"Justice League" Movie's Tech Explained: What's a Mother Box?

As more and more information is being released about the upcoming "Justice League" movie, one thing is becoming very clear -- Jack Kirby's characters and devices are going to play a major role in the film.

In fact, Kirby's influence has already been felt throughout the DC Films universe. In "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," we saw a Mother Box being used by Dr. Silas Stone on his son Victor, the hero soon to be known as Cyborg. Similarly, a deleted scene from "Batman v Superman" sees Lex Luthor encounter Steppenwolf (Darkseid's uncle and the upcoming main villain in "Justice League"), who has three Mother Boxes with him. Why three? We'll explain the importance of that number later, but first, let's explore the history and significance of the Mother Box itself.

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The first time anyone ever saw a Mother Box was in the first wave of Jack Kirby's series for DC Comics, dubbed the "Fourth World" line of titles. In "Forever People" #1 (written/drawn by Kirby with inker Vince Colletta), we met the titular characters, a group of young New Gods looking for their missing friend. And, of course, we met their Mother Box.

Right away, it was clear that there was something to the Mother Box that made it more than just a special computer. Later, those suspicions were confirmed when the Forever People used the Mother Box to transform into the Infinity Man.

As they transform, they chant as if part of a religious ceremony. And that, really, is the key to the New Gods -- they have futuristic Mother Box technology, and at the heart of it is The Source, a metaphysical force that drives the entire universe and directly powers the Mother Boxes.

At its simplest definition, a Mother Box is a living personal computer for each New God, not entirely unlike an iPhone or iPad, though its powers are, naturally, far greater. In practical terms, this means the Mother Box can do pretty much whatever the writer wants it to. We saw that early on in the "Fourth World" stories, as each character used their Mother Box in different ways. In "New Gods" #2, for example, Orion uses his Mother Box to transmit images from his mind to other people, as well as to track down a fear machine sent from Apokolips.

Mother Boxes were created from the X-Element, a material Darkseid discovered by accident on Apokolips. They were created by Himon, a New God from New Genesis who had been secretly living on Apokolips. Since they are powered by the source, only those in contact with the Source (basically the residents of New Genesis) are able to power a Mother Box. We learned this in "Mister Miracle" #9, a special issue by Kirby and Mike Royer that was an answer to Kirby's famous story, "The Pact," from "New Gods" #7, which was Kirby's attempt to use occasional flashback issues to explore the history of the New Gods.

After Himon discovered the X-Element and used it to build the first Mother Boxes, he also developed a teleportation technology known as "Boom Tubes." Metron then traded the information behind the "Boom Tubes" to Darkseid in exchange for enough X-Element to build his fabled Mobius Chair.

Metron's willingness to cut deals with Darkseid if it benefits Metron personally has always been one of the more fascinating aspects of Metron's character. Interestingly enough, since Kirby was coming up with these ideas off the cuff, occasionally some things did not exactly make sense. For instance, in "Mister Miracle" #9, we learn that only denizens of New Genesis have Mother Boxes, but previously, in "New Gods" #5, Slig of the villainous Deep Six had one -- though it killed itself rather than be part of Slig's evil actions.

In Orion's case, his Mother Box serves a secondary purpose -- to calm him down. Born on Apokolips as the son of Darkseid, Orion often has difficulty keeping his violent heritage from taking control of him, especially during stressful periods. At the same time, as we learned in "New Gods" #5, Orion's Mother Box hides his true face, a visage which belies his father's genetic influence over him.

Meanwhile, in the third of the "Fourth World" titles, "Mister Miracle," we met Scott Free (son of the New Gods' leader, Highfather), who was training under the great escape artist, Thaddeus Brown (the original Mister Miracle) until Brown was murdered. As Brown died, Scott used his Mother Box to comfort his teacher, with the box effectively speaking to Thaddeus.

As Scott prepared to take over as the new Mister Miracle, he was attacked and his Mother Box was hurt. Scott explained to his friend and colleague, Oberon (Thaddeus' former partner in the escape artist game), that the Mother Box is powered, in part, by Scott's love and spirit. Later, Scott incorporates his Mother Box directly into his Mister Miracle costume.

There are variants of Mother Boxes out there, as writers tend to get clever with their own take on the idea. For instance, a number of writers have introduced "Father Boxes," including Walter Simonson in his classic run on "Orion," where Orion's Mother Box "dies" and is replaced by a special Father Box.

In the "Mister Miracle" part of his epic "Seven Soldiers" storyline, Grant Morrison and Pasqual Ferry introduce the Motherboxxx, which aids Shiloh Norman, Scott's heir as Mister Miracle.

While Mother Boxes are intended for New Gods, they have occasionally been lent out to non-New Gods, perhaps most famously when Superman was lent a Mother Box during the miniseries "Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey" to help him find Doomsday. It later gave him special battle armor, designed to protect the Man of Steel against the alien powerhouse.

During the "JLA/Avengers" crossover, Metron even lent Iron Man -- a Marvel character -- a Mother Box!

The idea of giving Mother Boxes to humans will be explored in much greater detail in the upcoming "Justice League" film. Charles Roven, a producer on the upcoming film, discussed the Mother Boxes in the previously mentioned "Batman v Superman" deleted scene, revealing, "These Mother Boxes are best when they work in threes. And back before there was a history, these Mother Boxes, this is an Amazonian Mother Box. This is Atlantean. And this is Mankind." He further explained that years ago, the Old Gods came to Earth and placed Mother Boxes with Amazonians, Atlanteans (so long ago that Atlantis wasn't even underwater yet!) and with regular humans.

Thus, over the years, the Mother Boxes became ingrained parts of their respective cultures, adapting to the point where you can easily identify where a Mother Box is an Amazonian Mother Box or an Atlantean Mother Box. This, therefore, will tie Wonder Woman and Aquaman's respective backstories into the main plot of the film, which is driven by the lead villain, the Fourth World native, Steppenwolf.

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