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 looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’ve dubbed “Crossover Crisis”.
Story Title: “Aliens vs Predator” Published: November 1989 to February 1990 Writer: Randy Stradley Artist: Phill Norwood
The Background: Founded in 1980 by Mike Richardson, Dark Horse Comics separated itself from the heavy-hitters like DC Comics and Marvel Comics by primarily publishing creator-owned titles. In 1988, the company achieved greater mainstream success by publishing licensed stories and adaptations of horror and science-fiction films and franchises, the most prominent of these being the merging of the Alien franchise (Various, 1977 to present) and the Predator films (Various, 1987 to present). About a year before a Xenomorph skull appeared as a trophy in Predator 2 (Hopkins, 1990), the two alien species clashed in this three-issue short story that was the brainchild of writer Chris Warner. This story served as the basis for a five-issue follow-up that greatly expanded upon the premise, which soon exploded into a slew of additional publications, action figures, videogames, and (eventually) live-action movies that pitted the two creatures against each other.
The Review: Our story begins “some time in the future” where the commercial transport vessel Lecter is making its way to the ranching outpost of Prosperity Wells on the planet Ryishi. Pilots Scott and Tom provide the entirety of the story’s narration, and are deeply engaged in a debate about the ethics and morals of mining other worlds for their resources, especially after humanity used up Earth’s in such a short space of time. Tom believes that it’s irresponsible to strip other worlds of their resources as it could stunt or even prevent the evolution of entire species, while Scott believes that it’s absolutely necessary to ensure the long-term survival of the human race.
Their debate is briefly interrupted by what they assume is a meteor but is actually a Predator spacecraft darting through the cosmos. Scott and Tom’s discussion about the morals of harvesting unintelligent species for food and such are paralleled by the Predator’s harvesting on Xenomorph eggs aboard their ship; as Scott delivers a lecture about survival of the fittest and the strong overpowering the weak, the eggs and their Facehugger contents are scanned and processed and placed into pods to be seeded on other worlds. The eggs are all being forcibly harvested from a captive Xenomorph Queen, here an allegory for the “bitch” that is Mother Nature, who has no choice but to pump out egg after egg and watch as they are summarily processed and shot into space in a clean and efficient system.
As Scott and Tom move their philosophical debate on to the merits of technology versus man’s primal nature, the story introduces us to a Predator warrior known colloquially as “Broken Tusk”. As Broken Tusk arms himself with all the standard Predator weaponry we’ve come to know and love over the years, Scott and Tom endlessly comment on the difference between passive leaders and active combatants. Broken Tusk observes a bout of ritual combat between other Predators and we catch a glimpse of just how many worlds have been seeded with Xenomorphs by the creatures in order to give them something worthwhile to hunt. When upstart Predator “Top-Knot” wins the bout, he’s not content with just choosing which hunting ground he gets to visit and challenges Broken Tusk’s position, which results in the rookie being bested by his superior.
One of the Predator’s seeding pods touches down on a marsh-like alien world; the automated, tank-like vehicle drives around the environment dropping off Xenomorph eggs in its wake before finally exploding, ensuring that many of the native creatures become impregnated by the Facehuggers. As Scott and Tom move their discussion to safari hunts and the like, Top-Knot and his hunting party make landing to begin their hunt, quickly and efficiently moving through the foliage and tracking their Xenomorph prey by following the exploded dead bodies. Soon, the Predators are attacked by the full-grown Xenomorphs; despite the Aliens’ greater numbers, the Predators have the benefit of their advanced weapons and their absolute devotion to the thrill of the hunt. They emerge victorious, having suffered only one casualty, and Top-Knot brands one of his subordinates with the Xenomorph’s acid blood for successfully executing his first kill.
The Summary: The original, three-issue run of Aliens vs. Predator is basically just a prelude to greater things to come in the subsequent Aliens vs. Predator (Stradley, et al, 1990) comics series. Consequently, it’s quite the brief and tantalising glimpse into this shared universe of the two popular, sci-fi/horror franchises, but establishes a lot of the themes for how these franchises would crossover going forward. Rather than being set in the present day or on Earth, like the Predator films tend to be, Aliens vs. Predator takes place in the future like the Aliens films; it also heavily borrows from the aesthetics of Alien(Scott, 1977), especially in the depiction of the Lecter, which is essentially the same kind of vessel as the Nostromo. Similarly, the Predator’s spaceship and appearances are heavily inspired by what we see in the first two films, but the comic greatly expands upon their society and depiction even while utilising a philosophical debate between two humans for the entirety of its dialogue.
Aliens vs. Predator took the idea of the Xenomorphs being this biomechanical infestation, a swarm of vicious insect-like creatures, and really ran with it; because they lack the higher levels of intelligence seen in the Predators, they are reduced to being forcibly bred specifically for young Predators to test their mettle. The visual of the Xenomorph Queen being strung up and held captive is a powerful one, and one that subsequent comics, and movie and videogame adaptations would heavily borrow from, and is a humbling visual considering how formidable the Alien Queen was depicted in Aliens (Cameron, 1986). The implication is clear: The Predators, with their greater intelligence and superior technology and weapons, were easily able to overpower and capture a Xenomorph Queen and make a regular routine of harvesting her eggs for their own ends. They’re so efficient at it that the entire process is completely automated, with the eggs being forcibly removed, processed, and seeded without any manual intervention on the Predators’ part. Predator society is expanded upon greatly here; we see the hierarchy and feudal nature of the species, with ritual combat being the norm and the younger, less experienced hunters having to fight against their peers for recognition and the chance to hunt. Like lions and other members of the animal kingdom, it’s common for the young upstarts to challenge their betters in an attempt to claim the top position. While this doesn’t go well for Top-Knot, as he’s easily bested by Broken Tusk, he’s still dispatched to lead a hunting party, so it seems as though making the challenge isn’t necessarily a sign of disrespect. During the hunt, even the inexperienced Predators are formidable and capable warriors; while we don’t get to see much of their traditional strategies (there’s no cloaking, no need to modulate their prey’s voices, and very little use of the plasma cannon), we do get to see them working in a co-ordinated effort to eradicate their prey. Although the Aliens are fast and strong and have the numbers advantage, the Predators are keen hunters and superior warriors, meaning they are victorious with minimal effort, and the honour that comes from killing a Xenomorph is of high standing in their society (which, again, would be a crucial plot point in later stories).
However, it has to be said that the concept of bringing together the Aliens and Predator franchises probably sounded better on paper than it worked in execution. I have read the subsequent comic series, and it’s definitely a lot better and more in-depth, but I didn’t want to get into that without first tackling the three-issue arc that kick-started this entire sub-franchise and Aliens vs. Predator, while a novelty, is really just an appetiser for the main course. Dark Horse Comics teased readers by framed the first two stories as Aliens and Predator tales, so the actual Aliens on Predator action doesn’t kick in until right at the end, and it’s very brief when it does happen. I applaud the creative use of Scott and Tom’s philosophical debate as a parallel to the events of the story, but I found myself tuning the text boxes out and focusing more on the visuals. While the art does tell us a lot about what the Predators and even the Xenomorph Queen are thinking and feeling, I am not a massive fan of the art on show here. It’s both messy and yet simple, oddly coloured (I get that we hadn’t seen much of the Predator society or their ships but there’s a lot of odd purples and yellows and blues here), and it’s not that easy to tell the Predators apart. Obviously, this is in keeping with the aliens as depicted in the movies, which had very subtle differences, but I think for a comic you need a little more than just a barely distinguishable broken tusk or hair being styled differently. It’s also a little disappointing that we don’t get more variations of the Xenomorphs; considering they were all born from alien lifeforms, it’s a little odd that they are just carbon copies of the drones seen in Aliens, but again I can understand why this decision was made as it makes sense to focus on the familiar visual of a Predator we recognise from the movies fighting Aliens as they appear in the films. Overall, it’s a fun little novelty that’s worth checking out as long as you read it as a prelude to the longer, far more exciting and visually interesting follow-up.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Could Be Better
Have you ever read the original, three-issue Aliens vs. Predator story? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comics or did you pick up the collected edition as I did? Were you also disappointed by the brevity of the story and the artwork or did it get you excited to see subsequent clashes between the two aliens? Which of the two creatures, and franchises, was/is your preference? Which of the Aliens vs. Predator stories or adaptations was your favourite? Would you like to see the two battle again in some form or another? Whatever your thoughts onAliens vs. Predator, and comic book crossovers of this kind, sign up to drop a comment down below or share your thoughts on my social media.
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 conceptagain 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 looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.
Story Title: “Apokolips… Now!” Published: January 1982 Writer: Chris Claremont Artist: Walt Simonson
The Background: As I’ve mentioned on a couple of occasions, DC Comics and Marvel Comics have had a surprisingly collaborative and amicable relationship over the years that has led to some inter-company friendships, homages, and co-publications between the two comic book giants. By 1982, both Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men and DC’s Teen Titans were seeing a resurgence in popularity thanks to both teams featuring an exciting new creative and character line-up. Over in Marvel Comics, writer Chris Claremont had revitalised Marvel’s Mutant team by introducing a group of diverse and multi-cultural new characters while the New Teen Titans, under the pen of Marv Wolfman, had been aged up and also included some of the title’s most synonymous characters. With so many similarities between the two teams, and considering the success of the two titles were selling at the time, a crossover between the two was a smart business move for both parties.
