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
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.
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!
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.
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 screen crossovers 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 cram everything 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.
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.