Chances are you, like millions of people, went to see Justice League this weekend. And there’s also a chance that you, and we’re guessing quite a few of your fellow moviegoers, got your first glimpse of the movie’s main villain teleporting down from the dark world of Apokolips with an army of Parademons behind him and immediately thought…
Huh? Who’s this guy?
Don’t worry. You’re not alone. Justice League’s big baddie is pulled from the world of Jack Kirby’s New Gods, and while they’re one of the more fascinating corners of the DC Universe, they’re also not as well known. (That’s why we put together this pretty handy “New Gods 101” post. It’s worth reading if you’re new to these characters.)
The thing to keep in mind is this. There are villains who stand in the spotlight. Evildoers with names that are capable of sending chills down even the bravest hero’s spine, and who are known the universe over as tyrants or gods or monsters. And then there are the villains who stand beside them—the ones with names and faces you might not recognize as quickly, but who carry out their will with unending loyalty and unwavering discipline.
Enter Steppenwolf. The name might not have been one that was familiar to you prior to seeing Justice League, but as a New God of Apokolips and the general of Darkseid's Parademon armies, he is definitely not one to be ignored.
Oh, and he's also Darkseid's uncle. So the apple definitely didn't fall too far from the tree.
Steppenwolf's story starts a long, long time ago. His first appearance was in Kirby's NEW GODS #7, published all the way back in 1972. The New Gods may be timeless and immortal, but even they had to come from somewhere, and Darkseid is no exception. Darkseid's parents were named Heggra and Yuga Khan. Steppenwolf was Heggra's younger brother, but the family was anything but a functional one.
Yuga Khan was eventually claimed by the Source Wall—something that essentially amounts to an approximation of death for a New God—leaving Heggra as the supreme ruler of Apokolips, raising her sons Uxas (later Darkseid) and Drax (later Infinity-Man). During this time, Darkseid fell in love with a woman named Suli with whom he fathered his first son, Kalibak. Displeased with this union, Heggra arranged to have Suli murdered—an event which caused a domino effect of backstabbing that would eventually culminate in Heggra's murder at her son's order and Darkseid the undisputed ruler of Apokolips.
Rather than mourn or even attempt to avenge the death of his sister, Steppenwolf aligned himself completely with his nephew, assuming the role of general under Darkseid's command with absolute loyalty and conviction. He quickly became one of Darkseid's Elite, the chosen few to join his inner circle—an honor held by other Apokoliptian monsters like Granny Goodness and DeSaad.
As an Elite, Steppenwolf obeyed his orders without question, even when their consequences had momentous effects. It was Steppenwolf who executed the murder of Highfather's wife, Avia, the event which sparked the renewal of the war between Apokolips and New Genesis.
We also have Steppenwolf to thank for Darkseid's continued existence. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the general was scouting the planet Bylan 5 for resources along with Darkseid and a crew of soldiers from Apokolips when they came across Doomsday, the unstoppable Kryptonian killing monster responsible for the death of Superman. The beast nearly tore the entire crew apart. It would seem, surprisingly, that even the immortal New Gods are vulnerable to the endless killing power of Doomsday. But Darkseid survived after being rescued from disaster by his uncle who managed to orchestrate an escape.
The two of them came to a mutual agreement to never discuss this moment of weakness with anyone.
When he's not scheming up assassination plots or rescuing the Lord of Apokolips from sudden doom, Steppenwolf tends to enjoy the simpler things in life: utter chaos, brutal violence and total destruction at the business end of his giant, deadly electrically charged war ax. He may lead armies of Parademons, but he's anything but opposed to jumping directly into the fray himself.
If you’d like to check out a recent comic series where a team of DC heroes had to come together to fend off the armies of Steppenwolf—albeit a different team than you might be expecting—you may want to check out 2012’s EARTH 2. It’s set on a different Earth than ours, but features the same world conquering villain. Or you can always go see Justice League again. Either way, hopefully you now have a little more understanding of who Steppenwolf is and what motivates him. Just don’t let it make you more afraid of him. You know what happens when Parademons sense fear…