The Review: “Apokolips… Now!” begins at the Source Wall, an impossibly large stone wall that represents the edge of the known universe and which is comprised of the legendary Promethean Giants, who were turned to stone for trying to breach the boundaries of the cosmos. There, we find Metron, the generally impartial intellectual of the New Gods, conversing with all-mighty Darkseid, who gifts him with the “Omega-Phase Helmet”, a highly advanced crown that allows Metron’s Mobius Chair to achieve the impossible and penetrate the great stone wall in order for them both to achieve their heart’s desire (Metron for knowledge and Darkseid for power).
The story then jumps to Westchester, New York where Professor Xavier’s X-Men are engaging in a training session within the Danger Room, an exercise that grates on Logan/Wolverine’s patience despite his respect for the professor. After impressing Xavier with their teamwork, the Mutants retire for dinner and the story takes the opportunity to catch us up not only with the current X-Men roster and their powers (the aforementioned Wolverine, Scott Summers/Cyclops, Ororo Munroe/Storm, Piotr “Peter” Rasputin/Colossus, Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler, and Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat) but also the tragic rise and downfall of Jean Grey, who attained incredible cosmic powers as the Phoenix that eventually corrupted and consumed her. The X-Men’s memories of Jean are extracted by Darkseid and the Phoenix briefly assumes a corporeal form where she begs for help from Cyclops much like Barry Allen/The Flash did in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Meanwhile, over at Titans Tower (yes, in this story, the Marvel and DC universes again exist in a shared world rather than being separate, parallel worlds), Rachel Roth/Raven of the New Teen Titans finds her dreams interrupted by a prophetic nightmare of a woman, taking the shape of a flaming bird, destroying their world. When Garfield Logan/Changeling assumes the form of a similar bird, Koriand’r/Starfire randomly loses control of herself and attacks him; well aware of the threat that the Phoenix poses, Starfire summons the remaining members of the team (Wally West/Kid Flash, Donna Troy/Wonder Girl, and Victor Stone/Cyborg) away from their procrastinations, personal lives, and crimefighting antics to bring them up to speed on the Phoenix’s destructive power. Dick Grayson/Robin, however, is kept from joining his team mates when he butts heads with one of Darkseid’s Parademons only to be attacked by Slade Wilson/Deathstroke the Terminator, who not only reveals that he’s in cahoots with Darkseid but is easily able to knock Robin unconscious thanks to his superior physical and mental abilities. The X-Men discover that Jean’s parents and other areas across the world have also witnessed visions of Jean and mysterious incidents all linked to Jean’s past. After locating Robin, Starfire relates Phoenix’s legend as the “chaos-bringer” and a cataclysmic force; although Robin points out that cosmic threats are a little out of their league, and the more pressing issue of Deathstroke’s current plot, he promises Starfire that they’ll do everything they can to track down and stop Phoenix. The story then introduces us to Ravok the Ravager, another of Darkseid’s henchmen who he recruits as part of his plot to siphon the Phoenix’s vast cosmic powers.
Weary from pushing himself too far, Xavier enters a deep sleep and barely has enough time to defend himself when Starfire bursts into the X-Mansion and attacks him in a rage. Xavier’s unparalleled psychic powers are subdued by a combination of Cyborg’s ultrasonic blasts and Raven’s dark “Soul-Self”, however Robin is disturbed and irritated at his team’s recklessness in breaking into the mansion and attacking Xavier without provocation. His reprimanding is interrupted by the arrival of Ravok and his Shock Commandos, who storm the mansion looking for the X-Men but quickly adapt to defeat and kidnap all of the Teen Titans but Changeling, who follows along undetected. While investigating New Mexico, the X-Men comes across Deathstroke and one of Darkseid’s “Psi-phons”; although they easily destroy the Psi-phon and are able to fend off the Parademons, Deathstroke quickly recovers from Wolverine’s initial attack to take each of the Mutants out with a “fear ray” that grounds Storm, a “toxi-grenade” that renders Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, and even Wolverine unconscious while a Parademon blasts Cyclops, and overpowers even Colossus’ hulking metallic form. Deathstroke and Ravok bring their captives to all-mighty Darkseid, who waits at the Source Wall and immediately sees through Changeling’s deception to subdue him, and then kills Ravok for his ineptitude with his destructive “Omega Beams”.
Darkseid secures his captives to a gigantic machine, the “Psychon-Wave”, which painfully and forcefully draws upon their superhuman powers and the Mutants’ memories of Jean, concentrating them on the breach in the Source Wall to bring Dark Phoenix back to life. He then regales the inquisitive Changeling with the reason for this plot (basically, he wants to use the Phoenix to transform the Earth into a new Apokolips that will allow him to conquer first New Genesis and then the length and breadth of reality itself). Hungry for destruction, Phoenix willingly accompanies Darkseid through a Boom Tube to begin this plot but, quite ludicrously, the heroes’ restraints disappear when Darkseid departs! Freed from captivity, the Teen Titans and the X-Men immediately agree to work together to stop Darkseid and Phoenix despite Wolverine not being happy about working with kids. While Shadowcat tries to flirt with Changeling and Kid Flash comments on the diversity of the X-Men, Cyborg, Xavier, Starfire, and Cyclops locate and acquire the Mobius Chair, which Shadowcat and Changeling accidentally activate to provide them with a means of escape. Tensions are stirred when Colossus sees Shadowcat flirting with Changeling and when Starfire kisses Colossus in order to learn Russian, but the team are soon carried back to New York in order to fulfil Cyclops’ solemn vow to make Darkseid pay for violating Jean’s memory and peace. They follow Phoenix’s unique psychic trail to a series of underground tunnels beneath the city where they are attacked by Deathstroke’s Parademons once more. Rather than waste time in a pointless battle, Robin and Cyclops give the order to collapse the tunnel and blast an escape route for their two teams, which conveniently brings them out right at Darkseid’s main base.
Impressed at the tenacity of his foes, Darkseid dispatches Deathstroke and Dark Phoenix to hold the two groups off while he complete his work; although Starfire attacks Dark Phoenix in a fury, her starbolts succeed only in further empowering the corrupted Jean, who vehemently resists Nightcrawler’s attempts to reason with her and equally overwhelms even Raven’s Soul-Self. Dark Phoenix then powers up Darkseid’s “Hellpit” and Darkseid boasts about how this will transform Earth into Apokolips within mere minutes. Interestingly, he actually offers the X-Men and the Teen Titans the opportunity to yield and join his cause, which isn’t something I’ve ever seen Darkseid do before, but Shadowcat and Changeling opt instead to use their powers to try and disrupt and destroy the technology powering the Hellpit. For their insubordination, Darkseid commands Dark Phoenix to destroy them but they are saved at the last second by the combined power of Raven, Xavier, and the Mobius Chair. After Cyclops subdues Deathstroke and Robin spirits Shadowcat and Changeling out of danger, Dark Phoenix is bombarded by a psychic assault that simultaneously drains her rage and hatred and overwhelms her with love and affection.
Drained, and close to unravelling, Dark Phoenix is easily goaded into reabsorbing the blast she fired at the Earth to sustain herself. When Darkseid moves to intervene, he is assaulted first by Kid Flash and then the combined forces of Cyborg, Wonder Girl, Colossus, and Starfire, who force his Omega Beams back into his eyes and therefore keep him from stopping Dark Phoenix from empowering herself and thus sparing the Earth. However, still at risk from being consumed by her raging power, Phoenix heeds Darkseid’s advice to focus her energies through a physical form and bonds herself to Cyclops. This, however, proves to be her undoing as Cyclops channels her powers with his undying devotion to his lost love and then turns the full Phoenix Force against Darkseid. The chaotic, flaming energy blasts itself, and Darkseid, across the vast cosmos of the universe to return to the Source Wall and thus imprison the New God within the Wall alongside the doomed giants of yore. Victorious, the two teams revel in how close they came to being destroyed and how fantastic their triumph was, while Scott finds some solace in Storm’s suggestion that Jean’s good soul ultimately saved them in the end. Finally, Metron returns to his chair and bids farewell to the imprisoned Darkseid, commenting that everything has returned as it once was as is to be expected.
The Summary: “Apokolips…Now!” is quite the chaotic story; considering how many characters it has to juggle, it’s honestly surprising how coherent the story ends up being. If there’s one thing that always puts me off about team-based comics, especially X-Men and the Teen Titans, it’s the sheer abundance of characters and lore a single issue has to deal with so to mash the two together is no mean feat. The result is that no one single character from either team really gets any focus; indeed, many of the characters have next to nothing to do and the focus is, instead, on the meeting of the two teams rather than a bunch of separate interactions between them.
This is best seen in the fact that neither Robin or Cyclops get much of a chance to act as a field leader; Nightcrawler is basically a non-factor, and Wonder Girl may as well not be there. Sure, most of the characters are assumed to be busy in fisticuffs with the Parademons and the Shock Commandos but we don’t really get to see much of this. Indeed, we’re even denied a proper fight involving Deathstroke; he takes out Robin with a ridiculous amount of ease, subdues all of the X-Men largely single-handedly, and his fight with Wolverine all takes place off-panel! These days, I like to believe that you’d never see that happen given how prominent Deathstroke and Wolverine are but, in this, Deathstroke is little more than one of Darkseid’s minions who gets taken out pretty quickly to continue the focus on Dark Phoenix. Indeed, Jean’s presence gets more play here than a lot of the other characters; her death was still relatively new at the time and hadn’t been driven into the ground yet so her reappearance is a particularly emotional moment for the X-Men, particularly Cyclops. However, while it’s pretty cool to see Dark Phoenix enamoured with Darkseid and willing to commit global destruction on his behalf, it’s not really enough to elevate this story for me.
