WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Justice League
Just when Wonder Woman seemed to set the history of the DC Movie Universe in stone, Justice League comes along to screw up the timeline. Less than a decade into the 'superhero shared universe' it's already obvious just how much of a headache it can be to keep multiple films, telling multiple stories, set in multiple periods on track (just ask Marvel about their MCU timeline). And after Man of Steel kept its millennia-old history off of Earth completely, it seemed like Wonder Woman gave all the DCEU history needed to confirm the existence of Old Gods before the New arrived in Justice League. But we didn't take into account the now conflicting tale of Earth's first run-in with Steppenwolf of Apokolips.
For those whose memory of Wonder Woman's storybook history sequence may have faded by now, it's worth another reminder that ascribing specific years is difficult. Diana is an adult by the time World War I rolls around, but exactly how long it took for her to age from a child is anyone's guess - and how long the Amazons lived before being sequestered on Themyscira is just as open to interpretation.
What we do know, thanks to Queen Hippolyta's fairy tale and artwork, is the sequence of events that led to the Olympian Gods' destruction. Which also happens to be the time that the history of DCEU's Earth begins to get... messy.
Wonder Woman's Version of DCEU World History
Few viewers of Wonder Woman could have guessed how significant a role Zeus would have in DC movies, but the origin story is unique enough to stand apart from 'traditional' versions of Greek mythology. For starters, Hippolyta tells of a Creation story that stars the heroes and villains of the Greek pantheon... but molded into story familiar to fans of fantasy, montheistic religious mythology, and Judeo-Christian teachings. That is: a benevolent Creator (named Zeus) who created a people in his own image - and the villain who undid it all.
The sequence, as stated in Wonder Woman, goes like this:
- Zeus Creates Mankind
- Ares Infects Mankind With Evil
- Zeus Creates The Amazons To Save Them
- Mankind Enslaves The Amazons
- Hippolyta Leads The Amazon Revolt
- The Gods of Olympus Attack Ares on Amazon's Behalf
- Ares Slays The Gods
- Zeus Slays Ares (He Thinks)
- Amazons Take Refuge on Themyscira
As the film reveals, Ares was never slain by Zeus. Thankfully, the King of the Gods had fathered a child with Hippolyta before she and her Amazons hid from the God of War. That child grew to be Diana, who killed Ares, and remained in exile from her island home.
Justice League's Version of DCEU History
The Wonder Woman scene takes care of the Amazons' version of Mankind's creation, playing on many mythological themes and motifs. In another version of the story, the Amazons - a race of beautiful, proud, inherently just, and divinely deadly warrior women - might be known as the 'Valkyrie,' or even 'Archangels.' Most importantly, it establishes the modern world of the DCEU as one greatly fallen from a golden 'age of heroes' that preceded thousands of years in the past. An ancient history that made legends, gods, goddesses, and demons the stars of myth... and forgetting the truth behind all of it. That's where Justice League comes in.
We know that director Zack Snyder's version of Justice League was changed into the theatrical cut, and less screen time is devoted to the movie's ancient battle as a result. Even so, the sequence accompanied by Diana's historical account is mostly easy to follow. Even if in all the thrill of seeing a Green Lantern tease in Justice League audiences missed the Greek gods and goddesses alive and well, fighting beside the Amazons.
That is where the problem with the DC movie timeline begins, but let's run down the sequence of events, as it's presented in League.
- Steppenwolf Attacks Earth
- Alliance of Amazons, Atlantis, Mankind Resists
- Zeus, Ares, Artemis Fight Alongside Them
- Steppenwolf Retreats
- Armies Disband With Mother Boxes
- Atlantis Driven Into The Sea
- Amazons Flee To Themyscira
It really makes for one epic showdown, back in an age before history, when heroes of myth stood next to Olympian Gods and fought to defend Earth and its... people... wait a minute.
The Problem: It Can't Be Both
On first viewing, most audience members and even devoted fans won't bat an eyelash at the two glimpses into the past. It's simple enough: the Amazons existed thousands of years ago, so at a time when they, the Atlanteans, and Mankind coexisted, they successfully fought off an invasion. Then, as Diana explains to Bruce, the Atlanteans were driven into the sea and Amazons to their island (and Mankind presumably became a people determined to fight and bicker their way down from this greatness). The problem, for those already paying close attention, is that it's nearly impossible to find a time where all that was possible, based on the version of history as laid out by Hippolyta.
Perhaps it was before men turned evil, and the Gods ruled the world... No, because the Amazons would not yet have been created. Perhaps it was after they were created, but before they were enslaved by humanity... No, because Ares had already poisoned Zeus's creation, so seeing them fighting together is a bit strange. Plus, even if Ares and Zeus put their squabbles aside for Earth, Hippolyta makes a point of saying that exact time was both "brief" and "peaceful." Maybe she just left the biggest war and most inspiring alliance Earth had ever seen out of the story.
The lines don't connect on thematic levels either, once placed under the slightest scrutiny. At this point, Mankind would be both infected with evil and hate by Ares, and noble enough to unite as one - and be the only faction to conceal their Mother Box to ensure it could never be used by one of their tribes. Even if it was passable, it undercuts the whole point of Diana's story as an argument for teamwork... she would also be leaving out the enslavement of the Amazons by their allies soon after, since this battle couldn't be set after the Amazons were freed (the Gods were all warring or dead by then).
To complicate the existence of both stories, Diana would have to have known this was Earth's history before she left Themyscira and the Amazons who could give the account. Perhaps a more honest history, learned as an adult to replace the magical childhood version. But then, the Diana in Wonder Woman isn't presented as someone who sees the fairy tale AS a fairy tale. And it's hard to believe that the last 'great war' which united Amazons and Mankind (doing good, but already corrupted by Ares, and soon to enslave their Amazon allies) wouldn't have come up... at all.
The only solution? We've got one story anchoring the Amazons to well-known Greek myth - and one connecting them to a cosmic, ancient history nobody else remembers. But considering the responses to Wonder Woman and Justice League, it's probably clear which timeline will be built upon going forward.
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