It feels like you wait ages for a major live action superhero event, and then two come along in close succession.
Marvel stole a march on this with Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, giving the sort of epic spectacle which seemed inevitable after carefully laying down all the groundwork for a decade. It brought us what comics fans could only have ever dreamt of, delivering the team-up of heroes who’d only ever appeared together on the printed, four-colour page. As far as comic book adaptations were concerned, this was a gamechanger.
However, when it came to the actual comics themselves, Marvel were a little late to the party in terms of having a huge, epoch making crossover. Between 1985 and 1986, DC Comics ran a 12-issue limited series – Crisis On Infinite Earths – which sought to try and simplify and streamline around 50 years of continuity, in order to try and make it more accessible to new and casual readers, rather than just the long-term devotees.
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To try and tackle the inconsistencies which arise with any long-running series, DC came up with the notion of using a ‘Multiverse’, explaining away any glitches or changes over time by suggesting they took place in a different reality; it led to the idea of a ‘Golden Age’ of DC heroes, from 1938 to 1956, and a ‘Silver Age’, when the continuity of DC Comics were rebooted, retelling origin stories, as well as bringing in new versions of characters like the Flash.
The ‘Golden Age’ characters were said to live on Earth-Two, whereas the ‘Silver Age’ heroes originated from Earth-One. Between 1963 and 1985, DC started to use the word ‘Crisis’ to describe any stories where heroes from different Earths would team up, culminating in Crisis On Infinite Earths, in which all the different Earths were either destroyed or had the few surviving realities all merged into one, seemingly ending the notion of the DC Multiverse once and for all. It wasn’t to last, however, but that’s another story.
Marvel Comics also started to play with the Multiverse, as when they created the Ultimate series in 2000, giving rise to reimagined and alternative versions of their characters, in an attempt to stem the flow of dwindling sales. The idea has started to cross over into other media, such as Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse; it was also touched on when Spider-Man: Far From Home built on the groundwork laid out in Doctor Strange, which first posited the Multiverse in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness set to take it even further in 2021.
However, given the long-standing rivalry between Marvel and DC, it’s only natural the latter would want to up the ante, which is precisely what they’ve done with their TV offerings. Unlike Marvel’s small screen output like Agents of SHIELD, Agent Carter or Inhumans, there was never an attempt on DC’s part to try and tie its shows into the same continuity that they were putting in their films, in what was dubbed the DC Extended Universe, which encompassed such movies as Man Of Steel, Wonder Woman and Justice League.
Instead, The CW Network forged its own continuity, in the form of what’s become known as the ‘Arrowverse’. From a stand-alone TV adaptation of the Green Arrow comic, in the shape of Arrow, it’s grown over the last eight years to include other series, including The Flash and Legends Of Tomorrow. Things got a little bit more complicated when it came to adding Supergirl into the mix, as although it was from the same creative team, the show was commissioned by a different network, CBS.
As a result, it was necessary to set Supergirl in a different continuity, which was fixed by declaring that it was set on another Earth, separate from the Arrowverse. In hindsight, this actually worked out to its benefit, as when Supergirl moved onto the CW for its second season, it opened up the possibility of doing a crossover with the Arrowverse shows, which meant the Multiverse could come into play, finding a way to hop across dimensions to have Kara Zor-El and the heroes of Earth-38 join forces with the Arrowverse team of Earth-1.
After doing three prior Multiverse-spanning crossovers – Invasion!, Crisis On Earth-X and Elseworlds (which was used to set up another spin-off show, Batwoman), it was almost inevitable that they’d have to do Crisis On Infinite Earths. The big win in doing this is that it trumps Marvel and its MCU, by doing something they’ve not yet managed: essentially saying that all of the previous iterations of the characters on TV and in movies actually co-exist, rather than trying to say they were superseded and you should simply disregard everything that went before.
In layman’s terms, it would be like Avengers: Endgame having featured Nicholas Hammond’s 1970s Spider-Man and Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk – versions which simply shouldn’t sit alongside those as seen in the MCU. And this is where Crisis On Infinite Earths really scores, as everything from the past is pretty much on the table, giving the Arrowverse creative team a huge smörgåsbord from which to choose, when it comes to picking just who to use from the various different Earths in the DC Multiverse.
