We’re three episodes into the CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event, sixth of the now annual efforts to get interest from the audience of Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Batwoman, or Black Lightning in more than just one of their several adaptions of DC Comics. The Crisis crossover has so far aired during Supergirl, Batwoman, and The Flash, and is now streaming on the CW app, continuing January 14 with episodes on Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. If you’re able to not be critical of all its flaws, you may be able to sit back and have fun with all the cameos and guest stars. But the clunky writing and even clunkier dialogue may also leave you thinking about what could be–what could be done with the DC characters if only someone would put forth some extra effort. Nobody expects TV series to produce the results you get with a movie budget, yet so far CW’s series have been more faithful to the spirit of the comic book source material than DC at the theaters (this year’s movie Shazam! as the welcome exception). With all the money going into so many related series, why not cut a few of the series and combine efforts to focus more on compelling combined team scripts? The actors are great, a cut above the material they’re working from, and it’s difficult to watch the crossover event and not wish executive producer Marc Guggenheim & Co. would give the actors something more.
Sure, it’s tough to cram so many characters into so few minutes. But you also don’t want your fans making excuses for you. We like fan service, a term host Kevin Smith uses a few times in his after show to describe this crossover, but how about that extra push to boost the quality? That said, there is something for every taste in the Crisis crossover, and if you’re willing to sit back and let it all come at you, you’re going to find some great efforts to pull at your nostalgia strings. Everyone involved, especially as they discuss their efforts in the after show, seem to love the material. The overall big wins include John Wesley Shipp, who still holds the title for all-time best superhero adaptation, returning again for some scenes as the Flash from his 1990-91 series, Brandon Routh playing both his regular series character The Atom and donning the cape again he wore as the big-screen Superman in Superman Returns, and Matt Ryan, who couldn’t be more dead-on from the comics in his performance, reprising his role as John Constantine (more Justice League Dark, please!).
In part, the CW is stuck because of deals and studios, which (sort of) explains no Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, (yet two Supermans?) or big-screen Batman actor–although voice actor Kevin Conroy has a legion of fans who are probably more than happy to see him take a turn as a Kingdom Come-inspired Bruce Wayne. Having a voice actor who doesn’t look like any comic version of Batman is just something you have to go with here–maybe close your eyes and imagine him in the animated Batman series.
Other high points include the cameos (sadly almost all are nearly the blink-and-you’ll miss variety): Burt Ward as Dick Grayson from the original Batman TV series, Robert Wuhl as reporter Alexander Knox from the 1989 Batman movie, Ashley Scott as the Huntress from the Birds of Prey series, Tom Ellis from the DC tie-in show Lucifer, Johnathon Schaech as Jonah Hex from Legends of Tomorrow, even a random Wil Wheaton sighting, and a few others. And probably the most faithful to its prior, live-action incarnation, Erica Durance and Tom Welling deliver a clever return from their days in Smallville.
More things the CW series have been doing right: It’s great to see the CW pull in Oliver’s daughter Mia (Katherine McNamara) in at least some form recognizable from the comics, and Elizabeth Tulloch practically upstages everyone in each scene, joining Teri Hatcher and Noel Neill in the “best Lois Lane” club.
As for the downside, the biggest thematic problem is everyone emoting, all brought on so quickly it feels forced. Another issue is the Crisis story suffers from too many self-references by the heroes as heroes. It feels like the word “hero” or “superhero” or variants on the words are heard in every other conversation. The late Stan Lee (of the other big publisher) once had a reality series where he selected a real-life superhero as winner, and the first person he booted was a guy who kept referring to himself as a superhero. Do real heroes call themselves heroes? Probably not. And as for overused words, after the first several times you hear it the word Anti-Monitor sure sounds a lot like Auntie Monitor.
Other bits are puzzling, likely just spillovers from the individual series: Why does White Canary have such a big role in Crisis (she’s not in the original story), and with all the parallel Earths why not one Laurel Lance appearance? Why does Querl Dox shout all his lines? Do Martians look human now? How many times are we going to kill off Oliver Queen and need a Lazarus Pit? Batwoman lets her guard down once in a while in the comics, so why not here? Did the movie Superman really need to explain to Lois why his costume is different? Wouldn’t it be funny if they had the wrong Dr. Choi? Finally, can’t someone at Warner Brothers figure out a way to introduce a television show without disclosing all the surprise guest actors in the opening credits?
CW still has two more episodes in the Crisis. The biggest question: Are we going to see Superman holding Supergirl’s body as seen in that iconic George Perez cover, or since Supergirl did that as a trick three years ago do they think they don’t need to now? How about a return of Robbie Amell as Firestorm? We should find out January 14, 2020, when the Crisis on Infinite Earths event returns on the CW network. Kevin Smith previewed a new series that the next episodes will also lead into, Stargirl. Here’s the brief first trailer:
Meanwhile, if you haven’t already, pick up the original graphic novel of Crisis on Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, available at Elite Comics, your local comic book store, or here at Amazon.