I’m not entirely sure where Metron went or what happened to him when he breached the Source Wall and Darkseid’s plot basically boils down to every other plan he has (he’s either seeking out the Anti-Life Equation or trying to conquer the universe, it seems) and, again, he really doesn’t do all that much. This isn’t entirely out of character for Darkseid, who typically allows his underlings to do his work for him, but it’s kind of weird to see him team up with Deathstroke. Like…did Darkseid pay Slade off? I can’t help but feel Trigon might have been a more suitable villain for the New God to ally with. Overall, it’s a pretty decent tale; we don’t get to see the X-Men and the Teen Titans facing off against each other (the closest we get to that is when the Teen Titans attack a weakened Xavier), which is a shame, but it’s fun seeing the teams co-operate. There’s a little tension in the brief Colossus/Shadowcat/Changeling “love triangle” but that’s about all the dissention we get; I would have liked to see how Robin and Cyclop’s leadership styles differ and more interactions from Kid Flash, Wolverine, Wonder Girl, and Storm. Instead, the comic is all about the spectacle of seeing these different comic publisher’s heroes and villains interact in as unspectacular a way as possible. A fun adventure, to be sure, but maybe a little too “safe” and it could very easily be any one of a hundred other X-Men or Teen Titan stories with a few tweaks…but at least the artwork is good.
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Could Be Better
Have you ever read The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you disappointed that the two teams didn’t come to blows or were you happy to see them just working together with no issues? Would you have preferred to see different characters in each team’s line-ups? What did you think to Darkseid’s plan and the return of Dark Phoenix? Would you like to see the X-Men interact with Marvel heroes again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on The Uncanny X-Men and the New Teen Titans, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Wednesday for the final instalment of Crossover Crisis.
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 conceptagain 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 looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.
Story Title: “The Monster and the Madman” Published: September 1981 Writer: Len Wein Artist: José Luis García-López
The Background: Although the two companies both publish stories of colourful, superpowered heroes in a cut-throat industry, the relationship between DC Comics and Marvel Comics has been surprisingly collaborative and amicable over the years (especially compared to many of the toxic “fans” who argue on social media every day…) Sure, there’s been lawsuits and underhanded tactics from both companies, but not only were the legendary Stan Lee and the disreputable sham Bob Kane actually good friends but both companies borrowed from and inspired each other and they’ve even collaborated on many joint publications in the past.
The Review: One of the most reliable constants of many comic books, especially back in the 1960s through to the mid-1990s, was that many stories derail or pad out their narrative with a recap of their character’s origins and background. This seems to mostly happen to Spider-Man, who often interrupts whatever problem he’s having in the issue to recap his iconic origin and, don’t get me wrong, I get why this happens (you can’t expect every reader to be familiar with your characters, after all) but I much prefer it when comics simply have a bit of text before the story to catch readers up. Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk opts for this latter option and is all the better for it; before the story starts, we get a one page, two-column spread the recaps how Bruce Wayne saw his parents shot and trained his body and mind to become Batman and how Dr. Banner was bombarded with Gamma radiation and subsequently transforms into the rampaging Hulk whenever stressed or angry.
Like Superman vs. Spider-Man, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk begins with a prologue that establishes the villains of the story; the first is more of an abstract introduction as people all over Gotham City suffer from horrific and disturbing nightmares while the second is far more tangible as is shows that the Joker is back in town and has joined forces with a disembodied voice for nefarious reasons. The story then shifts to find Banner, under the pseudonym of “David Banks”, working a menial job for Wayne Research in order to get close to their “experimental Gamma-Gun”, and who is the only person to act fast enough to slip into a radiation suit and avoid the Joker’s debilitating laughing gas when the Harlequin of Hate and his goons show up to steal that same device!
When Banner moves to raise the alarm, he is tackled and beaten by Joker’s thugs which, of course, causes him to transform into the Hulk! Quickly realising that their firepower is absolutely useless against the creature, the Joker orders his men to grab the Gamma-Gun and flee but their escape is impeded by the sudden arrival of the Batman! Unfortunately for Batman, the Joker immediately takes advantage of the Hulk’s child-like demeanour to convince the Green Goliath that Batman is his enemy and thus the two engage in fist fight! Batman initially holds back from confusing and potentially further antagonising the Hulk but finds his attempts to paralyse his foe by striking his nerve centres fruitless. Unable to harm the Hulk, Batman tries to keep his distance and out-think the creature and almost gets his spine snapped as a result! Batman is finally able to subdue the Hulk, however, by forcing him to breathe in a big lungful of his special Bat-gas but, though the Hulk is finally toppled, the Joker escapes with the Gamma-Gun. Batman returns to the facility as Bruce Wayne and immediately enlists the services of the grief-stricken Banner in the construction of a replacement Gamma-Gun.
Back at the docks, the Joker activates the Gamma-Gun and allows his newfound friend, the Shaper of Worlds, to partially manifest in the real world and give us all a run-down on his origin as a parasite who feeds upon the dreams of others and bring them to life. He’s struck a bargain with the Joker (whose insane mind makes him “unique in all the universe”) to help restore the Shaper’s failing abilities, though exactly what the Joker is getting out of this deal is left unclear (and it is heavily implied that the Shaper scares even the Joker!) While Batman hits up Gotham’s underworld in search of the Joker, Banner finds the stress of his assignment putting him on edge. Although he’s briefly calmed down by a cup of Alfred Pennyworth’s tea, he continues to push himself without food or proper rest. Thus, when the Joker’s men arrive disguised as military officials charged with arresting Banner, it isn’t long before he turns green once again. When a specially-designed taser-rifle fails to have the desired effect on the Hulk, a massive blob-like creature enters the fray. Despite the Hulk’s increasing rage and best attempts, the creature is effectively able to absorb and contain the Hulk and spirit him away and Batman arrives in time only to hear Commissioner Jim Gordon receiving confirmation from General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross that the soldiers were fakes.
Back at the Joker’s warehouse, the Hulk goes on a rampage when he hears the Clown Prince of Crime’s plan to revert him to Banner in order to make adjustments to the Gamma-Gun; despite the Shaper’s best efforts to quell the beast’s rage, both he and the Hulk are tormented by disturbing nightmares that leave the two physically and emotionally drained. Bored by the conflict, the Hulk flees but the Shaper comes to the conclusion that the crippling pain and madness his condition brings him can be cured not by the Gamma-Gun…but by the Hulk himself thanks to his unique Gamma properties and orders the Joker to recapture the beast. To facilitate this, the Joker explains the bind he’s in to Batman and enlists his aid, which soon leads to a second confrontation between the two characters. Bored of Batman and being constantly hounded by “puny humans”, the Hulk chooses to flee but a fight soon inevitably breaks out.
Once again, Batman chooses to fight smarter rather than harder, rolling with and doing everything he can to avoid or survive the Hulk’s attacks while trying to talk sense into the increasingly-enraged Hulk. Batman’s tricks result in the Hulk demolishing the building the two were fighting in and once again fleeing in order to be left in peace. Batman is finally able to get through to the Hulk by posing as a harmless old blind man and offering the creature his friendship, which calms the Hulk enough to the point where he willingly goes along with the Joker to confront the Shaper. However, angered that the Joker is willing to let the Hulk face this foe alone, Batman slaps his archenemy down and finally joins forces with the Jade Giant to battle a legion of their enemies brought to life by the Shaper’s powers. Finally on the same page, the two are easily able to overcome the living nightmares and fight their way to the Shaper, who holds them at bay with an impenetrable barrier. Angered at the idea of anything being stronger than he is, the Hulk charges ahead at full speed and exhausts his Gamma energy, reverting to Banner and curing the Shaper.
Despite Batman’s pleas, the Shaper honours the bargain he made with the Joker and, having been cured, bestows the Joker with “limitless, infinite power”. Effectively acting as a genie for the Joker, the Shaper makes all of the Joker’s wishes come true, transforming him into a God-like jester who unleashes chaos and madness throughout Gotham City and uses his reality-warping powers to shape the city, its people, and even Batman however he sees fit. When the Shaper refuses to renege on his word, Banner transforms back into the Hulk and finds himself transported to the Joker’s increasingly mental world. Batman goads the Joker into pushing his powers to the limit by criticising his creativity and lack of imagination; although this results in things becoming even more warped and abstract, it also has the intended side effect of overwhelming the Joker, leaving him wide open for a knockout punch. In the aftermath, the Shaper takes his leave, the Joker is confined to Arkham Asylum once again, and Batman allows Banner to slip away in order to find the peace he so desperately desires.
The Summary: Given that I grew up mainly reading DC and Marvel Comics and annuals published in the seventies and eighties, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk’s presentation is immediately recognisable to me and these are the quintessential representations of these characters at that time, in my opinon. Batman is much more of a stoic tactician and a fair-minded vigilante than a grim, overly paranoid avenger of the night and the Hulk speaks with a child-like demeanour and, while he just wants to be left alone, is more than ready to throw hands when provoked.
Thanks to the Hulk’s unpredictable and explosive demeanour, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk features a couple of fights between the two characters that are instantly believable. It’s not the first time that someone/a villain has manipulated the Hulk into trusting them or going nuts on a specific target and Batman is smart enough to not try and match the Hulk blow for blow. Instead, their fights are more about Batman trying to outmanoeuvre his foe, trying to reason with him, and using his physical skills and gadgets to stay out of the Hulk’s reach and to subdue him. It’s definitely a battle of brains versus brawn, which isn’t unusual when characters fight the Hulk but it’s definitely a spectacle seeing Batman trying to take on such an overwhelming foe. Superman versus the Hulk obviously makes more sense on paper but I don’t think it would have resulted in as interesting a story and probably would have descended into a slugfest instead.
