As we fumble for footholds in the rock face of the entertainment economy, forever dreaming that we might someday climb through the clouds and finally reach Peak Superhero, we regularly find casting news inscribed on the jagged stones before us. Last week, the big update was the selection of Game of Thrones’ Ciarán Hinds to play the main villain in the 2017 DC Comics mega-adaptation, Justice League. This baddie’s name is Steppenwolf, which is a moniker you probably associate with Peter Fonda, James Cromwell, or Gary Sinise, not superhero fiction. Let’s fix that, shall we?
What’s Steppenwolf’s basic deal?
He’s a god-like warrior from a distant planet who wants to help his boss take over Earth.
What can he do? Can he do things?
In the immortal words of J.D. Salinger: Let’s find out! He’s from an alien race called the New Gods, most of whom have superhuman powers of one sort or another. In Steppenwolf’s case, we’re talking about incredible strength and near invulnerability. He’s also quite good at hand-to-hand combat — your tae kwon do training will be useless against him.
Have we seen him in the DC movies yet?
Yup! He was the snarling metal dude that Lex Luthor meets up with on the Kryptonian ship in that odd Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice deleted scene.
How major a villain is he in the DC Comics canon?
Not very major, oddly enough. He’s been kicking around since 1971, but has only appeared in a handful of stories since then. He was introduced in a flashback about the origins of a legitimately important supervillain named Darkseid. In that story, Steppenwolf was Darkseid’s uncle, and an altercation between Steppenwolf and a guy from a rival society led to a massive war in which Steppy was killed. His nephew later resurrected him and he menaced Earth’s heroes occasionally. However, DC had a big continuity reboot in 2011 and in the new canon, Steppenwolf was just a powerful general in Darkseid’s nasty military apparatus. Given that the 2011 reboot was partly designed as a way for DC Entertainment to test out movie ideas, it’s extremely likely that the more recent interpretation is the one that will be ported into Justice League.
Wait, wait, stop for a second. Who’s this Darkseid guy you keep mentioning?
Oh, right, sorry — got ahead of myself there. To use a gaming metaphor, Darkseid is sort of the Final Boss of the DC mythos. He’s a near-omnipotent alien tyrant from the charmingly named planet of Apokolips, and he’s obsessed with conquering, uh, everything. We’ve known for a while that he’s going to eventually be a major antagonist for the heroes of the DC movie universe, and his presence was heavily teased in Batman v Superman, mostly in the weird dream that Batman has.
Why don’t they just skip ahead and get right to Darkseid? Why are we wasting time with one of his underlings?
It does, indeed, feel like a near-tantric act of delayed gratification to keep the ultimate overlord out of the way for so long. Then again, as any longtime comics reader can tell you, any threat that shows up after a Darkseid fight will feel like a letdown, so you can’t really blame Warner Bros. for drawing out this endeavor. Plus, much as Marvel has been flashing us with little appearances of their own cosmic douchebag, Thanos, it seems quite likely that we’ll get at least a little bit of Darkseid in Justice League.
Okay, but what are Steppenwolf’s real-life origins?
He was one of the many brainchildren of superhero comics’ greatest genius, writer-artist Jack Kirby. Kirby dreamed Steppenwolf up as part of his so-called “Fourth World” story cycle of the early 1970s. In those tales, readers met an array of otherworldly quasi-gods, most notably Darkseid. The period is regarded as one of the high points in Kirby’s long career. Steppenwolf was named after the 1927 Herman Hesse novel Steppenwolf, a grim tome whose primary legacy has been its title.
Is Ciarán Hinds a good pick to play him?
He’s a bit of an odd pick, given that Steppenwolf is a warrior in his prime, while Hinds is 63 years old. However, given that the Steppenwolf we saw in Batman v Superman was entirely constructed with CGI, it’s probable that we’ll just be getting the Irishman’s deliciously gravelly voice, which is always welcome.
Is he a true nature child? Was he born, born to be wild?
Unclear. However, early script leaks indicate that he is looking for adventure, in whatever comes his way.