'Justice League' and Why the Time Is Right for Darkseid

Darkseid Portrait - H 2016
Jack Kirby/DC Entertainment
Zack Snyder's cut of the film will feature the villain, who makes his movie debut during an era in which the real world resembles a comic book nightmare.

”Darkseid is.”

The slogan — used to impress upon the audience the unmistakable power of DC’s nihilistic cosmic villain — has been in use since 1997’s JLA No. 13, becoming a common part of comic book culture after being an integral part of the critically acclaimed 2018-19 series Mister Miracle. It’s likely to only gain more cultural currency once Darkseid takes over the Zack Snyder Cut of Justice League, set to debut on HBO Max next year. Is the world at large finally ready to take on comics’ biggest, most existential threat of all?

When Darkseid was first introduced in 1971 as the villain of Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World Saga” comics — New Gods, Forever People, Mister Miracle and Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen — he certainly talked a big game: “I am the Revelation! The tiger-force at the core of all things!” he declared in Forever People No. 3. “When you cry out in your dreams — it is Darkseid that you see!” Such dialogue was not only fitting for a grand villain, it was also in keeping with Kirby’s melodramatic meter; his characters generally spoke in dialogue that was as evocative as it was unrealistic. Unusually, however, one thing became clear as Kirby continued to build Darkseid throughout multiple appearances — he had earned every piece of hyperbole he delivered about himself.

In concept, Darkseid can be read as the ultimate threat — if he ever achieved his goal of possessing the Anti-Life Equation, the macguffin at the heart of the Fourth World Saga, then he would eradicate all free will in the universe. (In some stories written post-Kirby, he did achieve it, and things went as poorly as you might expect.) Kirby, a World War II veteran, had created a character as an embodiment of fascism that went far beyond earlier examples like Marvel’s Doctor Doom or the Red Skull, both of whom often devolved into cartoonish rants and parodic exhibits of self-sabotaging villainy; by contrast, Darkseid himself preferred to stay silent in the background, outside of the occasional reminder of just how dangerous he could be when necessary.

(Something that added to Darkseid’s sense of danger, at least in the original Kirby-written appearances, is that Darkseid never actually lost. Sure, his plans would suffer setbacks, but there was never a direct, complete, defeat. He was never arrested, never humiliated in that way. He was always present, his threat never truly diminished.)

All of this makes Darkseid a threat in many ways similar to the MCU’s Thanos — a character, notably, somewhat inspired by Kirby’s creation a handful of years earlier. Yet Darkseid, at his heart, is a more dangerous threat: he doesn’t want to kill, but dominate, and he doesn’t have the quasi-sympathetic motivation of Josh Brolin’s curiously chinned Avengers nemesis. Why does Darkseid want to destroy all free will? What makes him want to rule over everything? Can any one person really be so cruel to want their thoughts to be the only thoughts in existence?

Darkseid is.

In some ways, 2020 and 2021 are the ideal times for Darkseid to appear on the mainstream stage; the world feels out of control and on the verge of fascism in many areas, priming audiences for a story in which a threat such as Darkseid is not only confronted, but —hopefully — pushed back, if not outright vanquished. This might not be exactly what audiences will see in Snyder’s Justice League — considering he was entirely missing from the theatrical cut, how much Darkseid can even show up in the new version, after all, and would Snyder’s cinematic version be the same character as his comic book inspiration? — but the need, nonetheless, remains.

Whatever the reason Darkseid was missing from the first incarnation of Justice League, the fact remains that it may have been a blessing in disguise. Had he shown up in 2017, a despot obsessed with controlling all thought so that it matched his wouldn’t have felt so in tune with the times. With the first footage, Snyder is teasing that Darkseid might be a timeless threat to the good guys. It’s very possible that he might be the most timely threat, as well.