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’ve been taking a look at multiversal crossovers every Sunday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.
Air Date: 9 December 2018 to 11 December 2018
UK Network: Sky One
Original Network: The CW
Stars: Stephen Amell, Grant Gustin, Melissa Benoist, Jeremy Davies, Tyler Hoechlin, David Ramsey, Carlos Valdes, Chyler Leigh, and Ruby Rose
The “Arrowverse” may have started as a grim, gritty reimagining of the life and times of Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Amell) but it soon expanded to include all kinds of elaborate, comic book plotlines: time travel, metahumans, and parallel worlds were now all par for the course and annual crossovers with other superhero shows on the CW were a regular occurrence. After executive producer Marc Guggenheim noted that the cast and crew were pretty burned out by these massive crossover events, the CW relented that DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (2016 to present) would not have to be included in the next crossover. Elseworlds was heavily inspired by a comic book concept from the mid-to-late-nineties which, in the absence of the usual infinite parallel worlds, allowed writers and artists to tell out of continuity tales of popular DC characters. The event was also primarily constructed to finally introduce Gotham City, and Bruce Wayne/Batman, to the Arrowverse and setup a new Arrowverse show, Batwoman (2019 to present) through the introduction of Rubt Rose as Kate Kane/Batwoman. Each of Elseworlds’ three episodes were received very positively and the production of the crossover not only saw a Batwoman spin-off take off not long afterwards but also brought the entire Arrowverse, and most of DC’s live-action adaptations, together for perhaps the biggest superhero crossover ever attempted the following year.
When psychiatrist John Deegan is gifted the Book of Destiny by a mysterious individual and begins rewriting reality to his every whim, Oliver Queen and Barry Allen/The Flash (Gustin) inexplicably switch bodies! After seeking help from Kara Danvers/Supergirl (Benoist), the three travel to Gotham City to track down Deegan, who plans to use the Book’s power to assume the powers and abilities of Clark Kent/Superman (Hoechlin).
Elseworlds begins in earnest with, appropriately enough, “Part 1” (Tancharoen, 2018), which was the ninth episode of season five of The Flash (2014 to present). At that time, The Flash was knee-deep in the confusion and drama of Barry and Iris West-Allen’s (Candice Patton) daughter, Nora West-Allen/XS (Jessica Parker Kennedy), coming back in time to meet her father before his fated disappearance during a mysterious “Crisis” and to help Team Flash track down the big bad of the season, Orlin Dwyer/Cicada (Chris Klein).
The central concept, and humour, of the crossover begins immediately after John Deegan is gifted the Book of Destiny by the mysterious Mar Novu/The Monitor (LaMonica Garrett) and Oliver Queen wakes up in the body of Barry Allen. Confused and disorientated, Oliver attempts to adapt to the confusing situation on the fly but, while he does blag his way through breakfast with Iris, he struggles to adjust to Barry’s superspeed and metahuman abilities. It’s amusing and entertaining to see Oliver struggling for a change; for all his training and preparation and adaptability, he’s totally out of his depth hanging around with Team Flash and having to be more open and honest with his feelings.
Similarly, Barry finds himself without his superspeed and at the mercy of a beating from John Diggle/Spartan (Ramsey) and suddenly involved in Team Arrow’s campaign against Ricardo Diaz/Dragon (Kirk Acevedo). While Oliver struggles with his newfound powers and the bright, chippy nature of Barry’s team and city, Barry revels in having Oliver’s physical abilities; he only becomes motivated to get to the bottom of it all when Iris exhibits no recognition or belief in him. Normally, I’m not a massive fan of body swap storylines but seeing Barry and Oliver having to adapt to each other’s specific abilities and attitudes was an amusing twist for both; Barry has to dislocate his joints and adopt a far darker approach to his actions since Oliver’s focus and determination come from all of the anger and torment he’s been through. Conversely, Oliver must try and master (or, at least, stumble through) picking up Barry’s metahuman abilities and learn to act out of his feelings of love and positivity from his team and family.
