Knightmare future
Knightmare future from Zack Snyder's Justice League.

Exploring the Knightmare landscape of the ‘Snyderverse’

How Flash’s time-travelling abilities set the course towards the Knightmare timeline in Zack Snyder’s DC film plans.

7 mins read

The “Snyder Cut”of “Justice League” is an incredibly character-driven film with one of the biggest scopes of any comic book movie. Along with all the heart and action the movie has, it even gives us a glimpse of what was to come.

Many fans, including myself, have speculated how Flash (Ezra Miller) might have branched the timeline creating alternate realities and setting the course for the potential Knightmare world that is teased in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.” 

Both Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) have visions of this future hellish world. Reader beware: my fan theory and analysis contains potential spoilers from the original storyboards laid down by Zack Snyder for the plans of the Superman saga across sequels to “Justice League.” 

Zack Snyder stated that he did a new set of storyboards for the sequels that have not been. It is difficult to estimate to what extent the original storyboards match in parallel to the final storyboards. With the warning of potential spoilers out of the way, read on for my fan analysis of how Flash splintered the time stream in the quest for a future that is not doomed. 

Henry Cavill as Superman. Photo courtesy of Warner Media

In “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” we see the League entering the Kryptonian ship to resurrect Superman (Henry Cavill) in Part 5: “All The King’s Horses.” Here, Cyborg, also known as Victor Stone, is given an extraordinary vision of a few possible futures that could happen by waking the Mother Box to revive Superman. 

At first, we see the Mother Boxes being synchronized causing a massive explosion leveling the Earth and terraforming it into a copy of Steppenwolf’s world, Apokolips. The subsequent dream shows us Darkseid sitting on a throne, watching. 

Ben Affleck as Batman. Photo courtesy of Warner Media

The third dream shows us Darkseid attending Diana’s funeral in Themyscira. The fourth dream shows us Darkseid killing Aquaman in Atlantis. The fifth Dream shows us Superman mourning over the death of Lois Lane and Darkseid taking control of his vulnerable mind through the Anti-Life Equation. The sixth and final dream shows us a world turned to dust. This dominion is ruled by Superman where he is flying above with Batman’s cowl in his hand. We also see Aquaman’s trident, Wonder Woman’s shield, corpse of Green Lantern Kilowog, a torn Joker card, and possibly a few more storied references.

After Cyborg and his Knightmare visions, there are two more people who see such dreams. One of them is Bruce Wayne. In “Batman v Superman”, we see him in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by Darkseid, parademons, and Superman and his soldiers (“stormtroopers,” as Zack Snyder calls them). We see Batman’s resistance army being killed by Superman’s regime. The dream ends with Superman unmasking Batman and killing him right after saying, “She was my world and you took her from me.” This is followed by an appearance from the future Flash warning him about Lois Lane being the key.

Ben Affleck as Batman. Photo courtesy of Warner Media

The second Knightmare in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” shows us Batman along with his rebel team that includes the Joker, Deathstroke, Mera, Cyborg, Flash and possibly the Green Lantern John Stewart. We see Mera holding Arthur’s trident and we witness a conversation between Batman and the Joker where they have a tense confrontation about their respective past losses of Dick Grayson and Harley Quinn with an agreement for a truce despite the bitter bad blood between them. The Knightmare dream ends with Superman finding them, and Bruce waking up. This hostile Superman is under Darkseid’s control. 

Another person who sees visions is Diana in the original storyboards for the “Justice League” sequels. This was a part of Wonder Woman’s arc after “Justice League” where she uses the Lasso of Truth to channel her memories and find her way back to Themyscira. We see her walking the paths of Tartarus, the Greek underworld or hell, and coming back to the world as the God of War. We see her killing Superman in the dream of a potential future. 

Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke. Photo courtesy of Warner Media

Zack confirmed that Superman would be back to wearing his blue suit in this vision. He goes back to blue while under Darkseid’s control because the blue suit is his ambassador suit on Earth and the black suit is the default Kryptonian heritage suit, so the Darkseid-controlled Superman is trying to subvert the hopeful symbolism of the blue suit to demoralize the resistance against Darkseid.

Let’s take a closer look and break down these visions. The Kryptonian ship warned upon resurrecting Superman, “The future has taken root in the present,” in reference to Merlin’s line in “Excalibur” (1981).  The original timeline is the League resurrecting Superman by waking up the Mother Box with a bolt of Flash’s electromagnetic charge. 

Henry Cavill as Superman. Photo courtesy of Warner Media

The same Mother Box, which had also brought Cyborg into a new life, would then fall in hands of Steppenwolf who synchronizes them to terraform the Earth into dusty Apokoliptian wastelands with Darkseid as the ruler. Everyone dies when the Unity is reached, which can be seen in reverse when Barry rewinds back time and we see a disintegrated Superman and Cyborg being reintegrated. That is how the original timeline ends.