And, boy, do they know how to tantalise us from the off, and set out their stall early on: in the opening pre-credits montage from Hour One, we get to revisit Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman (on, fittingly, Earth-89), with a flash of the Batsignal, a blast of Danny Elfman’s theme, and a cameo from Robert Wuhl as Alexander Knox; the Titans on Earth-9; a quick glimpse of Earth-X; and – most unexpectedly of all – an appearance by Dick Grayson (Burt Ward) on Earth-66, complete with an exclamation of “Holy crimson skies of death!” as calamity strikes the Multiverse.
Anything which manages to make the brutal, bloody Robin seen in Titans sit alongside the one from the campy 1960s Batman series, and say that they’re both equally valid, is worthy of a round of applause. In fact, despite the apparent restriction on using Batman in any substantive way on TV currently, they even find a way to serve fans of Batman: The Animated Series, by bringing in actor Kevin Conroy to play a live-action Bruce Wayne on another Earth, this one being a crippled, broken and homicidal take on him.
But it seems they weren’t content to leave it at that, so as well as bringing into the fray Black Lightning and Lucifer, we also get apparently official continuations of the tales of two different Men of Steel. In one, we get to find out what happened to Clark Kent (Tom Welling) and Lois Lane (Erica Durance) after the end of Smallville; it’s wonderful to see a much-loved TV series get a final outing, and one which was wholly approved of by Welling, as he wouldn’t have chosen to return if he wasn’t happy with the direction of his Clark’s life for his return appearance here.
In another, we see a continuation of the story of the movie Superman in the form of Brandon Routh, star of the much-maligned Superman Returns. It’s always felt like Routh’s Superman didn’t get a fair crack of the whip, especially as it was intended to be the same version played by Christopher Reeve, so it’s genuinely heartening to see Routh finally get a valedictory turn as Kal-El. There’s also a Proustian rush by them using the familiar John Williams theme as a form of musical shorthand, leaving us in no doubt as to just which version of Superman this is meant to be.
Perhaps one of the largest surprises is having Ezra Miller’s movie Flash getting to appear alongside his small screen counterpart, Grant Gustin. It’s a bold move, and one which sets up the way forward for the DC Extended Universe, by saying that it’s okay we’re getting Robert Pattinson playing a different movie Batman, as that will all be taking place on a separate Earth from the ‘Snyderverse’, which will continue to still exist within its own continuity. Batfleck will still be Batfleck.
Crisis On Infinite Earths also validates the Arrowverse, by making sure it’s not just seen as being the poor relation or an inferior take on all the big screen DC adventures. In fact, it actually makes the Arrowverse even more important than them, as it’s the heroes from those Earths who are chosen to save the whole Multiverse; by doing so, it actually tells the audience that it’s thanks to these specific versions of the characters saving the day that all the other iterations continue to exist, which is not only extremely ballsy, but also a welcome payoff for fans of the Arrowverse after eight years.
It’s also a way of pausing and resetting things, by melding the Earths of the Arrowverse into a combined world, Earth-Prime, meaning that all the characters of Arrow, The Flash, Legends Of Tomorrow, Supergirl and Batwoman inhabit the same universe, meaning any future crossovers will now be much easier. Yes, it could be argued Crisis On Infinite Earths may be near impenetrable for someone who hasn’t followed the Arrowverse from the beginning; however, you wouldn’t pick Avengers: Endgame as a ‘jumping-on point’ for anyone to start with for watching the MCU.
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The frustrating thing for viewers in the UK is that Crisis On Infinite Earths has actually been rendered somewhat more difficult to follow than really needed to be the case. As Sky – home of the Arrowverse over here – didn’t get the rights to Batwoman, thanks to E4 seeking a similar replacement for Gotham, it means that we won’t get to see Hour Two (legitimately, anyway) until some time in May. Although Sky and E4 weren’t obliged to coordinate their schedules, it’s still immensely disappointing that it didn’t happen, and shows a dearth of imagination, as well as a lack of care for their audiences.
In all, Crisis On Infinite Earths is a worthy attempt to try and deliver a Hollywood blockbuster-style experience on a TV budget, and while the cracks do show on occasion, you shouldn’t fault them for the level of ambition that they’ve shown here. It definitely manages to get one up on Marvel, and while this doesn’t put DC in the lead over the MCU, it does show that they’re hot on their heels, and gives some much-needed legitimacy to DC’s efforts to try and rival Marvel on the big screen, by effectively trouncing them on the small screen.