To try and get to the bottom of the body swap, which has also caused disconcerting red skies to cover the city, Oliver and Barry manage to escape and travel to Earth-38, where Kara is reconnecting with her cousin, Clark, and his partner, Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch). This includes not only a fantastic little homage to Smallville (2001 to 2011) but also an amusing scene where Barry is in awe of Clark and Oliver puffs his chest out, and in which Oliver attempts to teach Barry how to actually use his abilities rather than relying on his powers and his team. Annoyed at Barry’s pranks, Olivier tries to get a rise out of him but finds that he’s equally handicapped by Barry’s superspeed; in the end, the two are forced to admit that they are two very different people, with different motivations and experiences, which literally places each one in the other’s shoes.
This forms the main conflict of the first episode and the crossover, leading to a lot of digs and points of contention between the two. Luckily, the two are able to focus their issues on a common enemy: the Anti-Metahuman Adaptive Zootomic Organism (A.M.A.Z.O.). Even better, Supergirl and Superman accompany them back to Earth-1 to battle the android, which can adapt to and counter their attacks and has absorbed a multitude of metahuman abilities. This means that Superman and Supergirl aren’t enough, by themselves, to defeat the android, which helps to emphasise the new teamwork dynamic of the crossover, and that actually gets to play a vital role in a crossover for the first time, a role that only increases in prominence and danger when Deegan takes over his body in “Part 3” (Warn, 2018).
Deegan is largely absent for a great deal of Elseworlds but his ominous presence is felt through Cisco Ramon/Vibe’s (Valdes) visions and the chaotic events of the crossover. For the majority of Elseworlds, the heroes are on the backfoot, forced to adapt to new situations and constantly chasing tangential leads about the source of their body swap. “Part 2” (Bamford, 2018), which was episode nine of season seven of Arrow (2012 to 2020), leads Barry, Oliver, and Kara to Gotham City, a location often hinted at in the Arrowverse but never seen or explicitly referenced beyond cheeky allusions. A great deal of focus in the second episode is placed on the urban legend of the Batman; similar to how he felt emasculated in Clark’s presence, Oliver is annoyed and frustrated at the idea that he isn’t the “original vigilante”. Barry, however, continues to exhibit his crossover-characteristic enthusiasm for visiting Gotham and potentially meeting the Batman, whom Oliver is convinced is merely a myth used to scare criminals.
After a run-in with some muggers (including one of my favourite characters and stuntmen, Daniel Bernhardt), the three are arrested (mainly because Oliver’s identity as the Green Arrow is public knowledge by this point) on the corner of “Burton and Nolan” but are bailed out by Kate Kane. Stoic and unimpressed with their presence, Kate is only interested in getting the three out of Gotham as quickly as possible; it’s through their interactions that we are brought up to speed with the state of Gotham, which is noticeably different compared to what we see in Batwoman. Bruce Wayne is gone, having been missing for three years, and with him the Batman; the Crows are nowhere to be seen and the Gotham City Police Department are still in full force; the Bat-Cave looks entirely different; and Kate is already Batwoman, making this episode’s placement in Batwoman’s continuity a bit difficult to judge.
Supergirl mainly acts as peacemaker between Barry and Oliver throughout the crossover, painting her in a noticeably different role than in other crossovers, where she’s generally the optimistic and polite ace in the hole (one thing I continuously find odd is that Kara insists on wearing her glasses when on Earth-1, which may be out of habit more than anything). However, Kara gets a chance to shine by connecting with Kate, mainly due to Clark and Bruce being friends on her Earth, and is able to learn a little more about both Kate and Bruce and get a more definitive lead on Deegan at Arkham Asylum (which includes a number of references to famous Bat-foes and even Guggenheim himself). Despite Batwoman’s callous attitude and no-nonsense approach, she is won over by Kara and the two end the second episode having taken the first steps towards what would, unfortunately, be a friendship fated not to last thanks to behind the scenes drama and shenanigans.
While Barry and Oliver deal with their identity crisis and, alongside Supergirl, attempt to track down Deegan, Team Arrow and Team Flash join forces to try and get to the bottom of the chaotic red skies that seem to follow Barry and Oliver everywhere they go. Team Flash, especially, are more of a hindrance than a help in the first episode as they lock Barry and Oliver up and refuse to even consider the possibility that they have switched bodies; Team Arrow are, surprisingly, more open to this suggestion, meaning the three get far more co-operation from the likes of Diggle, Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), and Curtis Holt/Mister Terrific (Echo Kellum) than they do from Ralph Dibny/Elongated Man (Hartley Sawyer). Eventually, however, the teams are able to pool their resources, which leads to them making contact with the Flash of Earth- 90 (John Wesley Shipp) and discovering the source of Deegan’s powers: another, far more powerful and manipulative individual, the Monitor, a mysterious, enigmatic figure that appears to be behind not only the Book of Destiny and Deegan’s actions but also the disconcerting tumultuous red skies. Despite appearing to be a threatening, antagonistic force, the Monitor is eventually revealed to be simply “testing” Earth’s heroes for an oncoming, far greater Crisis by putting them up against overwhelming odds in preparation for a far more powerful threat.
