The CW wrapped up its massive “Invasion!” crossover event that brought together characters from the four shows in the Arrowverse — Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. The heroes successfully repelled the invading alien menace, the Dominators, but the final episode on Thursday revealed they had only come to Earth because they were scared of us. This trope — powerful extraterrestrials making a preemptive strike against humanity — pops up a lot in science fiction. Are we really that scary to aliens, or do we just wish we were?
Technically, the Dominators that attacked Earth-1 weren’t scared of us normal humans, but the metahuman heroes like Firestorm, Vixen, and especially the Flash. Still, they were cast as almost unwilling victims — they had no personal beef with the people of Earth, but we represented a threat to the future that couldn’t go unaddressed. And, given that Green Arrow and company were able to fend them off, it’s a threat that seems to have had some actual merit.
If you look back at sci-fi history, there are lots of examples of instances where humanity has brought aliens on itself. One of the most famous instances of this is the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still. In that movie, the alien Klaatu and his robot Gort come to Earth to tell the peoples of the world that we need to abandon nuclear weapons or be destroyed. A similar fear of nuclear weapons drove Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy.
Often, aliens who are worried about humanity’s destructive potential have a carrot-and-stick approach. If we’re cool, they’ll give us lots of swanky new alien tech (like the heptapods in Arrival). If we’re not going to play ball, well … they’re more powerful than we are. So it’s game over, humanity.
In other movies, humanity is already the aggressor, though the people of Earth still tend to paint themselves as victims. The bugs in Starship Troopers and Ender’s Game had every reason to fear Earthlings and to retaliate against us.
Why do sci-fi writers like to paint humanity as the secret aggressors even when we’re the ostensible victims in an alien invasion? At its most base level, it makes for a more complex story. Alien invasions are a pretty black-and-white story, and while that can be a ton of fun, sometimes you want to deal with shades of gray instead of just good humans and bad aliens.
Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that giving humanity a reason to be feared is a great way to address those fears. When The Day the Earth Stood Still came out, mankind had only recently gained the ability to destroy the planet. That type of power is terrifying, and worth addressing.
As humanity gears up for a renewed interest in space travel, thanks to efforts from organizations like NASA, SpaceX, and Blue Origin, we could become more of a threat to some alien species out there that don’t want to take chances.
And in such an instance, we won’t have the Flash or Supergirl to protect us.