Let’s Talk Flash -&- Arrowverse Classic: Invasion!

Arrowverse Review Index

The Flash continues its final story arc with Season 9, Episode 11: “A New World, Part Two”. Meanwhile, we take a look back at the Arrowverse’s first real stab at “event comic” storytelling, with the 2016 crossover Invasion!

I don’t have much to say about “A New World, Part Two”, except that, while I applaud the theory of spending an episode focused on everyone who isn’t Barry, in practice this episode only really works if you’re emotionally invested in Khione and Chillame. That’s … that’s a tough hill to climb.

The Flash – Season 3, Episode 8/Arrow – Season 5, Episode 8/Legends of Tomorrow – Season 2, Episode 7: “Invasion!” review

Invasion! is where the Arrowverse reached its final form. Before then, while the shows were based on DC Comics, they functioned by taking ideas from the comics and molding them to fit the conventions of TV storytelling. This crossover marks their first big stab at not only adapting plots and characters from the comics, but recreating the idiosyncratic ways that superhero comic books tell their stories.

A lot of that comes from the unprecedented scale of the crossover. In the past, there’d been crossovers between Arrow and its spinoff The Flash. There’d been one-off crossovers with otherwise unconnected shows Supergirl and Constantine. And when new spinoff Legends of Tomorrow launched, some Flash and Arrow characters stopped by to give the fledgling show a boost. All of that was typical stuff for a television franchise.

But with Invasion!, they took things to another level. Bringing together heroes from four different series, having them form a team to fight a giant-sized threat across a three-part story: it’s not like any sort of crossover American TV had done before. For the first time, the Arrowverse was doing something approaching the scope and feel of an “event comic”, the sort of big crossover that DC does almost every year, with virtually every series they publish being pulled into a single, epic story.

And in their desire to make such a big crossover, one that would bring Supergirl into the mix and have a threat worthy of such a superhero assembly, the Arrowverse changed its storytelling in another way: this is when the Arrowverse truly became, in TV Tropes terminology, a “Fantasy Kitchen Sink”.

When the franchise began with Arrow back in 2012, there were no superpowers or sci-fi gadgets or magic spells – the only fantastical element was one guy who was really good at archery and martial arts. As the show went on, it began to include some more implausible pieces of technology, and by Season 2 had introduced a super-soldier serum and an ancient order of assassins.

Then The Flash came along and had sci-fi tech be a lot more commonplace, and introduced dark matter as a catch-all source of superpowers. Meanwhile, Arrow delved more into League of Assassins lore and eventually brought straight up mysticism to the table. Within another year, The Flash was traveling to parallel universes, Arrow was fighting wizards and doing a Constantine crossover, and Legends of Tomorrow launched with a story about ancient immortals, reincarnating hawkpeople, and an inscrutable order of high-tech time travelers.

Things had gotten a lot more fanciful since the early days of Arrow. Still, when Invasion! has Earth be invaded by aliens, and brings Supergirl permanently into the Arrowverse fold, and puts all the weird stuff from all the series in one place: there’s a clear sense that a final Rubicon has been crossed.

So many characters are blown away that they’re actually fighting aliens, going on spaceships, and traveling through time. But, in the overarching theme of the crossover, they learn to get past how freaked out this stuff can make them, and adapt to the weirder, wilder world of their shared universe. After this, nothing could ever again be too fantastical for the Arrowverse.

(I think it’s no coincidence that, immediately after this crossover, the originally-quite-grounded Arrow felt comfortable bringing over Laurel’s evil, superpowered, parallel universe doppelganger from The Flash.)

This was truly a landmark event. But it wasn’t without its flaws.

There are a lot of points where the epic story it’s trying to tell is clearly a bit too much for the budget it has to work with. It also suffers from tying into Season 3 of The Flash, when the edict was that frickin’ everything had to be Barry’s fault because of Flashpoint – that this entire alien invasion ends up being, not about Earth having superhumans or time travelers generally, but about this one particular time travel mess-up Barry did … it goes past being stupid into outright comical. But still very stupid.

Then there’s the Arrow part of the crossover, which is simultaneously the middle-part of this three-part epic, but also the 100th episode of Arrow, and is trying to do a retrospective love letter to the show’s history. When watching all three parts at once, it’s jarring to have the story take such a big detour in the middle. However, if you adjust your expectations, and view the Flash and Legends episodes as the main story of the crossover, and the Arrow episode as (in comic book parlance) “a tie-in issue”, it works much better.

It’s not an ep meant to further the Invasion! story – if you cut the cliffhanger ending from Part 1, nothing that happens here would be necessary for the audience to know. Instead, it’s a side-story, showing how the Arrow cast are impacted by the events of Invasion!, and using the plot devices set up by the crossover to tell their own story.

Arrow on its own would never have introduced an alien holodeck as an excuse to put its heroes in a what-might-have-been fantasy. But because it’s part of a crossover, the ep is able to be a more fantastical outing than Arrow had ever produced before – and it uses that narrative freedom to delve into the characters, their history, what they want, and how they view themselves, in fresh new ways, giving us one of the show’s very finest episodes.

But, everything else aside, I’ve gotta give this crossover a passing grade just because it’s so delightful see these characters match up and bounce off each other. From Barry & Oliver’s combative/supportive friendship, to John Diggle having a mini-freak out when they first see the Waverider, to Cisco & Felicity forming Team Tech Support, to everyone having a big party at the end – they’re all so much fun, I can’t decide which is bes-

Oh, wait, Kara & Mick. Any scene with Kara & Mick is the best. The End.

Stray Observations:

  • Supergirl is obviously a little underserved in this crossover. Since there’s no Supergirl episode in the mix, they can’t get any of their supporting cast involved, or be impacted too much by stuff happening on another Earth. Add in the fact that nothing here can actually hurt Supergirl, and they’re the only one who’s totally unphased by fighting these space invaders, they end up functioning as a bemused observer of the other characters (a role they’d return to in even finer form for Elseworlds a couple years later).
  • I love that, while most of the Arrow crew freak out over aliens being part of their lives now, Thea is all on board for this new experience. (“Count me in!” “For what? I thought you retired?” “Yeah, but it’s … it’s aliens!”)
  • When you think about it, it’s kind of hilarious that two annual crossovers in a row had a character discover “Whoops! You fathered a child years and years ago and didn’t even know it!” Though, thankfully, Stein keeping Lily a secret lasted much less time and caused far less drama than Oliver doing the same for William.
  • I know I mentioned it in the main body of the review, but screw it: making all of this be about Flashpoint was so frickin’ stupid! It did at least get us to a point where Cisco’s no longer mad at Barry, which was a relief at the time, but it sucks that it took this to get us there.
  • What’s also frickin’ stupid, but in a much more forgivable way: Nate’s Steel helmet. While the body part of the Steel costume would see sporadic use over the years, the only time the comics-accurate-but-supremely-dopey big-fin helmet was seen again was when Nate and the other Legends needed trick-or-treat costumes.
  • Oliver sees the “Flash Missing – Vanishes in Crisis” headline: “Barry, this a weird looking newspaper.”

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite Arrowverse crossover?