I’m not familiar with the Shaper of Worlds but the story does a pretty good job of establishing his powers and what he wants; desperate to cure the crippling pain and madness caused by his fading abilities, he enters into a partnership with the Joker to use Gamma radiation to stabilise him. It’s unusual to see the Joker acting out of fear or subordinate to another but his characterisation remains completely on point and he never seems to be a diminished threat. Instead, he remains in control and a tangible menace throughout; he’s smart enough to manipulate the Hulk and even convince Batman to help him, and then obtains God-like power and goes berserk bending and twisting reality, forcing Batman to think of ways to outsmart him, which is always fun to see.
Overall, it was quite a decent crossover between the two. The Hulk typically doesn’t have one set location so setting the entire story in Gotham City was a good idea; seeing Banner and Wayne (and Alfred) interact was a nice little inclusion and something missing from Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man. While neither character’s supporting cast have very much to do, it was nice to see Gordon show up (and to have him communicate with Ross) and having the Shaper conjure up nightmarish visions of both character’s foes was pretty awesome, especially when the Hulk reacted to Batman’s enemies with disinterested rage. There could have been more interactions between Batman and the Hulk; entire pages and chapters go past without the two interacting at all, either in or out of costume/form, which is in contrast to Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man but I think this was done to keep the story from descending into a series of one-sided fights. After all, there’s only so many ways you can show Batman avoiding being pummeled by the Hulk before it gets repetitive, and we do get to see interesting character combinations and interactions (and a pretty decent Batman story featuring the Hulk) as a result.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Have you ever read Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you surprised that Batman was pitted against the Hulk? Do you think he should have met a different Marvel character instead? What did you think to the team-up between the Joker and the Shaper and the Joker’s acquisition of phenomenal cosmic powers? Would you like to see DC and Marvel collaborate again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Wednesday as Crossover Crisis continues!
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 conceptagain 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 Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.
Released: 16 April 2013 Developer: NetherRealm Studios Also Available For: Arcade, Mobile, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One and Xbox Series One X/S (Backwards Compatible), Wii U
The Background: When it was first released, Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) was a phenomenal success for Midway because of its focus on gore and violence, and it offered some real competition for Street Fighter II: The World Warrior(Capcom, 1991) in arcades and on home consoles. For a time, the series seemed unstoppable during the 2D era of gaming but struggled to find a footing in the emerging 3D fighter arena and Mortal Kombat seemed to be in jeopardy after Midway went bankrupt in 2010. The main reason for this was the poor reception of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Midway Games, 2008), the first collaboration between Midway’s Mortal Kombat and the DC Comics characters owned by Warner Bros. Interactive, which was hampered by age-related restrictions.
Luckily, Warner Bros. Interactive stepped in and the team, now rebranded to NetherRealm Studios, immediately set about getting their violent franchise back on track; Mortal Kombat(NetherRealm Studios, 2011) was subsequently very well-received for its “back to basics” approach and, bolstered by the reboot’s success and eager to take advantage of the vast library of characters of their parent company, NetherRealm Studios sought to expand upon the game’s mechanics with a new, all-DC brawler. Although the game wasn’t as bloody and violentas its sister series, Injustice: Gods Among Us was a massive critical and commercial success that was followed up by not only a bunch of additional fighters and skins added as downloadable content (DLC) but also a sequel in 2017 and a critically-acclaimed comic book series.
The Plot: In an alternate reality, Clark Kent/Superman has become a tyrant and established a new world order after the Joker tricked him into killing Lois Lane before destroying Metropolis with a nuclear bomb. In an effort to stop him, Bruce Wayne/Batman summons counterparts of the Justice League’s members from another universe to join his insurgency and end the totalitarian regime that threatens to subjugate the entire world.
Gameplay: Just like Mortal Kombat, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a 2.5D fighting game; however, this time you’re able to select one of twenty-four characters from the DC Universe and battle it out in the game’s single-player story mode, one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent (both on- and offline), tackle numerous arcade-style ladders, or take on character-specific missions in Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs) training scenarios. Just as you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat videogame, Injustice’s fights take place in a best-of-three format (although there are no longer announcements or screen text between each round) and against a time limit, though you can alter these settings (and many others, such as the game’s difficulty) to your heart’s desire in the game’s options to suit your playstyle.
If you’ve played the Mortal Kombat reboot then you’ll be immediately familiar with this game’s fighting mechanics and controls, although there are subtle differences: X, Y, and A are assigned to light, medium, and heavy strikes, for example, and may be either punches, kicks, or weapon-based melee attacks depending on which character you’re playing as. You can still grapple and throw your opponent with the Left Bumper (or X and Y and a directional input), dash towards or away from the opponent with a double tap of the directional pad (D-Pad), but now you must hold back on the D-Pad while standing or crouching to block, which can make blocking a bit trickier as sometimes you’ll simply walk or dash backwards when trying to block. If your opponent is crouch-blocking, you can land an attack by pressing towards and A for an Overhead Attack, and string together light, medium, and heavy attacks with directional inputs and your various special moves to pull off quick and easy combos. As is the standard for NetherRealm Studios’ releases these days, you can practise the game’s controls and mechanics as often as you like and take part in a very user-friendly tutorial to learn the basics of the game’s simple, but increasingly complex, fighting mechanics. You can also view your character’s moves, combos, special attacks, and “Character Power” from the pause menu at any time, allowing you to also see a range of information (such as where and how to pull of certain moves, the damage they inflict, and frame data).
Each character has a range of special attacks that are unique to them; these mostly consist of certain projectiles or grapples and strikes but can also include various buffs for your character or to slow down your opponent. Each character also has a specific Character Power that is performed by pressing B; this sees Batman summon and attack with a swarm of bats, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow fire different trick arrows at his opponent, Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn gain various random buffs, and allows characters like Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Rachel Roth/Raven to switch between different fighting styles and thus access different special attacks. While some Character Powers have a cool-down period, others don’t, but they can also be detrimental to you; for example, Slade Wilson/Deathstroke can briefly give his shots perfect aim but, once the Character Power is expended, he’ll miss every shot until it refills. Another new addition to the game is the annoying “Wager” system; when the Super Meter is filled up by two bars, you can press towards and RT when blocking an attack to play a quick mini game where you and your opponent select how much of your Super Meter to gamble. If you win, you’ll regain some health; if you lose, the opponent regains health; and if you tie then you both lose. Personally, if find these “Clash Breakers” even more annoying than the usual “Breakers” seen in the modern Mortal Kombat games as I never win them and they generally just unnecessarily prolong a fight (and, even worse, there’s no option to turn them off).
In a bridge between the differing character movesets of Mortal Kombat and the “Variation” mechanic seen in Mortal Kombat X(NetherRealm Studios, 2013), Injustice features a limited “Class” system whereby characters are split into two camps: Gadget- or Power-class characters. Gadget characters are generally smaller, faster, and rely on various tricks and weapons in fights while Power-class characters are typically bigger, often slower, and rely more on brute strength. One of the main ways you’ll notice the difference between playing as, say, Barry Allen/The Flash and Cyrus Gold/Solomon Grundy is that they interact with the game’s fighting stages in different ways. As in Mortal Kombat X, you can press the Right Bumper when indicated to use (or attack your opponent with) various environmental hazards, such as firing missiles at them or knocking them into the background. But, whereas Superman will wrench a car out of the air and slam it on his opponent, someone like Dick Grayson/Nightwing will rig the same car to explode or somersault off the environment to get behind their foe rather than try to crush them with a wall.
As you might naturally expect, there are no Fatalities or gruesome finishing moves in Injustice (not even “Heroic Brutalities”). However, when your Super Meter is full, you can still press LT and RT together to pull off a devastating Super Move; while you won’t see bones breaking and organs shattering like in Mortal Kombat’s X-Ray Moves, it’s still pretty fun to see Hal Jordan/Green Lantern transport his opponent to Oa to pummel them with his constructs, Ares shower his foe with arrows and stamp on them while grown to gigantic proportions, Arthur Curry/Aquaman force his enemy into the jaws of a ferocious shark, and Bane demolish his opposition with a series of throws and grapples, culminating in his iconic backbreaker. Another way the game separates itself from Mortal Kombat is stage transitions; when near the far edge of certain stages, you can hold back and A to wallop your opponent through the wall or off into the background where they’ll be smashed up, down, or across to an entirely new area of the stage which often allows more stage interactions and new stage transitions available for your use.
You might wonder exactly how someone like Louise Lincoln/Killer Frost can survive being blasting through the brick walls of Wayne Manor or go toe-to-toe with the likes of Doomsday but the game’s entertaining story mode explains that, on this alternative world, the tyrant-like Superman has developed special pills that bestow superhuman strength and dexterity to his generals. As is also the standard in NetherRealm’s titles, the story mode is broken down into twelve character-specific chapters, which is again a great way to experience a wide variety of the game’s roster (though Batman does feature as a playable character in two chapters, which seems a bit lazy). You can replay any chapter and fight you’ve cleared at any time, which is great, and skip through the cutscenes after they’ve loaded a bit, and the story mode isn’t all constant fighting either as you’re asked to pull off a handful of quick-time events (QTEs) at various points, such as blasting cars with Superman’s heat vision. The story is a fairly standard multiverse tale of the main canon heroes fighting against their corrupted or misled counterparts but it’s pretty fun and easy to blast through in no time at all.
