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.
In this part, we look at the television series outside of the main Arrowverse that are being brought into the event.
The Flash (1990-1991)
The current Flash series is not the first time that the Scarlet Speedster appeared on a weekly live action TV series. In 1990, John Wesley Shipp played Barry Allen on CBS’s The Flash. Heavily influenced by the retro look of Tim Burton’s Batman released the year before, this Flash series saw Shipp’s Barry Allen protecting Central City from crooks, mobsters and the occasional supervillain with the help of STAR Labs’s Tina McGee (Amanda Pays) and his CCPD police scientist colleague Julio Mendez (Alex Desert). The show only lasted one season and was cancelled in part due to its cost, but it has remained a fan favorite for not treating its stories or premise as camp.
In many ways, it was the forerunner of all of the comic book adaptations that grace the small screen. So of course, casting Shipp first as Barry’s dad Henry Allen and then as Earth-Two’s speedster Jay Garrick for the current Flash series was sweetly poetic.
We first got the hint that maybe the 1990 Flash series existed on a world within the Arroverse’s multiverse in the second season Flash episode “Welcome To Earth-2.” In that episode as Barry travels between Earth-1 and Earth-2, he glimpses several other realities. One was of Supergirl’s Earth-38 home and another showed Shipp in his distinctive 1990 Flash costume.
But it wasn’t until last year’s Elseworlds event that we saw that Shipp’s inclusion was not just a fun Easter egg for fans. The event opened on Earth-90 with a number of heroes lying unconscious or dead across a blasted field of battle. It is the end result of the Monitor having used the Book of Destiny to test that world’s heroes to see if they will be strong enough to fight an upcoming crisis. Shipp’s Barry returns later to warn Earth-1’s Barry and Oliver before being banished through an interdimensional breach by the Monitor.
Based on the character who first appeared in writer Alan Moore’s acclaimed run of Swamp Thing in 1985, this series starred Welsh actor Matt Ryan as the British mage whose past hinted at a number of deals with various demons and devils that at some point will come back for their dues. The short-lived series ran for just thirteen episodes on NBC, but managed to introduce a number of elements and characters from DC Comics’ stable of supernatural superheroics. But while the show’s ratings showed improvement once delayed viewing through DVRs and online streaming were factored in, the network wasn’t happy with the Constantine‘s live numbers to renew the show for a second season in spring 2005.
Constantine is also the first series produced outside the auspices of the Arrowverse shows to be brought into that continuity. (Although the current Flash series had winked at the original Flash, the 1990 show didn’t officially become part of the CW multiverse until last year’s Elseworlds crossover.) Fans were vocal over the show’s cancellation, and the Arrow producers were quick to work out what was billed as a one-time-only agreement to get clearance for Ryan to reprise the character for an episode of Arrow the following November. The appearance was a hit, but it would take a little bit of time until Ryan would again be able to don Constantine’s beige trenchcoat.
Two years after he first appeared in the Arrowverse, Ryan’s Constantine made his return in a guest appearance on a small number of episodes of the third season on Legends Of Tomorrow. And those two episodes were just a prelude to the character joining the crew of the Waverider full time for the show’s fourth season and now upcoming fifth season.
“No flights, no tights” was the motto behind this series that looked at the life of Clark Kent before he donned the blue tights and red cape of the Man of Steel, Superman. And for the ten seasons that the series ran, they kept that promise right up until the series finale. Although the series started with Clark (Tom Welling) entering high school, it ran long enough to see him graduate high school, meet the future love of his life Lois Lane (Erica Durance) and get his job as a reporter for the Daily Planet.
After the first few seasons, Smallville began introducing a number of other superhero recurring characters and guest stars most notably adding Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow (Justin Hartley) to the show. Smallville also featured the first live action appearances of such heroes as Aquaman, Cyborg, Impulse, Zatana, Booster Gold and the Legion of Super-heroes. And all the while it became harder and harder for the producers to hold onto their “No flights, no tights” mantra for Clark.
The CW’s Crisis On Infinite Earths will see Welling and Durance returning. Set photos have shown the two on location at the farm that was used at the Kent homestead in Smallville. However, no photos have shown up of Welling in the Superman uniform, which has led to speculation that the two are only in the event for a short amount of time or that producers are playing coy and holding back pictures of Welling to preserve the surprise. Michael Rosenbaum, who played Lex Luthor on the show, and Alan Ritchson who appeared as Arthur Curry/Aquaman in a handful of episodes both state that they were approached to take part in Crisis but declined.
Birds Of Prey (2002)
With Smallville a surprise hit for the WB network, executives started looking for a companion series. Screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis pitched a take that they liked where in Gotham City had been deserted Batman years earlier and a trio of superheroines – Huntress, Oracle and a teenage Black Canary – have risen up in his steed.
Birds Of Prey drew its name from a then-current comic book series and was a remix of several elements of the Batman family mythos. Huntress (Ashley Scott) was actually Helena Kyle, the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle, aka Catwoman. She has some metahuman abilities thanks to her mother, and the financial wherewithal thanks to her father to finance her crusade to keep the city, now rechristianed as New Gotham, safe in the wake of her father’s absence. Helping her is Barbara Gordon (Dina Meyer), the former Batgirl, who now fights crime as the computer expert and information broker Oracle following her confinement to a wheelchair after she was shot by the Joker. (This was the first time elements of the classic The Killing Joke comics story turned up in live action.) Rounding out the team is Dinah Redmond (Rachel Skarsten), a teen runaway who comes to New Gotham and discovers that she is the daughter of the superhero Black Canary and has inherited some of her metahuman abilities. (Skarsten now stars on the CW’s Batwoman series as main villain Alice.)
Although the show debuted some of the strongest ratings that the WB had seen up to that time, the audience figures quickly plummeted as the show stumbled trying to find its creative footing. By the time it did start to hit its stride, it was too late for the show as the network had already given it the ax. Fortunately for those still watching, the cancellation order came soon enough that the producers were able to wrap up most of the series’ ongoing storylines, albeit in a somewhat rushed fashion in the last episode.
For Crisis On Infinite Earths, Scott will be returning as the Huntress, though how big or small her appearance will be has yet to be revealed.