Screen Time [Crossover Crisis]: Invasion!

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ll be taking a look at multiversal crossovers every Sunday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.

Air Date: 29 November 2016 to 1 December 2016
UK Network: Sky One
Original Network: The CW
Stars: Stephen Amell, Grant Gustin, Melissa Benoist, Caity Lotz, Carlos Valdes, Dominic Purcell, David Ramsey, Brandon Routh, Willa Holland, and Victor Garber

The Background:
In October 2012, Arrow (2012 to 2020) premiered on the CW; a successful first season saw the show not only continued for another eight years but also herald the start of the “Arrowverse”, a series of interconnected superhero shows that kicked off with The Flash (2014 to present), explored time and space in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (2016 to present), and delved into the multiverse with the advent of Supergirl (2015 to present). Characters and concepts from each show would often cross over and, in time, the Arrowverse became a surprisingly complex continuity that, inevitably, led to a massive three-episode crossover. The event, titled Invasion!, was heavily inspired by a DC Comics event of the same name from the late-eighties, united the Arrowverse heroes against an external, extra-terrestrial threat. The three episodes were shot concurrently and gave the CW its most-watched week in six years. Invasion! was met with largely favourably reviews, with each series’ episodes ranked amongst the highest for their respective seasons. The success of Invasion! led to further, increasingly elaborate crossovers between the CW shows, all of which I’ll be covering throughout April.

The Plot:
When an aggressive extra-terrestrial race known as the Dominators (Micah Fitzgerald) arrive on Earth looking to conquer the planet, Barry Allen/The Flash (Gustin) and his team at Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs) team up with Oliver Queen/Green Arrow and his allies, Kara Danvers/Supergirl (Benoist), and the Legends, led by Sara Lance/White Canary (Lotz), to combat the threat of invasion!

The Review:
Each of the three parts of Invasion! are, quite helpfully and naturally, titled “Invasion!”. The crossover begins in media res with season three, episode eight of The Flash (Downs, 2016) before flashing back to ten hours earlier, where Team Flash are in the middle of testing out Wally West’s (Keiynan Lonsdale) recently acquired super speed. Though he shows a great deal of potential and promise, his sister, Iris (Candice Patton), urges the team not to encourage his dreams of following in Barry’s footsteps out of worry for his safety.

Still struggling with the fallout of Flashpoint, Barry turns to Oliver when the Dominators invade.

The team is in a bit of a fractured state as Cisco/Vibe (Valdes) is having trust issues with Barry after his time travel shenanigans in the “Flashpoint” episode (Warn, 2016); Barry’s main arc in the crossover was trying to live with the ramifications of his selfish actions, which caused numerous alterations to the timeline and affected his confidence and relationships. In the midst of this, the Dominators suddenly arrive on Earth, which surprises even Barry, who by this point has already travelled to other parallel worlds. Thanks to information provided by Advanced Research Group United Support (A.R.G.U.S.) director Lyla Michaels (Audrey Marie Anderson), the team learns that the Dominators have been arriving on Earth since the 1950s, attacking and abducting humans and then disappearing seemingly at random. Lyla asks the team to stand down, believing they would be no match for the Dominators so, obviously, Barry immediately ignores that decision and goes to Oliver for help.

Invasion! balances its large cast by focusing each episode of a certain number of characters.

Against Oliver’s wishes and Felicity Smoak’s (Emily Bett Rickards) objections, his sister, Thea/Speedy (Holland), and John Diggle/Spartan (Ramsey) agree to help rendezvous with the Legends at an abandon S.T.A.R.S. warehouse. Barry then immediately jumps over to Earth-38 to recruit Supergirl and the first tentative meeting of the Arrowverse super friends takes place. Thanks to the inclusion of the Legends, Invasion! immediately becomes compounded by an influx of characters: there’s team leader Sara, Mick Rory/Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell), Doctor Martin Stein (Garber) and Jefferson Jackson/Firestorm (Franz Drameh), and Ray Palmer/The Atom (Routh), amidst all the supporting characters from both The Flash and Arrow. While this threatens to bog the narrative down a bit and can be overwhelming for newcomers, each episode smartly places much of its focus on the main cast of their main series. Accordingly, much of the Flash part of the crossover focuses on Wally’s resentment of the team’s distrust in his abilities, Cisco’s issues with Barry, and Doctor Caitlin Snow’s (Danielle Panabaker) struggles with adjusting to her newly discovered ice powers, which Stein helps her reconcile.

Despite her power and optimism, Kara is met with some scepticism for being an alien visitor.

