A review of the CW’s annual crossover between Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow coming up just as soon as my secret identity is my first name with a “the” in front of it…
When all the Berlanti-verse shows teamed up last year, it was both a fun event and one that left plenty of room for improvement.
“Crisis On Earth-X,” on the other hand, was everything a fan could have hoped for, whether they watch all four shows, only one or two, or are just more general DC/superhero fans tuning in out of curiosity(*). It corrected nearly every flaw of “Invasion!” and was packed with memorable moments, big and small.
(*) Peak TV, plus the increasing familiarity of these shows and their styles, has pushed all of them down to intermittent viewing at best for me these days. (Surprisingly, Legends is the one I catch most often, because it’s the most light-hearted and because it’s much less serialized than the others, and thus easier to dip into and out of.) As a comics reader, I mostly hate company-wide crossovers these days because they interfere with ongoing stories in individual series I enjoy, but with the TV versions, it’s the opposite: an easy excuse for me to come back and sample them all at the same time. (For that matter, last year’s crossover is the only reason I gave Legends another chance. So what I’m saying is, crossovers work!)
Why was it better? Let’s go with four reasons to represent the four shows involved:
1. It went full crossover.
“Invasion!” took an awkward hybrid approach to the crossover. The Supergirl episode had nothing to do with it until the last few minutes, Arrow tried celebrating its 100th episode in mid-crossover, and only Legends did an episode that was full-throatedly about the Dominator invasion.
This one, on the other hand, was so committed to the concept that each episode didn’t even feature the opening title sequence of the respective series, but a brand-new “Crisis On Earth-X” banner created for the event. And the hours that followed that credits sequence proved that wasn’t window dressing. There were personal subplots from each series — Professor Stein’s desire to quit the Legends and return to his family, Alex trying to get over her break-up with Maggie, Barry and Iris’s wedding, and Felicity’s reluctance to get engaged to Oliver again — but they were spread out across the whole event, rather than compartmentalized within the chapter from their respective shows, and they were also balanced throughout with the threat from Earth-X.
And speaking of which…
2. It had much better villains.
With all due respect to the many Legion of Super-Heroes comics I’ve read featuring them over the years (plus the original Invasion! miniseries), the Dominators are pretty lame live-action villains, lacking enough personality or individuality to matter as anything more than a vague but relentless threat to humanity.
A parallel Earth where the Nazis won World War II(*), on the other hand, feels both sadly timely given how public and unapologetic white supremacy has become in America over the last few years, and much more personal to all the heroes involved, whether they had evil doppelgangers, were Jewish, queer, non-white, or simply horrified by a world in which these monstrous racial ideals were dominant. In any age, watching superheroes beat up Nazis (going all the way back to the cover of the first Captain America comic) feels satisfying; in this one, it was particularly cathartic. (Felicity to the bad Oliver: “My grandparents didn’t survive the Holocaust so the world could be ruled by Nazis.”)
(*) Earth-X was introduced in a Justice League comic — as a way to incorporate a bunch of old Quality Comics characters that DC had acquired the rights to — that came out the month I was born.
Going with Nazi counterparts of several heroes — plus Reverse-Flash plucked from the timestream and looking like Harrison Wells again(*) — also put a face on our crossover bad guys that the Dominators never had. Legends season two already used up the Legion of Doom idea that would have been the other easy way to make the villains matter, but this worked very effectively, and let Melissa Benoist in particular unleash a side of herself (in a costume that, other than the SS logo on the chestplate, is a big improvement over the traditional outfit with the skirt that our Kara wears into battle) that Supergirl has no room for.
(*) One of the event’s few out-and-out groaners was Barry simply letting Thawne run away at the end. There’s a wide range of options in between “I won’t kill anyone, not even the superpowered serial killer who murdered my mother, and whom I’ve barely defeated in the past” and “just go away and I’ll deal with you later, after you’ve had a chance to hurt many more people.”
Ideally, we would have gotten more Earth-X versions of the combined good guys, if only so the final battle wasn’t mostly just the heroes mowing down wave after wave of anonymous Nazis. But we also got an amusingly good spin on “Leo” Snart, and this was also a much more crowded event than last year, thanks to the increased size of the casts of both Legends and Arrow. Having evil Barry and Kara (plus different versions of Snart, Win, and Quentin Lance) got the point across well enough while still leaving plenty of time to service most of the heroes. Which leads us to…