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History has time and again inspired people to wonder just how certain crucial moments could, with the slightest difference, alter the course of world events. Movie history is even more of a source of such hypotheticals, as it’s much easier to game out the possibilities, with larger than life stakes in the balance. One such question comes from seeing Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel’s ending, be it for the first or fifth time: what if Superman (Henry Cavill) hadn’t killed General Zod (Michael Shannon)?
What if, one of the most controversial death scenes didn’t happen? How would that affect the course of events, both in the immediate circumstances, as well as the extended timeline of the DC Extended Universe itself? It’s about time we found out those answers, and that’s what we’re going to do today.
After a quick history lesson recapping what actually happened in Man of Steel’s finale, we’re going to wind back the clock and kick the temporal can down a different path. One that, as you’ll see, could have been a lot darker. But first, the history lesson.
What Happened At The End Of Man Of Steel
After dispatching of General Zod’s lieutenants, and the destruction of the World Engine cancelling his plans to terraform Earth into a new Krypton, Zod is pretty angry towards his Man of Steel nemesis. Swearing to destroy the planet and its people out of vengeance, the gigantic fight between the last two Kryptonians in the universe begins.
It ends when Kal-El, or Superman as other folks have taken to calling him, kills General Zod when defending a random human family in a Metropolis train station. The choice was either to let those humans die by Zod’s super heat vision, or to end his life. Superman snaps his neck, and feels intense sadness about the choice he made. Ultimately, Man of Steel ends with Superman/Clark Kent living among us, eventually dying to save us all from Doomsday in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and coming back to life in Justice League, with an invisible mustache.
What If Superman Hadn't Killed General Zod
It’s now time to ask the $668 million question: what if Superman hadn’t killed General Zod? Well, there's a handful of scenarios that would see Superman not killing Zod, one of which would be Kal-El siding with Zod before there was ever a fight, letting the World Engine terraform Earth. That’s an automatic game over for everyone, and Warner Bros would have to say sorry about the world not existing.
However, if we merely alter the fact that Superman snapped Zod’s neck, and somehow subdued him non-lethally in Man of Steel, more than likely our villain would have gone to prison. Which, naturally, in compliance with the Hall of Villains bylaws and universal comic logic, would have dictated that General Zod break out of confinement. Again.
General Zod Could Have Been The Big Bad For Batman v. Superman
So say that General Zod is still alive, and Michael Shannon has somehow made up his mind on spending some more time in his muscle suit, terrorizing the DCEU. Well, that would have had a huge implication for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, as Zod could have been the new big bad; especially since his corpse wouldn’t be around to be used in the creation of Doomsday.
Rather than resurrecting Zod to become the bastard creation that is Doomsday, we probably would have seen Zod again. And this time, he’d probably be best friends with megalomaniac/fellow Superman hater, Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg). Metropolis would have been even more destroyed in Batman v. Superman, leaving humanity even more softened up for either Darkseid or Steppenwolf to subjugate Earth with the greatest of ease. Not to mention, if Batman v. Superman has taught us anything, Lois Lane (Amy Adams) would have probably died in the crossfire, and Darkseid would already have his hooks in Superman, ready to take control of his mind.
Superman Could Have Broken Really Bad In Justice League
With two huge events of Kryptonian incited damage in world history, and both General Zod as well as Lois Lane dying, the globe could be united in their hatred for Superman. Even if Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) were still on his side, the damage would be too great for people to side with the already controversial “savior” of Metropolis. His last connection to humanity severed, and the Anti-Life Equation turning him against Bruce Wayne/Batman, as well as the rest of humanity, we’d have seen a much darker Superman in our midst.
In this instance, we might have seen the Knightmare dream sequence from Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice come true in Justice League. Superman, now firmly against humanity, would become a militant savior to those who believe in him; while at the same time allowing Darkseid to come and have his way with the earth. Bruce Wayne’s greatest foreshadowing nightmare would come true, and the world would be in serious trouble.
The Death And Resurrection Of Superman Would Happen Anyway
Just as General Zod’s death was inevitable, Superman’s demise would be just as inevitable in this scenario. Only, instead of Doomsday killing him in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, we’d more than likely see Batman taking out the last son of Krypton with his own smarts, and a healthy dose of Kryptonite. There’s even a potential for Lex Luthor to make an uneasy truce with Batman, providing him the tech he needs to get the job done.
But overall, Superman would die, and then be reborn; more than likely resurrected with a new found hope for humanity. It’s just essential to the basic variant of the character, as he’s a symbol of hope for us all. The two part structure of Justice League could have housed this idea perfectly, with part I being an evil Superman story and part II bringing him back as an ally, triumphant Junkie XL music and all.
While it’s almost certain we’ll never know how things would have turned out with General Zod not dying at the end of Man of Steel, it’s still an interesting enough scenario to plot out in a hypothetical realm. Seeing as this is only one pathway that these events could have taken, feel free to chime in with your own thoughts and alternate takes in the comments below.
In the meantime, Man of Steel is currently available to rent/own on digital HD, 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD, with the DC Extended Universe of films highly expected to be available on HBO Max’s May 27th debut.