Supergirl brings a modicum of background knowledge of the Dominators from her Earth but, by virtue of Oliver’s suggestion, Barry is named the team leader; Oliver, however, is largely distrustful of Kara upon first meeting and, as the more serious and grim of the entire group, pushes her, and the entire team, not to hold back in order to fight with peak efficiency in the coming battle. Because of her unmatched superpowers, she is made the guinea pig for the team to test their skills and teamwork out on and this (and the frosty reception she later receives in crossover) causes some notable friction between her and Oliver since she isn’t impressed at being treated like an alien. A cautious, distrustful character by nature, Oliver characteristically take some time to warm to others as it is but his relationship with Kara is particularly unique as, just as he was forced to adapt to and accept “metahumans” (DC’s name for superpowered individuals), he initially struggles to trust and accept aliens and the idea of a multiverse. Because of this, and her status as an outsider to the remainder of the cast, Supergirl’s optimism and enthusiasm is tested during Invasion! as she must work to prove herself in the eyes of her new team mates but, thankfully, her drive and abilities are enough to win over even her most ardent doubters.

Barry and Ollie must subdue their friends when they fall under the Dominators’ control.

The tension is only exacerbated when Cisco pressures Barry to reveal the implications of Flashpoint to the team, which drives a wedge between them; while Kara still trusts Barry regardless, it’s only through a tough love pep talk from Oliver that Barry snaps out of his self-doubt and realises that he can still make a positive difference despite the mistakes of the past. Ultimately, these plot points converge somewhat when the Dominators force Oliver and Barry to fight their mind-controlled friends, wherein the unique and surprisingly effective teamwork of the two is enough to free them from the control of the Dominators. The second part of the crossover, which takes part in season five, episode eight of Arrow (Bamford, 2016), is probably the weakest of the three since it doubles as an anniversary episode of Arrow; with Oliver trapped in a virtual reality dreamland, Team Arrow (Curtis Holt/Mister Terrific (Echo Kellum), Rene Ramirez/Wild Dog (Rick Gonzalez), and Rory Regan/Ragman (Joe Dinicol)) work with Cisco and Felicity to figure out how to locate and free Oliver from his prison. Fittingly, given the largely more grounded and practical nature of Arrow, Rene echoes Oliver’s scepticism and distrust of metahumans but, nevertheless, agrees to pool their resources for the greater good just like Oliver.

Oliver is trapped in, and tempted by, the Dominators’ dream world.

Normally a grim, pragmatic, and focused individual, Oliver is overwhelmed by the fantasy world the Dominators have placed him into but, because of the horrors of his past and the trauma he has lived through, is quickly able to sense and recognise that he is living in a dream world. Despite being reunited with his mother (Susanna Thompson), father (Jamey Sheridan), and deceased former love, Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), Oliver ultimately chooses to reject the promise of a peaceful, “normal” life in favour of returning to his never-ending fight because he is driven to atone for both his sins and those of his father through his work as Green Arrow. Sadly, as heart-breaking as the Arrow-centric episode is (and as fun as it is to get cameos from Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) and Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough)), the focus on this dream world is a jarring left turn for Invasion! and seems more like a regular, standalone episode of Arrow rather than a continuation of a big crossover event. As a result, the Dominators and the larger plot basically disappear from the crossover until the very end of the episode in favour of focusing on reliving all of Arrow’s greatest moments and characters in celebration of the show’s 100th episode. While I’ve never been the biggest fan of Legends of Tomorrow, the final episode of Invasion! (Smith, 2016), which takes part in the seventh episode of Legends’ second series, at least gets the crossover back on track towards the larger Dominator plot.

While the Legends investigate 1951, Stein struggles with the implications of time travel.

After regrouping with the rest of the super friends, and returning to Lyla’s intel from the first episode, the team splits into groups, with one group travelling back to 1951 in the Waverider to interrogate a Dominator and another group staying behind to work on a way to defeat the Dominators with the resources they have. Interestingly, none of the primary superheroes travel with the Legends; this allows Heat Wave, Nate Heywood/Steel (Nick Zano), and Amaya Jiwe/Vixen (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) a chance to shine in battle with the Dominators while Cisco works through his aggro with Felicity and, back in the present, Stein attempts to adjust to the sudden appearance of a daughter (Christina Brucato) in his life after the events of “Pilot: Part 2” (Winter, 2016). This time-travel jaunt, and these concurrent plot threads, converge in the revelation of the Dominators’ physiology, capabilities, and true mission: the destruction of all metahuman life because the aliens have deemed them a threat.

Each character brings a different approach and skillset to the fight.

A couple of things that are generally quite consistent about the Arrowverse are the interactions between characters (which usually strikes just the right balance between humour and drama but, quite often, steps a bit far into one side or the other as the narrative demands) and the action and fight scenes. Each character fights and approaches battles in a different way, with the Flash being very innovative, Green Arrow utilising his hard-hitting and efficient martial arts, Supergirl ploughing ahead with her peerless strength, and each of the Legends showcasing equally unique strategies in battle (Atom uses his robotic suit, Canary her weapons and martial arts, Firestorm their nuclear powers, and so on). The result is a wide variety of individual personalities and abilities who, while often clashing, work really well together; the actors have a great rapport with one another (some more than others, like Barry, Oliver, and Kara, for example), which allows for some great moments of levity and drama, and it’s a thrill to see these colourful and distinct superheroes all coming together in the face of a greater threat.

