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Will Crisis on Infinite Earths Have Enough Fan-Service or Too Much?

The Arrowverse franchise has a lot at stake in this year's crossover event.
  • Brandon Routh as Superman in Crisis on Infinite Earths. (The CW)
    Brandon Routh as Superman in Crisis on Infinite Earths. (The CW)

    Previous crossovers in the CW's Arrowverse franchise have not only put the Earth in peril, but multiple versions of the Earth across alternate dimensions. As hinted in the title, this year's big event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, threatens the destruction of the entire multiverse unless the heroes from all of the network's DC Comics superhero shows can band together to save the day. From all the advance promotion, it would appear that their chief weapons in doing so will be nostalgia and fan-service.

    When Arrow first premiered in 2012, few could have suspected that a modest superhero show featuring a second-string DC Comics character deemed not worthy enough for a feature film would spawn a huge interconnected franchise now encompassing six different series. After eight seasons, Arrow will finally end its run on January 28, 2020. Although not yet scheduled for expiration, the next three oldest shows (The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow) are also starting to feel a little long in the tooth, delivering diminishing returns in recent seasons. That puts a lot of pressure on Crisis on Infinite Earths to remind fans what they like about all of these shows.

    Last year's Elseworlds crossover only spanned three of the franchise's series. Apparently hoping to appeal to the broadest audience of DC fans, Crisis will stretch over five of them while featuring characters from all six. Moreover, the event will also incorporate numerous cameos from other famous DC properties of years past.

    What Episodes Are Part of the Crossover?

    The seeds for Crisis on Infinite Earths were sown throughout multiple episodes of Arrow and The Flash this season. The cosmic being known as The Monitor (LaMonica Garrett), who was introduced during Elseworlds last year, returned to inform both Oliver Queen and Barry Allen that they must sacrifice themselves to save the multiverse. This past week's episodes of both those shows, as well as Batwoman and Supergirl, all ended with a common teaser scene leading into the beginning of the crossover.

    The CW's advertising has stressed that Crisis is a "5-Episode Crossover," yet hasn't been entirely forthcoming that those five episodes will be broken into two halves with a cliffhanger and a month-long break between them. The first three parts are clustered together from December 8-10, while the last two won't wrap up the storyline until January 14. Set your DVRs accordingly.

    Part 1: Supergirl, Dec. 8
    Part 2: Batwoman, Dec. 9
    Part 3: The Flash, Dec. 10
    Part 4: Arrow, Jan. 14
    Part 5: Legends of Tomorrow, Jan. 14

    Additionally, the Black Lightning episode on Dec. 9 will set that character up to appear in Crisis, but the episode itself is not officially part of the crossover.

    Who's In It?

    As you'd imagine from the episode list, Supergirl, Batwoman, The Flash, Green Arrow, and the Legends crew, as well as many of their sidekicks and friends, will all participate in the Crisis event. The addition of Black Lightning marks the first time that character, who has until now existed in his own separate universe, will officially be introduced to the multiverse and interact with characters from the other shows.

    The Arrowverse shows have long indulged in fan-service references to (and cameos from) past DC television and movies. Crisis on Infinite Earths promises an abundance of such appearances. The excuse of a multiverse filled with infinite alternate dimensions affords the franchise's writers free rein to be as creative with this as they want. At the risk of spoiling some of the fun in store, here's a quick rundown of the most notable participants that have been publicly announced:

    • Brandon Routh, who currently plays Ray Palmer on Legends of Tomorrow, will have dual roles as both that character and as the Clark Kent/Superman he played in 2006's Superman Returns.
    • Routh will be just one of three Clark Kents in the crossover, along with Supergirl regular Tyler Hoechlin and Smallville star Tom Welling.
    • Also returning from Smallville is Erica Durance as Lois Lane. As if all this weren't confusing enough, Durance has a dual role as Supergirl's Kryptonian mother, Alura, who of course will show up as well.
    • The now-defunct WB network's Birds of Prey only lasted one season from 2002-2003, but Ashley Scott will reprise her role as Helena Kyle, a.k.a. Huntress.
    • Kevin Conroy has voiced Bruce Wayne in countless animated and video game projects, perhaps most famously Batman: The Animated Series. He'll finally get to play the character in live action here.
    • It's very sad that Adam West from the 1960s Batman series passed away a couple years ago, because he almost certainly would have been up for something like this. Burt Ward is still with us, fortunately, and will suit up once again as an older Robin.
    • John Wesley Shipp, who played The Flash in the 1990 TV adaptation, has a recurring role as Barry Allen's father, Henry, in the current Flash series. He also sometimes plays another Flash from Earth-3 named Jay Garrick, or an older Barry Allen from Earth-90 who seems to literally be the 1990 TV version. (The show's continuity has gotten awfully complicated.) He's seen wearing that 1990s Flash costume again in the trailers for Crisis.
    • Given that Matt Ryan's character John Constantine has been a regular on Legends of Tomorrow for a couple seasons, he probably doesn't count as a cameo. However, it's worth noting that he originated the role on NBC's short-lived Constantine.
    • Stargirl won't premiere on DC Universe until next year, but Brec Bassinger will make her debut as the character as part of this crossover.

    Strangely not mentioned in any of the Crisis promotional materials are Helen Slater or Dean Cain, who have played Kara's Earth parents on Supergirl for several seasons. Getting them to slip back into the blue tights from 1984's Supergirl movie and the 1990s Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, respectively, seems like it ought to have been a gimme. Perhaps they'll show up as a surprise.

    Jon Cryer will continue his performance as Lex Luthor from this season of Supergirl in the crossover, but wouldn't it be great to also acknowledge that he played Lex's annoying nephew, Lenny Luthor, in the notorious Superman IV: The Quest for Peace?

    How Far Is Too Far?

    Fan-service like this can be fun, but indulging in too much invites the risk of franchise fatigue. We live in a time when long-running pop culture institutions like Star Wars, Star Trek, and James Bond have succumbed to an almost toxic level of nostalgia, overburdening recent installments with so many fan-service callbacks that fans eventually got sick of it and revolted.

    The Arrowverse is probably not at that point yet. Nevertheless, the franchise is on rather shaky footing this year in a lot of respects. Arrow is well past its prime and its upcoming ending is arguably long overdue. The Flash and Supergirl are in the middle of particularly weak seasons. As the new kid on the block, Batwoman hasn't hit its stride yet. Although the new season of Legends of Tomorrow won't premiere until January, even at its best that show walks a very fine line between good, dumb fun and just plain dumb. At the moment, Black Lightning is arguably the strongest of the six Arrowverse series, but until now has had hardly anything to do with the rest of the Arrowverse.

    The annual Arrowverse crossovers are key opportunities to get fans of any individual show interested in the others. Crisis on Infinite Earths has a lot of work to do in that regard. The event will not only be the last big hurrah for the Green Arrow, but may also serve as a critical decision point for many fans to judge whether or not they should stick with any and/or all of the franchises much longer. Fortunately, the episodes will have three different Supermen and a lot of other heroes to help bear that weight.

    Will you be watching Crisis on Infinite Earths? We've set up several threads in our forums for live discussion as the crossover unspools. Join us there! 

    Josh Zyber has written about TV, movies, and home theater for the past two decades. Most recently, he spent more than nine years managing a daily blog at High-Def Digest.

    TOPICS: The Flash, The CW, Arrow, Batman, Batman: The Animated Series, Batwoman, Black Lightning, Constantine, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Smallville, Stargirl, Supergirl, Brandon Routh, Burt Ward, Jon Cryer, Kevin Conroy, Tom Welling, Tyler Hoechlin