The final cut of Justice League barely included Zeus and Ares, but their original designs would have made them highlights of the movie. After being teased and revealed in Wonder Woman, one would expect that ANY appearance from the old Olympian Gods in Justice League would make major headlines. Unfortunately, Zeus's ancient cameo is only seconds long after the many cuts made to Justice League, and Ares is visible for even less. Now that the original concept art for their ancient costumes has been revealed, fans may be even more disappointed to have missed out.
The concept art of Zeus and Ares has been revealed in the recently released Justice League: The Art of The Film, and to call it a stunning glimpse of what might have been would be an understatement. A mixture of classical and primitive, human and divine, and like all things Zack Snyder, shamelessly 'cool,' these concepts are something every DC fan needs to see. Forget the comic book mythology, or even classical Greek Mythology: Justice League's initial vision of Zeus, The King of The Gods is sure to be the favorite of plenty who see it.
Yet beneath the artwork and imagination of what it would have been in live action, there lies some serious storytelling. Not just for Justice League as a visual experience, but of the larger DCEU mythology, the nature of this universe's Old Gods, and their connection to the Amazons of Wonder Woman's own history. Let's get started.
Original 'Tribal Zeus' Tells The Old Gods' Story
The version of the King of the Gods that audiences actually got in Justice League wasn't all that noteworthy: a towering, bearding, electricity-firing classical Hero in look and size. But as revealed in early concept art the original look would have seen a Zeus made of flesh and gold, projecting tribal, wild power and energy in his appearance, and literally glowing from the inside out (embedded below). It's a startling design that speaks to the original concepts for the Amazons, as well - also conceptualized as much less advanced at this point in history, wearing animal skins, feathers, and looking more Native American/Celtic than their eventual Greek and Roman garb.
But look closer, and there's much more storytelling at work in Zeus's design than is immediately obvious. There's the light hide skirt (whose color and high cuts survive in Queen Hippolyta's wardrobe) banded in gold, as would be expected of an Olympian God, but no other armor. Instead, Zeus's arms seem to be made of gold, blurring the line further between the gleaming energy of his actual body and that which is projected outward.
But observe what looks to be skin over the gold on his biceps and feet, and the glowing gold forehead and hair escaping his pale skin and the white beard below, and the ideas at work multiply.
— Andrew Dyce™ (@andrewbdyce) November 28, 2017
The impression given is a fusion of the truly supernatural and divine Old God (Zeus's head effectively is his golden crown) and the flesh of Earth, concealing or, perhaps, diminishing the powers beneath. It pairs well with the idea that Zeus 'ran out' of power in Wonder Woman's version of history, while showing this ancient battle as a true 'Age of Heroes,' when Zeus and the Old Gods were at an absolute height. Gods walking the Earth, and looking the part.
And believes us, the image of a 'wild' Zeus lacking any robes or finery is something we'll get back to soon. But first, there's Zeus's son to deal with...
The Original Ares Shows The DCEU's Future
Right off the bat, those who followed Wonder Woman news in great detail will recognize this design as far closer to the original concept art for that film's Ares, drawing more Greek influences than medieval. The skull helmet - combining massive tusks and the teeth of a ferocious predator - seems as powerful and monstrous as the audience knows Ares to be, while the rest of his armor is minimal and gladiatorial. But remember: this version of armor exists alongside the tribal Zeus in Earth's ancient history, which means a timeline of progress or armor evolution begins to form.
As for Ares's godly powers, it's obvious his powers or nature are significantly less than Zeus himself. Where the King of the Gods still shimmers with the gold of his true nature and unleashes lightning from his bare hands, Ares looks human - admittedly also massive - and relies on his battle axe (visible in the finished film as he leaps at Steppenwolf while Zeus hurls thunderbolts). There's a hierarchy of power suggested instantly, even before the war of the Gods told in Wonder Woman... although exactly how that event fits into Justice League's ancient timeline is hard to pin down.
You have to appreciate the added touch of Ares's hands and eyes glowing red as if covered in blood. Fitting. And, combined with Zeus's own glowing hands, a possible source for their depictions in the artwork of Wonder Woman's storybook sequence. But before any viewer starts putting too much stock into that version of the story told by Queen Hippolyta to her mother, these designs raise some serious questions about the Amazons' account of their own history with the Old Gods.
What They Reveal About The Amazons' Real History
For those who prefer the version of events or ancient Amazons depicted in Wonder Woman, this isn't a case of a contradiction lessening the polish or potential of either side. After all, both versions of the story are told in flashback sequences, through in-fiction narrators. That being said, the ancient battle in Justice League is presented as the factual account, meaning the Amazons and their queen were once far wilder... just like the Gods that created them. The original version of Zeus as shown in this concept art would have emphasized just how far back in Earth's history the first assault by Steppenwolf really was.
The idea that the tribes of mankind were united in alliance sets it long, long ago. The fact that the Atlanteans hadn't even disappeared beneath the seas pushes it back farther still. But for it to have come when Zeus himself was in feathers and furs, and before his golden hair had turned white? Now that is ancient. Certainly a far cry from the sparkling, serene, and robed Amazons Hippolyta presented in her version of their history. But combined with the original design for Ares, it's clear the audience isn't getting the whole story - because the Amazons came to resemble the God of War far more than the tribal Zeus they originally emulated.
Conspiracy theorists can hold their speculation, as we're not proposing outright deceit on Hippolyta's part. More than likely, she's painting the Amazons' history with the same nostalgic, romanticized brush as any other empire or civilization.
After all, every DC fan - or fan of Greek and roman history - knows the Amazons were legendary warriors... and yet Hippolyta leaves out any mention of violence or battle in their story. That falls instead to Antiope, whose own account of the amazons' revolt is still portrayed in the glorious paintings of the storybook sequences. Now Justice League confirms Antiope slaying a Parademon is probably much closer to the Amazons' war for freedom. And the fact that their armor, like that of the classical world, shifted away from Zeus's aesthetic to the God of War's, speaks clearly.
These ideas and additions to the DCEU mythology have been left on the cutting room floor, like much of Justice League's larger mythology. But even if they had been adapted into the finished version of the movie, they raise more questions than answers. Rather than silencing or negating conversations among fans, they expand upon them, as the best additions to mythology or canon do. Perhaps these ambitious and startling concept drawings still can, as one version of the Old Gods Snyder considered revealing in his ancient DC Universe.
- Justice League (2017) release date: Nov 17, 2017