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’m been taking a look at multiversal crossovers every Sunday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.
Air Date: 27 November 2017 to 28 November 2017
UK Network: Sky One
Original Network: The CW
Stars: Stephen Amell, Grant Gustin, Melissa Benoist, Caity Lotz, Carlos Valdes, Dominic Purcell, Chyler Leigh, Brandon Routh, Franz Drameh, Victor Garber, and Tom Cavanagh
After the success of Invasion! (Various, 2016), the scope and interconnectivity of the “Arrowverse” began to steadily grow; The Flash (2014 to present), in particular, began to explore more and more of the multiverse while DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (2016 to present) exclusively dealt with concepts of time travel and alternate timelines. Invasion! ended up being the first of many annual crossovers between the CW shows and, accordingly, development of the next big crossover began in 2016. This time around, the showrunners were able to better plan and prepare for the crossover; however, while this allowed for Supergirl (2015 to present) to be included in the line-up, Black Lightning (2018 to present) was notably absent from the event, which drew inspiration from the annual crossovers between the Justice Society and Justice League of America in the Silver Age of DC Comics.
When the long-awaited wedding between Barry Allen/The Flash (Gustin) and Iris West (Candice Patton) is interrupted by evil doppelgängers from Earth-X, a dystopian world populated by Nazi versions of the Arrowverse heroes, they must call upon Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Amell), Kara Danvers/Supergirl (Benoist), and the time-travelling Legends in a desperate battle to save their world from becoming over-run by their totalitarian doubles.
Crisis on Earth-X begins, appropriately enough, in “Part 1” (Teng, 2017), which was the eighth episode of the third season of Supergirl and introduces us to Earth-X, a parallel world that is under the iron grip of a Nazi regime. Oliver Queen/Dark Arrow (Amell) is the Führer and leader of the ruling cabal, the New Reichsmen, who use brute force and murderous tactics to spread fear amongst the populace and rule largely unopposed except for a band of plucky Freedom Fighters who are hopelessly outmatched. Hungry for new worlds to spread their regime to, they seize a temporal gateway and travel to Earth-1 in search of further conquests.
Most of our heroes from Earth-1 are concerned primarily with the impending marriage of Barry and Iris; the daily routine of our multiversal time travelling heroes is given a comedic background as Green Arrow, the Legends (Sara Lance/White Canary (Lotz), Mick Rory/Heat Wave (Purcell), Jefferson Jackson (Drameh) and Doctor Martin Stein (Garber)/Firestorm, Ray Palmer/The Atom (Routh), Nate Heywood/Steel (Nick Zano), Zari Tomaz (Tala Ashe), and Amaya Jiwe/Vixen (Maisie Richardson-Sellers)), and Supergirl (Benoist) put their individual issues and missions on hold to travel to present day Earth-1 for the wedding, bringing these characters together for a happier, more social event rather than an impending crisis.
Amidst this, Kara is still reeling from the return of Mike Matthews/Mon-El (Chris Wood) and her sister, Alex (Leigh), is struggling with a recent breakup. The revelation that Mon-El is not only alive but also already married has shaken Kara’s usually positive outlook; like any good CW/TV lesbian, Alex decides to throw herself at the nearest bisexual character (Sara); and Oliver is motivated by Barry’s plunge into marriage to (unsuccessfully) re-propose to long-term love interest Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards). Additionally, Stein and Jackson are facing the sudden realisation that their time as Firestorm may be coming to an end thanks to a cure developed by Cisco Ramon/Vibe (Valdes) and the Earth-2 Harrison Wells (Cavanagh). While Stein is overjoyed at the prospect of returning to his family and a normal life, Jefferson is struggling with the idea of losing their partnership, friendship, and the bond that Firestorm brings the two. Characteristically, Stein misinterprets Jefferson’s feelings regarding the situation and attempts to fashion a way for Jax to continue being a super-powered Legend without him or Firestorm.
With all this drama hanging in the air, tensions are a little highly strung on the morning of the wedding and it’s something of a relief (for everyone but Barry and Iris, that is) when Kara Zor-El/Overgirl (Benoist), Dark Arrow, and Tommy Merlyn/Prometheus (Colin Donnell) gate crash the ceremony with their troops. Of course, a massive fight scene breaks out (it’s super lucky and convenient that guys like Oliver and Mick brought their weapons to the church…), the main focus of which pits Overgirl against Supergirl, Oliver against Dark Arrow, and Sara and Alex against Prometheus in a bit of a mirror match, of sorts. Of course, it isn’t until the fight is concluded and Prometheus is captured that the true identities of their opponents are revealed since all the Earth-Xers are sporting bad-ass masks.
