Finally, the pieces start falling into place. This issue starts the fruition of all the plot threads: Darkseid has released the anti-life equation; the greatest of the heroes, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, have been taken out of play.
The heroes who are left have holed up in different fortresses all over earth, and they can’t even easily communicate with each other because Darkseid has corrupted all normal communication channels with an anti-life virus. Lovers have been separated from each other: the Flashes are running for their lives, while Barry’s wife has been infected with anti-life and Wally’s has taken refuge in the Hall of Justice. Superman has had to leave a dying Lois Lane to preserve the universe and get one shot at saving her; the Green Arrow sends his lover and friends through a teleporter to safety while he stays behind to hold off the enemy. A suicide mission, he knows, but he’s glib about it. If they try to use anti-life on them, he’s got it covered.
In this issue, we get a glimpse of what the anti-life equation is and does. The formula we see is
anti-life equation = loneliness + alienation + fear + despair ÷ mockery ÷ condemnation ÷ misunderstanding
Later, we also see the tail end of the equation: self = Darkseid
It’s clear what the effects are. It destroys the ego and voids the self, leaving only emptiness, leaving only Darkseid. It wipes out language itself; anti-life leaves no room for meaning or stories.
It produces an estrangement from the self and from others, leaving disconnected sacks of meat that live to work, eat, shit, and die.
The anti-life equation is proof that we’re living in an meaningless, grotesque world, that “I” is an illusion, that in actuality we are all Darkseid. This narrative is an anti-narrative, a story that effaces all stories. But there are other alternative stories. At the end of the book, to Wally’s surprise, Barry finds Iris and cures her of anti-life by kissing her.
That love cures anti-life isn’t stupid or saccharine. It makes perfect sense: in the very first issue, the monitor Weeja Dell realizes that it’s because of the monitors’ exposure to stories that they have gained personality, feelings, and love.
Love is a product of imagination; love is the greatest story. Love, and Story, are the answer to the brutal alienation of anti-life. This reminds me of one of the revelations from DC One Million: in Superman: Man of Tomorrow 1,000,000, Superman has been transported to the 853rd century, and the robot Platinum gives an oral history of the Superman Dynasty. It’s a strange history that spans the millennia as members of the Dynasty fights for justice in an increasingly complicated and sometimes grim universe. But at the end of it, Platinum reveals that at its most basic level, the story of Superman and his dynasty is, of all things, a love story.
Darkseid’s tyranny and anti-life are ultimately the inability to fire up the imagination, see all of this, and realize that there are other stories than these. In this regard, our superheroes and our comics are antidotes to anti-life too.