Gregory L. Reece: The CW’s big superhero crossover event is a groundbreaking television production. In “Invasion!”, the network’s DC Comics’ superhero dramas unite to tell one big story across all four series. Playing out across Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow, this multi-part tale of aliens vs superheroes is, I think, the first of its kind, a multi-series crossover event the likes of which television has never seen before. Putting aside for the moment questions of whether or not the story works (and I think that it does), it’s enough at first just to revel in the wonder of it all.
While the characters in these four dramas have interacted from time to time, and shared storylines for two-series story arcs, this is the first time that the whole of Greg Berlanti’s “Arrowverse” has come together across all four programs. I suspect that CW’s success will mean that shared universe storytelling across multiple installments and franchises, for which Marvel Studios’ films have set the standard for the big screen, will soon become common on television as well.
I should point out, however, that what seems new on television has been a staple of comic book storytelling for decades. Superhero teams and team-ups have been a part of the comic book scene since the early days of DC Comics in the ’40s. While the CW’s crossover is based on a mostly forgettable DC Comics crossover from 1989, it was that company’s mid-’80s mega event — Crisis on Infinite Earths — that set the contemporary standard. In that series, creators Marv Wolfman and George Perez tell a story that includes most of the major characters in the DC universe with lasting impact on the stories that came after it. Perhaps that series’ biggest innovation, however, is the way the story plays out not only in the special limited series, but in other DC books as well. In order to read the full story, readers have to not only read the mini-series but a host of other DC titles.
The result is a real sense that all of the characters are living in the same world, that the universe of DC Comics is a shared one. This sense, I should point out, was a part of Marvel Comics from its beginnings in the ’60s; an everyday affair, you might say. DC’s Crisis took that sense of shared reality and made an event out of it. That’s what the CW has produced with “Invasion!”, a genuine multi-part, cross-series, superhero versus alien television event.
Alyssa Rasmus: Supergirl started off the four-part crossover that I’ve been waiting for since San Diego Comic Con back in July. There’s something exciting about having all the heroes in one place. Yet, watching this episode of Supergirl wouldn’t make you believe it was attached to the largest-scale crossover in TV history. This marks the token Thanksgiving episode for the series. Briefly during dinner a shiny blue hole in the universe appears in Kara’s (Melissa Benoist) apartment only to disappear again. This seemingly doesn’t cause as much alarm as it probably should.
The core of the episode deals with a Kryptonian virus that is being used by Cadmus to kill all non-Kryptonian alien life (why this doesn’t include humans is never explained.) Kara soon discovers that her Kryptonian father, Zor-El (Robert Gant), is the creator of the dangerous, and now weaponized, virus.
This episode feels like a short story within the crossover narrative. Because Kara is from another planet, it’s not until the end of the episode when the mysterious hole in the universe is finally explained when Barry (Grant Gustin) and Cisco (Carlos Valdes) pop over for a visit and to enlist her on “Team Arrowverse”. Using so much of the opening story to focus on many Supergirl storylines and needing so much backstory to explain Kara’s relationship to her parents feels like a confusing entrance to the crossover if one were a newcomer to the Arrowverse or new to watching Supergirl.
The true launch of the “Invasion!” storyline starts on The Flash. It feels as though this episode of Supergirl should’ve occurred one week sooner, with Supergirl jumping over to Barry’s world at the start or middle of the episode rather than at the end. Following the strong Supergirl/Flash team-up last year, I was hoping to have more screen time with Barry interacting with Team Supergirl, especially since they and the DEO are the resident alien experts, but alas not.
Nonetheless, this was one of the strongest episodes of Supergirl this season. With Kara’s discovery about her father, her forgotten kiss with Mon-El (Chris Wood), and Alex (Chyler Leigh) coming out to her mom, this episode showed the most character development of the year. Nearly all characters are left in flux as the series takes its hiatus before its January return.