“Part 2” (Bamford, 2017), which took place in season six, episode eight of Arrow, delves into the consequences of this; as always when he comes face to face with Tommy Merlyn, Oliver is shaken by the appearance of his long dead best friend. Harry also offers a quick bit of exposition into the background of Earth-X, a 53rd Earth that is so horrific that it lacks the usual numerical designation; unlike in Invasion!, Oliver is now far more adjusted to the concept of the multiverse and metahumans but his emotional attachment to Tommy (which is fuelled by his own feelings of grief and guilt at his Tommy’s death) blind him to Prometheus’s uncompromisingly cruel nature. Oliver’s already dramatic and brooding life is further complicated by Felicity’s unexpected rejection of his proposal, which kind of just exists simply to add to the character’s aggro; it’s a common thing in Arrow that seemingly every time Oliver tries to grow as a character and a person, normally dependable people suddenly let him down and then he’s the one who has to learn a lesson to adjust to this before things just work out anyway, which is kind of how the Arrowverse likes to handle its dramatic moments: needless conflict amidst actual, tangible conflict.
Crisis on Earth-X also features an appearance by Jessica Parker Kennedy, who would later be revealed to be Barry and Iris’ time-travelling daughter, Nora; once again, though, in a crossover featuring a slew of cameos and characters, Wally West/Kid Flash (Keiynan Lonsdale), John Diggle/Spartan (David Ramsey), J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter (David Harewood), and Mon-El are completely side-lined but the event has time for appearances by Ray Terrill/The Ray (Russell Tovey), the Earth-X Leonard Snart/Citizen Cold (Wentworth Miller), Metallo (Frederick Schmidt), Red Tornado, and even a much welcome appearance by Paul Blackthorne as SS Sturmbannführer Quentin Lance. Perhaps the best thing about Crisis on Earth-X’s large cast of characters is the return of Cavanagh as the Reverse-Flash, still the most charismatic and memorable of all the Flash’s villains. Thawne is, it turns out, the actual Thawne from Earth-1, having cheated death thanks to complex (and convenient) time travel shenanigans. While Green Arrow and Supergirl are naturally disturbed and disgusted with their evil counterparts, Barry’s fight against Thawne is far rawer and emotionally charged given their history and Thawne’s sadistic vendetta against him.
Once again, despite neither him or his Earth-X doppelgänger sporting superpowers, Oliver manages to find a way to make himself relevant and useful in the explosive conflict; his Kryptonite arrow, however, is far less useful than one might expect but Dark Arrow ends up being skilled and competent enough to take on Heat Wave, Doctor Caitlin Snow/Killer Frost (Danielle Panabaker), Curtis Holt/Mister Terrific (Echo Kellum), Rene Ramirez/Wild Dog (Rick Gonzalez), and Dinah Drake/Black Canary (Juliana Harkavy) all at the same time. This is especially evident in “Part 3” (Helbing, 2017), which aired as the eight episode of the fourth season of The Flash), when, trapped on Earth-X alongside Barry, Sara, Alex, Stein, and Jefferson, Oliver is the only one able to break free of their power-dampening restraints thanks to his ability to freely dislocate his thumb.
While this quickly becomes a moot point as they are soon rescued by the Earth-X Snart, who introduces them to the pitiful Earth-X resistance movement, Oliver is able to (briefly) successfully impersonate his doppelgänger to infiltrate a convenient, if well-guarded, facility that offers their only chance of returning home. Concurrently, their Earth-1 allies are trapped in the anti-metahuman cells at Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs) and Kara is held captive under power-dampening red sunlight. For all the power, greed, and conviction of the Earth-Xers, their motivations come down to a desperate need to save Overgirl from dying through a heart transplant with Supergirl with only Felicity and Iris left behind to help her. It’s interesting, and surprising, for a crossover between the Arrowverse’s greatest heroes that two non-powered supporting characters end up being the key to turning the tide against the Earth-Xers as they rescue Kara using little more than their grit and ingenuity and the foresight to summon the remaining Legends.
The finale, “Part 4” (Smith, 2017), was the eighth episode of the third season of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow; similar to the final episode of Invasion!, saving the Legends episode to last causes a sudden and noticeable flood of characters to join the already inflated cast. The timely intervention of the Atom saves Kara but, unfortunately, even Gideon (Amy Louise Pemberton) is not capable of saving Stein’s life from a fatal bullet and he dies having sacrificed himself to return everyone to Earth-1 and to keep Jefferson alive. It’s an emotional and dramatic moment for the entire team but, especially, for those two, whose relationship has developed into a fantastic father/son dynamic amidst the dysfunctional family of the Waverider and would forever change the Legends dynamic going forward.
