Comics On TV

What the 'Crisis on Infinite Earths' Means for the Arrowverse

DC’s brand is “crisis.” Here's what to look forward to in this year's Arrowverse crossover event.

by | September 16, 2019 | Comments

While The CW’s Arrowverse returns in a few weeks to set up the individual plots of each show, the week of October 6 will also likely feature more than one nod to the December crossover “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” The longest running individual shows — Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow — have been teasing the event since the conclusion of last winter’s “Elseworlds” crossover, and considering the story they are trying to adapt, spending a year teasing it is worthwhile. Crisis on Infinite Earths is a milestone in comics history and a beast of a story.

But if all you’ve heard about Crisis is its impressive scale, let’s take a look at the story and everything we know about The CW’s version of it to glean what it might look like and how it might change the Arrowverse come winter.


DC’s Brand Is “Crisis”

Arrow -- "Starling City" -- Image Number: AR801b_0176b.jpg -- Pictured: Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow -- Photo: Jack Rowand/The CW -- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
(Photo by Jack Rowand/The CW )

In 1956, DC Comics began introducing new versions of many of their classic characters from wartime comics like All-Flash Comics and All-American Comics. Many of the mystical characters, like the original version of Green Lantern, were revamped into science fiction characters, but even science-based characters like The Flash saw radical changes in costume and character. But in tipping a hat to the past, writer Robert Kanigher included an interesting quirk in Barry Allen’s first story: he took his superhero identity from a comic book featuring the original Flash.

Eventually, the two characters met (in The Flash #123), revealing the comics on Barry’s Earth-1 replicated the adventures of older Flash Jay Garrick, who happened to live on Earth-2. The story established the DC multiverse – a collection of parallel worlds where changes both big and small created new story potential – and it eventually led to big crossover in the pages of Justice League of America in which the heroes of Earth-1 and Earth-2 met to save the day.

The crossover’s name was “Crisis on Earths 1 and 2.”

It established a tradition for Justice League: Every so often, the League would face a Crisis, meeting the inhabitants of another Earth, and save the day. Besides showcasing other versions of characters or characters DC bought from other publishers, it proved to be a popular and fun gimmick.


Worlds Lived, Worlds Died

The Flash -- "Into The Void" -- Image Number: FLA601b_0066r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Candice Patton as Iris West - Allen, Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, Danielle Panabaker as Caitlin Snow, Hartley Sawyer as Dibney and Carlos Valdes as Cisco Ramon -- Photo: Jeff Weddell/The CW -- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved
(Photo by Jeff Weddell/The CW)

Flash forward a few decades and the collection of alternate worlds like Earth-3 (where the League is a criminal syndicate) and Earth-X (where World War II continues to rage into the 1980s) became too much for DC’s readers and editorial staff to keep straight. New Teen Titans writer Marv Wolfman, assigned to write to a definitive history of the DC Universe, campaigned to streamline the company’s shared reality into something much more manageable. It also gave the opportunity to tell a Ragnarok-style yarn. And in honor of those “Crisis” crossovers, it was eventually titled Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Timed with DC’s 50th anniversary, the story saw characters from various Earths pulled together by a being known as The Monitor to stop his twin, The Anti-Monitor, from consuming all of the Multiverse until only his antimatter universe remained. It is stuffed with every character DC owned at the time — and even a few sneaky one-panel cameos from some Marvel Comics characters like Peter Parker — and charted destruction on a universal scale. In its opening moments, the Earth-3 mentioned above is destroyed. The death toll included some marquee characters like Barry Allen and Supergirl, but they were far from the only people lost during the Crisis.

Roughly half-way through the series’ 12-issue run, only five universes remained. A plan is hatched to move them into a nether realm safe from the Anti-Monitor. These do not go exactly as planned, but the key editorial decision behind Crisis was accomplished: only one Earth remained to house all the DC Comics characters. Barry Allen was now directly inspired by Jay Garrick’s exploits as the Flash during World War II and an era of superheroes occurred decades before the arrival of Superman.

The streamlining didn’t work out quite the way Wolfman and the editorial staff hoped — particularly as some individual titles waited as long as 18 months after Crisis’s conclusion to revamp their characters — but the story itself is a spectacular example of the event-storylines superhero comics would trade in for decades to come.

