This article contains Zack Snyder’s Justice League spoilers.
DARKSEID IS…finally in the DC movie universe with the long-awaited release of The Snyder Cut of Justice League. And with Darkseid comes a whole host of plots, tools, and general bad dudes to help him destroy the universe. The most core to his being? The Anti-Life Equation.
In Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Steppenwolf is still very much the main baddie of the film, exiled to Earth for failing to deliver enough worlds to his master, Darkseid. But Steppenwolf discovers a way to redeem himself when he learns that Earth contains a secret that Darkseid has been searching for for millennia: the Anti-Life Equation is somehow carved into the surface of our world.
Needless to say, this catches Darkseid’s attention (and helps set up a Justice League 2 that will never arrive). But the movie doesn’t really explain what the Anti-Life Equation is, or why Darkseid is so intent on locking it up for himself.
That’s why we’re here to help…
What is the Anti-Life Equation?
One hears “Anti-Life Equation” and the first instinct is to imagine some highly technical bit of calculus that forces you to sit in an endless college lecture room where you’re just not going to get it and why do you even need to sit there wasting your time when your major is polisci which sure it’s a pyramid scheme but it’s still what you’re interested in, and to be completely honest, it’s kind of like that. Anti-Life is a mathematical formula that obliterates free will, allowing the mathematician calculating the result to completely dominate the beings hearing it.
Written longhand, the Anti-Life Equation is loneliness + alienation + fear + despair + self-worth ÷ mockery ÷ condemnation ÷ misunderstanding x guilt x shame x failure x judgment n=y where y=hope and n=folly, love=lies, life=death, self=dark side, but that is a fairly recent development. The Anti-Life Equation was first introduced at the dawn of Jack Kirby’s big Fourth World Saga in Forever People #5. Beautiful Dreamer describes the equation as giving the wielder “absolute control over you,” which, she says, makes you not really alive.
Why Does Darkseid Want the Anti-Life Equation?
Anti-Life has been owned by just about everyone in the Fourth World at some point or another. It was first found and contained within Billion Dollar Bates, an obscenely rich pig of a man who held secret, dark rituals in his basement. Sonny Sumo, one of the Forever People, also had knowledge of the Equation early in The Forever People.
Orion, Darkseid’s son raised by Highfather as part of the New Genesis/Apokalips truce, later got his hands on it after defeating Darkseid (who himself came to possess it by creating hundreds of clones of Bates). When Orion tried to use it to give people happiness and peace, he was horrified at how it hollowed them out, and vowed to never use it again. It later passed to Mister Miracle, and portions of it were found all over humanity.
It was eventually embedded in a spam email that Mokkari and Simyan sent to the entire world, giving Darkseid control of Earth in the outstanding Final Crisis. His hold on Earth was only broken by an extremely pissed off Superman; a recently liberated Wonder Woman and her Lasso of Truth binding Darkseid and forcing him to free everyone; and Barry Allen and Wally West outracing a radion bullet, Darkseid’s own Omega Beams, and the Black Racer to divert all 3 through time into the dark god of Apokalips.
Anti-Life has been fairly prominent both in DC’s comics omniverse and in TV and movie form.
The Anti-Life Equation was kind of the inciting incident behind DC’s hit zombie book, DCeased. Darkseid and Desaad, discovering the equation was contained in Cyborg’s programming, captured the hero and began experimenting on him. Unfortunately, they corrupted it in his body, causing it to be released into Earth’s media streams, making anyone who looks at a screen (assuming they’re not using their x-ray vision at the time) a bloodthirsty zombie.
It was also Darkseid’s prime macguffin in the DC Animated Universe, leading to arguably the best moment in the best episode of the entire run, when Lex Luthor traded it to Darkseid to get him off Earth at the end of Justice League Unlimited.
Of course, we may never get to see how Zack Snyder intended the Anti-Life Equation to play out in a DCEU film. It’s clear that Darkseid would have been the main villain of Snyder’s Justice League 3 (and likely appearing briefly in the next sequel) had that come to pass, but that seems as unlikely a prospect today as it did just a few years ago. The last official movement on this was Ava DuVernay being tapped to co-write and direct a New Gods movie, which would reinvent Darkseid and the rest of the New Gods for the screen. Presumably the Anti-Life Equation will be at the center of that too, however there’s also been little movement on that spinoff over the last few years. Time will tell.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is now streaming on HBO Max.