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The Anti-Life Equation Explained: Everything We Know About the DCEU’s Knightmare Reality

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Zack Snyder’s Justice League is quite a bit different from the 2017 theatrical version, to put it mildly. This version of the DCEU sequel shows us a lot more of Steppenwolf and his fellow New Gods, including the almighty Darkseid himself. Over the course of the movie, we learn exactly what it is the master of Apokolips wants with Earth. He craves the Anti-Life Equation and the power it bestows.We know what you’re thinking. What the heck is an Anti-Life Equation, and why is math suddenly a matter of life and death in the DCEU? We’re here to explain why this simple math formula is so important, and what this tease tells us about the Justice League sequel that could have been.

What Is the Anti-Life Equation?

Put simply, the Anti-Life Equation is a mathematical formula that proves the futility of existence and free will. In the wrong hands, that formula is a terrible weapon with the power to brainwash and enslave entire worlds. That’s why Darkseid is so obsessed with Anti-Life. He’s spent thousands of years slaughtering his enemies and conquering worlds one by one. With the power of Anti-Life, anyone and everyone can be immediately transformed into an unthinking, unfeeling servant of Darkseid. Who needs Omega Beams and an endless army of Parademons when you have the power of weaponized nihilism?

Art by Jack Kirby. (Image Credit: DC)

Sometimes it’s depicted just as an equation, while other stories have shown Anti-Life to actually take physical form. 2014’s Justice League: The Darkseid War revealed the Anti-Monitor, the universe-devouring villain of Crisis on Infinite Earths, was created when a scientist named Mobius discovered the Anti-Life Equation and was forever transformed.

It was in 2005’s Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle that DC fans finally learned the full Anti-Life Equation. We’ll include it here for posterity, but don’t blame us if you wake up tomorrow as an emotionless zombie:

loneliness + alienation + fear + despair + self-worth ÷ mockery ÷ condemnation ÷ misunderstanding × guilt × shame × failure × judgment n=y where y=hope and n=folly, love=lies, life=death, self=dark side

Is There a Life Equation?

The DC Universe is full of duality and opposites. Batman embodies law and order while Joker revels in chaos and anarchy. The Green Lanterns protect through willpower while the Sinestro Corps rule through fear. Flash is powered by the Speed Force while Reverse Flash harnesses the Negative Speed Force. So it probably comes as no surprise that the Anti-Life Equation is balanced out by a Life Equation.

In fact, you can blame the Life Equation for sparking Darkseid’s interest in Anti-Life in the first place. When Darkseid first encountered the Martians centuries ago, he learned that the Life Equation formed the basis of their spiritual system and belief in the power of free will. Darkseid assumed this must mean there’s an Anti-Life Equation that eliminates free will, and he was right.Art by Aaron Kuder. (Image Credit: DC)

Art by Aaron Kuder. (Image Credit: DC)

Just as the Anti-Life Equation drains free will and turns people into unthinking slaves, the Life Equation restores hope and individuality. It draws power from the Source, the powerful cosmic energy field that exists outside the known universe. The same Source that’s blocked off by the Source Wall, a concept Snyder may have been teasing in his IGN FanFest video. And as you’d expect, it’s basically the exact inverse of the Anti-Life Equation:

companionship + understanding + assurance + joy + altruism ÷ respect ÷ commendation ÷ sympathy x innocence x dignity x success x acceptance y=n where y=despair and n=caution, love=truth, death=rebirth, and self=light side

There’s even an Anti-Death Equation, one that transforms people into undying, ever-growing monstrosities straight out of an H.P. Lovecraft story.

What Happens When Anti-Life Is Unleashed?

Darkseid discovering the full Anti-Life Equation is basically a worst case scenario for both the New Gods and the heroes of Earth, and it’s one we’ve seen play out more than once in DC’s comics. Both 1997’s JLA: Rock of Ages and 2008’s Final Crisis show exactly what happens when Darkseid unleashes Anti-Life on Earth and transforms humanity into his mindless slaves. In Final Crisis, Darkseid and his fellow New Gods have been reincarnated in human form, and they use the Internet to spread Anti-Life across the world like a computer virus. It turns out most pop-up blockers aren’t equipped to protect your PC from the Anti-Life Equation.

The idea of Anti-Life as a virus is also used in 2019’s DCeased. Set in an alternate universe very similar to the DCU fans know and love, DCeased treats Anti-Life as the catalyst for a zombie plague on Earth. When Cyborg’s cybernetic body is bonded with Anti-Life, the equation almost instantly spreads across the Internet and social media, transforming everyone who sees it into ravenous, undead monsters. Even Batman doesn’t last long. Whereas the effects of Anti-Life are reversed in Rock of Ages and Final Crisis, the plague in DCeased is so bad that the survivors are forced to leave Earth and find a new planet to call home.

