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Darkseid, Anti-Life Equation, and the Mother Box, explained

The Darkseid of the DC Universe

A still of Darkseid from Justice League The Snyder Cut Image: Warner Bros. Pictures
Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

An extra two hours added to the runtime of Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League means more time for the villainous Steppenwolf and his masters. The Snyder Cut also has a lot more Darkseid in it than the theatrical release — which is to say that Darkseid is actually in it now.

Snyder’s complete cut uses a number of concepts from the strange subsection of the DC Universe known as the Fourth World. Some ideas, like the Anti-Life Equation, are pretty much as they are in the comics. Others, like Mother Boxes, might as well be original creations.

Let’s take a look at the comic book origins of the Snyder Cut’s big bad guys and their big cubes.

[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for Justice League and Zack Snyder’s Justice League.]

Who is Darkseid?

Darkseid is a god of fascism, created by Jewish World War II veteran Jack Kirby after he quit Marvel Comics (where he built a large chunk of that universe from the ground up) to work for DC. The stony-faced ruler with ambitions of dominating the universe was the supreme evil force in a strange pantheon, one that had come into existence after a previous pantheon (heavily implied to be the Norse Gods) was destroyed in a cataclysm and the divine energy released by their demise coalesced into something else: New Gods.

From The New Gods #1 (1970) DC Comics
From the first page of the first book of Kirby’s Fourth World titles.
Jack Kirby/DC comics

Darkseid rules over the planet Apokolips, a hell world covered in a single ruinous city, dotted with fire pits spewing heat and flames straight from its core. He is served by Desaad, his administrator, Granny Goodness, his chief general and molder of his parademon armies, and other elite torturers, mad scientists, warriors and assassins.

But for Darkseid, his current might is only a temporary stopgap, a power that pales in comparison to his ultimate goal: To find the Anti-Life Equation.

What is the Anti-Life Equation?

Darkseid and his administrator Desaad in Forever People, DC Comics Image: Jack Kirby/DC Comics

From the name, and the fact that a very powerful supervillain wants it, it’s easy to assume that the Anti-Life Equation is the secret to making a big and deadly weapon with which to threaten the universe. But Anti-Life isn’t the secret to killing people real good.

Exactly what the Equation has always been left abstract, but the legend is that once a being has mastered it they will be able to bend all minds in the universe to their will. Darkseid’s goal isn’t to kill everyone in the universe, but to control them. The name “Anti-Life” is a mission statement on Kirby’s part: A person is not truly living if another controls them, and the best defense against evil is free thinking.

In Kirby’s comics, Darkseid doesn’t come to Earth an army, but with charlatans and spin doctors — he drew one as a pastiche of Evangelist preacher Billy Graham — who seek to make humanity less resistant to the idea of serving Apokalips, often by turning them against their neighbors in fear and rage. His parademon armies aren’t zombie soldiers, but brainwashed mortals, beaten into blind obedience since their earliest childhoods, fed in mess halls emblazoned with maxims like “YOU’RE NOT A BEAST — IF YOU KILL FOR DARKSEID” and “YOU’RE NOT A LIAR — IF YOU LIE FOR DARKSEID.”

But still, all these methods are tiddlywinks next to the power to control all the minds in the universe forever in an instant.

What does Darkseid need Mother Boxes for?

In Justice League, Mother Boxes seem to be a tool that Apokolips’ forces use to make other planets just like Apokolips. When three Mother Boxes are brought together they form something called The Unity, which turns the planet’s population into parademons and the planet itself into a firey hell world just like Apokolips.

In the comics, Mother Boxes are outlawed on Apokolips because they’re both very useful and very loyal to their owner. A Mother Box is an intelligent machine that functions kind of like a magic personal assistant and is about the size and shape of a small brick. In an eerily prescient way, characters even refer to their Mother Box the same way we currently talk to smart speakers, referring to it and addressing it as “Mother Box.” We don’t say “Let me ask my Alexa,” we say “Let me ask Alexa,” even though we know there are millions of Alexa devices in existence and all are slightly different.

Here are some things a Mother Box can do: Manipulate matter, run complex calculations, heal wounds, sooth minds, speak in a repeating “PING” noise that only its owner can understand, and open the interstellar teleportation tunnels known as Boom Tubes.

Here are some things that a Mother Box can’t do: Turn everyone on a planet into parademons, or resurrect Superman. And when you put three of them together, they don’t turn into a doomsday device. That’s just a bit of creative license on the part of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

But, according to an interview with Vanity Fair, the Mother Boxes would have appeared again in a potential sequel to Justice League, in the apocalyptic future alluded to in Batman’s many “Knightmares.” There, in a time when Darkseid had used the Anti-Life Equation to make Superman his pawn, the surviving members of the Justice League would have used the Mother Boxes — combined with the Flash’s speed abilities — to turn back time and make it so that apocalypse had never happened.

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