Justice League, Warner Brothers’ hotly anticipated DC superhero team-up movie, is finally just a few days away from release. The advertising so far has been heavy on the heroes, showing us Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman bantering and fighting hordes of CG drones. The big thing we haven’t seen a lot of—besides Superman, obviously—is Steppenwolf, the movie’s big bad.
This is going to leave a lot of moviegoers walking into Justice League with no knowledge at all about the movie’s villain, and considering he comes from a very dense and complex corner of the DC universe, that might not be the best way to watch the movie. So let’s give lay out the context for who Steppenwolf, and the New Gods as a whole, are.
The New Gods, created by comics legend Jack Kirby, are a group of some of the wildest characters in the DC universe. They are two families of opposing super-powerful beings native to the planets New Genesis and Apokolips. The good guys, led by Highfather, are from New Genesis; the bad guys, ruled over by Darkseid, live on Apokolips.
Darkseid is basically the Thanos of DC. He’s pretty much the most powerful figure in the entire DC universe. His purpose in life is to discover and harness the power of the Anti-Life Equation, which—contrary to what its name might lead you to believe—doesn’t actually kill stuff. Instead, the Anti-Life Equation gives its weirder absolute control over all sentient life in the universe.
You can see why an all-powerful Demi-god who shoots death lasers out of his eyes (did I forget to mention Darkseid can do that?) might want to get his hands on it. But what does this have to do with the Justice League? Well, thanks to the conventions of storytelling, Earth is frequently positioned as being the key to finding the Equation.
Enter Steppenwolf, the big bad of Justice League. Steppenwolf is Darkseid’s uncle, and the leader of the armed forces of Apokolips. He has the typical enhanced strength, speed and immortality of the New Gods, and likes to throw down with a giant electricity axe. The army that will be joining Steppy in Justice League are the parademons, the foot-soldiers of Apokolips, which you’ve previously seen in Batman’s weird dream in Batman v Superman. In the comics, Steppenwolf also likes going into battle on a giant dog mount, though we’ve seen no evidence that there are any giant dogs in Justice League.
What’s Steppenwolf up to in Justice League? Your guess is as good as mine, but odds are it has something to do with the Anti-Life Equation. Darkseid has probably sent his uncle to Earth to recover some piece of the puzzle, as part of DC’s again Thanos-like long game to introducing Darkseid himself as the über bad guy of the DCEU. I would not be at all shocked if Justice League’s post-credits scene was set on Apokolips, or at the very least introduces Darkseid in some way.
So there you go. Now, when you go see Justice League you won’t be hopelessly confused by what this big dude with horns is doing fighting your favorite superheroes. Unless the writing is as bad as it was in BvS, then you’ll probably still be confused.