Though hurt and grieving following Stein’s death, Oliver and Sara’s pragmatic attitude galvanises the heroes into uniting against the Earth-Xers and their own version of the Waverider, the Wellenreiter, which they use to launch a devastating attack on Earth-1 unless Kara turns herself over to them. Rather than go gallivanting off through time and space, the Legends join their fellow heroes for an all-out counterattack against the Earth-Xers, resulting in a massive brawl in the streets. In the end, the day is won through a combination of teamwork and co-ordination to disable the Wellenreiter and Overgirl succumbing to her solar poisoning. Her explosive death directly leads to Oliver executing his counterpart and, thanks to Barry suitably scaring off Thawne, the crisis is averted, and Barry and Iris are finally married.
Invasion! was a very rushed and lacklustre excuse to bring together the Arrowverse against a simple extra-terrestrial threat; while the spirit of each show was evoked as best as possible and each episode did its best to focus on a core group of characters amidst a bloated cast, the crossover was let down by a frantic pace and some dodgy CGI. Crisis on Earth-X, in comparison, is a far more well balanced affair and, in many ways, seems like a much easier and more simpler concept to bring together the CW shows as it doesn’t require fully CGI characters or entirely new ideas; it’s simply a fight between the heroes of the Arrowverse and their violent and sadistic doppelgängers. Of course, it’s not the first time many of these heroes (especially Green Arrow and the Flash) have fought against dark versions of themselves but it’s a pretty simple and effective narrative device; plus, not only does it allow characters to literally fight against their own dark nature, it’s fun to see the actors portraying such radically different versions of themselves. While Dark Arrow isn’t that much different from Green Arrow, Overgirl is the exact opposite of Kara’s normally optimistic and enthusiastic nature, allowing Benoist to flex her range into sadistic bitch territory.
There’s a definite sense in Crisis on Earth-X that the Arrowverse was really beginning to hit is stride and becoming much more ambitious with its characters, concepts, and crossovers; the shows have come a long way from the relatively grounded Arrow (2012 to 2020), almost being unrecognisable with their fragrant and frequent use of obscure and complex sci-fi concepts such as time travel, aliens, and the multiverse. Thanks to having the time to properly focus on these concepts in shows like The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, crossovers such as these were not only able to occur in the first place but actually felt like a natural and inevitable inclusion rather than being a rushed and desperate attempt to catch up to the competition like in the movies.
Of course, dodgy CGI does raise its head once again in Crisis on Earth-X, particularly in the scene where Green Arrow helps Flash and Supergirl reinforce a collapsing superstructure by firing a load of CGI arrows and lines across the girders and whenever the Ray’s powers are on show. Still, these moments are far less intrusive and noticeable than in Invasion!, which is surprising considering Crisis on Earth-X features far more super-powered individuals and a much bigger scope. Once again, the costume design is absolutely spot on; the Earth-X Schutzstaffel-inspired uniforms give the normally bright and colourful heroes a dark and menacing look that is only exacerbated when the narrative switches to Earth-X and we see just how different the totalitarian parallel world is to Earth-1 and the rest of the multiverse.
Something I really enjoyed about this second crossover was that there was a lot more for everyone to do this time around and far more dynamic and varied character interactions, largely thanks to the fact that the pacing and focus of the crossover is much better this time around; each episode feels like a part of a larger, unified narrative that is the geared towards serving the purpose of the crossover rather than being a regular episode of its main show with the crossover plot shoe-horned in. The ramifications of the crossover had lasting effects on the Arrowverse as a whole as well; not only did it end with the long-awaited marriage of Barry and Iris, and open the doors for bigger and better multiversal events in the future, but it forever changed the dynamic of Legends of Tomorrow, and Jefferson’s character, through the sudden and dramatic death of Stein. Invasion! had the suggestion of high stakes but the plot was so concerned with focusing on the interpersonal drama rather than actually depicting the Dominators as a meaningful threat that there was never really the suggestion that the heroes could fail or lose in any way. This time around, the loss of Stein and the depiction of a dystopian alternative world where many have either died or are pure evil raised the stakes for future crossovers, allowing for a degree of unpredictability to permeate subsequent events.
How did you find Crisis on Earth-X? Did you prefer it to Invasion! and where would you rank it compared to the other Arrowverse crossovers? What did you think to the concept of evil, Nazi versions of the Arrowverse heroes? Were there any characters you would have liked to see have more focus in the crossover or were you, like me, far more impressed with the pacing and balance this time around? How did you feel about Stein’s death and which of the four shows is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Crisis on Earth-X, be sure to leave a comment below and check back in next Sunday as Crossover Crisis continues!