Despite the bloated cast, the spirit of each show is evoked throughout the crossover.

I also really like that the conflicting dichotomies of each show is held intact; accordingly, Arrow’s Star City is ominous, dangerous, and constantly shown at night-time and characters like Oliver and Rene are stoic and distrustful, especially of metahumans since they (as in Team Arrow) are comprised, largely, of normal, non-powered individuals and somewhat resent the abilities of those with superpowers. Although none of Supergirl’s supporting cast make an appearance in this particular crossover, she brings an almost naïve and near-boundless enthusiasm and positivity despite the rough welcome she receives from some members of the cast. This is echoed in Barry and the more vibrant, colourful world of Central City, all of which are presented as a thematic parallel to Arrow throughout the Arrowverse. The controlled chaos of Legends of Tomorrow is similarly evoked; Legends has always focused more on the dysfunctional family dichotomy that the crew of the Waverider share as, while they’re all very distinct and opposing personalities, they are able to function as a time-travelling team and take their mission to police and protect time very seriously (even if they don’t necessarily act serious 100% of the time).

The Dominators are a formidable, if questionably rendered, force to be reckoned with.

However, one of the main things holding back Invasion!, much like many of the CW’s shows, are the special effects; for a television budget, the shows have always been ambitious and done pretty well, especially when it comes to costume design. Unfortunately, Invasion! decides to use CGI to render the Dominators rather than practical or more traditional effects, which does knock the quality of the crossover down quite a bit since they don’t hold up too well. The Dominators, for all their obscurity, make for a relatively formidable threat to bring the Arrowverse together; sporting advanced technology, mental capabilities, super strength, and a vicious, bloodthirsty nature, they are as cruel as they are fearsome, the Dominators are able to turn friends and allies against each other and place their victims into a virtual reality dream world in order to manipulate their thoughts and steal their knowledge.

The Summary:
For the first proper crossover between the Arrowverse shows, Invasion! is decent enough but a far cry from the crossover events that would follow; I think the main issue with the crossover is that it feels very rushed and clearly takes place in the middle of a number of unrelated and conflicting storylines for each character and show in the Arrowverse. As if the Arrow-centric episode wasn’t proof enough of this, the fact that Supergirl isn’t included with the crossover is and it all comes down to the simple problem of time. Later crossovers handled the placement and build-up of their crossovers a lot better, either purposely writing them to be standalone events or spending a great deal of time building up to them; Invasion!, though, is tonally all over the place, moving at a near breakneck pace and yet also being jarringly slow when it should be far more action-packed.

There’s not much to the Dominators but it’s a good enough excuse to unite the Arrowverse.

Still, it’s not bad for a first attempt; the Dominators may not be a particularly well-known threat in the DC universe but they serve their purpose here. Their design, while suffering from dodgy CGI, is ambitious, impressive, and suitably horrific and they are depicted as a significant threat. While we never really get a sense of their actual limits or power, they are certainly perceived as a force formidable enough to bring all these heroes together and even have Barry volunteer to sacrifice himself to end their threat. Their danger comes, mainly, from their intricate and advanced technology, their unique approach to warfare, and their sheer numbers, all of which hang over the crossover like an ominous cloud, making the Dominators as much an existential threat as an extra-terrestrial one. Essentially, they exist as the perfect excuse to bring together the Arrowverse super friends, so they’re mainly there just to be defeated (with an anti-climactic amount of ease, it has to be said) but at least they don’t operate on a hive mind, which is a refreshing change of pace.

Invasion! brought together the Arrowverse and cemented its version of the DC Trinity.

I’ve complained a bit about Invasion!’s conflicting focus and pace and, while that is an issue, it does allow the crossover to focus on something that is a big part of the Arrowverse: interpersonal drama. Despite the powers, abilities, and experience of each hero, these are all flawed and vulnerable characters and, if there’s one thing regular watching of the Arrowverse will teach you, it’s that our protagonists must learn new lessons about themselves, the world, and their team as much as they must battle against more tangible, often overwhelming, odds. The best thing about the crossover, beyond seeing all of these superheroes coming together for the first time, is the development of the Arrowverse Trinity (Kara, Barry, and Oliver), which would be the tentpole of further Arrowverse crossovers going forward and opened the door for so many new stories, characters, and possibilities which, as we’ll see in the coming weeks, the Arrowverse explored far deeper than I ever expected at the time.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

How did you find Invasion!? Which character, cameo, and part was your favourite? Which of the CW Arrowverse shows was your favourite and why? What did you think to the Dominators as a threat? Are there any DC characters you’d like to see used in the Arrowverse or, perhaps, get their own show? Did you ever read the comic book Invasion! is based upon and, if so, how do you feel the crossover handled the story? Which of the Arrowverse crossovers was your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Invasion!, and the Arrowverse in general, feel free to leave a comment below and check in again next Sunday as Crossover Crisis continues!

3 thoughts on “Screen Time [Crossover Crisis]: Invasion!

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