The director's cut of Justice League, released today on HBO Max, radically revamped the villains that face the titular superhero team. Not only did Steppenwolf, who was the central antagonist in both this version and the film's theatrical cut, get a bigger role, a better design, and a clearer motivation...but his nephew, Darkseid, appeared in the movie. Mentioned in the original film just once, when Steppenwolf orders his Parademons into action "for Darkseid," the ruler of Apokolips has multiple brief appearances in the new film, including one in the Knightmare reality that sees him killing Atlanteans with his Omega beams.
For comic book fans, even in his brief, mostly silent appearance, there was a lot to get excited for. For casual fans who only know these characters from the movies and TV, though, Darkseid doesn't have nearly the same cache. So what's his deal? Read on.
Darkseid is the ruler of Apokolips, a desolate world that exists in contrast to New Genesis, a planet overseen by the benevolent Highfather. Created by Jack Kirby, Apokolips and New Genesis are the homes to the New Gods, a race of powerful beings who replaced the "old gods" (think Greek, Roman, Norse) as the main powers in the universe. The New Gods were a part of the Fourth World -- a giant, one-man publishing initiative that Kirby brought with him when he left Marvel Comics for DC. The series would ultimately not last especially long at the time, cancelled due to low sales...but their artistry and ambition, combined with Kirby's place in the pantheon of American comics, have ensured that the Fourth World has remained revered since.
Darkseid is a cosmic ruler, but his true passion is the Anti-Life Equation. He is convinced that if he can find and exploit the equation, he can remove free will from the universe and force everyone to bow to him, the way the subjects on his world do.
In the DC Comics source material, Darkseid is one of the most merciless and powerful villains that exist; think Thanos, but he doesn't need the Gauntlet to be able to give dozens of heroes a run for their money.
In Zack Snyder's Justice League, Darkseid is seen in the "history lesson" segment that explains the origins of the Mother Boxes. Trying to conquer Earth, he is badly wounded and turned back, a humiliation that he has never before known in his thousands of years. Without the Mother Boxes, which the Apokoliptian horde is forced to abandon in their retreat, the location of Earth is lost to them, and it is not until Steppenwolf is making his way through our space sector, conquering every populated world in his path, that they finally realize the importance of Earth.
In the mythology of the movie, the Anti-Life equation is here.
That's the basis behind the Knightmare sequences that Batman has been seeing since Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: it's a view of what the world might be like if Darkseid was allowed to conquer it and take control of Anti-Life -- which is exactly what he pledges to do at the end of the movie.
While Snyder and Warners have both said that it's unlikely he will return for more DC films, there is a good chance Darkseid will return in Ava DuVernay's New Gods movie. Whether it will forge a new path for the dictator, or pick up with Zack Snyder's Justice League left off, is anybody's guess.