In the week leading up to The CW’s annual DC superhero shows crossover event, Crisis On Infinite Earths, we take a multi-part look at the five-night event’s origins in one of DC Comics biggest stories ever, some of the unexpected superheroes who will be appearing and what we may expect from the event Crisis On Infinite Earths over their overall run.
It seems funny in retrospect that the show which launched with the producers wanting to do a superhero show that felt grounded in the real world is now the wellspring for the the current Arrowverse with all of its comic book trappings of superpowers, time travel, aliens and multiple Earths. But let’s face it, by the time it was revealed that Arrow‘s first season’s main villain’s big plan involved a machine that generates earthquakes, the show was leaning into its four-color funny book origins.
Just how hard it would do that over the years became apparent in Arrow‘s second season, when it introduced a young police forensic scientist visiting from Central City by the name of Barry Allen, whom comic book fans will recognize as the superhero speedster The Flash. But Barry’s trip to Starling City is before he met with the freak accident that gave him his powers
The Arrowverse shows first started hinting at Crisis On Infinite Earths all the way back in the first episode of The Flash. On a holographic newspaper displayed in Harrison Welles’ hidden Time Vault there is the headline “Flash Missing Vanishes In Crisis,” with a story written by Barry Allen’s wife, Iris West-Allan. A sidebar story carries the headline “Red Skies Vanish.” When taken together, it is a clear that the show was referencing Crisis was in Barry’s future, specifically April 2024. (One of the big indicators of something bad on the horizon in the original Crisis On Infinite Earths comic series was skies turning red.) The newspaper was a way to indicate when history might have been tampered with, changing headline or byline in response to some time travel shenanigans. Restoring the paper to its original state would show that the current problem had been solved – such as when the speedster villain Savitar was planning on killing Iris during the show’s third season – but it also indicated that Barry was still fated to go Missing In Action in the future. Barry’s disappearance has also become a motivating factor in last season’s story arc, with his and Iris’s future daughter Nora coming back in time to get to know the father she never had while growing up.
Fittingly, The Flash was also the series that introduced the idea of multiple Earths into the Arrowverse canon, as it was The Flash comic that did the same to DC Comics continuity in 1961 with the classic story “The Flash Of Two Worlds.” For the TV series, the idea of multiple Earths became a way to introduce numerous characters as well as link up with Supergirl, whose first season over on rival network CBS posed some hurdles to having some of the more casual crossover that The Flash and Arrow enjoyed.
This year’s just concluded Arrowverse crossover event laid down some major groundwork for next year’s Crisis event, but did it in such a way that at the time they felt more like fun shout outs to the original comics event rather than indicators that a Crisis adaptation was on its way.
First off is the appearance of the ominous red skies, but here it was just a side-effect of John Wesley Shipp’s Barry Allen/The Flash of Earth-90 trying to come to Earth-1 to warn our heroes about the Monitor and the reality altering powers of the Book of Destiny. And that warning itself was its own Crisis callback to something similar from the Crisis comic book event, where the speedster attempted to travel back in time to warn fellow heroes of the upcoming Crisis. (Zack Snyder also riff on this idea in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice as a lead-in to his Justice League movie, but he totally botched the execution.)
Barry and Kara’s plan to slow down time in Elseworlds Part Three feels like a two-for-one Easter Egg. Since it involved them using their powers to repeatedly circle the Earth at high speed, it recalls the climax of 1978 Superman: The Movie, in which Superman (Christopher Reeve) turned back time to save Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) from being buried alive during the earthquake set off by Lex Luthor’s ridiculous real estate plot involving nuclear warheads. (And that’s not the only Superman: The Movie reference that the Elseworlds crossover event threw out, but that’s a discussion for another time.) The danger to the plan is that Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) glimpsed Barry and Kara’s death in the Book of Destiny if they attempt to go through with this plan. In the Crisis comic, the deaths of Barry Allen and Kara Zor-El are two landmark story points in a series that featured a multitude of casualties in the superhero and supervillain community.
But the big, obvious one came in the crossover’s middle act, when Green Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and the Flash of Earth-90 confront the Monitor, the powerful being explains that “a Crisis is coming,” and that him giving Dr. Deegan the Book Of Destiny to begin with was to test the heroes of this Earth to see if they were strong enough to fight an unnamed, powerful foe that was on its way.
For our third and final “Countdown To CRISIS” installment we will be taking a look at some of the other non-Arrowverse shows that we already have been or that we know will be factoring into the big crossover event.