What is the opposite of life? That mystery has been the motivation for the character of Darkseid, the New God ruler of Apokalips, ever since the legendary Jack Kirby first introduced him and his extended, murderous family of deities in the 1970s. The Age of Aquarius was famously given to sentimental speculation about the nature of the world, and the saga of the New Gods was a product of its time. The goal of Darkseid’s cosmic quest was the Anti-Life Equation, a mystical source of power that embodied not death, but slavery. The Anti-Life Equation did not extinguish physical existence, but free will, without which life was a mockery.
Unfortunately, Geoff Johns forgets that crucial distinction in Justice League #44. As Darkseid, the Anti-Monitor, and the members of the Justice League continue their battle, Batman, still seated in the Mobius Chair, and Hal Jordan have departed into the multiverse in a quest to find the secret to ending the war before it destroys the Earth. Their first stop is amidst the flaming ruins of Earth 3, where they pause for acrid conversation intercut with scenes from the ongoing combat. It is like pages of a David Mamet play have been interspersed with clips of Destroy all Monsters.
Jason Fabok on pencils and inks and Brad Anderson on colors do not rise to their usual level of quality for this issue. They use relatively small, extremely busy panels together with an array of colors that are often not readily distinguishable. The result is pages that are sometimes muddy and muddled, not so much unclear in action as severely muted in effect. This is saved somewhat by the power of the faces, which are clearly drawn with powerful, communicative expressions, including those of Darkseid and the Anti-Monitor, no small accomplishment with two such powerful, and fundamentally alien, beings.
The search leads Batman and Jordan to the anti-matter world of Qward, where the Anti-Monitor was born. There, the chair reveals that the Anti-Monitor was once named Mobius, and he built the chair on Qward in an attempt to divine the secrets of creation. It turns out that the Life Equation, free will, was the motive force behind the creation of the normal universe, while its opposite powered the birth of the Qwardian realm.
Back at the battle, Darkseid summons the Black Racer, the avatar of Death, to destroy his enemies. The Anti-Monitor, however, declares that Anti-Life runs through his veins. Seizing control of both the Racer and the Flash, he forcibly merges them and uses the new avatar of Death to kill Darkseid.
As the issue ends, the echoes of Darkseid's death resonate through the multiverse. Is Anti-Life death? On one hand we are told not. On the other hand, it would appear so. Regardless, it has apparently killed Darkseid, a fitting, if ironic, end to a story of nearly half a-century. After all, if where there is life there is hope, where there is Anti-Life, there is futility and despair.