Every time you win a fight, you’ll earn experience points (XP) that will eventually level-up your character profile. This, and performing a certain number of specific attacks, playing through the story mode, and tackling the game’s other modes and mechanics, unlocks icons and backgrounds for your profile card as well as additional skins in certain circumstances. You’ll also be awarded “Armour Keys” and “Access Cards” to spend in the “Archives”, which allows you to unlock concept art, music, more skins, and certain boosts that will increase how much XP you earn, to name just one example. Like in Mortal Kombat, you can also take on ten opponents in arcade ladders in the “Battle” mode; these range from the basic tournament-style ladder to specific challenges against heroes, villains, or battling while poisoned, injured, or with certain buffs (such as a constantly full Super Meter or health falling from the sky). We’d see a similar system be incorporated into the “Towers” modes in later Mortal Kombat games and similar scenarios exist here, such as a survival mode, battling two opponents, or being forced to fight against the computer set to the hardest difficulty.
Graphics and Sound: Like its violent sister-series, Injustice looks fantastic; there’s almost no difference between the high-quality story mode cutscenes and the in-fight graphics (which, again, makes it all the more frustrating that NetherRealm Studios insist on having character’s endings represented by partially-animated artwork and voiceovers), though it has to be said that the graphics are much more palatable when in a violent fight. I say this purely because I am not a big fan of some of Injustice’s character designs: The Flash looks a bit too “busy”, for example, and Batman’s suit (and cowl, especially) look really janky to me, though I love the representation of Green Lantern and Thaal Sinestro.
Each character gets a nice little fitting intro and outro for each fight and, between rounds, will perform and quip a variety of taunts to the opponent. In a nice little touch, different character skins get different intros and outros; when playing as the evil Superman, for example, he enters and exits the fight differently to his more heroic counterpart. When playing as different skins, like John Stewart or Hank Henshaw/Cyborg Superman, you’ll also be treated to slightly different dialogue and animations, which is a much-appreciated touch on the developer’s part. Although there aren’t any character-specific interactions in the intros, there are during the Wager cutscenes and, even better, both characters and the arenas will accrue battle damage as the fight progresses! This means that you’ll not only see Selina Kyle/Catwoman’s cat suit rip and her skin be blemished by bruises and blood but arenas will degenerate or change around you the more damage you dish out, which can also allow different intractable options to become available to you.
Speaking of the stages, Injustice really goes above and beyond to make the best use of the DC license; while it’s a little disappointing to see Arkham Asylum and Wayne Manor feature twice in the game, they are made distinctive by having Joker-ised and night-time variants, respectively (and also being clearly modelled after, and featuring cameos by, the Batman: Arkham (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015) videogames and villains). Additionally, the use of stage transitions really helps to add a whole new dimension to combat, with some stages featuring more than others (or even none at all), to help ensure that every fight can be a little different. Stages also feature a bevy of other little cameos and DC references, such as the Fortress of Solitude being clearly modelled after Superman(Donner, 1978) while also featuring a portal to the Phantom Zone and a cameo from Starro the Conqueror. Similarly, J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter floats in the background of the Watchtower space station, Floyd Lawton/Deadshot is just hanging out at Stryker’s prison, and Amazons are preparing a boat to launch on Themyscira. Every single stage has a number of intractable elements and changes as you fight, cause damage, or smash foes around, with Gotham City being my favourite as you can battle on the roof with the Bat-Signal and then down to the grimy streets below and then blast your foe back up to the roof using a nearby truck!
Enemies and Bosses: Injustice helpfully separates its character-selection screen into heroes (on the left) and villains (on the right) but, despite their different alignments (and that their loyalties change due to the multiverse shenanigans of the story), every single one of them will be an enemy of yours at some point as you play through the story, Battles, S.T.A.R. Labs missions, and on- or offline. Consequently, it’s worth keeping track of which character suits your playstyle as some have easier combos and special moves to pull off compared to others, or more useful Super Moves and Character Powers.
Additionally, the Class system should also be factored in; Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and Solomon Gundy may be powerful and capable of gaining armour to tank through attacks but they’re also a lot slower on their feet and with their jumps. Superman and Shiera Hall/Hawkgirl are much faster Power-class characters but can also have their own drawbacks at times depending on your playstyle (Superman’s Character Power, for example, simply powers up his attacks rather than being a more offensive move like, say, Areas being able to conjure massive magical weapons). Personally, I tend to lean more towards Gadget-based characters, like Nightwing (who can switch between using quick batons or a longer bo staff to attack) or Green Arrow (whose arrows and bow allow for both ranged attacks and blindingly fast melee attacks).
Unlike Mortal Kombat, Injustice doesn’t really feature any secret or hidden fights or unplayable sub-bosses or boss characters; the story mode and basic arcade ladder culminates in a battle against the corrupted Superman that is a far fairer and more competitive fight compared to the finales of NetherRealm’s recent Mortal Kombat games. While Superman is definitely a bit more of an aggressive foe, even on the game’s easiest difficulty, he doesn’t gain inexplicable armour, can be stunned, and doesn’t deal ungodly amounts of damage or spam his attacks like a cheap bitch. Additionally, he doesn’t transform into some monstrous final form and, instead, the final battle is a far better use of the skills you’ve built up through regular gameplay rather than forcing you to resort to cheap tactics and tricks.
Power-Ups and Bonuses: Because it lacks a “Test Your Luck” mode and “Kombat Kodes” for multiplayer fights, there aren’t really any in-game power-ups available to you outside of the various status effects seen in the Battle mode. As before, though, some characters can gain in-game buffs with their special attacks and Character Powers: Lex Luthor, for example, can erect a shield, Doomsday can cover himself in impenetrable armour for a brief period, and Solomon Grundy slows time down and drains his opponent’s health with his swamp gas. However, you’ll earn yourself additional XP if you mix up your fighting style and take advantage of stage interactions and transitions, which will allow you to unlock further customisation options for your profile card, and you can also earn additional skins and rewards by playing and linking up to the mobile version of the game.
Additional Features: There are fifty Achievements up for grabs in Injustice, with three of which being directly tied to the story mode (50- and 100% completion and succeeding at all of the QTE mini games). Others are tied to the game’s online modes, levelling-up to specific levels, customising your profile card, and finishing Classic Battle with one (and every) character. There are also some character-specific Achievements on offer, including performing every character’s Super Move or a ten-hit combat and winning a fight using only arrows as Green Arrow, or landing at least twelve shots without missing as Deathstroke. Batman is the only character to have two specific Achievements tied to him, though, as you’ll get some G for winning a match using all of his special moves and his Super Moves and for defeating every villain as him.
Another standard of NetherRealm Studios is their addition of further skins and characters through DLC; you can get skins to play as John Stewart, Cyborg Superman, and the Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011) Batman, among others, and they’re all easily applicable when selecting a character (no need for extraneous “Gear” here). While the game’s DLC characters have no additional Achievements tied to them, Injustice included some fun and interesting extra fighters; Lobo, General Dru-Zod (who also sports his Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013) look as a skin), Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Zatanna Zatara, and the Martian Manhunter were all great choices to add to the roster and it was nice to see NetherRealm Studios exercise a little restraint and not overload the DLC with additional Batman characters. By far the most exciting DLC fighter was the inclusion of Scorpion, who sports a Jim Lee redesign and began a trend of DC and Mortal Kombat characters appearing in each other’s games.
When you’ve had enough of the story mode and regular battle options, you can take the fight online in a series of matches; here; you can participate in ranked and unranked fights and “King of the Hill” tournaments where you watch other players fight until it’s your turn and bet on who’s going to win. The S.T.A.R. Labs missions will also keep us offline, solo players occupied for some time; these are expanded upon when you download the DLC fighters, which is much appreciated and, similar to Mortal Kombat’s “Challenge Tower” mode, basically serve as extended tutorials for each of the game’s characters. You’ll take on ten character-specific missions, with each one getting a little bit of text and maybe a picture to set the context of the mission, and these range from performing certain combos or attacks, winning fights, or completing tricky challenges (such as guiding Catwoman’s cat through laser trip wires, avoiding damage or debris, or racing against Superman).
The Summary: Injustice: Gods Among Us is a far better marriage of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics than Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and a fantastic expansion of the gameplay mechanics and features NetherRealm Studios revitalised their violent fighting game series with in Mortal Kombat (2009). While Injustice is obviously not as gory or violent as its sister-series, that doesn’t make it any less fun and it’s still a very brutal fighter; the Super Moves, especially, and certain character’s outros (such as the Joker’s) are definitely in the Mortal Kombat mould. With gorgeous in-game graphics, a fantastic amount of variety thanks to all of the character’s different special attacks and gameplay mechanics and the stage transitions, and a simple to learn, easy to master fighting system, Injustice is an extremely enjoyable game for anyone who’s a fan of either franchise or fighting games in general. The story is a breeze to get through (thought it is essentially every basic multiverse story ever told in comics) and nicely varied with some QTE sequences; the S.T.A.R. Labs missions and different arcade ladders are much more enjoyable and challenging than in its sister-series and there are plenty of character options, variety, and unlockables to keep you busy. Best of all, the game isn’t bogged down by endless grinding to unlock Gear, skins, or other perks and is a much more user-friendly and accessible fighting game, and overall experience, than its sequel.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Were you a fan of Injustice: Gods Among Us? What did you think to it as a blend of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics? What were your thoughts on the game’s story and its depiction of a parallel world terrorised by a corrupted Superman? Which of the game’s fighters was your favourite and why? Did you buy the base game and all the DLC packs separately or did you pick up the Ultimate Edition when it released later? What did you think to the additional DLC characters and skins? Were there any characters or features missing from the game for you? Which DC Comics videogame, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Are you a fan of multiverse stories and crossovers? Whatever you think about Injustice, leave a comment down below and be sure to check back in next Wednesday for more Crossover Crisis content!