The Anti-Life Equation and the Knightmare Future in Justice League 2

The ending to Zack Snyder’s Justice League gives us a pretty good idea of what would have happened in the planned sequel. Darkseid is hellbent on returning to the one planet that’s managed to repel the New Gods twice. The Anti-Life Equation is hidden somewhere on Earth, and all signs point to the idea that Darkseid will find it and unleash it on the world. That’s where the “Knightmare” sequences come in.

So far, our only glimpses of the Knightmare world have come from Batman’s dreams or Cyborg interfacing with the Mother Box. But between that and Snyder’s own hints as to what he had planned for his next DC movie, we have a pretty good idea of where things were headed. Justice League 2 would have shown Superman succumbing to Darkseid’s influence after the death of Lois Lane. That tragedy makes the Man of Steel vulnerable to Anti-Life, hence why he’s suddenly become an evil tyrant at war with Batman and his guerrilla army. That’s also the reason we see a brief glimpse of a time-traveling Barry Allen in Batman v Superman. Barry travels back in time to try and prevent Lois’ death and save the world from ruin. But when we see him in BvS, Barry realizes he’s gone back too far. Batman doesn’t yet understand Lois’ significance.

Interestingly, Snyder’s plans for Justice League 2 seem to be drawing as much from DC’s video game lineup as its comic book library. The idea of a futuristic Justice League using time travel to undo Darkseid’s takeover is similar to the climax of JLA: Rock of Ages. But the notion of Lois’ death pushing Superman over the edge is straight out of the 2013 game Injustice: Gods Among Us. As seen in the game (and greatly expanded upon in the prequel comic), Superman is tricked by the Joker into killing Lois and their unborn child. Superman then lashes out and does what Batman never could, murdering the Joker and setting himself down the road to becoming a tyrannical ruler five years in the future.Batman v Superman already showed Snyder’s love for video games. The sequence where Batman rescues Martha Kent is basically right out of the Arkham series, from the camera angles down to Batman’s brutal method of fighting off multiple attackers at once. It’s easy to picture Snyder being inspired by Injustice with his take on a darker version of Superman driven to evil by the death of his wife. The Snyder Cut already hints at the idea that not everything is right with Clark following his resurrection, and there is that brief glimpse of Lois with a pregnancy test.

The Injustice influence might also explain the presence of Jared Leto’s Joker in the Knightmare future. If Joker is also responsible for Lois’ death in this universe, Batman may be using the Clown Prince of Crime as a psychological weapon against their common foe. This might also explain why Superman blames Batman for Lois’ death in the BvS Knightmare sequence. If Batman had taken it upon himself to rid the world of Joker, none of this horror would have come to pass. Knightmare Batman seems to have every intention of finally killing the Joker, but only after their unlikely alliance has ended.

It’s also possible Joker is somehow immune to the effects of Anti-Life. After all, he’s a pretty nihilistic guy already, and not the type of person to willingly submit to a master like Darkseid. As much as he hates Joker, Batman probably needs his greatest nemesis to undo Darkseid’s destruction.

Justice League Snyder Cut: All the Known Differences From the Theatrical Version

Will Justice League 2 Happen?

The question, of course, is whether we’ll actually see any of this setup pay off. Snyder may have originally envisioned a five-movie DC saga, but WarnerMedia’s plans have shifted a great deal in recent years. It’s unclear whether we’ll ever see another Justice League movie featuring this cast, much less one following Snyder’s original story. With The Flash bringing the DC multiverse into play and Ava DuVernay and Tom King’s New Gods movie delivering its own take on Darkseid and the gang, Zack Snyder’s Justice League may well be the end of the road for this particular DC saga.

Snyder explained his decision to leave the original cliffhanger ending intact.

“It’s in-genre to end these movies on a cliffhanger. That’s kind of how they are, and I just felt like that’s what I wanted to do,” he told IGN. “We had put so much work into, and so much thought into how the stories would continue, that it’d just seemed unfair to disrespect that work as well.”

On the other hand, the winds seem to change pretty frequently over at Warner Bros. For a long time even the idea of the Snyder Cut seemed unlikely. Who’s to say Snyder won’t be given the opportunity to continue his story in some form? We may just see the DCEU deal with Anti-Life yet.For more on Zack Snyder’s Justice League, check out IGN’s full movie review and learn more about how a fan campaign helped make the Snyder Cut a reality.

Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.



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