Supergirl 3×08, Arrow 6×08, The Flash 4×08, and Legends of Tomorrow 3×08: “Crisis on Earth-X”
Now this? This is a superhero crossover.
It’s been a long road coming. Ever since The Flash spun-off from Arrow three years ago, there have been tons of little crossovers between the Arrowverse shows (the series premiere of The Flash even has a framing device where Barry is explaining his superheroic origins to Oliver), but each year there’s been one crossover, just before the mid-season finales, that’s promoted as being the big event. And I’d say this is the first time they fully lived up to that promise.
The first big crossover (“Flash vs. Arrow”/“The Brave and the Bold”) was, until this week, my favorite of the bunch, but it also set its ambitions the lowest. Telling two unconnected stories, one where the leads of Team Arrow visit Central City, and another where the leads of Team Flash visit Star(ling) City, it gave you exactly what you want from the first major crossover between two heroes. First we got to see them fight each other, then we got to see them team up to beat a bad guy, along with a lot of fun interactions between the different characters and an exploration of the differences between the two series. It wasn’t trying to be epic or game-changing, just a fun exercise in throwing all your action figures into the same sandbox, and at that it excelled.
The next year’s crossover (“Legends of Today”/“Legends of Yesterday”) set its sights a bit higher. Instead of a Flash episode with some Arrow characters and an Arrow episode with some Flash characters, we got a two-part story told across episodes of both Arrowverse series (Supergirl had already debuted by that point, but had yet to be officially connected to the other series, so it wasn’t included). The stakes were higher, the team-up bigger, and the impact on the characters going forward much greater. But the finished product had some trouble living up to all that ambition.
Partly this is because, rather than simply trying to be a good story in its own right, this crossover was used as a backdoor pilot for the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow, introducing characters and plot points because they were necessary groundwork for that series, not because they necessarily benefited the story being told in the moment. That the characters this crossover worked so hard to establish were Vandal Savage, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl, who turned out to be the least popular parts of Legends of Tomorrow and were quickly forgotten after that show’s first season, certainly didn’t help. And, of course, this crossover was where the idea of using Oliver’s long-lost son to derail his relationship with Felicity was introduced, a storyline that’s still regarded as one of the worst miscalculations the Arrow writers ever made.
The year after that came the crossover “Invasion!”, which was an overall improvement and avoided many of the problems of the previous crossover, but still brought in a few of its own. This crossover almost couldn’t help being bigger than the last one, as it crossed over not just two series but four, bringing Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow into the mix (though some deceptive promotional material left some fans disappointed that, while Supergirl the character appeared throughout the crossover, Supergirl the series featured only a few, minor references to it). Simply having so many of these characters in one place was an immense delight; that the place they met in was the Hall of Justice in all but name was the cherry-on-top. The alien invaders gave us a threat our Earth-1 heroes had never faced before and made everything feel like it was happening on a much grander scale. And, unlike the previous year, the crossover didn’t have to introduce some on-going storylines that many fans wish had never happened. The most we got in that regard was the reveal of Stein’s time aberration daughter, a character who has been fairly well-received.
In fact, “Invasion!” had the opposite problem: it had to continue and provide development for storylines that were already in progress. The most egregious was having the motivation for the titular invasion be Barry’s creation of Flashpoint. Even this early in The Flash Season 3, fans had become tired of everything bad that happens being the result of Flashpoint and of Barry alternately blaming himself or getting chewed out by other characters for creating it. Worse, it was never clear precisely why Barry creating the Flashpoint timeline made the Dominators so determined to get rid of him; if they were just afraid of time travelers changing history in general, there are a lot more people they had to worry about than just Barry Allen. “Invasion!” also had some unfortunate timing, with the middle episode of the three-part storyline also being the 100th episode of Arrow. The Arrow writers were clearly determined to commemorate this milestone, and they turned in an excellent episode celebrating everything that Arrow and its characters had been through. Unfortunately, as good as it was as an episode of Arrow, it was very clearly an Arrow episode using some characters and plot points from “Invasion!” to tell its story, while contributing little to the “Invasion!” storyline itself. If the crossover was a comic book, the Arrow installment would have been a tie-in issue rather than part of the main event. While overall “Invasion!” was a success, it still came packaged with some obvious shortcomings.