Greg: Okay, you’re right. This episode of Supergirl is only tangentially related to the crossover storyline. But, as you point out, it’s a very strong episode in a very strong season, a season that I think is better than the show’s freshman effort. I’m really enjoying the character of Mon-El as a potential love interest for Kara. As a matter of fact, I like him much better than James Olsen in that role. Jimmy’s character is a bit too perfect, and as much as I like Mehcad Brooks in the part, he isn’t given much to work with. Even his new storyline as the Guardian fails to inspire. I also like the new alien bar setting, and I hope that the tragedy that unfolds there in this episode doesn’t mean that it’s gone for good. Plus, we get to see David Harewood as the Martian Manhunter battle David Harewood as Cyborg Superman. That’s pretty good stuff.
You’re right that this story isn’t really a part of the crossover, except for a few brief moments at the end. The truth is that it’s pretty standard in comic book storytelling to paste the crossover title on the cover of a book that has the big storyline briefly shoe-horned in at the end. I’ve never minded this obvious ploy to sell more books because it adds to the sense of the shared universe that I was talking about earlier.
The Flash, though, brings everything together with a kick. The plot centers around an invasion from a race of aliens known as the Dominators (who look an awful lot like the characters designed by Tod McFarlane for the comic book crossover version of Invasion). The Dominators visited the earth once before, in the ’50s, and are back to continue the mischief that they started then. Their arrival prompts Barry (Grant Gustin) to gather together a super team to face them.
See, it’s working already. Superheroes vs aliens. That’s pretty sweet.
A lot of stuff happens that made me want to stand up and cheer. (Okay, maybe I did actually do that a time or two.) Team Flash, Team Arrow, and Team Legends train for their alien encounter by squaring off against Supergirl in a hangar that looks a lot like the Hall of Justice from the old Superfriends cartoon! Then, toward the end, there’s a deadly game of chase played by Flash and a mind-controlled Supergirl. I loved every minute of it.
That’s not to say that the episode is all Bam! Pow! Punch! however. The episode has at its heart the continuing storyline that we’ve been following all season in this series, namely the repercussions of Barry’s decision to alter the timeline to save his mother and his subsequent attempt to change it back, decisions with serious implications for his family and friends. Cisco already knows about how Barry’s action brought about the death of his brother, and in this episode everyone else learns what Barry has done.
Ollie (Stephen Amell) helps Barry begin to come to terms with what he has done in a moving scene that highlights how these two strong actors have worked together to build this ever expanding TV universe. Barry, ever optimistic and impetuous, is a good pairing with Ollie’s realism and thoughtfulness. Since The Flash‘s premiere, the Green Arrow has often been pushed out of the spotlight, as Arrow has struggled to develop a good balance between its own dark and gritty nature and the light, superhero fun that’s proven so popular on its sister show. This team-up shows why these characters, and these actors, are both needed in this universe.
Alyssa: I agree that The Flash and Arrow are strongest when they’re together. Amell and Gustin have great on-screen chemistry, and both have become high-level TV talent. The series are definitely different from one another, but these characters are a good mix, with Barry’s need to stay on the light side, while Oliver insists that he’s dark trying to earn a place amongst better people.
If a trip to another earth and an alien invasion was not enough, let’s add a dream sequence! At the tail end of The Flash, Oliver and company get abducted by the Dominators and taken captive. Oliver, Thea (Willa Holland), John (David Ramsey), Sarah (Caity Lotz), and Ray (Brandon Routh) are placed in pods and put into a shared dream life where it’s as though Oliver and Sarah never left on the Gambet, and The Arrow isn’t Oliver. The remainder of Team Arrow (plus Cisco, Barry, and Kara) try to find a way to hack the alien tech to find and bring back the gang.
This episode celebrates the 100th episode of Arrow, a hard to reach landmark in this day of TV. It also is a nice addition to the “Invasion!” storyline, as it allows long-time fans to appreciate the show that started it all. So, credit is due and given to the characters that helped build this strong series. While in the dream we see many deceased characters including Oliver and Thea’s parents and Laurel (Katie Cassidy). As the team starts to remember their real lives, they also have to say goodbye to these characters again. Oliver and Thea’s emotional separation from their parents was particularly bittersweet.