The ninth episode of Supergirl’s (2015 to present) fourth season sees the culmination of this storyline and the shift to another altered timeline where both Barry and Oliver, lacking their abilities, are wanted criminals and Deegan has cast himself in the role of a hero as a black-suited version of Superman. Already an unhinged character even before he acquired the Book, having performed immoral experiments on the inmates of Arkham Asylum, Deegan is driven to near insanity by the Book’s magics and revels in Superman’s unmatched power. Deegan perverts not just Superman’s image and symbol but also the Team Arrow/Team Flash dynamic by usurping their friends and resources; although he paints himself as a hero, he’s a near-tyrannical despot but is, ultimately, handicapped by his lack of control, arrogance, and turbulent emotions that make him an aggressive and unpredictable, but easily out-witted, foe. One of the downsides to the previous crossovers was how easily the big bads were defeated and Elseworlds changes that, somewhat, thanks to Superman’s incredible powers being put to evil and the reality-changing powers of the Book of Destiny requiring a little more than just an anti-climatic fist fight this time around.
Elseworlds, despite dealing with shifting realities and timelines, is a much less crowded and elaborate crossover than Crisis on Earth-X (Various, 2017) and, although the body swap storyline is a central focus of the crossover, action is still frantic and varied throughout Elseworlds; we get comically over the top fight scenes involving the likes of A.M.A.Z.O. and Superman but also gritty, down to Earth scuffles during the breakout in Arkham Asylum. Thanks to effects of Johnathan Crane/The Scarecrow’s fear gas, we also get brief cameos by Eobard Thawne/The Reverse-Flash (Cavanagh) and Malcolm Merlyn/The Dark Archer (John Barrowman) when Barry and Oliver believe that they are their greatest foes.
Elseworlds is also a far more amusing and entertaining crossover thanks to its central focus on the identity crisis between Oliver and Barry; this dynamically changes their understanding of each other and the nature of their teamwork and allows them to understand each other a little more intimately. The fact that they spend pretty much the entire crossover either struggling with each other’s powers, abilities, and supporting cast, or depowered entirely, means that there is no easy solution to anything this time around. They are constantly on the backfoot, having to adapt on the fly and find new ways to figure out what’s going on, which makes for a decidedly unique dynamic for each character and those around him. Once again, Supergirl gets shafted quite a bit, with only Alex Danvers (Leigh) really having a significant role outside of Supergirl and Superman; while Supergirl doesn’t really get a whole lot to do besides be the straight woman in the bickering banter between Oliver and Barry, she finally comes into her own, appropriately enough, in the final part when she is able to reach her rewritten sister and stand up to a corrupted version of her cousin.
One thing I enjoyed about Elseworlds, and the majority of the Arrowverse crossovers, is how each of the heroes has a significant role to play no matter how powerful they are; Superman and Supergirl may have incredible powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men but they alone are not enough to turn the tide against Deegan or to stand up to the Monitor’s power. Oliver, faced with incredible situations and God-like beings far beyond his comprehension and experience, struggles to adapt and, yet, still finds ways to not only be relevant but also forever affect not only this Crisis but the coming Crisis as well by bargaining with the Monitor. In the end, Elseworlds was an enjoyable crossover that was both amusing and action-packed, gritty and elaborate, and managing to both be an interpersonal drama in a unique way while also setting up a far bigger, more insane crossover than I, for one, never expected to see.
What did you think to Elseworlds? Did you enjoy the body swap plot and the introduction of Batwoman? Were you disappointed that Supergirl didn’t have a slightly bigger role or were you happy to see her and Superman showing different sides to their personalities? What did you think to John Deegan and the ominous presence of the Monitor? Did Elseworlds leave you excited for its far bigger crossover? What are some of your favourite Elseworlds stories from DC Comics? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below and check back in next Sunday for my review of the final Arrowverse crossover and the last week of Crossover Crisis!