At this point, it's hard not to feel for fans of Green Lantern. Sure, not every comic book superhero gets a big budget movie. And yes, seeing playful nods on The CW's Arrow is better than nothing. But as the footage and marketing for Justice League continues to spread, the rumors and whispers of a new Green Lantern are hard to enjoy knowing that, officially, the emerald hero is nowhere to be found. And all the insider reports of a Lantern definitely making a cameo in Justice League can't change the fact that DC's heroes have a major fight ahead of them - before their next threat or ally can be worried about.
Yet it's hard for us to sit idly by without weighing the possibilities of a larger plan for the DCEU. We may know who the villain of Justice League will be, and even the next big bad likely to arrive once he's been defeated. But what then? Where does the DC movie universe go after dispatching two of its biggest villains? And how will such an alien showdown be interesting in the shadow of Marvel doing... essentially the same thing? We have a theory, and it's one that may place all these rumors and hopeful predictions in a new light.
The simplest summary is that the Justice League isn't on its way to battle Darkseid at all. They're preparing for a fight that will call on the Green Lantern Corps... and a villain that will make Darkseid seem like an angry child.
Round 1: Justice League vs. Steppenwolf
Technically audiences have known the identity of the Justice League villain since he was revealed in Batman V Superman's deleted scene, in which Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) got a crash course in cosmic history courtesy of the downed Kryptonian ship. The alien figure before him is Steppenwolf, a general of Apokolips set to be played by Ciaran Hinds in League. And those three boxes he holds in front of him? They're the Mother Boxes given to Humans, Amazons, and Atlanteans after the united peoples repelled Steppenwolf's first attempt at invading the planet.
The bulk of the movie's story will build off that moment in history, as Steppenwolf returns with more Parademon forces to invade Earth, and acquire the Mother Boxes for an unknown purpose. And we really do mean "unknown," since the idea that multiple pieces of the Apokoliptian technology will lead to some larger result isn't based on the comic mythology. Whatever the endgame, it seems safe to expect that our heroes will emerge victorious (controversial, we know). And given the Marvel model of villain-building, most expect Justice League to lay out the red carpet for the real villain holding Steppenwolf's leash: Darkseid.
The notion is a sound one, since it allows Steppenwolf to introduce and establish Apokolips and all the lore that comes with it, letting Darkseid shine a bit brighter without the need for exposition. But if you're thinking that ending Justice League with a teaser of a massive, colorful, alien brute on a throne (perhaps grinning to the viewers) is only going to invite comparisons or accusations of outright copying Marvel's formula... you're not wrong.
The Thanos & Green Lantern Problems
Here is where we are mandated to clarify that Thanos was actually a pastiche of Darkseid, and not the other way around. Regardless, it doesn't change the fact that Marvel broke that ground first. Darkseid isn't exactly famous for operating mysteriously from the shadows, so much as bursting into the scene himself, literally, with a Boom Tube announcing his arrival. And as satisfying as it may be, when compared to Marvel, to see a lieutenant defeated and the 'big bad' of the DCEU immediately step up to do the job themselves, it doesn't win DC or Zack Snyder any points for originality.
Some have speculated (ourselves included) that the first Justice League movie - once referred to as the first part of a two-part story - could end with a warning of Darkseid's arrival, perhaps even delivered by the new Green Lantern in a cameo. It's not a bad idea, managing to deliver a thrilling cliffhanger ending while also revealing the new actor filling the Green Lantern role in the League ahead of the planned Green Lantern Corps movie. There are several potential Lanterns to choose from (including a return by Ryan Reynolds, if you can believe it), but after drawing out the hypothetical ending, some problems arise.
For starters, it's the kind of ending that Snyder doesn't actually seem interested in delivering, having spoken in the past about films standing as complete stories, and the reality of the DCEU meaning other films are going to follow Justice League that render a cliffhanger more problem than its worth. There's also the detail of a Green Lantern of Earth's sector arriving with knowledge of Darkseid's actions on Apokolips not making complete sense. They're space cops, after all, meaning that ending would be akin to a U.S. Marshall bursting in to warn the NYPD of invaders hailing from the Moon.
Apokolips exists on an entirely different plane of existence, or 'dimension' as the rest of the known DC Universe. So for a Green Lantern to appear with knowledge, or a warning of cosmic danger tied to Darkseid or Apokolips, it would need to be something different. Something with origins in an alternate dimension, possessing massive power, and sharing Steppenwolf's interest in Earth, of all places. And there's one DC megavillain who fits that description perfectly.
