There are three types of people in this weird world of ours: people who are losing their minds with excitement for the Arrowverse’s imminent Crisis on Infinite Earths; people who are interested in DC’s epic, live-action superhero crossover event but don’t know enough about all the comics and continuity to understand or enjoy it; and the people who don’t give a damn. But all of those people should be interested—very interested—and you will be too after you read this guide, which will also help get you up to super-speed on the greatest comic book TV event ever. (First group, you may go about your business.)
Let’s begin simply. The Crisis on Infinite Earths TV special is named for and modeled after the DC comics of the same name from Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, first published in 1985. The original Crisis is considered among the most important comics of all time, not only for bringing the many, messy continuities of the DC Comics universe together to face a single threat, but it was the very first time a major comic universe completely rebooted itself—once an unthinkable prospect.
The TV adaptation of Crisis doesn’t have those stakes, given that the “Arrowverse” only came into being when Arrow premiered in 2012 and thus hasn’t had the time to amass those huge continuity errors that need to be fixed. What’s the same is that this Crisis will also bring the heroes from a great many DC television series together (more on that in a bit) in hopes of defeating the Anti-Monitor, a threat who...well, let me put it this way: The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Thanos wants to murder half of the living beings in the universe. The Anti-Monitor wants to murder the universe itself—and all the other universes, too.
The Anti-Monitor’s main foe is the Monitor, who would like to save as much of existence as possible. The two god-like beings have been fighting each other over existence itself, and in both the comics and the shows, the Anti-Monitor is winning, destroying reality universe by universe (though we’ve yet to see him show up). Thus the Monitor searches throughout the remaining multiverses to find a group of heroes he feels are strong enough to stop his counterpart. To find them he decides on tests of strength, and the tests given by the Arrowverse’s Monitor (Lamonica Garrett, who will also play the Anti-Monitor just in a weirder outfit) are hard.
In the opening scene of last year’s Elseworlds crossover, he kills the vast majority of the superheroes of Earth-90 for failing. His test of Earth-1's heroes nearly kills the Flash (Grant Gustin) and Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) until the Green Arrow (Stephen Amell) convinces the Monitor to spare them as they’re the multiverse’s best hope against the coming Crisis.
As the Arrowverse’s founding hero, Oliver Queen is naturally playing the largest role in preparing for the impending apocalypse (basically the entirety of Arrow season eight), performing mysterious missions for the Monitor that somehow have also helped teach Oliver acceptance. Of the other two members of the Arrowverse’s trinity, the Monitor only dropped by The Flash to confirm the hero’s sacrifice is the only way the multiverse can survive, which he then left Barry to deal with it on his own. Meanwhile, Supergirl’s gotten off scot-free, although her co-hero Martian Manhunter (David Harewood) had his evil-ish brother Malefic (played by none other than Phil LaMarr) released from the Phantom Zone in hopes of forcing them to reconcile to lose some emotional baggage, which actually worked.
Other DC/CW heroes big enough to headline their own shows—Black Lightning (Cress Williams), Batwoman (Ruby Rose), and the Legends of Tomorrow—have avoided the Monitor’s machinations entirely, although they’ll all join in on Crisis. While most of the various shows’ main casts will be appearing as well, we also know Earth-38’s Superman (Tyler Hoechlin), occasional Legends of Tomorrow guest-hero Jonah Hex (Jonathon Schaech), and Earth-90’s Flash (John Wesley Shipp, essentially playing the same character he did in the ‘90s Flash TV series), the sole survivor of his world, will all be part of the proceedings. The Monitor also saved Supergirl’s Lex Luthor (wonderfully played by Superman IV’s Jon Cryer) from death, saying his genius would be necessary to stop the Crisis. And boy, did he love hearing that.
But the two most important characters might be the ones we’ve only just met. The dimension-hopping Nash Wells (Tom Cavanagh, playing yet another version of Wells) came to The Flash earlier this year, hoping to hunt down and kill the Monitor for destroying his universe. Most of the Arrowverse’s shows this week ended with the same post-credits scene, in which Nash finds and opens what he believes to be the Monitor’s hiding place, only to get sucked into it by golden light by a being who commanded him to kneel before it.
Now, the Monitor’s an asshole who requires people to follow his commands, unquestioningly but he’s never been shown asking for genuflection, which might mean that Nash has somehow stumbled into something connected to the Anti-Monitor…which is supported by the fact that Tom Cavanagh will be playing Pariah in Crisis, a character who accidentally woke the Anti-Monitor up from his billions-of-years-long slumber in the comics. Clearly, the Arrowverse’s Anti-Monitor has been awake for a while, but chances are whatever Wells did, it wasn’t good.
The other character you need to know is Harbinger—aka Lyla Michaels (Audrey Marie Anderson), wife of John Diggle (David Ramsey), and a character who’s been part of the Arrowverse since Arrow season one. Lyla had been secretly helping the Monitor since season eight began, manipulating Oliver and his team into assembling the components for a mysterious device, which, surprisingly, was for Lyla herself. When she touched it, she immediately took off through a portal; when she came back, she had a snazzy new outfit and a new name.
Harbinger played a major role in the comics as the Monitor’s agent, helping her godlike boss search for heroes who could fight the Crisis, testing those heroes by handing out those aforementioned superweapons to villains, and other tasks, aided by her power to create doppelgängers of herself. Whether the new Harbinger of the Arrowverse has that power, or if Lyla has been permanently erased, or if she’s secretly been working for the Monitor from the beginning, we don’t know. But we do know this: Since the very first season of Arrow, ARGUS agent Lyla Michaels’ code name has always been Harbinger.
