When comic book writer Marv Wolfman set out to write the 1985 comic book series Crisis on Infinite Earths, he had a key goal in mind: cleaning up DC Comics’ convoluted cosmology of parallel worlds, imaginary stories, and impenetrable lore. The company was, as Arrow executive producer Marc Guggenheim recently put it, “flirting with bankruptcy” and there was a general sense its multiverse was a barrier to attracting new readers. So the story’s aim was to fold down DC’s conflicting ideas into something more accessible. But in talking with Wolfman, Guggenheim learned he also wanted to “make the DC Universe a bit more sophisticated” and modernize the characters for what is now known as the Bronze Age of comics, he told members of the media, including Rotten Tomatoes, during a press preview this week.
But for the Arrowverse’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” five-episode crossover event, starting this Sunday on Supergirl, the goal was something different.
“We’ve never felt [our] multiverse is too complex,” Guggenheim explained.
Like many DC Comics crossovers, the opportunity to “fix” aspects of the individual shows will be available to their respective creative teams should they deem it necessary, of course. In terms of story, though, “Crisis” homes in on the big emotions of the original comic book storyline — a tale which is both the end of one era and the beginning of another.
“We wanted the characters to go through something incredibly significant,” DC’s Legends of Tomorrow co-showrunner Keto Shimizu said. “That’s what grounds this and makes this Crisis important on a deep ‘heart’ level. It brings [the characters on each show] closer together [emotionally].”
The event is unprecedented: five television shows joining forces to tell a mammoth tale of dying worlds, glimpsed possibilities, and that bonding of lead characters.
“Those are my favorite scenes,” Guggenheim noted. “It’s so, so resonant.”
In fact, getting characters into places where they can speak plainly about their feelings may be the most important part of “Crisis.”
But the producer assured us, “We are going to throw in as much visual effects and bombast as we can. There will be plenty of that.”
As Shimizu noted, one does not merely jump into telling one of DC Comics’ great cataclysmic stories.
“We’ve been doing it in steps,” she said. “First just being Arrow and Flash and getting bigger and bigger each time we do it.”
Last year’s “Elseworlds” may have been a slightly smaller-scale production, but each crossover helped the group learn the key logistics to tell this story across five casts and production teams.
“We knew how to prepare ourselves and our support staffs, more importantly, were ready,” Shimizu said.
“It’s three-dimensional chess with Rubik’s Cubes,” Guggenheim joked, adding that key scheduling problems are often solved with simple things like paper and a whiteboard.
Assembling the shows for “Crisis” is just one aspect of the crossover Guggenheim, Shimizu, Supergirl co-showrunner Robert Rovner, Arrow executive producer Beth Schwartz, and Batwoman showrunner Caroline Dries shared with journalists during the press preview. And as we learned, keeping universes spinning in an orrery of worlds is harder than writing things on a whiteboard. Here are some insights the producers shared about “Crisis.”
The first three episodes of “Crisis” will air without the traditional “Previously, on …” recaps the shows typically utilize. Guggenheim credited the network with the idea.
“They were of the opinion that you don’t need any sort of set-up,” he said.
Watchers of the show and last year’s “Elseworlds” crossover know who the Monitor (LaMonica Garrett) is, that Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) made a bargain with him and that a crisis is coming. And even for those who may be coming back for the crossover will see that information come across “in the body of the story.” Also, those precious seconds are necessary for actual scenes of the crisis.
“We feel you can dive right in,” Guggenheim said.
But there will be a recap at the start of episode 4, which airs after the winter hiatus on January 14, and if you need a little bit of set up, here it goes:
The worlds of the Arrowverse and countless more are threatened by a wave of antimatter. A multiversal being known as the Monitor has assembled heroes like the Oliver Queen, the Flash (Grant Gustin), Batwoman (Ruby Rose), and Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) to halt the wave. But with universes dying every second, it may more of a crisis than the heroes can handle.
For Batwoman, “Crisis” represents its first real foray into the cosmic craziness of the crossovers. Last year, Kate Kane was merely a guest character in “Elseworlds,” with her series not yet on The CW schedule. But she is a major part of the story this time around and that presented a new set of challenges for Dries.
“Our characters aren’t yet exposed to this notion of multiple universes and superheroes with powers,” she said. “It’s tricky.”
Kate’s introduction to the larger multiverse will be built on the friendship suggested between her and Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) in “Elseworlds.” Their interactions — and a few other meetings across the story — will have an impact on Kate after the crisis concludes.
Ever since Barry Allen made his way into the Multiverse in the second season of The Flash, the CW’s multiverse has used the time honored system of designating each variant Earth with a number. In comics, the practice began in Flash #123, which introduced Barry’s Earth as “Earth-1” and the Earth of the Golden Age heroes as “Earth-2.” But in “Crisis,” many more worlds beyond the established Earth-38 of Supergirl and Earth-1 of the other four shows will be glimpsed.
As Guggenheim revealed, each Earth designation will reflect some aspect of that world familiar to fans.
