” signifier.
– Bruce makes a joke about how humanity behaves “as if the doomsday clock has a snooze button.” This is likely coincidental, but DC is currently publishing Doomsday Clock, a sequel to Watchmen in which those characters finally meet the DC Universe.
– When Barry goes to visit his Dad in prison, the clerk who takes his information is played by none other than Marc McClure, who played Jimmy Olsen in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies.
– Barry’s Pet Sematary joke is a nod to the Stephen King novel and movie, where beloved pets (and a child) return from the grave…in sinister fashion.
– The hilarious “Aquaman confessional” moment before they all go into battle is another thing lifted right out of the Geoff Johns/Jim Lee Justice League comic. However, there it was a young and arrogant Hal Jordan (who is not in this movie, despite what some rumor sites tried to sell you) who accidentally touched Diana’s lasso and confessed his soul.
– It’s interesting that the JL headquarters will be in a mansion, which has more of a Justice Society flavor to it. The table will have “room for more” going forward. Other than Aquaman, Cyborg, and Flash, the next new confirmed DCEU superheroes with actual release dates are Shazam and Green Lantern, so that could be a sign of things to come. As of this writing, Justice League 2 does not have a release date.
– The single worst decision this movie makes is using that awful cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” in the opening. That is a brilliant song, but it’s so painfully on-the-nose here that it makes the use of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen movie seem subtle. Its use here hits two no-nos: the tradition that immediately needs to die of using slow, piano-driven covers of songs in movies and song choices that try and explain what you should be feeling. Stop it.
The Post-Credits Scenes
– There’s a long tradition of Superman and Flash races dating back to the 1960s, and this was a fun touch. But more importantly, let’s talk about that second one…
– Luthor’s fakeout/break out is slightly reminiscent of Superman II, where an exasperated guard waits for a not Luthor (one who has possibly been tainted by Joker venom?) to do something before realizing he’s been had. But that’s not the real story here.
We finally meet Joe Manganiello as Slade Wilson/Deathstroke. He’s due for his own movie, and there are longstanding rumors that he’s the villain of The Batman solo movie as well. But the idea of Lex Luthor putting together “a league” of villains to counter the JL immediately brings to mind classic supervillain tropes like the Legion of Doom or the Secret Society of Super Villains. Perhaps, rather than Nick Fury and SHIELD gathering heroes like we saw in Marvel Phase One, we’ll get Lex recruiting villains throught the DCEU.
Spot anything we missed? Let us know in the comments or give us a shout on Twitter!