Zack Snyder’s Justice League: A History of Steppenwolf

Steppenwolf is back with a new look in Zack Snyder's Justice League! Here's a quick history of the character to give you some context for his DC history.

Steppenwolf armored in Zack Snyder's Justice League
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

This article contains Zack Snyder’s Justice League spoilers.

The influence of the legendary Jack Kirby permeates almost every single aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But despite creating an impressive corner of the DC Comics cosmic mythology in the 1970s, his Fourth World and New Gods concepts have yet to be properly represented in live action. That, of course, changed with 2017’s Justice League movie, which saw the introduction of Steppenwolf, as well as other concepts from the Fourth World mythos such as Mother Boxes and Darkseid.

And now those concepts are even more on display in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the four hour magnum opus that restores director Zack Snyder’s original vision for the film. Snyder’s vision not only includes a completely redesigned Steppenwolf, but also finally introduces an onscreen version of Darkseid, arguably the greatest villain in DC history. Darkseid is even joined by lieutenants like DeSaad and Granny Goodness in brief appearances in the film. Nevertheless, it’s still Steppenwolf who gets the most screen time, and the one who makes the lives of the Justice League miserable throughout the film.

The version of Steppenwolf we see onscreen in Zack Snyder’s Justice League is more than just a cosmetic improvement on the one who showed up in the 2017 film. He’s also a significantly changed character from the one who Kirby first introduced in the pages of DC Comics.

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Who is Steppenwolf?

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. 

Darkseid and Steppenwolf in Jack Kirby's New Gods #7 (1972)

Steppenwolf was charged by Darkseid to murder the wife of Highfather (the leader of the forces of good on New Genesis), 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.

None of that is explicitly laid out in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, mind you, but in theory, this is the backdrop for Steppenwolf, Darkseid and his quest for the Anti-Life Equation, the Parademons, the Mother Boxes, and all the forces of Apokolips we see on display there. 

Redesign and Return

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. That pretty awesome toy axe is on prime display in Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

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.

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The Steppenwolf Story That Influenced Justice League

Steppenwolf has also been a pretty important part of DC’s New 52. The new Steppenwolf appeared in the rebooted DCU in Earth-2. Here, Steppenwolf actually murders the Earth-2 versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman upping the badass quotient for the modern Steppenwolf considerably. This version is the closest both visually and thematically to the one we see onscreen 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.

And it seems like there’s probably more change coming to the character in the near future, too. Ava DuVernay is directing and co-writing a New Gods movie for Warner Bros., one that probably won’t be beholden to the versions of Steppenwolf and Darkseid introduced in the Justice League movie. When next we see Steppenwolf on screen, he may very well be a completely different character.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is now streaming on HBO Max.