“For the most part, we followed that convention,” he explained. “Burt Ward is on Earth-66 [for example].”
Some of the other designations may be more obscure, but they will offer fans another way to engage with the story. And other times, Guggenheim said “we just picked a number.”
The original Crisis comic featured special appearances by characters long-retired in 1985 — the then-inactive Doom Patrol specifically mention they reformed to battle the crisis-level threat — and the “Crisis” crossover event honors this with appearances by actors of DC TV past like the aforementioned Ward, Smallville’s Tom Welling, and Batman: The Animated Series’ Kevin Conroy, who was a particular thrill for Shimizu.
“He’s my favorite Batman,” she said. “It was pretty awesome — just hearing that voice and getting to see him play it was amazing to watch.”
Dries, who relished the chance to introduce a Bruce Wayne (Conroy) into the Arrowverse, added: “He looks the part, he feels the part. He has that gravitas … It’s something we’ve been wanting to do and to find a way to do. It was such a treat.”
Returning for “Crisis” felt like a homecoming for Welling, according to Dries.
“He joked when we were [on the Smallville farm set], ‘That cow recognized me.’ It all felt very 10 years ago and Smallville,” she said. “It felt natural.”
Rovner said he had a lot of pride in putting together an early scene in Argo City with guest actors Tyler Hoechlin, Elizabeth Tulloch, and Erica Durance. Though all three have made a number of Supergirl appearances over the years, that particular scene stood out.
And while some guest characters have larger roles to play in the story, others will pay homage to the “Red Skies” moments from the original comics.
“We considered just about everything we could consider,” Guggenheim said of potential characters appearing throughout “Crisis,” including the star of 2006 feature film Superman Returns, Brandon Routh (pictured), who currently plays Legends of Tomorrow character Ray Palmer.
While not addressed by Guggenheim or the showrunners, Black Lighting will tie into “Crisis.” As regular viewers saw in last week’s preview, Jennifer Pierce (China Anne McClain) will feel its effects as three different versions of her try to occupy the same space at the same time.
The story mirrors the way DC Comics used the original Crisis miniseries across its whole line in 1985. These tie-in issues of Green Lantern, Blue Devil, and other titles focused in on their characters or supporting cast (like GL‘s Guy Gardner) dealing with the cataclysmic events of the main story. Some of these would spin out of the main title or dive back in. Of course, it is still unclear if Monday’s episode of Black Lighting will end with main character Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) finding himself snatched away by Barry or Harbinger (Audrey Marie Anderson), but he will be part of “Crisis.”
“There’s a great scene between Grant Gustin and Cress Williams,” Guggenheim said.
Further tying “Crisis” to its comic-book roots is the two-issue Crisis on Infinite Earths 100 Page Giant from DC Comics. Featuring tales written by Wolfman and Guggenheim that slot between episodes of “Crisis,” it allowed Guggenheim the chance to realize a few ideas he could not fit into the crossover and a chance to work with Wolfman.
“Every Lex Luthor you could imagine and every Superman you could imagine” face off against one another in a concept just a little bit beyond the abilities of television, Guggenheim explained of one of the stories. “There’s a lot of things we can’t do because of budget or scheduling. This is a nice avenue to get in ideas and characters we couldn’t fit into live action.”
Wolfman also co-wrote the Arrow episode of “Crisis” with Guggenheim. Bringing his voice into the story will surely thrill fans who have been re-reading the original series since its 1986 conclusion.
“I grew up with all the man’s comics,” Guggenheim said. Though Guggenheim had some trepidation working with his idol, he was clearly happy to work with him on the comic book stories and the Arrow episode. “He’s such a warm collaborative gentlemen. It felt like working with a friend.”
Of course, Crisis was such a reality-changing event for DC Comics that the term was subsequently reserved for only the biggest storylines thereafter. The producers teased the effect of the television “Crisis” will definitely reverberate back into the individual shows, particularly Legends.
“It sets up our season, both [the] mythology and Sara Lance’s [Caity Lotz] trajectory” Shimizu said.
Guggenheim teased Barry’s action in the Crisis will have major “ramifications” for The Flash when it returns in January while Schwartz joked, “it changes literally everything on Arrow.” That show will broadcast its series finale on January 28. Rovner also teased major implications for Supergirl following the storyline.
And as for next year’s crossover? All the showrunners joked they are taking “several steps back” from a Crisis-level event next year, so don’t expect an adaptation of Zero Hour or The Kingdom for quite a while.
SUPERGIRL – Sunday, December 8, 2019 (8-9 p.m. ET/PT)
BATWOMAN – Monday, December 9, 2019 (8-9 p.m. ET/PT)
THE FLASH – Tuesday, December 10, 2019 (8-9 p.m. ET/PT)
ARROW – Tuesday, January 14, 2020 (8-9 p.m. ET/PT)
DC’S LEGENDS OF TOMORROW – Tuesday, January 14, 2020 (9-10 p.m. ET/PT)