In September 1961, DC Comics published a little story called “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that featured in The Flash #123 and brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen. In the process, DC Comics created the concept of the multiverse, the idea that DC Comics continuity was comprised of an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to exist and, more importantly, interact and I’ve been celebrating this ground-breaking concept every Sunday of this month!
Released: 23 February 2010 Director: Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery Distributor: Warner Home Video Budget: Unknown Stars: William Baldwin, Mark Harmon, Gina Torres, James Woods, Brian Bloom, and Chris Noth
The Plot: In an alternate version of Earth, the Crime Syndicate (evil doppelgängers to the Justice League) rule with an iron fist. When the Lex Luthor (Noth) of this parallel world travels across the dimensions, the Justice League find themselves battling against their dark mirrors to decide the fate of all worlds.
The Background: Following the much-laudedBatman: The Animated Series (1992 to 1999) and the conclusion of Batman Beyond (1999 to 2001), co-creator Bruce Timm spearheaded easily the biggest and most ambitious DC animated show of that era, Justice League (2001 to 2004), and then out did himself with the exhaustive roster of Justice League Unlimited (2004 to 2006). Both cartoons were incredibly well-received and helped contribute to the continued success and popularity of the DC Animated Universe.
Originally, Timm intended to produce an animated feature named Justice League: Worlds Collideto bridge the gap between Justice League and Justice League Unlimited that would draw inspiration from the seminal story “Crisis on Earth-Three!” (Fox, et al, 1964). However, these plans were scrapped by Warner Brothers, who were in the middle of producing a series of direct-to-video animated films with no ties to any existing continuity, and the script was consequently rewritten to avoid directly referencing either show. Despite this, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths shared a very similar style to Timm’s earlier works and, considering the first issue of the ground-breaking Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was first publish in this month back in 1986 I figured this would be as good a time as any to look back at this often overlooked animated feature.
The Review: The multiverse is quite a daunting and confusing concept, to be honest; even I, a self-confessed comic book enthusiast, struggle with the notion at times and I feel it only really works in comics, where readers are used to the idea after a few decades of dimensional-hopping antics, and television (especially cartoons), since long-running series’ just have more time to introduce and explore the concept. In that regard, Crisis of Two Earths eases viewers into the idea of parallel worlds by primarily focusing on the idea of two alternative worlds and also its opening sequence, in which we see our beloved heroes radically changed, monstrous even, and killing a heroic version of the Joker, the Jester (James Patrick Stuart), and being opposed by a far more virtuous incarnation of Lex Luthor.
We then switch over to our Earth, where a more recognisable version of the Justice League are finishing up the construction of their Watchtower space station and their teleportation device; right away, we’re introduced to two concepts that form the basis of the film: the Flash (Josh Keaton) is the comic relief and Batman (Baldwin) is a bit of a grouch. Flash is full of the quips and amusing pop culture references but Batman is a stubborn pragmatist; even when clearly outmatched by Superwoman’s (Torres) power, he preserves through a broken rib and is able to subdue her with anaesthetic gas, proving his capability despite his lack of super powers.
When the alternative Luthor arrives, he is immediately apprehended and brought to the attention of the League; Superman (Harmon) confirms that the duplicate isn’t their Lex and the Luthor brings the League up to speed with the issue of the Crime Syndicate of his Earth. On this alternate world, Luthor was the leader of the Justice League but the Syndicate has rendered their world a virtual dictatorship thanks to their power and maliciousness, held in check only by the threat of a nuclear retaliation. Superman, naturally, doesn’t trust Luthor but J’onn (Jonathan Adams) confirms that the alternative refuge is telling the truth. The League debate the merits, logistics, and morals of assisting Luthor’s world and, though Green Lantern (Nolan North) is opposed to it, it is Batman who is most against the mission since they struggle to maintain order on their world. Regardless, the majority agree to assist.
The Crime Syndicate, specifically Owlman (Woods), are interrupted in their search for the “Quantum Trigger” by the arrival of the Justice League and a fight breaks out. This gives the film a chance to showcase a variety of evil versions of classic heroes, “Made Men”, such as Black Lightning, Vixen, and Elongated Man. Though the League are able to get the upper hand, Luthor forces them to retreat to avoid facing even more of the Syndicate’s Made Men and, in the process, they end up in a battle with the Captain Super family (evil versions of the Shazam/Captain Marvel family). This takes the battle from inside to the cloudy skies of this parallel world as Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall) is able to commandeer Owlman’s ship and use its cloaking device to escape the fray.
The Crime Syndicate are revealed to run their organisation like a super-powered crime family, with Ultraman (Bloom, using a bit of a stereotypical Italian mobster accent) acting as the head of the “family”, who have thousands of lieutenants working beneath them (the aforementioned Made Men) and dividing their territories between them. Thanks to their power, they are able to bribe and forcible coerce the world’s government and other officials into bowing to their every whim but Owlman takes this to the next level by constructing the Quantum Eigenstate Device (Q.E.D.), a bomb that will give them the ability to hold the entire world hostage. While the public largely wishes to simply acquiesce to the Syndicate’s demands to maintain some kind of peace, their dictatorship is openly challenged by Rose Wilson (Freddi Rogers), daughter of Slade Wilson (Brice Davison), who is the President of the United States in this world.
Unlike the League, which is a largely unified team ruled by democracy, the Syndicate is a fragile alliance of egos and greed; Ultraman rules through sheer power and intimidation but Owlman and Superwoman conspire behind his back. Owlman plans to use the Q.E.D. to destroy all life without mercy or conscious since the discovery of an infinite number of parallel worlds has shattered his grasp on reality. Believing that no decision he, or anyone, makes has any meaning since whatever they accomplish means nothing elsewhere in the multiverse, he plans to find “Earth-Prime” in order to use the Q.E.D. to annihilate all life everywhere, which Superman, a self-confessed murdering psychopath, finds to be one hell of a turn on.
Although Luthor recruits the League to help, he insists on taking on and defeating Ultraman himself since “if it’s going to mean anything after [the League] is gone, it has to be [Luthor]”. Luthor is able to match blows with Ultraman thanks to his armoured suit and having acquired a piece of Blue Kryptonite, the only substance that can hurt and weaken Ultraman. Because of this, Luthor is able to defeat and humiliate Ultraman in public and have him arrested for his crimes; however, as gallant as his actions are, he is chewed out by the President for risking further retaliations from the remaining members of the Syndicate and Ultraman is allowed to go free in a desperate attempt to keep a shaky truce with the Syndicate.
The Nitty-Gritty: Many of the film’s action sequences, though exciting, are, understandably, all too lacking in context; thanks to the wildly different designs of the parallel worlds Made Men, it’s not always easy to tell who is cameoing when and most of them don’t have any speaking lines, making them little more than disposable grunts who exist simply to showcase the stranglehold the Syndicate have on their world and give the League someone to beat up without fighting the same handful of Syndicate members all the time. Because of the large roster and many different characters running around the film, there’s obviously not enough time for everyone to really get much to do; Green Lantern, for example, is a bit of a non-factor and, while J’onn does get an interesting side plot revolving a romantic attraction to Rose, the majority of the League exist simply to battle with the evil doppelgängers. This is exacerbated when Batman calls in heroes from his world to help fend off Superwoman and the Super family, resulting in yet more cameos and characters taking up the film’s run time; don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see so many heroes onscreen at once and all these villainous versions of normally heroic characters but I also feel like the focus should have been more on the League/Syndicate members since those are the only fights that really mean anything.
Thankfully, the film does eventually focus up once Rose provides the League with the location of the Syndicate’s headquarters (spoilers: it’s on the Moon) and the two teams engage in an all-out brawl with their doppelgängers. Green Lantern’s evil counterpart, Power Ring (North), is about as useless as heroic double; Superman, for all her strength and aggression, lacks the finesse and combat acumen of Wonder Woman; and Ultraman’s sadistic focus on destruction means he not only destroys much of the environment but is easily outwitted by Superman. Of course, the battle between the Flash and Johnny Quick (Stuart) comes down to a test of their super speed but, amidst all the mindless brawling, Owlman is able to escape with the Q.E.D. to enact his insane plan to destroy all realities. Faced with the threat of mutually assured destruction, the League and the Syndicate form a shaky truce simply to save their own hides.
A side plot throughout the film is that the Flash believes Batman doesn’t like or respect him and the idea that Batman is this irritable, obstinate loner. However, when they need someone to power the Quantum Trigger, Batman has Johnny Quick take the Flash’s place as the conduit to spare his teammate’s life since he knows that the effort will kill the speedster. While this is a great way to show that Batman does truly care for the Flash and his teammates, it’s a little out of character since he knew that the effort would kill Johnny so he willingly sacrificed a life to confront Owlman and then, rather hypocritically, lectured his counterpart about his willingness to kill untold numbers of people with the Q.E.D. Somewhat unsurprisingly, given that Batman is generally the focus of all of DC’s animated endeavours, the film culminates in a battle of ideologies and skill between him and Owlman, with the depths of his doppelgänger’s psychosis revealed so completely that Batman has no choice but to doom Owlman to destruction on a desolate, barren alternate world, saving the multiverse in the process but at the cost of Johnny’s life.
