Here’s a new Justice League image of The Flash, Batman and Wonder Woman staring off-screen. They look concerned, which means there’s only one possibility…
…this must be the first time they meet fan favourite Robert Stephen Banks, a.k.a. the classic bank-robbing werewolf Steppenwolf.
For those without a deep knowledge of DC lore, allow me to take you back to school. How far back? Well, February 1958 to be exact; the debut of Robert Banks in Action Comics #237. Some of you may be familiar with this famous Superman cover, a bonkers plotline emblematic of comics’ Silver Age, but few are actually familiar with the story within even though there’s a massive clue front & center:
Did you spot it? Take a closer to look at what Superman is wearing. Ah, now you’re catching on! That purple suit, which Supes later tosses in a dumpster after Perry just won’t accept that he’s both Clark Kent and Superman, is what our beloved Bob Banks stumbles upon when he creates his classic outfit in the following issue.
Banks’ origin wasn’t explored until the following year, but he kept popping up in the pages of Action in the meantime, proving to be an annoyance to Superman. He kept putting the petty criminal in jail only for him to escape and go back to bank robbing – given their rivalry and the villain’s purple clothing, he was sort of like Superman’s Joker for a brief period before taking on the rest of the Justice League in the 1960s, when he was given his famous catchphrase “I’m going to rob banks!”
Like all good villains, Banks has a tragic origin. Robert was an admirer of his father, zoologist Dr. Stephen Banks, and in order to impress him, he began experimenting on wolves in order to create a genetically superior canine. His experiments were unsuccessful and his father disowned him, until he stumbled upon a magic medallion that gave him increased intelligence. He began making headway with his experiments, enhancing the speed and strength of his captive wolves, but like any man meddling with nature, he was no match. One of the wolves escaped while he was still wearing the medallion and bit him right on the neck, granting him the power to transform in to a wolf so long as he had the medallion on him.
He decided to turn to a life of crime (first in Metropolis, later in Gotham) adopting the moniker Stephen Wolf after his father, and once he gained enough traction amongst fans, he was finally allowed to confront Dr. Banks Sr. in the pages of the Batman series Detective Comics, killing him in a fit of anger and taking on the name Steppenwolf, the German word for coyote. This was deemed too dark for comics at the time and the character ceased to be a regular presence, showing up only in team-up books where he could be neatly inserted into group shots of various villains.
Too dark for the Silver Age, Banks was also too gimmicky for the more serious direction DC comics began to take in the ‘80s and was soon forgotten – that is, until noted member of the Steppenwolfpack (that’s what we call ourselves on Reddit’s DC_Cinematic board) Cameron Stewart worked him in to the pages of Batgirl in the New 52. He kept Banks’ iconic look – the purple suit, blue cravat and pink fedora – but removed his murderous instinct since the book was more kid-friendly, and he even gave Banks the Transformation Incantation modern fans of the character are no doubt familiar with:
“By Midnight’s moon,
By tooth and growl,
No vault is safe
From rob banks’ Howl!”
Steppenwolf, who had a brief cameo appearance in The LEGO Batman Movie, continues to be a semi-regular presence in comics today – some theorize that DC Rebirth’s mysterious Mr. Oz is Banks in human form – and it’s going to be interesting to see how Ciaran Hinds translates the character whimsical nature through his voice performance. It no doubt feels in line with the tone of the film’s marketing thus far, which is lighter in tone than its predecessors.
Anyway, the costumes look pretty cool in this new image. Justice League arrives November 17th.
Note: Cameron Stewart really did write that incantation just for this gag. Y'all should check out Motor Crush.