WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One, in theaters now.
Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One is bursting at the seams with nods to popular culture, both retro and current. The plethora of references draw from three primary sources -- movies, videos games and, of course, comic books -- and serve a critical role in the movie, which largely takes place inside the OASIS, the vast, digital playground of computer engineer-turned-reluctant digital god James Halliday.
The OASIS is under siege when the film opens. Halliday is long dead, but his last act was to create a contest: Anyone who finds three Easter eggs (in the form of keys) hidden throughout the OASIS becomes its new owner. That leads to teams of Easter egg hunters, called gunters, picking over every second of Halliday’s life, scrutinizing every piece of media he ever enjoyed in hopes of gleaning a clue.
Comic books were integral to Halliday’s formative years, so it is no surprise references to them are everywhere. Here's a rundown of the most overt references to comics in Ready Player One.
One of the earliest pop-culture nuggets in Ready Player One features the Dark Knight himself. The moment comes when the film’s protagonist, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), describes for the audience exactly what players can do in the OASIS -- which is pretty much anything, it turns out.
One of Wade’s examples is that you could even scale the side of a treacherous mountain in the dead of winter … with Batman. The Caped Crusader in question looks to have come from Tim Burton's 1989 film Batman, starring Michael Keaton. The reference is just the first of many nods to the heroes and villains of DC Comics’ expansive roster.
Although James Halliday is dead and gone, he did leave behind clues about how to solve his elaborate contest. One of those hints comes in the form a massive race designed to confound, but anyone who gets to the finish line acquires the first of three keys needed to take control of the OASIS.
Gunters and Sixers (employees of the evil IOI corporation run by the film’s antagonist, Nolan Sorrento) run the race daily, with Art3mis riding her red bike, taken from the pages of Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal manga and anime Akira. The bike belongs to Kaneda, the story's protagonist, and is maybe one of the most iconic motorbikes in comic book history.
Not everyone brings such a lithe and versatile vehicle to the race, however. At one point during the twisting, turning, treacherous course (which includes dangers like wrecking balls and the T-rex from Jurassic Park), one racer is shown trying to maintain control of a 1966 Batmobile. Sadly, it doesn’t work, and the classic car is blown to bits.
Gunters are infatuated with Halliday; they have to be, if they want to win the contest. Most have memorized seemingly trivial details about the man’s life in the hopes that their obsession will bear fruit and lead them to a key. Wade, who goes by the name Parzival in the OASIS, displays his Halliday knowledge for Art3mis after the race, recounting Halliday’s favorite quote of all time.
It's from 1978's Superman, and is delivered by Lex Luthor, played by Gene Hackman: “Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story; others can read the ingredients on a chewing-gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.”