That finally brings us to “Crisis on Earth-X”, this year’s big Arrowverse crossover, and the first time, I feel, that one of these crossover events has both aimed for the stars and nailed the landing (if you’ll allow a mixed metaphor or two).
It’s telling that, rather than blending the different show logos together as previous crossovers have done, this crossover had its own “Crisis on Earth-X” logo. While each installment of this four-part story is officially an episode of one of the ongoing Arrowverse series, it’s clear that the approach to this crossover was more like that of a mini-series, one that uses characters and sets from all four shows, but is never more a part of one series than of any of the others. It is a little noticeable that the DEO set and much of Supergirl’s main cast only cameo during the Supergirl part of the crossover, and that about half the Legends only appear once we get to the Legends of Tomorrow episode, but as those are the first and last installments of the crossover (respectively) it doesn’t feel too conspicuous. Other than that, you could watch any part of this crossover and never know which series you’re watching, because the different casts all mesh and intermingle to tell a single, epic story that’s bigger than any one of them.
Despite that, “Crisis on Earth-X” is very much not a standalone story. Characters from each series bring their own, ongoing character arcs to the proceedings, and leave the story profoundly changed. Well, the change may not be quite so profound for the Supergirl characters (Alex gets her first post-Maggie rebound, and Kara’s given some reason to re-think her recent “I’m not human, so I shouldn’t have human feelings” attitude) but it’s still there. Obviously what kicks off this crossover is the wedding of Barry and Iris, which has been building for a while on The Flash and finally gets the knot tied here, but in a last minute surprise Oliver and Felicity decide to commit to their rekindled romance by getting married right alongside them. It’s possible that not too much will actually change for our main couples just because they’ve exchanged vows and signed a piece of paper, but it remains a pretty key event in their lives. And, of course, there’s the death of Martin Stein, literally a day before retirement, which cannot help but leave a deep impact going forward on the Legends in general and on Jax in particular.
Of course, there’s a downside to this if you don’t watch all four shows. One of my main frustrations with superhero comic books is when a series will be doing a great job developing its story, only for everything it set up to be derailed by the events of a different title. I don’t think that should be too much of a problem here, though. While someone who only watches Arrow or The Flash would probably be upset that they didn’t get to see the Olicity or West-Allen weddings, missing the actual ceremony doesn’t necessarily hurt enjoyment of the story going forward. Despite sending them to couple’s counseling earlier this season, The Flash has not displayed any doubt about Barry and Iris as a couple or their decision to get married, so the fact that they finally went through with it and are now happily wedded doesn’t need much explanation. By contrast, Oliver and Felicity’s decision to get married is so sudden and spontaneous that having it happen entirely off-screen between episodes wouldn’t be that much more of a curveball than what we got.
There are also aspects of this crossover that, as in “Legends of Today”/“Legends of Yesterday”, were clearly only put here to set-up future plot points. Most obvious is the character of the Ray, appearing here before Freedom Fighters: The Ray debuts on the CW Seed. However, he doesn’t dominate the story the way Savage and the Hawkcouple did in the 2015 crossover, and he got a better actor to boot. Leonard Snart of Earth-X deciding to stick around on Earth-1 a little while, for no apparent reason, is obviously just there so they can get another episode or two out of Wentworth Miller, but it’s such a small thing it’s hard to mind it. The only real issue in this regard is the decision to bring back the Reverse Flash, with no explanation, after he’s been erased from existence twice, and then letting him go at the end in a fit of “Dammit, Barry!” logic. I have little doubt this was done largely so that The Flash writers can have Eobard Thawne turn up later without it coming out of nowhere. As forced and frustrating as that was, though, it’s hard to fault a choice that lets us see Tom Cavanaugh chewing the scenery as the Reverse Flash again.