It’s very cool how the seeds of Crisis were planted long ago in 2012, years before it was officially mentioned in The Flash series premiere, thanks to a hologram of a newspaper from the future, whose headline reads “Flash Missing: Vanishes in Crisis.” But in a way, the TV version of Crisis on Infinite Earths has been in the works for the last 25 years or so—or maybe even longer.
If you’re even an occasional io9 reader, chances are you know that the coolest part of the DC/CW’s Crisis event is tying a truly wild amount of DC superheroes shows into its already robust multiverse. The Arrowverse had already made the 2014 Constantine series and the 1990s Flash series canon in Arrow and Elseworlds, respectively, but Crisis is going to get bigger…much bigger.
The beloved ‘00s series Smallville will join the collective, thanks to appearances by Tom Welling’s Clark Kent and Erica Durance’s Lois Lane. Then there’s the less-beloved 2002 Birds of Prey TV show, via Ashley Scott’s Huntress. The fact that Brandon Routh gets to return to his 2006 Superman Returns movie roots by wearing a more somber outfit inspired by the Kingdom Come comics—is absolutely bananas. Especially since Routh will also be pulling double-duty as Ray Palmer (the Atom), the Arrowverse character he’s portrayed for the last five years.
There’s still more! The most satisfying guest appearance is Kevin Conroy—the definitive voice of Batman for a generation through the beloved animated series of the ‘90s—making his live-action debut as an older Bruce Wayne, a clear nod to his performance as the same in the future-set Batman Beyond animated series but with a costume also harkening back to Kingdom Come. Even Burt Ward, the Robin from the original 1966 Batman TV series, will be in it somehow, although whether he’s playing an elderly version of his character from his 50-year-old show or someone else is unknown. (He will definitely say “Holy [something]!” at some point, though. I’d stake my life on it.)
Then there’s the debut of new folks to the DC/CW-verse, like Stargirl (Brec Bissinger), who’s getting a solo show next year. Stephen Lobo will play Jim Corrigan, the man who eventually becomes the spirit of vengeance known as the Spectre. Then there’s Osric Chau as Ryan Choi, who’s the successor to Ray Palmer as the Atom in the comics; since Brandon Routh announced he was leaving Legends of Tomorrow, this can be no coincidence. And there may be more tie-ins that we don’t know if yet (or at least haven’t been officially confirmed).
You can’t have an event as epic as Crisis on Infinite Earths without some characters dying, and the fact that Routh is departing Legends makes him a candidate. Additionally, Supergirl is one of the comics’ most famous victims, which doesn’t bode well for her. But for now, there are only two characters we know won’t survive the Crisis, and that’s Oliver Queen and Barry Allen...probably.
With apologies to Supergirl, Barry is the hero who saves what remains of the universe by making the ultimate sacrifice in the original Crisis comics, and he’s set up to do the same here. Besides the Monitor’s pronouncement, when Barry’s daughter from the future dropped by last season, she confirmed her dad had never been seen again after the apocalypse. When Barry tried to run into the future to see what was coming in the Crisis, he saw billions of futures, and the only one where the Earth was saved was through his death. However, it’s worth remembering that 1) the Monitor has absolutely no compunction about manipulating reality to get superheroes to achieve his ends, and 2) there will be 11 more episodes of this season of The Flash after Crisis ends. It seems highly unlikely they would be entirely Barry-free.
On the other hand, the Green Arrow is almost certainly a goner. The season seven finale of Arrow revealed the price of that deal to save Kara and Barry: Oliver had to leave his family to help the Monitor prepare for the Crisis, during which he will die. Since the Monitor forced Oliver to accept his imminent death during one of those aforementioned missions—yet also kindly allowed him to spend some quality time with his grown kids from the future, who otherwise he’d never see—well, it doesn’t look good. The fact that this is the final season of Arrow is likely the nail in Oliver’s coffin, even though there’s one more episode after Crisis (not counting a pilot for the Green Arrow and the Canaries spinoff). His death in Crisis makes total sense as the end of the character’s journey…but that’s still a pretty big bummer for the hero who started everything that made Crisis possible.
Let’s get real for a second: While the CW is likely giving these series some extra dough to make Crisis on Infinite Earths as epic as possible, we’re still talking about the CW here. These DC shows usually run about $3 million per episode, so even if the network gave the five-part miniseries a hefty $25 million total, that’s less than 15 percent of Avengers: Endgame’s reported budget. Also, if previous Arrowverse miniseries are any indication, most of the shows’ cast will primarily stick to their fifth of the event. All these wonderful connections to past series likely will probably end up being closer to Easter eggs.
But still, we’re getting a live-action adaptation of Crisis on Infinite Earths! Even in this golden age of superhero entertainment, that’s incredible. And while it’s going to wildly diverge from the original, it remains true to the comics’ greatest achievement—combining separate universes of storytelling into one incredible saga. Crisis on Infinite Earths is going back through the long history of DC’s superheroes shows, and bringing them together, even though none of them were intended for this. No one working on them could have ever imagined this—and none of us watching them, either.
Crisis on Infinite Earths might not end up being a triumph of television, but it’s always going to be a miracle that it happened at all. Luckily, we’re on the Earth that gets to watch it.
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