Zack Snyder’s Justice League Has 2 Dark Knight Returns Easter Eggs

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Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is arguably the most influential Batman story of all time. The 1986 limited series defined the hero for the modern era and you can still detect its fingerprints in contemporary comics, games and movies. There were elements of the story in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and a whole lot of it in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Now, Zack Snyder’s obvious reverence for it has resurfaced and fans have spotted two big nods in HBO Max’s Justice League.

The first shouldn’t be too hard to notice. In the movie’s epilogue, we get a coda to each hero’s story. Batman’s sees him taking up the mantle of the protector of Gotham City once again and concludes with Commissioner Gordon lighting the Bat-signal while the Caped Crusader looks on. As he does, he’s standing on what’s unmistakably The Dark Knight Returns‘ tank-like Batmobile, with the design lifted directly from the comic.

The second one, meanwhile, would only be noticed by a committed fan. In the very next scene, we head to Arkham Asylum to learn that Lex Luthor has escaped. Ordinarily, Arkham’s full title is the “Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane,” but Snyder has chosen to use Miller’s “Arkham Home for the Emotionally Troubled.” That’s both a sly bit of irony at how the monsters of Batman’s rogues gallery could merely be considered “emotionally troubled” and potentially an edit made due to the director’s ongoing campaign to push back against the stigmatization of mental health issues.

Snyder commented on the impact of The Dark Knight Returns in a 2016 interview, saying:

“The thing about The Dark Knight Returns that really inspired me about this movie is that when I read that comic book series in ’86, I was floored by it because I felt like it promised me something. It challenged my fundamental notions of Batman in an amazing way. I was like ‘holy shit, this is something else.’ It really sort of inspired me to reconnect with Batman as a character and comic books in general.”

Despite Zack using various bits of Miller’s story in his DCEU movies, there’s still talk of a straight adaptation of the classic story someday hitting our screens. Until then, we at least have Warner Bros. Animation’s two-part animated movie, which boasts RoboCop himself, Peter Weller, as Batman. It’s not a perfect film, but it gets the important story beats right. And while I don’t see that full live-action version coming anytime soon, if they did end up making it, I’d be there day one.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is now streaming on HBO Max.

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