* Major spoilers for Batman v Superman ahead! *
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was suprising on many levels, packing in the plot twists. One of the most unexpected things was how Superman's story ended, setting up Justice League in the strangest way. This twist has garnered criticism from fans and critics alike, and yet it was probably the best thing for Justice League.
Ok, you've scrolled down so I'm gonna go ahead and assume that you know what I'm alluding to, and that thing is the giant, Superman-sized coffin in the room.
Killing Their Darlings
Killing off a major character then bringing them back is not a new plot trope. Arguably, the first character to die and then make a comeback was Sherlock Holmes: Arthur Conan Doyle famously killed his hero, hoping to retire. Next came Spock: in a bold move, Nicholas Meyer killed off the fan fave but again, the fans wanted Spock back, so the character was resurrected in the next Star Trek movie.
Many other characters followed suit, like Buffy, Jon Snow (probably), and any main character in Supernatural. So many, in fact, that there's several TV tropes named after this practice, and the First Law of Resurrection explains it.
"If the creator wants to bring back a dead character, then that character will come back."
Understandably, there's a lot of criticism for this narrative trend. Bringing characters back from the dead undermines the tension in the show, lowers the stakes, and just generally feels like a cheap move for shock value.
Such are the criticisms aimed at Zack Snyder for doing the same in Batman v Superman. And yet, there's a lot of value to killing off Superman.
Setting Up The Justice League
We all assumed that by the end of Dawn of Justice, Batman and Superman would set aside their differences to work with Diana Prince and found the Justice League. Instead, we got an inversion of this: Superman sacrifices himself to save humanity, leaving Diana and Bruce to find the metahumans Lex Luthor was surveilling.
This is a neat continuation of Bruce and Diana's story, as they had slowly learned to work together throughout the movie. On a character level, Superman's death actually restores their faith in heroism. Bruce Wayne has learnt that there really are "good men left" in the world, although Diana Prince is still world-weary from her years of being a warrior.
"A hundred years ago I walked away from mankind. A century full of horrors... Mankind made a world where standing together is impossible."
And yet they will stand together, in Superman's honour, finding the metahumans to protect them and forming a team to protect the world. It's a pretty cool idea.
This could also set up a Search For Spock esque mission for Justice League Part One, as the team tries to bring Superman back. Of course, if Superman is alive at the end of Batman v Superman (hint: the earth shaking) but needed time to regenerate then honestly, that is kind of lazy. And it would undermine Superman's sacrifice and how that redeems him as a hero after the events in Man of Steel.
But if he is dead, 100% for real without a chance of resurrection, then there's still a way Superman could appear in Justice League.
Infinite Earths, Infinite Supermen
As you probably already know, DC's Earth is not alone. There are tons of different versions of Earth in the multiverse (52 that we know of), and we may have already caught a glimpse of one in Batman v Superman.
It all comes back to Bruce's vision, which may or may not have been a prophecy of a post-apocalyptic future. There's another option though: Bruce could have been seeing Earth-2, which was in fact invaded by Darkseid's forces in the New 52 comics continuity.
Darkseid's invading army was lead by Stepphenwolf, who we saw in the Batman v Superman deleted scene. By the end of Dawn of Justice, Lex Luthor has already contacted Darkseid via his general. But is this message crossing universes, and has Darkseid already invaded Earth-2?
If this is the case, then the Flash who delivered a warning to Bruce might actually be from Earth-2. As we saw in The Flash season 2, and the crossover episode with Supergirl, the multiverse is full of plot potential.
So what does this mean for Superman in Justice League? Well, it's possible that the Superman of Earth-2 (the megalomaniacal one who captured Bruce) finds his way to whatever Earth Batman v Superman takes place in (Earth-1 or Earth-0, probably). He then has to learn to work with the Justice League, and there would be a poignant reunion between him and Lois Lane (according to Flash's warning, it sounds like the Lois of this post-apocalyptic reality is dead).
It's all just a theory, but it would be a neat way to avoid the Back from the Dead trope with Superman, while opening up the DCEU to a whole multiverse of plot possibilities.
Or maybe Superman just needed time to recharge his batteries. Personally, I hope his inevitable return to the movies is a little bit more interesting than that.