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Warning: SPOILERS for Zack Snyder’s Justice League are ahead!
Just like in the theatrical version of Justice League, Zack Snyder’s Justice League ends with Steppenwolf’s defeat, although it’s Wonder Woman who delivers the killing blow to the antagonist rather than his Parademons dragging him off to parts unknown. Regardless, the battle is won… but not the war. Darkseid intends to return to Earth to find the Anti-Life Equation, and before being visited by Martian Manhunter, Bruce Wayne dreamt again of a post-apocalyptic world. That’s right, unlike in Justice League’s theatrical cut, the Snyder Cut took us back to the Knightmare future, which actually isn’t that far off.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was the first time we caught a glimpse of this potential future for the DC Extended Universe. Thanks to Bruce Wayne’s new dream and visions Cyborg saw while interfaced with the Mother Box, as well as information provided by Zack Snyder himself, we know a lot more about the Knightmare. Now that everyone here has had watched Zack Snyder’s Justice League at least once (and if you haven’t yet, I will issue a final SPOILER warning), let’s delve into the facts surrounding this depressing reality.
Darkseid Conquers Earth
Within the continuity of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, it was Darkseid who tried to conquer Earth thousands of years ago rather than Steppenwolf, though the end result was still the same. The forces of Apokolips were defeated by the combined efforts of humanity, the Amazons, the Atlanteans, the Olympian Gods and a Green Lantern. But during his brief time on out world, Darkseid discovered that the Anti-Life Equation was etched on Earth’s surface, and while that knowledge was lost for millennia, Steppenwolf rediscovered the Equation and informed his master. So now Darkseid intends to use the “old ways” to claim the formula that would allow him to control all sentient beings in the universe and destroy their free will.
While Darkseid did not appear in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, hardcore DC Comics fans knew instantly that he was behind Earth looking like a hellscape in the Knightmare, from the Parademons flying around to the giant Omega symbol burned into the ground. But Darkseid didn’t conquer Earth with just his own forces; he had some help from one of the greatest superheroes ever.
Superman Succumbs To The Anti-Life Equation
In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, rather than aiding a trench coat-wearing Batman, Superman is instead at odds with the Caped Crusader and leading Earth’s new Regime in destroying the Insurgency. So why is Superman serving Darkseid instead of fighting back against the Apokoliptan tyrant? Well, in Dawn of Justice, Knightmare Superman blamed Knightmare Batman for taking an unnamed woman away from him, although it was pretty easy to infer that he was talking about Lois Lane. Sure enough, in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, one of Cyborg’s Knightmare visions showed Superman holding a charred corpse, with Darkseid standing behind him and touching his shoulder as the hero grieved.
Devastated by Lois Lane’s death, Superman became susceptible to the Anti-Life Equation, allowing Darkseid to control the Man of Steel and have him enforce his will. Zack Snyder elaborated on the circumstances concerning Superman’s fall from grace in an interview with Vanity Fair, saying that Batman failed to protect Lois Lane from being killed by Darkseid, who only did so because Lex Luthor, who allied himself with Apokolips’ forces, informed him that it was a wise course of action. So that’s why Knightmare Superman holds Knightmare Batman responsible for Lois’ death, and later, we’ll get into how their conflict ends.
Earth Is Short On Superheroes
Ok, so Superman is working for Darkseid in the Knightmare future, but Batman surely isn’t without mighty allies, right? Yes, but the Justice League also isn’t what is used to be. Cyborg’s Knightmare vision showed Queen Hippolyta and the Amazons mourning Wonder Woman as her funeral pyre burned while Darkseid’s forces descended upon Themyscira, and immediately afterwards, we see Darkseid murdering Aquaman with his own trident. And they’re not the only heroes who fell in battle, as we also see a Green Lantern amidst the Hall of Justice wreckage who looks a lot like Kilowog, a longtime member of the Corps.
So that leaves Batman, Flash and Cyborg as the only Justice Leaguers still fighting the good fight in the Knightmare future. They’re aided by Mera, who is determined to kill Superman for his role in Aquaman’s death. But sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures, and Gotham City’s Dark Knight also receives some help from some unusual sources.
Joker And Deathstroke Become Batman’s Allies
Rather than try to recruit Deathstroke into his Injustice League like he did in the theatrical cut, Zack Snyder’s Justice League sees Lex Luthor informing Slade Wilson, who has volunteered to destroy Batman free of charge, that the Gotham City vigilante is Bruce Wayne. Had Ben Affleck’s version of The Batman moved forward, moviegoers would have watched Deathstroke dismantle Bruce’s life and kill people close to him, but that’s immaterial when discussing the Knightmare future. Because by this point, Batman and a mohawked-Deathstroke have buried the hatchet and are working together for the greater good
And then we have The Joker, who looks a lot different than he did in Suicide Squad and is all-too willing to annoyingly psychoanalyze Batman even in the midst of the apocalypse. While Batman and Deathstroke seem to be at least amicable to one another in the Knightmare reality, it’s made abundantly clear that Batman and Joker’s alliance is purely out of necessity. So why are they working together? It’s not spelled out in the Snyder Cut, but Zack Snyder revealed that the Clown Prince of Crime is involved with stealing a Mother Box for Flash and Cyborg’s plans to set things right, which I will elaborate upon in a bit.
Superman Kills Batman
Bruce Wayne’s Knightmare dream in Zack Snyder’s Justice League ends with the corrupted Superman finding our heroes, which is just bad luck. But interestingly enough, the Knightmare events in the Snyder Cut actually take place before Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Knightmare sequence, where we see Batman trying to acquire some Kryptonite. So we can infer that Batman managed to make it out of his awkward predicament with Superman, while characters like Mera, Deathstroke and Joker likely met their demise on that barren terrain.
Unfortunately for Batman, his luck runs out soon after, as the promise of Kryptonite was a ruse for Superman’s loyal soldiers to capture the Caped Crusader and gun down his allies. Batman was taken prisoner and an angry Superman soon arrived to rip out his former friend’s heart. That marks the end of our peeks into the Knightmare reality, but there’s one last important event to cover.
Time Travel Is Used To Try And Fix Everything
After experiencing his first Knightmare dream in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne awakens to a future version of Flash appearing before him in a temporal portal. The Scarlet Speedster tells him that Lois Lane is “the key,” only to realize he arrived “too soon.” From there, he urged Bruce to find “us,” and the Bruce awakened for real. These strange visions ultimately pushed Batman to find Earth’s other heroes and form the Justice League, and in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, we see Flash wearing that same armored get-up in the future.
Thankfully, Zack Snyder has elaborated upon the time traveling, revealing that in the Knightmare, Flash and Cyborg reverse engineer the Mother Box that Joker helped steal to warn Bruce about how to avert this awful future. By the time Justice League 3 rolls around, Bruce realizes what he must do and sacrifices himself to save Lois Lane. As result, Superman doesn’t succumb to the Anti-Life Equation, and he and the other surviving Justice Leaguers leading humanity, Amazons and Atlanteans in defeating Darkseid’s army. But the mantle of Batman doesn’t die with Bruce Wayne in the DCEU’s SnyderVerse continuity, as years later, Lois and Clark’s son becomes the new Dark Knight.
And that’s everything we know about the Knightmare future. As things stand now, despite so many people having tuned into Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max (sign up for the platform with this link if you’re not already subscribed), WarnerMedia isn’t interested in moving forward with the next two Justice League movies Zack Snyder had planned. Obviously we’ll let you know if the powers-that-be change their minds about that, as they ended up doing with the Snyder Cut’s release, but for now, look through our upcoming DC movies guide to learn what is coming up on the DCEU slate.
Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.
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