However, Barry reversing time sets course for a new inevitable future with events in motion. Darkseid tells DeSaad, “Ready the armada, we will use the old ways.” In the spirit of the Terminator franchise, “You never avoided Judgement Day, you only postponed it.” 

This leads into the framework of the “Justice League” sequel where Lex Luthor teams up with Darkseid and tells him the way to break Superman. With the dominos in motion, Superman succumbs to the Anti-Life Equation, Darkseid kills Diana and Arthur, and the world turns to dust. This chain of events brings Cyborg’s series of visions to fruition. For our purposes, let’s refer to these events as “Timeline 2.” 

Here is a fan visualization covering this timeline:

The inception of the Knightmare timeline is the death of Lois Lane. In this Timeline 2 with Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman falling. Batman teams up with some friendly survivors and some foes forming a rebel group to resist Darkseid’s rule. Mera holding Aquaman’s trident and Bruce and Joker making a truce. Joker’s card is seen prominently on Bruce’s gun in the Knightmare future, and then we come to Cyborg’s sixth vision where we see Superman holding the cowl he removed in “Batman v Superman” right before killing him. 

The card representing the truce between Bruce and Joker is seen torn and flying in the wind, telling us that Bruce broke the truce and might have discussed past events or might have killed the Joker. Only Zack Snyder would know until we get to see it. In the very last scene, we also see Arthur’s trident. Knowing the events of the splintered timeline, we can surmise the last owner of the trident was Mera. This might be a way to tell us that maybe Mera does not survive the Knightmare world. 

Here is a fan visualization covering Mera’s fate:

Deathstroke is killed by Superman according to the original storyboards, or maybe we have both Deadshot and Deathstroke, instead of Deadshot replacing Deathstroke in Snyder’s revised story planning, in which case, the fate of Slade Wilson would be unknown for now. 

Here is a fan visualization covering the history of Lex Luthor and Slade Wilson:

Timeline 2 comes to an end for us when Flash goes back in time and tells Bruce something that would make him want to sacrifice himself to protect Lois. 

Here is a fan visualization covering Timeline 1 and Timeline 2:

In the original storyboards, it was him realizing that he is the father of Lois’s child but the plans for that arc have been changed. The original idea was that Bruce and Lois would bond over the loss of their mutual hero and develop a romance while Superman was dead. Bruce would get decapitated by Darkseid’s Omega-Beams leading us to a Timeline 3. 

Here is a fan visualization covering Bruce Wayne’s ultimate sacrifice:

Before we get to that, let us not forget that the rogue Superman from Timeline 2 is still alive. So here is where Diana’s vision takes place. She comes back as the God Of War and kills Superman and possibly unites the world in Timeline 3.

Here is a fan visualization covering Timeline 3:

In Timeline 3, Superman does not go rogue since his mental state is not vulnerable and susceptible to Darkseid’s control without the loss of Lois because she never dies in the first place thanks to Bruce. Bruce’s sacrifice inspires him to be the leader and unite the world just like his own sacrifice at the end of “Batman v Superman” inspired Bruce to form and unite the Justice League in “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”.  As the storyboard plans laid out, Superman unites the world and the entire world becomes a Justice League. That is how Zack Snyder’s storyline comes to its climax with a final showdown against Darkseid and the whole Apokolyptian family with their armies of Parademons. We would see a world united, with Superman self-actualizing into the exemplary beacon of hope we all know and love. 

Snyder had also planted roots for the original Doomsday in “Man of Steel” and if we follow the canon, the first Doomsday inspires Darkseid to create an army of his own Parademon Doomsdays which might also be there in the third “Justice League” installment.

Here is a fan visualization covering an overview of Doomsday.

The storyboard plans also offered a redemptive arc for Lex Luthor. Luthor is after all a humanitarian and philanthropist, and upon realizing that Darkseid’s schemes would usher the subjugation and destruction of humanity, Lex transports himself to Darkseid’s Apokoliptian ship to blow it up. 

Here is a fan visualization covering Lex Luthor’s arc:

Zack Snyder’s story plans made Superman the centerpiece of the saga. The storyboard plans show a creative and brave idea of storytelling that would have enthralled fans in parallel to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans of the original DC tone will keep clamoring for the powers that be to restore the Snyderverse. 

Read the original storyboards for the Justice League saga here.

Jainam Turakhia

Jainam Turakhia has been a fan of DC for as long as he can remember, but what really tickles his inner creativity is Zack Snyder's vision for the DC Universe. From there Turakhia has traveled to a lot of destinations exploring works of other artists who make movies or write books/comics. Zack Snyder however, is always his hometown. He loves watching, and analyzing, anything and everything. Still a student from India studying Chartered Accountancy, Turakhia's passion for stories doesn't seem to end.

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