This approach was a clever way to build a momentous episode into the invasion storyline. Typically, 100th episodes result in a poorly explained reunion or a few “breaking the fourth wall” moments giving more fan service than providing a storyline to back up endless character appearances. With this episode framed around alien mind control for Oliver and the gang, it’s easy to make the celebratory episode feel unique, but also not distract from the crossover story.
Legends of Tomorrow
Greg: I agree with your assessment of this installment of Arrow and am particularly pleased that it manages to offer up a well done 100th episode tribute to the many memorable characters that have come and gone through the years while also fitting seamlessly into the larger “Invasion!” storyline. What’s really impressive about this is that it manages to continue the crossover narrative in a pretty sophisticated manner. I mean, it’s pretty obvious that the Dominators’ capture of Ollie and the others allows the dream sequences of this episode to play out as they do.
Above and beyond that, however, this episode explores one of the most important themes of the crossover, and of this season’s The Flash. Barry made the decision to go back in time and change the past in order to remake the world in a way that would save those he had lost. Ollie and company face the same scenario in this episode of Arrow: they can stay in the dream world and lead the lives that they’d always wanted, or they can accept reality and suffer the consequences. In another telling contrast between Ollie and Barry, the Green Arrow makes the tough choice to accept the world as it is.
Arrow ends with a rip-roaring return to the superhero versus aliens action that sets up a return to the main storyline in Legends of Tomorrow. This episode features a trip back to 1951 in an attempt to capture an alien during their earlier landing on Earth. Among the time travelers are the Legends’ newest team members, Steel (Nick Zano) and Vixen (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), who continue to be great new additions to the cast a(nd are a definite improvement over the Hawks’ never-ending melodrama). Cisco’s time travel allows him to understand how tempting such power can be, and leads him to make a similar mistake to the one’s that Barry has notoriously made.
Once back in the present, it’s revealed that the aliens are after Barry, whose meddling with time has attracted their attention. Barry, of course, is ready to surrender himself to save the world. The rest of the heroes have a different opinion about the matter. The result is some pretty cool action sequences that owe a lot of debt to recent superhero movies. Barry uses his speed powers in ways that mimic those of Quicksilver in the latest X-Men movies, while the superhero vs alien battle is the closest thing to the big superhero versus superhero airport scene from Captain America: Civil War that we’ve ever seen on the small screen.
The whole over-the-top extravaganza that we’re treated to in this episode is held together by the strong characters that Berlanti and company have kept at the heart of these shows. Once again, Ollie and Barry are drawn most clearly, and their inner struggles and interpersonal relationships are at the heart of this story. Because of this, the Legends of Tomorrow episode doesn’t feel as much like an episode of that series as it does the final installment in this crossover miniseries.
Alyssa, I have to say that the “Invasion!” story lived up to my expectations. These shows have already demonstrated that comic book-to-television storytelling works a lot better than anyone ever thought it could. This series takes that to the next level and shows that a central feature of contemporary comic books, the big event, multi-part crossover can be managed on the small screen just as well as on the big screen or in the pages of a comic magazine.
Alyssa: I do agree with you, Greg; this crossover turned out tremendously well and better than expected. These episodes are some of the best for all the series involved. With DC Comics’ films not going over so well with critics or fans in theaters, I’ve always had faith that the TV versions of these classic characters will be stronger and more compelling than their big screen counterparts.
This crossover didn’t prove me wrong. The main drama was based on a believable threat that was proper in scale to the team’s response. The characters of Oliver, Barry, and Kara all came to terms with something substantial, while other team members also carried strong, influential storylines. Looking into the remainder of the seasons for all shows, the “Invasion!” storyline will have an impact on future episodes. I like that this doesn’t feel like it happened in a bubble, where the next episodes feel as though this never happened. It did happen, it’s broadened the universe(s) in which these characters exist, and TV is all the better for it.