SPOILER WARNING: This article reveals key plot points from Sunday night’s episode of Supergirl.
Saving the entire Earth from impending destruction used to be a pretty big deal in the superhero business but times have changed. After a decade of globe-threatening screen menaces (Thanos, Loki, Beowulf, Apocalypse, Dark Phoenix, Kaecilius, Voldemort, etc) it’s not as easy as it used to be to stir the souls of film and TV fans who have watched megalomaniacal threats come and go faster than Carrie Bradshaw cycled through boyfriends on Sex and the City. (And yes, Thanos would be Mr Big.)
Which brings us to the CW and “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” the all-hands-on-deck crossover event that began tonight with Supergirl and, as its title hints, raises the stakes by posing a threat to the entire multiverse (!) and all the alternate versions of earth that hang in the celestial ether like blue-green ornaments on a cosmic Christmas tree.
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The CW’s so-called Arrowverse has been keeping a crossover tradition every fall but the scale and impact of the new one sets it apart. The first hint of that came when the name of the event was dramatically revealed back in January 2019 (!) at the end of the Elseworlds crossover that linked-up episodes of Supergirl, Arrow and The Flash and introduced Batwoman (Ruby Rose), who has her own series now.
This new, next-level crossover will span five DC Comics-based franchises on the CW: Batwoman on Monday 8 pm ET/PT 9;
The Flash 8 pm ET/PT on Tuesday; Arrow 8 pm ET/PT on January 14; and DC’S Legends of Tomorrow 9 pm ET/PT on January 14.
A bit of background on “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” a title that stirs up major nostalgia among Reagan Era readers of DC Comics in the same way the phrase “Who shot J.R.?” opens up a 1980s time-capsule of primetime memories for TV fans of a certain age. The 12-issue limited edition series was published in 1985-1986 and featured the creative team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez (the tandem that also created the most popular Teen Titans line-up) along with, literally, hundreds of DC Comics characters from the venerable publisher’s archives.
The goal of the series was to clear away the dense thicket of DC mythology that had, for decades, grown by the month in haphazard fashion. The cosmic story of Crisis on Infinite Earths wiped out alternate realities, magical dimensions, and barely remembered planets and it did so to erase huge chunks of material deemed too convoluted, redundant, contradictory, or corny to keep.
Marc Guggenheim, the showrunner for the crossover (yes, it’s that big of a project) says the event serves different purposes for the CW (one of them: “It seemed like a cool thing to do”) but the upcoming tie-in comic book from DC Comics hints that the “Crisis” storyline may end up with all of the CW characters inhabiting one shared Earth, creating a denser narrative neighborhood and increasing crossover opportunities.
It would also eliminate some of the Freaky Friday moments that make Crisis On Infinite Earths especially intriguing to longtime fans but might leave new viewers with narrative vertigo. There are three versions of Clark Kent, for instance, two Lois Lanes, two Supermans, and…two Brandon Rouths? The actor plays two heroes in the saga: Ray Palmer, aka the Atom, which is his role on Legends of Tomorrow, and a glum, widowed Clark Kent/Superman, which puts him back in the iconic red cape that he last wore as the title hero in Superman Returns (2006).
The fascination of having variant Supermans flying around comes at a potential price — it’s hard to hold on to authentic sense of peril and to maintain viewer faith in narrative consequence when a story has a few extra versions of the most iconic character in superhero history bumping into each other. To the credit of Guggenheim and his writing collaborators, they found a gut-punch way to prove that life-and-death still matter in a multiverse of doppelgängers in the opening installment of the event by killing off one of the title characters of a CW show on Sunday night’s Supergirl. In the first episode! Will that character stay dead? Despite the imperatives an upcoming season, action figure sales, and the endless upsides of easy-reboot IP? Of course. And if you believe that I have some swampland in Florida on Earth 822 to sell you.
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