A year of hype, five different superhero soap operas to keep up with, and an endless parade of DC movie and TV show cameos. Three episodes into “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” the latest and greatest crossover event from The CW’s Arrowverse, I should be burnt out. Instead, I’m awed, excited, and legitimately curious what could happen next.
“Crisis on Infinite Earths” is a joy. It is audacious, inspiring, and downright brazen in its determination to make as much DC television and film history count. It is basic in its story — good guys must stop bad guys — but in its reassurance in what makes someone a hero it is a welcome comfort. Even in this era where cinematic universes are the go-to plan, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” still feels impossible. That feeling only makes every minute feel like a victory.
“Crisis,” a five-part TV event that adapts a DC Comics miniseries of the same name from 1985, is a crossover of multiple DC superhero shows on The CW: Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, and Batwoman. Yes, that is a lot of shows! Only the most intense type of fan would watch all of those shows. It is literally my job to watch all of them and I sometimes struggle to keep up.
But before it was my job, I was merely a fan of the “Arrowverse.” I was in college when Arrow premiered in the fall of 2012, but I couldn’t even watch it for those first few months. Cablevision had an ugly spat with WPIX 11 owner Tribune when Arrow debuted to rave reviews.
I was pissed. It’s hard to believe now, but in 2012 superheroes had yet to exist in any reasonable form on television. In the aftermath of of Heroes (canceled in 2010) and Smallville (ended in 2011), it seemed unlikely we’d see anything like them again.
The CW returned in October that year, but by then I accepted I was just not going to catch up on Arrow. In the age before streaming went mainstream, my only option was to pirate the show, which I didn’t. It was more trouble than its worth, and I needed hard drive space on my laptop for film classes. I let the Arrowverse go.
But a year later, Arrow hit Netflix. In between classes my senior semesters, I indulged in the vigilantism of Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen. Another year later, I struggled to hold a steady job after college. The fear that I wasn’t meant to do the thing I’d always dreamed up kept me up at night. That’s when The Flash premiered, a lightning bolt of hope in a dark time. Supergirl premiered the year I started at Inverse, and I’ve kept my eyes on this universe ever since.
Like the other major superhero event of the year, Avengers: Endgame, all the heroes in “Crisis on Infinite Earths” team up to stop annihilation from a big alien being. But unlike Marvel’s billion-dollar hit, the scope of what “counts” reaches beyond the character’s DC needs to promote for its own future shows and movies.
Many influential DC TV and films play big or small roles to the story, from Tim Burton’s 1989 blockbuster Batman, to the mid-2000s YA drama Smallville. Brandon Routh, who starred in 2006’s Superman Returns (itself a sequel to the films starring Christopher Reeve) also plays a big role, his “second shot” for a role he was unequivocally born to play.
“Crisis” even one-ups Avengers: Endgame in certain areas. The Avengers’ final stand against Thanos notably lacked the Marvel/Netflix characters who were originally pitched to fans as a legitimate part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When asked about their absence, Marvel offered a lame excuse and moved on.
By comparison, “Crisis” not only features characters from different eras, but platforms and networks that aren’t The CW. Whose jaw didn’t drop when Tom Ellis’ charming protagonist of Lucifer opened the door to Diggle, Mia, and John Constantine (another survivor from another network, NBC)?
The implication is that all of these beloved or cult stories co-exist as part of a “multiverse” where anything (including multiple supermen) is possible. That’s a concept Marvel Studios has yet to explore in any notable way.
Nothing in the story of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” makes any sense. Summarize it without proper nouns and you could sound like a rambling speculative science-fiction writer on a drug binge. But it’s been a blast.
The sheer thrill of watching a dozen or more familiar characters, either ones you’ve followed for multiple seasons or remember from your nostalgic past — Brandon Routh really should have been Superman for a whole generation — is an exhilarating dream. “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is like if disparate paintings from different artistic periods grew sentient and met in the same frame. The result breathes new life into something so familiar.
I don’t know how it will end! I have an idea. Similar to Avengers: Endgame, I know the heroes will triumph over evil, but the dramatic question is at what cost. Before we saw the Avengers actually defeat Thanos, we didn’t know how they would get there, and what they would compromise along the way. (This is what all of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War was about.) When you’re desperate to accomplish something, what do you sacrifice? In order to win, what is it that you lose?
The same applies here. I don’t know how “Crisis” will end (flipping through the comic won’t help, as the story has diverged wildly), but I am concerned what choices the heroes will make so it can. We’ve already seen Oliver Queen sacrifice his humanity to become the otherworldly Spectre. We’ve seen Lex Luthor weasel his way into becoming a “Paragon,” robbing the surviving heroes of Superman, a powerful Kryptonian and moral compass; in his place, place, a mad, narcissistic genius who can build a rocket out of gum and paper clips. How much darker will the night get before the dawn?
It is impossible, incredible that this crossover even exists. No, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” isn’t smart. It isn’t even spectacular, as its VFX never looks any better than an episode of Power Rangers. (That’s only half a knock, as I have great affection for those teenagers with attitude.) But “Crisis” is pure fun, an unwieldy and ridiculous crossover that defies logic and reason. In that way, it’s simply the best pure superhero story we could ever imagine. I can’t wait to see more.
“Crisis on Infinite Earths” returns January 14, 2020.