WARNING: This article contains potential SPOILERS for Justice League
The big screen Justice League has Steppenwolf to stand against in their upcoming movie... so why does the Apokoliptian general seem like a completely different villain being adapted to the DCEU? Fans of the DC movie universe will remember the confusion over the DCEU's next big bad when he made his debut in Batman V Superman, in a scene filmed as a tease of the coming battle - but ultimately released to the public following the movie's release. And from that point on, it was clear Zack Snyder would be making some changes.
It's difficult, given the excitement and anticipation over a film like Justice League, to maintain some perspective in the non-stop, 24 hour news and rumor cycle. It keeps fans informed, as seen when word that Steppenwolf, not Darkseid or his father would play the villain of the League's first big screen team-up spread like wildfire. Before long, every fan and blogger was familiarizing themselves with Darkseid's uncle, his top lieutenant and the Apokoliptian god who helped Darkseid kill and overthrow his own father, Yuga Khan.
But as more and more images of Steppenwolf's character design - and most notably, a recent render courtesy of Mattel sculptor Brodie Perkins - one thing is becoming clear, despite the confirmation of the villain's identity. As terrifying as he may look... the villain of Justice League doesn't really seem like Steppenwolf at all. So what's really going on here?
Steppenwolf of Apokolips... But Not?
We're not just referring to a design that's been overhauled, updated, or given a less-cartoon-ish makeover for the villain's live-action debut. The movie's Steppenwolf may have a recognizable humanoid face and a helmet with horn-like decorations... but that's about it. As comic fans have likely seen once or twice by now, the comic book version of Steppenwolf re-introduced as part of DC's 2011 New 52 reboot looks, essentially, like a human being (image above). Larger than a normal Earthling, but a man complete with villainous goatee, wearing armor decorated with medals, and befitting a warrior who leads from the front of his army (and needs protection).
It wouldn't be exaggerating to say that if a comic fan knew Steppenwolf's comic book design, and was shown the film's version without being told the it was the DCEU's Steppenwolf, there would be no reason to link them (and several to make him an unlikely candidate). Prior to the the New 52, he wore all green capes, had a tall, pointed hat, and looked anything but a warlord. It was a look in need of a more serious update, so it follows that it would be that more fearsome armor and actually intimidating prowess of Steppenwolf getting lifted into the DCEU.
And yet, the resulting villain has taken a different design path altogether. Why? At this point, we would ask fans and curious comic buffs to look past the name... and examine the striking resemblance that the DCEU version of Steppenwolf bears to a different member of Darkseid's family.
Darkseid's Father, On The Other Hand...
If you've never heard of the villainous Yuga Khan - or Zonuz, as he was originally named - don't feel too guilty or out of the loop. The brutal Old God of DC's Fourth World has enjoyed his own reboot in recent years as one of the cosmic entities powering Shazam, but his original story was an echo of classical (human) mythology. Like the ancient 'fathers' of Greek mythology, Yuga Khan was powerful, terrible, and opposed by his children. Eventually he was driven to end by his own ambitions, leaving the door wide open for his son Uxas to take over the planet Apokolips - a son better known to DC fans as Darkseid.
And, as most readers have likely noticed, the design of Justice League's Steppenwolf bears a shocking resemblance to Yuga Khan - the reason why many assumed he was the figure speaking with Lex Luthor in Batman V Superman (ourselves included).
The reason for the confusion, as BvS fans may remember, was that the figure speaking with Lex Luthor and holding three Mother Boxes looked explicitly alien in nature. But in DC's Fourth World, the New Gods tend to look decidedly human: that includes Steppenwolf, his sister Heggra, and her son Uxas before he was corrupted into Darkseid. It's the Old Gods like Yuga Khan who are presented with exaggerated features: massive sizes, deeply weathered and oddly constructed faces, inhuman eyes, and armor that blurs the line between organic and ornamentation.
In other words, a perfect encapsulation of comic book legend Jack Kirby's designs for beings of cosmic origin (Kirby created the Fourth World). One could argue that the design of the DCEU's Steppenwolf looks, at least in broad terms, like the exact adaptation of Yuga Khan that could be expected from Zack Snyder. The technicolor paint scheme and pop art may have been toned down and firmly planted in the organic - much like Snyder's version of Krypton in Man of Steel - but the nearly identical chin pieces, deeply grooved face, soaring horned helm and ceremonial-looking armor all keep the ties to the source material evident.
Or they would... if this was actually a big screen version of Yuga Khan, and not Steppenwolf we were looking at. The two come from completely different design traditions and archetypes of villain - so what's really going on here?