Get ready! On March 18th, the forces of Apokolips will storm the beachhead of Earth, with only the Justice League standing between life and anti-life. This epic battle for the fate of the universe will be available for viewing in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, only on HBO Max. But as we wait for it to debut, we have to ask ourselves—what would Batman be doing? The answer—he would prepare. So, to help with that, we’re providing you with a primer on all the questions you might have about the New Gods in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but were afraid to ask. And, trust us, you should be afraid.
First, What is a New God?
As first told in Jack Kirby’s 1971 Fourth World saga, the “New Gods” are a race of powerful super-beings from a plane of reality attached to the DC Universe called the “Fourth World.” Why it’s called that is a matter open to speculation, with explanations chronological (the fourth reincarnation of a cyclical universe), spiritual (a reinterpretation of the “Fourth World” spoken about in Hopi mythology) and sociopolitical (created during the Cold War, the Fourth World represents a society beyond the classifications of capitalist, communist and developing “third world” countries which defined the global landscape at the time).
The New Gods inhabit two worlds, locked in perpetual enmity: the heavenly New Genesis, ruled by the benevolent Highfather, and the hellish Apokolips, checked under the thumb of the almighty Darkseid. It’s this second planet in the Fourth World dichotomy which we’re concerned with today. Four of the most infamous Apokoliptic New Gods have been confirmed so far to appear in Zack Snyder’s Justice League with an army of their flying Parademon soldiers in tow, so we’ll be providing you with a primer on each of them here.
Steppenwolf, General of Apokolips
First Appearance: The New Gods #7, 1972
Steppenwolf is the only one of the New Gods of Apokolips to fight Earth’s heroes in 2017’s Justice League. Now, he’s back and spikier than ever. Originally, though, while he played an essential role in Fourth World history, Steppenwolf was dead before the story even began. Told in flashback, we first meet Steppenwolf as the uncle of Darkseid who instigates the war between New Genesis and Apokolips by assassinating Highfather’s wife. Highfather kills Steppenwolf in retaliation, and so the bloody war between New Genesis and Apokolips began. But as New Gods often do, Steppenwolf eventually returned to the mortal world. Although Darkseid’s elder, Steppenwolf defers to his nephew’s rule and for his loyalty he’s been given command of Darkseid’s considerable forces of conquest.
What’s a “Steppenwolf”?
The German name for a particularly fearsome subspecies of gray wolf, often kept as guard dogs in the Caspian Sea region. An appropriate name, and not just because Steppenwolf is known to bring a pack of giant-sized Apokoliptic hunting dogs with him as he travels. Throughout the Fourth World Saga, Darkseid often refers to his inferiors and the battered citizenry of Apokolips as “dogs” who toil in his shadow like subhuman animals. Steppenwolf may be one of the greatest among Darkseid’s Elite, but to Darkseid himself, he’s still a dog to be brought to heel. It’s also the name used by that ‘60s band who do that one song you hear in every motorcycle movie montage.
Okay, but Why All the Spikes?
Think about it: the only thing more dangerous than a bloodthirsty New God is a pointy bloodthirsty New God. (Fittingly, the spikes only come out when he’s entering battle.)
Darkseid, God of Evil
First Appearance: Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134, 1970
Villains like the Anti-Monitor, the Darkest Knight and Superboy-Prime have all taken their shot at the crown, but when everything’s said and done there’s only one final boss in the DC Universe: Darkseid. He’s stronger than any hero, he’s an irresistible telepath, he shoots terrifying “Omega Beams” out of his eyes that do pretty much whatever he decides they can do at the moment. But his most incredible superpower, the one that makes him more terrible than any other villain in the DC Universe, is his boundless capacity for cruelty. Darkseid is the enemy of joy, of hope and of freedom, who desires to crush it beneath his boot everywhere in the universe that it can be found, just because it exists.
As the undisputed lord of Apokolips, the only thing Darkseid seeks now is a formula known as the “Anti-Life Equation,” a mathematical formula which, when applied, can extinguish all free will in every free mind in the universe. Some villains want to rule the universe, some want to destroy it. What makes Darkseid unique is that his sole drive is to rob it of everything that makes it worth living in.
Darkseid Is… What Now?