Also, because nothing stays dead in superhero comics, the DC Multiverse eventually returned.


The Pre-Crisis Lead-up

CW_Monitor_First_Look.jpg -- Pictured: LaMonica Garrett as The Monitor -- Photo: Diyah Pera/The CW -- © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved
(Photo by Diyah Pera/The CW)

One thing we didn’t mention about Crisis was the set-up. A year before the series was due to launch, Wolfman introduced The Monitor in the pages of New Teen Titans #21 as a shadowy, ambiguous figure. The character began popping up in various titles — making his first full appearance in G.I. Combat #274 — before the first issue of Crisis revealed his real goal.

This is key because The CW pulled the same trick in The Flash’s 100th episode. In its stinger scene, we’re introduced to The Monitor (LaMonica Garrett, pictured above) as he pronounces judgment on Earth-90. And as he seemingly ends that universe, it’s Flash (John Wesley Shipp, reprising his role from the 1990s Flash TV Show) speeds away to another Earth. With its red skies and dead heroes strewn about, the stinger couldn’t be more Crisis. It also left viewers curious about The Monitor’s aims.

And like the lead-up to the comic book Crisis, we suspect The Monitor will continue to intrude on the various series throughout the Fall. As seen in Arrow’s seventh season finale, The Monitor will be directing Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) on a mission which will, presumably, see him hopping to different realities. At least, we’re pretty certain that’s why we’ll see Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson) and Tommy Merlyn (Colin O’Donnell) alive and well in the season 8 premiere.

Over on Flash, we expect he may taunt Barry (Grant Gustin) with the details of his upcoming disappearance. Slated for 2024 since the series began, the events of the program’s fifth season finale brought that ticking clock to 2019. Additionally, new villain Bloodwork’s (Sendhil Ramamurthy) story will lead into the Crisis itself.

Meanwhile, on Supergirl, The Monitor appeared to pull J’onn ‘Jonzz’s (David Harewood) brother Malefic out of time and space to cause trouble on Earth-38. And on Legends — well, he just watched the circus from afar. But that has to mean something, right?


There Will Be … A Crisis!

Supergirl -- Image Number: CW_Supergirl_S5_First_Look.jpg -- Pictured: Melissa Benoist as Kara/Supergirl -- Photo: Katie Yu/The CW -- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
(Photo by Katie Yu/The CW)

The Monitor’s distance from Legends may reflect the unusual broadcast pattern of “Crisis.” The story begins with the Dec. 8 episode of Supergirl, continuing into a special Monday night airing of Batwoman and a regularly scheduled Tuesday night episode of The Flash on Dec. 10 before pausing for the winter hiatus. The story then concludes on Tuesday, Jan. 14 with Arrow and a “special episode” of Legends. The show is literally as far as it can be from interacting with him and if the television “Crisis” follows the comic book plot, he may not be around to cause them much trouble.

Other things we expect to see during “Crisis” include a trippy origin for the multiverse, plenty of in-jokes as worlds disappear, the shocking removal of The Monitor by the most unlikely character, a few Earths merging into one, and maybe even a heroic Luthor showing up to save the day.

Oh, and many, many deaths.

Like the source material, the body count during “Crisis” must be high. Will we lose King Shark or Gorilla Grodd? Will Ricardo Diaz (Kirk Acevedo) appear from another Earth just to bite it again? Will former CCPD Captain Singh (Patrick Sabongui) make one last brave stand? It is hard to say. Recurring characters are definitively vulnerable, but a Crisis requires some key character sacrificing their lives to save the universe. Take you bets on whole looks like dead meat now.

One echo of Crisis we don’t expect to see is the death of Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist). For one thing, Oliver seemingly spared her that fate when he bargained with The Monitor for her life during “Elseworlds.” Also, her show isn’t ending and Benoist contract is not expiring. But Arrow itself is ending and one actor’s time on Supergirl is almost up. This makes Oliver and James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) more likely candidates to die during some noble sacrifice.