Other than those points, I don’t have much to complain about. Sure, there was some spotty CGI, and there were parts in the middle where all the running back and forth inside dim, red-lit buildings felt a little drawn out, but it’s hard to care about that when so much of this crossover was just dang fun. There’s the obvious joy of the big battle scenes, first at the wedding with everyone kicking ass in their formal wear, and then at the climax where a dozen superheroes line up to face the enemy, splash page style. But there’s also the pleasure of just putting all these characters in a room and watching them bounce off each other. The invaders from Earth-X don’t arrive until the first part of the crossover is almost over, yet that episode never feels slow. Just seeing Barry give Oliver love advice, or Felicity envy Kara’s sleep-flying, or Sara and Alex try to remember each other’s names, or Mick interact with any person in any way . . . I wouldn’t want the Arrowverse to become a bunch of low-stakes comedies about people just hanging out, but if that did happen, it might still be pretty good.
The Arrowverse series will probably never have writing sharp enough to be my favorite shows on the air. And they’re definitely never going to have the budget to match big-screen superhero spectacles like The Avengers. But they have an undeniable knack for mixing pulpy and absurd superheroic action with character development solid enough that you never feel like you’re just enjoying them ironically, but are really rooting for the heroes no matter how outlandish their situations become. There are times when that is exactly what I want out of my television, and “Crisis on Earth-X” is the Arrowverse delivering that in its purest form. I have no idea what they’ll do for next year’s crossover, if they’re going to try going even bigger (if that’s even possible beyond adding Black Lightning to the fold), but I have a feeling there will be a huge smile on my lips when it gets here
- During the rehearsal dinner, I laughed out loud when I saw that, even when she’s on another Earth where there are no CatCo or DEO buildings, Kara will still find a balcony to stand on when she needs a heart-to-heart talk.
- Supergirl needs to give Chyler Leigh more opportunities to be funny, because she was hilarious depicting Alex’s post-hookup awkwardness.
- I do have to cringe a bit at Felicity interrupting Iris and Barry’s impromptu wedding to fit in her and Oliver’s impromptu wedding. I don’t mind it so much for its own sake, but because I just don’t want the Felicity-bashers to get any more ammo.
- Were Snart and the Ray the first male/male kiss we’ve seen in the Arrowverse? It feels like Curtis and Paul must have kissed at some point, but I can’t remember it actually happening.
- I love that we continue a trend from earlier this season on Legends of using the word “embiggens” when Ray’s tech makes something larger. We’re gonna make that word cromulent yet, people.
- I’m torn between wanting Mick and Killer Frost to get together and thinking that, given the mental issues Caitlin has surrounding her Killer Frost persona, it’d be way too rapey.
- Felicity rejecting Oliver’s proposal gave me Clue flashbacks: “Am I right in thinking there’s nobody else in this house?” “No.” “Then there is someone else in this house!” “No, sorry, I said no meaning yes.” “No meaning yes?”
- Killer Frost carrying Amaya and Zari on an ice bridge to the Nazi Waverider may have been my favorite action beat in the whole crossover, even if Amaya and Zari should each be able to fly under their own power.
- Oliver began the crossover fighting ninjas. No explanation, no connection to any ongoing story, there are just ninjas in Star City and the Green Arrow happens to be fighting them. We have achieved peak comic book, people.
- I’d be a very bad Arrowverse fan if I didn’t bring this up: combining the themes of all four shows together was frickin’ beautiful.
MVP of the Week: Jefferson Jackson. I’ve often thought of Franz Drameh as being the weak link in Legends of Tomorrow’s stable of actors, but after watching this crossover I have to take all that back. Jax and Stein form the emotional backbone of this story, and as good as Victor Garber is (because, c’mon, he’s Victor Garber), Franz Drameh steals the show portraying Jax in grief. First at Stein’s deathbed, then breaking the news to Clarissa and Lily, then later at the funeral, there’s not a single moment where he cries that I don’t start crying, too. All I have to say is: bravo.