The Anti-Monitor is The Answer
There will be those familiar with only the Anti-Monitor's most well known DC Comics storyline - "Crisis on Infinite Earths" - and immediately dismiss this theory, presuming that to adapt the villain means adapting the story - and there is NO way the DCEU or even Zack Snyder would jump to such a massive event. But that reaction may be proof that a little knowledge can be more misleading than total ignorance. For starters, it's important to remember that "Crisis," as iconic as it became, was the solution to a publishing problem. It was a means to erase the DCU's continuity problems and parallel universes, allowing its strongest characters to survive.
For creators looking to build a successful DC Extended Universe, the smartest path is to avoid that problem altogether... but a good villain is hard to find, and harder to pass up. And for several reasons, the rise of the Anti-Monitor as a precursor to Justice League 2 speaks to several unanswered questions or potential pitfalls already visible. Beginning with the arrival of a Green Lantern - a hero who would likely be (or is traditionally) oblivious to Darkseid's dealing, but would be among the first to know if a powerful being had suddenly started consuming worlds or energy on a path to Earth.
The themes at play in the DCEU's released and upcoming films are also worth mentioning. Batman V Superman spoke often of "gods" being misunderstood metahumans. Wonder Woman will establish what true gods actually are, with Ares expected to be the film's villain. Then comes Justice League, revealing the New Gods of Apokolips as beings of an even higher order and existence - the echo of whose creation spread through the galaxy, creating the very pantheon of gods worshipped by the Amazons centuries later.
The comic nuts will also note that in the realm of Darkseid and Apokolips, there's usually one reason that Earth is actually important at all - Mother Boxes or not. The answer is the Anti-Life Equation, a nebulous force or energy believed to be the key to dominating all free will in the universe. Irresistible to a conqueror like Darkseid, he's sought its secrets since his first comic appearances, always finding the defeat and enslavement of Earth as the first step needed to control it.
And wouldn't you know, the Anti-Monitor's name confirms its own connection to the energy... and Earth was also its final target in DC mythology (also discovering Earth was the key point at which to consume entire parallel universes of existence). The reveal of the Anti-Monitor would shock Justice League audiences even more than a future Flash appearing with no context, and a Green Lantern arriving to begin planning Earth's defense would go even further. But once viewers left the theater, and realized that Darkseid, the presumed big bad, would now be more likely to oppose that force alongside our heroes... well, it would be Marvel's turn to start re-thinking their strategy.
So, Green Lantern arrives. Anti-Monitor is on its way. Darkseid is established, but not yet on the scene. Where does it all lead, if not a "Crisis on Infinite Earths"? That question may be the easiest to answer.
Let The Darkseid War Begin
The appeal of seeing Darkseid and the Anit-Monitor duke it out with Earth's heroes caught in the middle is easy to grasp, even for casual fans unfamiliar with either character (two gigantic alien villains are better than one, right?). But it isn't the spectacle of The Darkseid War comic event that is even its best selling point. Released in 2016 as the final mega-event beginning several new plot threads into the DC Rebirth that immediately followed, it was a chance for the mythology of the Anti-Monitor to be streamlined.
For starters, the iconic armored exterior of the Anti-Monitor was tossed aside as the Anti-Life Equation was revealed to be an actual entity - the exact opposite of free will condensed into a physical seed - and removed from the villain after carrying it for eons. The Anti-Monitor was revealed in his natural form as Mobius, another cosmic being (not unlike the New Gods) who had pursued knowledge to its most extreme limits, made contact with a cosmic force (like so many others at play in the DC Universe) and been consumed by it.
It's tempting to imagine how much a Justice League movie following that basic outline, or simply the premise of putting Earth's heroes on the sidelines of a cosmic dispute could open doors across the DC Universe. The Anti-Monitor's ties to the Guardians of the Univere could start a new wave of Green Lantern Corps recruits, or make way for new threats. Not to mention the energies and forces that live below the surface, fertile ground for movies like Justice League Dark and Shazam or Black Adam to explore.
There's also the fact that the writer of The Darkseid War happens to be Geoff Johns, who now sits at the top of DC Films, shepherding the development of the DCEU as a whole. And while it would be a risk, it may be one hard to resist... and one which leads to a massive return.
What do you think of our suspicions? Is the introduction of a colossal villain to stand in opposition to Darkseid's own scheming a way to make him more than a standard villain? Or would it be too difficult a storyline to slim down into a single film? Or, heading further into speculation, is there a different DC villain you would like to see appear once Darkseid is raised as the expected answer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
- Justice League (2017) release date: Nov 17, 2017
- Green Lantern Corps. (2020) release date: Jul 24, 2020