And Crisis’s other famous death? We imagine the Earth-90 Flash will take Barry’s place in whatever destiny The Monitor foresaw for him. And considering the heartstrings Shipp can pull whenever he has to tell Gustin’s Barry goodbye, we expect this scene will rank high on the emotional scale. Also, as much as we love Carlos Valdes and Cisco Ramon, “Crisis” would be a good place to make a last stand.


One Panel Cameos

SUPERMAN RETURNS, Brandon Routh, 2006, (c) Warner Bros. / Courtesy: Everett Collection
(Photo by Warner Bros. / Courtesy: Everett Collection)

And like the Crisis comic, the crossover event will feature tons of special guests and cameos from the rich history of DC Comics television. As mentioned, Shipp will return for what we assume will be his last appearance as the 1990s Flash. Batman ’66’s Burt Ward will appear in an as-yet unannounced role while Batman: The Animated Series’s Kevin Conroy will finally make his on-screen debut as Bruce Wayne … or, at least, a Bruce Wayne from the future.

Meanwhile, Legends star Brandon Routh (pictured above) will appear as another Earth’s Superman (a callback to the time the actor starred as the character in 2006’s Superman Returns), while also appearing as his Legends character Ray Palmer. Tyler Hoechlin will also return as the Earth-38 Superman of Supergirl and, presumably, at least one or two more Supermen from other worlds. Elizabeth Tulloch and Jon Cryer will also return as the Earth-38 Lois Lane and Lex Luthor.

Also playing a double role is The Flash’s Tom Cavanagh. Besides portraying a new version of Harrison Wells, he will be taking on the role of Pariah, a key Crisis character. It may be one of the most inspired cast choices yet announced because of course Pariah — who sets the Anti-Monitor’s wave of destruction in motion — is another Harrison Wells. At least, we’re assuming Pariah is another Wells. It feels right for the Arrowverse.

Black Lightning will not be an official part of the crossover, but as confirmed in August, the characters will be making their Arrowverse debut during the episodes.

Tying it all together will be Garrett, who will reprise his “Elseworlds” role as The Monitor and play the Anti-Monitor himself.


The Post-Crisis Arrowverse

Black Lightning -- Image BLK2_8x12_300dpi.jpg -- Cress Williams as Black Lightning (The CW -- © 2018 The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved.)
(Photo by The CW)

Back in the comics, the DC Universe following Crisis eventually took on the term “Post-Crisis” to differentiate itself from the days of the multiverse. In that new reality, the full extent of the Crisis was forgotten. The various worlds never existed and the survivors’ memories realigned to the new status quo. Only the criminal Psycho-Pirate recalled the Pre-Crisis multiverse and his memories lingered on as a potential threat.

The Arrowverse after its “Crisis” may run along the same lines. If Earth-1 and Earth-38 merge, it is entirely possible no one will remember a time when National City, Supergirl, and the rest were absent from Earth-1. This may be the real reason The Flash will feature a new big bad in the spring — initial villain Bloodwork may have been erased from existence.

For the moment, though, we’re going to assume Black Lighting will continue on in its own separate universe even if we’d love to see Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams, pictured above) and the rest of his family interact with Team Flash or Supergirl’s Brainiac 5 (Jesse Rath). Sadly the realities of production — Black Lighting shoots in Atlanta while the rest of the shows shoot in Vancouver — make it more difficult for the characters to strike up friendships.

But a potential Earth-1/Earth-38 merger makes the friendship between Batwoman (Ruby Rose) and Kara much more likely. Instead of hopping across a universe, Gotham City would be a short flight away. And much like the streamlining of the DC Universe in the 1980s made relationships across the different generations of heroes possible, we want all six shows to interact as freely as they can.

As for Batwoman itself, it is hard to say how the Crisis will leave a lasting impact. The series will only be eight episodes old by the time it is over and not really established. Perhaps exposing Kate to the strange cosmic workings of the universe will leave some impression on her. Ultimately, though, it will have to get back to telling its story.

Which is the case of all of the shows, of course. Flash will get a new villain, Arrow will conclude its run with two episodes following “Crisis,” Supergirl will power on, and Legends will continue to be Legends. But “Crisis” will leave its mark for anyone willing to look closer and wonder if the old status quo can ever be revived. And like Psycho-Pirate, we will remember when worlds lived, worlds died, and everything was changed.


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