Ever wonder what would have happened if Batman and Superman had actually fought each other face to face rather than working together against their more common enemy, Zod? The DC universe would have been plunged into chaos, and both Batman and Superman may not even have survived. But as unlikely as this scenario seems, it was probably the most likely outcome of BvS, which makes it all the more sad.

Although the two movies are both considered successes, especially compared to what was expected at the box office, neither one of them will likely be remembered for much beyond their titular characters. But while the characterizations in the 2016 movie were mostly praised, the story and its unsatisfying ending were heavily criticized.

And it’s not like Warner Bros. didn’t see it. The studio has been trying to get a sequel off the ground for years, churning through a variety of plot ideas, character arcs, and iterations, with very little to show for it. After BvS, the future of the DCEU remained in doubt, and many hope that one of these days, we’ll get a third act that finally gives us an ending that makes sense.

Why Did Batman and Superman Fight?

It all starts with Zod, of course. After saving the world five times over, it was only a matter of time before his star was on the rise. And with the rise of Superman’s popularity came the need for a worthy adversary to keep Superman in his place. Someone who was strong enough to challenge him, but wouldn’t be easily beat by a brute force approach. Enter General Zod.

What’s more is that Superman had been fighting a losing battle against numerous foes for years, getting progressively weaker and scarcer each time out. By the time Zod arrived on the scene, Superman was at a point where he needed a rescue.

But the truth is, Zod was probably the least of Batman and Superman’s worries at the time. The world was still reeling from the effects of the previous years’ Crisis on Infinite Earths, and with many heroes either scattered or inactive due to prolonged inactivity, the villains were able to run amok. Gotham City was once again flooded with the criminals from the DC universe, turning what was originally planned as a celebration of Superman’s abilities into an all-out free-for-all.

But why did this happen? Essentially, it was the result of a secret court order issued by Anthony Wayne in response to a threat to national security brought about by Lex Luthor, who, in a bid to prove that Superman is a dangerous myth, plans on releasing a vial of kryptonite in the middle of downtown Metropolis. To prevent this from happening, Wayne enlists the help of the Justice League, and the rest, as they say, is history.

An Unexpected Twist

What isn’t often mentioned in the same breath as Superman and Batman is that the Justice League was originally created with the goal of stopping Superman from becoming a global phenomenon. The plot of BvS revolves around Lex Luthor’s plan to prove that the Man of Steel is a myth, and the Justice League’s efforts to stop him.

According to Geoff Johns, who wrote the first two Justice League comics and was the architect of the DCEU, Lex Luthor’s plan in BvS is to “own the media and squash Superman’s image as a marketing tool.” But in Johns’ opinion, this was a risky move on Luthor’s part, “especially now that Superman is aware of Lex’s true motives. The worst thing you can do for marketing is have the consumer know that your product is designed to make them look bad. It makes the whole effort worthless.”

Luthor is, in fact, successful in his quest to prove that Superman is a myth, and the world is once again reminded of the danger that the Superman story brought about. In the course of a few weeks, Superman is both feared and respected for the first time in memory, with many people, both good and evil, taking note. But this is all fleeting, as the heroes are reminded of the precarious position that they are in when the Joker, in a fit of jealousy, tricks Batman into shooting Superman dead. Batman, the mastermind of the plan, escapes with the help of Wonder Woman and the surviving Justice Leaguers, and vows to continue his war on crime.

The Unhappy Endings Of Lex And Zod

Ultimately, the fight between Batman and Superman is a microcosm for the larger conflict that exists between them. As in real life, there is a natural tension and competition between them, with each one trying to outdo the other on the justice scale. But while in the comics, these battles usually end in triumph for the heroes, their real-life counterparts rarely have happy endings. We know this especially from the case of Lex and Zod, whom we last saw in a state of brutal conflict in the first half of BvS. But while the world is still waiting for the conclusion of their war, in the comics, we already saw the resolution to this conflict. In a story aptly titled, “The Last Battle,” we read that Lex Luthor was ultimately defeated by his own hand, having shot himself in the head while trying to escape from the Fortress of Solitude. This, in turn, caused Mr. Perfect, Lex’s right-hand man, to commit suicide, as well. While these are clearly the actions of a broken man, we can rest assured that Lex’s quest for world domination will continue to be a threat to the Man of Steel.

Where Does This Leave The DCEU?

Batman and Superman aren’t the only heroes that have had their share of fights in the DC universe. Elsewhere, we see a similar dynamic play out between Nightwing and Wonder Woman, with the former generally seen as the comic relief of the group and the latter as the level-headed member. But aside from these two characters, the division is often clear, with most heroes standing with Batman against Superman, and vice versa.

One of the most recent incarnations of this conflict is the three-part DC series, “Batman vs. Superman,” which, fittingly, serves as the unofficial prequel to WB’s upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The first of these series pits these two opposing ideologies against each other, with the titular adversaries going head-to-head while also contrasting their philosophies in a battle of wits.

Considering the historical nature of this conflict, it’s likely that Batman and Superman will never really be able to bury the hatchet, and the same is likely to be true for their cinematic counterparts. But for now, at least, we know where these two polar opposites stand, and we can rest assured that Lex didn’t win the war.