The Summery: Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths is a pretty decent little animated film; it’s full of action and lots of big, explosive, and visually interesting fights but the main draw of the film, for me, is the philosophical and ideological differences between the Justice League and the Crime Syndicate, specifically between Batman and Owlman, this dichotomy is given the most focus throughout the film, which is probably the right choice but it does mean that we don’t really get to see just how different the Syndicate are to their heroic counterparts beyond them being super-powered mobsters and psychopaths. If you watched any of the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited episodes based around the Justice Lords, it’s arguable that you could say the film’s concept is somewhat redundant and has already been explored but I think there’s enough here to separate the film from those episodes, mostly thanks to the abundance of cameos and the iconography of the Crime Syndicate. While the film doesn’t complete align with those cartoons, I think you can easily suspend disbelief to see it as a bridge between Justice League and Justice League Unlimited since it ends with the League preparing for a massive recruitment drive but it also works pretty well as a standalone animated feature…as long as you’re already somewhat familiar with DC’s characters and some of their more complex concepts.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Have you ever seen Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths; if so, what did you think to it and where would you rank it against the other DC animated movies? Which character was your favourite and what did you think to the film’s voice cast? Which evil doppelgänger would have liked to see more of and what do you think about the concept of the Crime Syndicate and the DC multiverse? Did you ever watch the Justice League cartoons and, if so, what were some of your favourite characters and moments? How are you celebrating the publication of Crisis on Infinite Earths this month? Whatever your thoughts on DC’s animated ventures, the multiverse, and the Justice League, feel free to leave a comment below.
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 spent every Sunday this month discussing multiversal crossovers in an event I dubbed “Crossover Crisis”.
Air Date: 8 December 2019 to 14 January 2020 UK Network: Sky One and (eventually) E4 Original Network: The CW Stars: Stephen Amell, Grant Gustin, Melissa Benoist, Ruby Rose, LaMonica Garrett, Tyler Hoechlin, David Ramsey, Carlos Valdes, Chyler Leigh, Caity Lotz, Brandon Routh, Tom Cavanagh, and Jon Cryer
The Background: Crisis on Infinite Earths was, easily, the biggest and most influential crossover in DC Comics history back when it was first published; even now, the reality-changing events of the twelve issue series can be felt in DC and cosmic events and crossovers are an important part of the comics industry. Still, such an event seemed irrevocably tied to the comics books; even DC’s animated ventures rarely attempted to tackle an event of such magnitude so to say that I never expected Arrow (2012 to 2020), of all things, to led to, and end with, a massive crossover between not just the “Arrowverse” but also the wide spectrum of live-action DC adaptations would be an understatement, to say the least. Crisis on Infinite Earths was first hinted at in the first episode of The Flash (2014 to present) but was explicitly referenced throughout the Elseworlds(Various, 2018) crossover and revealed in the conclusion of that event.
The Crisis then become the focal point of the entire Arrowverse, with almost the entirety of Arrow’s eighth season and The Flash’s sixth season specifically preparing characters for the oncoming Crisis, visiting and destroying parallel worlds, featuring Mar Novu/The Monitor (Garrett) as a frequent guest star, and setting the stage for the biggest comic book crossover in television history as the writers and showrunners crammed in cameos and references galore to pay homage to DC’s many live-action adaptations. The result was some of the best-received and highly-praised episodes in all of the Arrowverse and a significant change in the presentation of the Arrowverse going forward as worlds lived, died, and were forever changed by the event, which saw both Supergirl (2015 to present) and Black Lightning (2018 to present) merged into a new version of the Arrowverse Earth.
The Plot: When a wave of destructive anti-matter threatens all life in the multiverse, the Monitor gathers seven heroes – Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Amell), Barry Allen/The Flash (Gustin), Kara Danvers/Supergirl (Benoist), Sara Lance/White Canary (Lotz), Kate Kane/Batwoman (Rose), Doctor Ray Palmer/The Atom (Routh), and Clark Kent/Superman (Hoechlin) – to face the crisis. Facing overwhelming odds, the team must journey across time, space, and the expanse of the remaining multiverse to find seven “Paragons” who will decide the fate of all reality!
The Review: Crisis on Infinite Earths hits the ground running and kicks off with a massive bang in “Part One” (Warn, 2019), which was the ninth episode of Supergirl’s fifth season and saw the devastating wave of anti-matter obliterate Argo City and threaten the very fabric of Supergirl’s world, Earth-38. In a change for these crossovers, Supergirl and her supporting cast are given a prominent role right off the bat as she is forced to watch her home and family be destroyed by the mysterious, unstoppable wave of energy. She is overjoyed to see that Superman and Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch) survived the destruction but deeply affected by the death of her mother, Alura Zor-El (Erica Durance), and the loss of her home, and the fact that the entire first episode actually takes place on her Earth allows her supporting characters to actually contribute in a meaningful way towards the Crisis.
Faced with the impending destruction of their world, Alex Danvers (Leigh), J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter (David Harewood), and Querl Dox/Brainiac 5 (Jesse Rath) are forced to call in every debt they are owed, and even turn to the unscrupulous Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) for help evacuating as many people as possible to Earth-1. Interestingly, it is Superman who has the crisis of conscience in this first episode and finds his resolve faltering after failing to save Argo City and out of concern for his baby son, Jonathan; despite the losses she has suffered in such a short space of time, it is Supergirl who lifts his spirits and encourages him to remain hopeful in their ability to succeed. After discovering that the Book of Destiny has been recovered, Kara, as the Paragon of Hope, makes every effort she can, despite the incredible risk, to use the Book to restore her Earth, bringing her into a moral conflict with Kate.
The anti-matter wave spreads throughout all of time and space, however; throughout the most recent seasons of Arrow and The Flash, Oliver and Barry have been struggling with their impending deaths since the Monitor foretold that each of them would die in the coming Crisis. This has been particularly trying for Oliver, who, like Barry, has been trying to prepare for the coming event and get his team ready to operate without him once he’s gone but has been struggling with time travel shenanigans, which saw him meet his future daughter, Mia Smoak (Katherine McNamara). Normally the more grounded and pragmatic of the Arrowverse heroes, Oliver has had extensive experience not just with multiversal events by this point but also with the anti-matter’s effects thanks to his travels with the Monitor in preparation for the Crisis.
Despite his lack of superpowers and being more of a tactician, Oliver plays a vital role throughout the Crisis as we seen his disillusioned Earth-16 counterpart run through some of this greatest hits (again…), and see that he is less than impressed to find that the deal he made with the Monitor to sacrifice his life in exchange for Barry and Kara’s is no longer valid. Though Oliver is angered at the deception, the Monitor purposely arranged for this to ensure that Oliver would be at his most prepared by planning for every eventuality; as if seeing multiple worlds be destroyed in short order wasn’t proof that the stakes for Crisis on Infinite Earths was unimaginably high, Oliver’s untimely sacrifice to cover the evacuation of Earth-38 certainly is. Of course, Oliver’s story doesn’t end there as he ultimately sacrifices himself again, first by taking on the role of the Spectre and then by giving his life once more to end the Anti-Montor’s threat.
Since Oliver is now well-versed in multiversal crossovers and events, and unexpectedly killed before his time, it is Batwoman who brings the pragmatic cynicism and is the fish out of water in Crisis on Infinite Earths. “Part Two” (Belsey, 2019), which was the ninth episode of Batwoman’s (2019 to present) first season (although it was the last episode here in the United Kingdom), explores her attempts to adapt to the unusual situation she finds herself in. Failing to see how her abilities, as vast as they are, can measure up to cosmic threats, Kate is distrustful of her colourful associates and begrudgingly agrees to tag along purely on Kara’s word and in the face of a clear and present threat. The revelation of the Paragons drives Kate into an unexpected voyage of self-discovery; initially, she believes her destiny is to recruit the Bruce Wayne of Earth-99 (Kevin Conroy) and, in the process, comes across a jaded and broken version of her cousin who has descended into a murderous and disillusioned crusade. Rattled by this incarnation of Bruce, and her actions in contributing to his death (to keep him from killing Supergirl), Kate is somewhat sceptical to learn that she is the Paragon of Courage.
The quest for the Paragons takes Superman, Lois, and Iris West-Allen (Candice Patton) to first Earth-167, where they briefly encounter a depowered version of Clark (Tom Welling), and then to Earth-96 and an older, far more troubled incarnation of the Man of Steel (Routh). In possession of the Book of Destiny, Lex Luthor (Cryer), who was returned to life to play a vital role in the Crisis, travels throughout the multiverse killing Superman and, ultimately, forces Superman to fight his Earth-96 counterpart in a brief, exhilarating moment before Lois and Iris wake up and realise that they can just punch Lex out. Lex, however, gets the last laugh by manipulating the Book of Destiny to replace the Earth-96 Superman with himself as the Paragon of Courage
As mentioned, Barry has also been trying to prepare for his untimely end; he’s been aware that he disappears, most likely due to his death, in a red-sky Crisis and he is so angered at Oliver’s death and the Monitor’s manipulations that he is driven to using the restorative nature of the Lazarus Pits to bring Oliver back to life in a crazed state with the help of John Constantine (Matt Ryan). “Part Three” (McWhirter, 2019), which aired as episode nine of season six of The Flash (2014 to present), leads Barry to facing his fate in the worst way possible when he is forced to watch the Earth-90 Flash (John Wesley Shipp) sacrifice himself to destroy an anti-matter cannon. Although Barry is more than willing to fulfil what he believes is his destiny, his counterpart takes his place willingly and, in the process, allows Barry to live on for his friends and family while also providing a fantastic excuse to showcase some highlights from Shipp’s turn as the Flash back in the nineties.