It’s a simple declarative statement you may have heard a few times, recently popularized in Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ Mister Miracle series, though it first appeared in 1998’s JLA: Rock of Ages by Grant Morrison and Howard Porter. Since its recent recoinage, “Darkseid is” has been a refrain used to exalt the Lord of Apokolips in reverence and fear. What does it mean? It’s a declarative statement that Darkseid’s true nature—that his power, his evil, his omnipresence—is beyond compare to anything else in the universe. To say “Darkseid is great” is not enough, because he is beyond greatness. To call him cruel is insufficient, because he’s more cruel than the word could ever impress. Darkseid is a New God, which makes him a concept just as much as he is a corporeal entity. Therefore, Darkseid is an imperative, a being who can only be described as himself, and one so large, so suffocating, that you can’t help but acknowledge it. And so: Darkseid is.
What Should I Say to Impress People About my Darkseid Knowledge?
Tell them that technically speaking, because that was the book Jack Kirby was working on at the time he was developing the Fourth World mythology, Darkseid is a Jimmy Olsen villain.
Desaad, Grand Director of Torture
First Appearance: The Forever People #2, 1971
Every despotic supervillain needs a miserable sniveling toadie, and that’s the role which Desaad was born to fill. This bent and craven servant of Darkseid seems like kind of a pushover as far as New Gods go, but his twisted form conceals a far more twisted mind. Darkseid himself may be the master of cruelty, but Desaad is the man he depends on to implement his dark designs, constantly inventing new methods and means of torture the likes of which no other species in the universe could even dread to conceive. With, perhaps, one exception...
“Desaad,” Though? Kind of a Funny Name, Right?
Here’s the thing about Fourth World culture—again and again, from Kirby’s first stories up into the modern day, we see that a surprising amount of it is inspired by received visions of Earth’s future. The nature of the relationship between Earth and Apokolips is one of the greatest mysteries of the Fourth World saga, but their obsession with Earth may be rooted in the fact that the Anti-Life Equation is destined to be derived within the collective subconscious of Earth’s inhabitants. Whatever the case, Desaad is a New God who took his name from studying the early Romantic philosopher known as the Marquis de Sade, whose radical ideas on the nature of pain and pleasure gave “sadism” its name. Desaad’s chosen name immediately connotes what he’s about: the study of humanity in the name of Darkseid and its always inspiring capacity for inventing new ways to hurt one another.
Hey, Doesn’t He Look Kind of Like That One Female Fury? You Know, the Kind of Old-Looking One with the Knife?
Oh, you mean Bernadeth? Yeah, that’s his sister. Ah, nepotism… A must-have in any evil aristocracy.
Granny Goodness, Matron of the Furies
First Appearance: Mister Miracle #2, 1971
And then, there’s sweet Granny Goodness. She’s seen only for a moment in the latest trailer for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but she’s as instantly recognizable as ever. The name is ironic, you see. Where Desaad builds devices to torture the residents and captives of Apokolips into breaking their spirits, Granny Goodness specializes in psychological scarring. As the master of Apokolips’s many orphans, Granny alone is responsible for molding the children of her hell planet into beings who live and die only by the whims of Darkseid. (Each orphanage is a microcosm of the universe to come should Darkseid ever unlock the power of the Anti-Life Equation.)
Granny Goodness is also the commander of the Female Furies, Darkseid’s personal special ops team of the fiercest warriors on the planet. Which is to say that whatever her involvement is in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, we can definitely expect to see more of Granny Goodness in Ava DuVernay’s New Gods movie that’s currently in development.
Who are the Female Furies, Anyway?
Okay, quick breakdown. There have been a whole lot of Female Furies over the years, but here’s the core group from the Jack Kirby period who you need to know. There’s Bernadeth (Desaad’s sister with the magic knife who we mentioned earlier), Mad Harriet (imagine Cheetah crossed with the Joker), Lashina (kind of a sexy mummy, really into whips) and Stompa (a sturdy gal who…well, loves to stomp). Then of course there’s Big Barda, the strongest of them all, who ran away from the team to marry Mister Miracle.
But…Does Granny Really Love Me?
Yes, she does. Very, very much.
With all that in mind, the most important thing to know about the New Gods is this: They have a tendency to radically change on every fundamental level whenever they’re introduced, so take everything we just told you and chuck it out the Batmobile’s passenger-side window. Because when Darkseid’s Elite arrive, none of us can possibly be prepared. Not even Batman…which is why he can’t do it alone. So be there as the team assembles this week in Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
And remember…Darkseid is.
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Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCItyQuestion.