Ever since Zack Snyder split ways with the DCEU, he's been teasing details of his original plan for Justice League and answering fan questions about the Snyder Cut and Justice League 2, but the whole picture hasn't been completely clear.
As a part of a t-shirt campaign to benefit suicide prevention, Snyder revealed a shirt with a cryptic design revealing the concepts and plot of his plan for the Justice League in live action. Naturally, there's a lot to break down and fans are rushing to find meaning in its myriad symbols ranging from Kabballah to Freemasonry to Tarot to Arthurian Legend and more.
Many of these concepts can be vague and fluid and we won't know the "right" interpretation until Snyder confirms them (which he's already done in a few instances), so instead of diving deep into the definitive meaning of each we'll look at a variety of themes communicated with each bit of symbolism and how that ties back into what Snyder was doing with the Justice League.
- This Page: The Tree of Life, Aequitas, The Pillars, and The Sword
- Page 2: AC23 & 3:5, The Earth, and The Roundtable
- Page 3: The Characters and Meaning
The Kabbalah Tree of Life
Kabbalah is rooted in a mystical interpretation of the Bible, taking a number of Jewish and Christian principles and infusing them with more esoteric philosophies, many of which are contained in the Kabbalah Tree of Life.
The image on Snyder's design is a deviation from the traditional Tree of Life. While the Tree of Life has 10 "nodes," Snyder's depicts a hexagon with his original Justice League characters at each point, and appears to only have 8 nodes.
The top of the image is emblazoned with the word "aequitas," which is a Latin term that is often translated as "justice," but the true meaning is a little broader. It's the root of the English word "Equality" and the word is actually the concepts of balance and symmetry or fairness.
The "justice" translation is obviously key to the whole image because it represents the Justice League, but balance, fairness, and symmetry are key concepts not only in the imagery but in the dynamics Snyder envisioned for the members of the League.
The Tree of Life includes 3 pillars, representing many sets of 3 things, including Justice, Mildness, or Mercy; negative force, balanced force, or positive force; and Form, Conciousness, or Force. Every character on the tree slots into a different one of these pillars, and we can explore that more individually when we examine the characters.
There are another set of pillars on the image, though. The Masonic Pillars of Jachim and Boaz said to have stood to the left and right of the entrance to King Solomon's temple, but there's a long tradition of two pillars guarding the entrance to sacred places. The pillars are said to represent a number of different things, but the most basic of which is an equilibrium between two opposites. This is often shown as a sun and a moon, and in the context of DC, it's easy to assume that also means Superman and Batman.
The towers themselves also strike opposite tones from one another, with the left tower bearing a more classic Greco-Roman design with a bundle of wheat at the bottom and an 8-pointed 8-rayed star with an eye in it, while the one on the right is a modern skyscraper and has a cog with a moon in it. This disparity represents a number of dichotomies, including ancient/modern, mystical/mechanical, day/night, and rural/urban at a minimum. There are a number of symbols that could represent any of the members of the Justice League, but mostly it follows the theme of opposites for the pillars. Since these pillars classically represent a gate, it's no mistake that it's also framed by the words betwixt/between and onward/inward.
Then, of course, the world is pictured in the middle, with cones appearing to represent each of the pillars keeping watch over the world.
The sword going through the middle has Superman's crest at in the place of the pommel. The pommel of a sword traditionally had 2 purposes. One, it was large and prevented the sword from slipping out of the bearer's hand, and two, it served as a counterweight to the blade to ensure balance.
On the crossguard, the sword is inscribed with a set of greek symbols with a number of possible translations, the most direct of which appears to be "I will come." The meaning of this isn't clear, and a better translation may be needed, but based on this translation, there are a couple of possible Biblical implications:
Matthew 10:34: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword."
Revelation 2:16: 'Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.
The sword runs through the length of the image and seems to be the focal point, just like we know Superman was supposed to be at the center of Zack Snyder's 5-part story.
The sword is also double-edged. Depending on your interpretation of the symbols along the sword, they can be read as both the Knightmare timeline version of events or the prime timeline version. Superman unites the Justice League against Darkseid and Batman sacrifices himself to save Lois, or Superman loses Lois, blames Batman, succumbs to the Anti-Life equation, destroys the League, and kills Batman. The sword striking the coffin (marked W for Wayne) seems like a callback to the way Superman kills Batman in the Knightmare scene by hitting his chest.
AC-23 & 3:5
On either side of the sword's hilt are sets of characters. AC-23 seems to refer to Action Comics 23, which marks the first appearance of Lex Luthor. The same reference was made in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where Lex Luthor is designated prisoner AC-23 1940.
The 3:5 is a little more cryptic and could refer to a number of things. Many people have speculated different passages of scripture, but when compared to the AC-23, it seems weird that the scripture would simply be chapter and verse with no book denoted. It could refer to the presumed 3 1/2 hour runtime of Zack Snyder's original version of Justice League, or it could refer to the fact that Justice League was supposed to be movie number 3 in Snyder's 5 part story, but that's also shaky since Snyder never finished Justice League. Or maybe something else entirely.
Putting a globe in the middle of the tree of life is certainly interesting. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Kal-El calls Lois "my world," so that's the most obvious assumption. It also resembles the Daily Planet logo, where both Clark and Lois are reporters. The intriguing thing about the Tree of Life structure, however, is that the center of the tree, where the globe is here, represents death. As we know in the Knightmare timeline, Lois is dead, and that is what ultimately allows Superman to be controlled by the Anti-Life Equation.
Around the Earth is a ribbon bearing the letter A. It's been speculated that this represents Scarlet Letter, and Snyder seemingly confirmed. What that means isn't entirely clear yet, though. If the world represents Lois, it would suggest she wasn't faithful or betrayed Clark in some way, and that doesn't feel like what Snyder is trying to convey. The other possibility is that it's around the actual world because the world betrayed Superman. Or Superman sees Lois' death as a betrayal. There's still a lot to unpack here.
Located below the Earth on the sword is an object possibly packed more full of symbolism than any other spot on the design. It's a round object with the omega symbol on top, six swords (plus the big sword) sticking out of it, and it says "Courtlandt" on the side.
Round table: The object is a circle, and it could represent the round table. Zack Snyder drew from a lot of Arthurian legend for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, particularly from the movie Excalibur, and the Round Table is a clear allusion to the Justice League.
The swords: Altogether there are seven swords. This will immediately call to mind Zack Snyder's first image of Jason Momoa as Aquaman, captioned "Unite the Seven." Initially, it was assumed that meant seven members of the Justice League. More recently it's been assumed to be a reference to the seven seas in Aquaman, but maybe it's actually both.
Snyder drew heavily from Seven Samurai for his inspiration on Justice League, so seven swords is also a reference to that, but he's also hinted it as a reference to the Seven of Swords Tarot card. Upright, that card represents betrayal or deception. Upside down, it represents self-doubt. Depending on context, orientation, and other nearby cards, the Seven of Swords may be a call to get by with cunning and trickery, a call to go solo and face your problems alone, or a call to unburden your conscience and come clean about a deception to receive forgiveness and restore unity.
Omega Symbol: The Omega symbol is a clear reference to Darkseid, who was cut from Justice League. What's not clear is why the Omega Symbol is over the Round Table. The best explanation comes from a deleted storyboard revealed by Screen Rant last year of Justice League's Knightmares scene. In the scene, the Omega symbol from Gotham Harbor is shown as we overlook the rubble of the Hall of Justice. Thanks to the end of Justice League, we know the Hall of Justice is in old Wayne Manor, where Bruce says he'll add a "big round table."
Courtlandt: The most curious part about the round table with the seven swords and the Omega symbol, though, is the fact that is says "Courtlandt" across it. Courtlandt is a reference to the Ayn Rand's book, The Fountainhead, which Zack Snyder was adapting to a script at one point. The story is one of creative freedom, featuring an architect named Howard Roark whose vision for a building is ruined by corporate interests. In that story, Courtlandt (actually spelled Cortlandt) is the name of the housing project taken on by Roark, The parallels to what Snyder experienced behind the scenes with Justice League are clear, but what's the parallel within his DCEU story? One idea is that the Justice League is Superman's Courtlandt, and, like Roark in The Fountainhead, he destroys it when he thinks his vision for it is ruined (in the Knightmare continuity, naturally).
Page 3: The Characters and Meaning
Superman: At the top of the tree is Superman. His symbol is inside of a circle, which is a symbol representing perfection. He also represents a sun at the top, echoing Jor-El's Man of Steel prophesy that one day they would "join him in the sun." The symbol even resembles an image from Man of Steel in the history lesson on the Kryptonian ship, where the crest of the House of El is depicted on a sun. Located at the top of the Tree of Life, Superman is in the spot of "Kether," AKA "The Crown," which partially signifies he exists half in the human system, and half in the divine.
Aquaman: Next is Aquaman, including his trident and a 7-pointed crown. Aquaman's symbol exists inside of a hexagon. At the top of the rightmost pillar of the tree, the node for "Chochmah." This is a place of wisdom, but as the rightmost pillar is also the male pillar, the embodyment of primal male energy. Each of the nodes on the Tree of Life can also be associated with a planet, and Chochmah is fittingly Neptune, which gets its name from the Roman God of the Sea.
Wonder Woman: Also depicted with a hexagon at the top of the leftmost, feminine pillar, is Wonder Woman. She's associated with the image of an Eagle carrying a sword. Zeus, her father, is often associated with an Eagle, and it's incorporated to her costume, so it's fitting. Her node is "Binah," which is characterized by "understanding."
Cyborg: Cyborg is depicted with a pentagon, as a human meta (and not a hexagon like the ancient being like Wonder Woman or Aquaman).Since this tree of life is missing a row, it's not clear what node Cyborg is supposed to be associated with, "Chesed," which is related to Mercy, or Nezach, representing victory. Between Cyborg and Aquaman is a chain with a broken link. One possible meaning of this is that both of those characters are broken and exist outside of their own people. Aquaman is a half breed that doesn't belong to Atlantis or Man, and Cyborg half-man, half-machine. Cyborg also has a book with what appear to be Mother Boxes and a flame above it. With Cyborg's access to the universe's knowledge, the book and Mother Boxes certainly make sense, but there may be more meaning here, especially with the flame.
The Flash: The Flash's symbol is also in a pentagon and takes the place of either "Geburah," which is power, strength, and courage; or "Hod," which is intellectual and emotional energy. The Flash and Wonder Woman have a DNA strand connecting them, but Flash also has an hourglass and cycle with a scythe with wings, likely representing Father Time. As we know from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Flash was attempting to travel back in time to warn Batman to prevent a tragedy.
Batman: At the bottom of the tree, in a diagonal square shape, Batman represents the "Yesod," which is the foundation and represents dreams. As he's both the one that forms the Justice League and the one that was experiencing dreams and saw the Knightmare future, this is only fitting. Above Batman is his coffin, which appears to be trickling blood, and below it are sperm swimming away to the next node.
The baby: One intrepid fan guessed that the baby represents Lois and Clark's baby, named Bruce, after Batman sacrifices himself to save Lois, and Snyder seemingly confirmed this is correct, meaning Lois and Clark were likely meant to have a baby before this whole story was over. The baby is depicted in an inverted triangle, sitting in the place of "Malkuth," which is the combination of all other properties. It's also the gate into the tree of life. As Jor-El prophesied, Kal would become a bridge between two peoples. Baby Bruce Kent would be the manifestation of that bridge.
What does it all mean?
That's a lot of dense, vague, esoteric, and complicated symbolism, so the actual details of the story depicted here might not be clear, but the spirit certainly shines through. It's an image of balance between life and death, depicting a story that is both circular and linear and can be read both forward and backward. On the back of the shirt it is printed on is a spoiler for what the whole thing is about, summed up in a Joseph Campbell quote: "all the gods, all the heaven, all the hells, are within you."
Above all, this shows how this whole story truly did revolve around Superman. While each character has a part to play, the throughline is his, and he's situated at the top, shining down upon the others. During Man of Steel promotion, when asked about the prospect of a Justice League movie, Snyder expressed the importance of Superman being at the center:
"I've said that Justice League is a top-down affair in my opinion. There's two things you've got to do. One, you have to get Superman's house in order. And two, you have to look at the rest of the DC universe....just like you top-down Superman, you have to sort of top-down the rest of the DC characters. Not to say that they need their own movies or anything, perse, like, say the Marvel model, but - by the way I'm also not ruling that out - but I do think there's an opportunity to think about how you might introduce other DC characters and whether that's a Justice League movie, or whether that's just a way of expanding Superman's universe, those are things that I think - that's the next conversation I think, for me."
Starting with Superman at the top and having other characters come in to flesh out the story around him as shown with each of the other characters at the points of a hexagon as opposed to the traditional MCU formula would certainly have been interesting to see play out. Especially with Lois and Clark having a baby named Bruce, it would have presented something new that DC canon hadn't seen before in a unique twist on not just Bruce and Clark, but the way all the Justice League characters are interralated as their shown on the various points of the tree of life.
Fans have only just begun discovering what this new puzzle means, but it's already provided a wealth of new information about Snyder's original plans. They may not all translate to moments on the big screen like they were originally intended, but with Snyder's story left in an unfinished state after Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it's nice to get closer to a sense of closure for both him and his fans.