[WARNING: This article contains potential SPOILERS for Justice League]
The dust has yet to settle from the Justice League trailer release, but already more and more details are being gleaned from the new footage - and the first ever appearance of the Justice League villain Steppenwolf may be one such moment... sort of. It's not the kind of appearance or hint that most casual viewers would ever catch, but among the dozens of Justice League easter eggs and secrets teased in the trailer lies a glimpse of Apokoliptian technology.
How it's delivered, what form it takes, and how it fits into the overall story is a bit of a guessing game so early on, but the evidence speaks for itself. We've known from almost the beginning that Steppenwolf - lieutenant to Darkseid himself - would be appearing as the League's first major opponent, and thanks to the full length trailer, we can say he'll apparently be meeting Aquaman before the rest of Earth's heroes. If not, then Aquaman is guaranteed to have the most memorable introduction.
If you're interested in the story of Justice League but have absolutely no idea who the supposed big bad is, you're not alone. And that is, admittedly, a bit of an oddity for this genre. When a major shared universe blockbuster is releasing trailers, audiences usually have some sense of the villain, if only concept images of their final form. Not so with the DCEU, but it's understandable. Steppenwolf has been confirmed to be a completely CG character, and judging by his design back in his Batman V Superman deleted scene debut, there may not be many finished effects shots even available at this point.
But even if Steppenwolf's Parademon soldiers are forced to do the heavy lifting, there's strong evidence to support his presence, at least one location he will head, and which hero he may help recruit to the League (indirectly, of course). And that's all thanks to the shot above, in which Aquaman (Jason Momoa) skillfully dodges a glowing attack underwater. Upon closer inspection, that weapon is a gigantic, magically enhanced battle axe. And in a story set to include Steppenwolf, a shot revealing his weapon of choice flying by our hero implies an obvious showdown.
The surroundings are just as important for those Justice League fans eager to piece together as much of the story as possible beforehand. The underwater setting suggests that this scene, like the shot of Aquaman approaching a famous throne released by Zack Snyder, is set in Atlantis. So those who watched the entire trailer and wondered exactly what took Aquaman from threatening Bruce Wayne to joining his team may have a clear answer. If Steppenwolf is in Atlantis, that's as clear a shock to Arthur Curry's world as possible. Now it's just a matter of how much damage he does upon his visit.
Steppenwolf seeking out the Apokoliptian Mother Box of Atlantis would seem the most obvious explanation, and the background of the scene supports it. In an easy to miss Justice League trailer moment focused on Mera (Amber Heard), the same speckled background is shown as she arrives in the presence of two Atlantean guards - with the Mother Box displayed on a carved podium. Aquaman swims past that exact podium just before Steppenwolf's axe comes flying... which means Aquaman is either too late, or right on time to take the brunt of the attack.
Whichever happens to be the case, this scene is clearly set before Arthur seeks out what we believe to be the Royal Atlantean armor he sports for the rest of the film. The severity of the attack may convince him he needs to up his armor, or perhaps seeing a relic of his people stolen or threatened has a profound impact. Either way, he swims for the armor, and soon after joins Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Cyborg. It's quite possible that when he does, he's the one member of the team who has actually seen, and fought the villain in the flesh. Not that Parademons are exactly pushovers, but you get the relevance.
The evidence of Steppenwolf making a personal move on Atlantis raises all new questions. Is this a sign that the movie's villain will make similar attempts to steal the Mother Boxes personally? Is it only the Atlantis relic he wants to claim (or kill for) himself? How does Aquaman get into the fight to begin with, and survive to walk (swim) away from it? And if Steppenwolf manages to leave with the Mother Box intact, does that change the stakes or threat for the rest of the movie's heroes? You know as much as we do, so we invite any and all theories and questioning in our comments section.
Are you excited to see real evidence of Steppenwolf after years of speculation? Or are you holding out hope of seeing both Steppenwolf and Darkseid in Justice League's ancient prologue battle? More importantly: how does Steppenwolf get his axe back...?
- Justice League (2017) release date: Nov 17, 2017