Of course, the intangible threat of the destructive anti-matter wave and the ominous fate that awaits Oliver and Barry isn’t the only threat facing the Arrowverse characters; throughout their journey across the multiverse to defend the Monitor’s Quantum Towers, they must battle against fittingly Grim Reaper-like “Shadow Demons” that, despite being easily destroyed, have the advantage through sheer numbers and their threat is escalated by the fact that Oliver was practically torn apart by them offscreen. Additionally, thanks to messing around with the Book of Destiny, Luthor manages to position himself as a man of incredible metahuman powers who first attempts to kill Supergirl in an effort to usurp the Monitor’s destiny and then, reluctantly and unwillingly, to join forces with the heroes. Lyla Michaels/Harbinger (Audrey Marie Anderson) also takes on a brief antagonistic role when she ends up falling under the influence of the crossover’s primary, physical antagonist, Mobius/The Anti-Monitor (Garrett), which causes her to betray and murder the Monitor against her will and set in motion the final days of all reality.
The Monitor himself is a deceptive and mysterious character; thanks to Luthor’s manipulations, we learn in “Part Four” (Winter, 2020) that it was he, in his far more mortal form, who birthed the Anti-Monitor in a desperate and misguided attempt to view the creation of the universe. Of course, while the Monitor inspires much distrust and anger from the heroes (especially Barry), the Anti-Monitor is a form of pure, unadulterated evil; similar to other crossover threats, the Anti-Monitor is an elusive and ominous being who isn’t revealed in full until the conclusion of “Part 2”. His motivations are nothing less than pure destruction, making for a decidedly one-dimensional villain but, in truth, the Anti-Monitor has always been that way; he simply exists as a singular, cosmic force of evil for the heroes to unite against.
Fittingly, for an adaptation of the greatest and most devastating storyline in DC Comics history, the stakes couldn’t be higher in Crisis on Infinite Earths; though a prevailing concept throughout the crossover is the idea of hope conquering above all, the odds are constantly against our heroes as entire worlds are wiped from existence, killing many of the supporting characters, and leaving the handful of remaining characters trapped at the Vanishing Point with no hope of escape and alongside Luthor, of all people. In their darkest hour, Oliver, as the Spectre, comes to them with a vague shot in the dark at reversing their fortunes but, even then, the cost is high. This, again, gives the crossover another excuse to run through some of Arrow’s greatest hits so that the disparate parts of his personality can be reunited in the speed force and empower him to transport them to the anti-matter universe and the inevitable showdown with the Anti-Monitor. I won’t lie; I can’t say that I’m a massive fan of the grim, gritty, grounded vigilante ultimately being to one to save and restore the entire multiverse and being the saviour of all humanity but even I have to admit that it’s an almost peerless heroic end for the character.
In the end, with all seven Paragons gathered and united (however reluctantly, in Luthor’s case) and the Spectre locked in a dual with the Anti-Monitor, the heroes are able to light the spark that reignites a new version of not just Earth-1 but the entire multiverse. Though he dies in the process, Oliver is finally at peace and leaves the future to his friends and family who, in “Part Five” (Smith, 2020), find their world has radically changed as a result; for one thing, many characters and locations are now on an amalgamated world dubbed “Earth-Prime” and, for another, Luthor is a world-renowned hero, and no one has any memory of what happened except the seven Paragons. Thanks to J’onn’s psychic powers, they are able to piece together what happened but, while they are able to ultimately banish the Anti-Monitor to the microverse, they are heart-broken to discover that Oliver is not among those restored by the entire process. In celebration of Oliver’s sacrifice, the Flash, Supergirl, J’onn, Batwoman, and Black Lightning hold a memorial service for their fallen comrade and officially give birth to the Arrowverse incarnation of the Justice League that, sadly, will look decidedly different in the near future.
The Summary: For such a large and ambitious crossover, Crisis on Infinite Earths does pretty well when it comes to its special effects; again, as we’ve seen in the other Arrowverse crossovers, some of these hold up better than others (Ray Terrill/The Ray (Russell Tovey) still looks terrible even in his brief appearance, as does Lyla’s teleporting effects and the “temporal zone”, but the destruction of the infinite worlds is disturbingly effective) but I’d say the CW did really well, especially when you consider that Marvel Studios spent billions of dollars on its big screencrossovers and it’s frankly ludicrous that they ever decided to greenlight an adaptation of Crisis on Infinite Earths. As you might expect, costume design is absolutely spot on; Nash Wells/Pariah (Cavanagh), the Monitor, and Anti-Monitor look a little goofy but I can’t fault the fidelity to the source material and the crossover delivers an absolutely fantastic adaptation of Bruce’s exoskeleton armour and the Kingdom Come (Waid, et al, 1996) Super-suit.
Of course, one of the most appealing and entertaining aspects of Crisis on Infinite Earths is the sheer abundance of cameos and references to other live-action adaptations of DC Comics; most of these are fleeting, appearing onscreen simply to be destroyed in seconds, but some are prominent aspects to the crossover’s massive narrative. Accordingly, we get much-appreciated and surprising appearances by Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) from the Batman sixties show, Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) from Batman (Burton, 1989), Hank Hall/Hawk (Alan Ritchson) and Jason Todd/Robin (Curran Walters) from Titans (2018 to present), Helena Kyle/The Huntress (Ashley Scott) and Barbara Gordon/Oracle (Dina Meyer) from Birds of Prey (2002 to 2003), Alec Holland/Swamp Thing (Derek Mears) from Swamp Thing (2019) and the cast of both Stargirl (2020 to present) and Doom Patrol (2019 to present). The crossover also splices in surprise appearances by Wil Wheaton, Wentworth Miller, comic creator Marv Wolfman, and even Ezra Miller alongside numerous references and allusions to comic book arcs such as the Death of Superman (Jurgens, et al, 1992 to 1993), and even setting up a potential spin-off for John Diggle (David Ramsey) after he appears to find a Green Lantern ring.
Interestingly, despite all these cameos (and more) and the myriad of characters from across the Arrowverse, Crisis on Infinite Earths does a surprisingly good job of balancing its pace, action, and cast; in the beginning, things are very rushed and frantic but, once everyone is gathered together, the story focuses up quite nicely. The stakes stay high and ominous throughout as we’re constantly reminded of the impending doom but there’s still time for a few amusing character moments, such as Mick Rory/Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell) realising his paternal instincts. Of course, with so many characters included and so much at stake, Crisis on Infinite Earths features a wide array of action and fight scenes; to make the best use of the many powers and characters in the crossover, these are largely ensemble pieces that truly unite the Arrowverse in a way we haven’t seen before. Even those who are largely side-lined throughout the crossover, like Diggle, for example, get something to do (he is incensed at Oliver’s death and joins Constantine, and Mia in journeying to Purgatory to retrieve Oliver’s soul) and many of the supporting characters contribute to the overarching plot even though their efforts are ultimately in vain. Some cameos, however, are all-too-brief; many of the Legends and Team Arrow get short-changed this time around, Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis) was a welcome and unexpected inclusion but, sadly, the crossover chose not to bring Emmett J. Scanlan back as Jim Corrigan and, despite Ryan Choi (Osric Chau) and Black Lightning’s pivotal roles in the larger narrative, they’re not as heavily showcased as the more recognisable and established Arrowverse characters.
I said at the start that I never expected to see Crisis on Infinite Earths ever be the basis for an adaptation, much less a live-action adaptation; it barely works in the comics, to be honest, as it requires quite a lot of knowledge about DC Comics and outlandish concepts like the multiverse. Thankfully, the Arrowverse version of events focuses its adaptation by concentrating on the main Arrowverse characters, surrounding them with a myriad of cameos and references, and buildings its concept around these familiar aspects. If you’ve never watched an Arrowverse show before then of course it’ll be quite a daunting first start but, like its comic book namesake, it is clearly not intended for casual fans or newcomers. It’s interesting watching these Arrowverse crossovers back-to-back as Invasion! (Various, 2016) feels so rushed and frantic in comparison and Crisis on Infinite Earths does a much better job of balancing a far bigger and more diverse cast, which I honestly wouldn’t expect considering how daunting its concept is. Of course, this crossover would never have been possible without the long-running, episodic nature of the CW shows and that’s exactly why it works in a way that DC’s cinematic films often fail; rather than trying to crameverything into a couple of films, or tossing it all into a four-hour long epic, the Arrowverse was able to naturally build towards this crossover and deliver from start to finish and it’s honestly a shame that the films couldn’t have followed suit and that the Arrowverse is basically coming to an end now.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
What are your thoughts on Crisis on Infinite Earths? Did you ever expect to see the Arrowverse culminate in an adaptation of one of comics’ biggest crossover events? How do you feel the adaptation was handled? Which cameo was your favourite and which would you have preferred to see be featured more prominently? How did Oliver’s death affect you, if at all, and which of the CW Arrowverse shows is/was your favourite? Are you sad to see that the Arrowverse has changed following this event or do you feel it’s time for it to move on? Do you agree that building towards such an elaborate crossover is a matter of time, patience, and character development or were you not bothered by Zack Snyder’s attempts to cram it all into a couple of movies? Which of the many multiversal crossover events was your favourite, whether in comics, videogames, TV, or movies? Whatever your thoughts, go ahead and drop a comment down below and check back in again for more superhero content throughout the year.
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 Background: 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 thatDC’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.
The Plot: 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).
The Review: 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 buthis 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.
The Summary: 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.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
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!
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
The Background: 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.
The Plot: 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.
The Review: 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.
The Summary: 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.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
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!