CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths is a miracle of television engineering

Crisis on Infinite Earths
Supergirl -- "Crisis on Infinite Earths: Part One" -- Image Number: SPG509c_0115r.jpg -- Pictured (L-R): Grant Gustin as The Flash, Melissa Benoist as Kara/Supergirl, Tyler Hoechlin as Clark Kent/Superman, Ruby Rose as Kate Kane/Batwoman and Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer/Atom -- Photo: Dean Buscher/The CW -- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

As I dig around through forums and social media to see what people are saying about Crisis on Infinite Earths, I see all these posts about how it sucks, it’s terrible, it’s trash. But the truth is that Crisis is its own small miracle of writing, scheduling, licensing, acting, and special effects. This isn’t a review of the mini-series, but rather a look at what it has managed to accomplish. Spoilers follow for Crisis on Infinite Earths hours 1-3.

Oops, too many worlds

Crisis on Infinite Earths

CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths comes from the same place as the one from the comics. That is to say, it’s a solution for a problem. I talked a bit about this in my reactions (Hour 1, Hour 2, Hour 3) to the individual episodes, but it’s worth laying out here. Back in the 1980s, DC Comics had a bunch of different characters in different universes. Comic-book crossovers were a normal thing, and making characters interact was getting harder and harder due to the complexities of the fiction. Crisis was an attempt to, in short, flatten the DC universe into just that – a universe instead of a multi-verse.

That’s exactly the problem that the Arrowverse has. Just within the core Arrowverse shows, there are three separate universes: Black Lightning in one; Supergirl and the in-development Superman & Lois in another, and Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Batwoman in the primary one. The simple act of getting these characters in the same room requires a plot device and explanation. It’s a hurdle that gets in the way of both storytelling and pulling in new audiences.

It makes sense, then, that the solution would work the same way for the Arrowverse that it would for DC Universe. But the thing we need to remember is that getting a live-action Crisis working is a lot more difficult than getting it working in comics.

Calling all Superheroes

Looking back through the first three episodes, we can see actors ranging all the way back to a show that was on the air sixty-three years ago. We have cameos from the 1966 TV version and 1989 movie version of Batman. We have characters/actors from Titans, Smallville, Batman: The Animated Series, Lucifer and even the 2003 Birds of Prey WB show. Even details of Brandon Routh’s Superman character pinpoint him as the Kryptonian he played in Superman Returns.

Crisis on Infinite Earths - Hour 2

The thing is, these are all people. They’re people who have moved on with their lives and have other shows, other movies. Tom Welling’s Clark Kent on Smallville was a career-defining character for him, and he’s been trying to distance himself ever since. Brandon Routh’s Superman, meanwhile, is considered by many to have been underserved by his movie, the sequel to which was canceled before it even got off the ground (pun definitely intended). Producer Marc Guggenheim talked about getting in contact with some of the performers for these shows and some of these performances come down to someone who knows a thing happening to know someone else who knows an actor; that’s basically how Kevin Conroy ended up portraying Bruce Wayne on the show by his own account.

ABC, NBC, CBS, CW, Fox, WB, Netflix, and DC Universe

It also shows an incredible willingness by Warner Bros. to play ball with their characters. Just a few years ago, this is the company that quashed a Suicide Squad storyline on Arrow because they had a Suicide Squad movie on tap for the near future. Now, we have two ex-Supermen, an active Superman, a new Robin and an old one, and two characters who began live-action life on another network (John Constantine and Lucifer Morningstar) appearing on the same network, in the same story, even if only for a few seconds at a time.

Just the fact that the team behind Crisis got all these actors on-board and that Warner Bros. let Guggenheim and his team mess with the characters is itself a small miracle that any comic book fan should be grateful for. It’s such a weird, ambitious thing to make happen.

Authentic Superman

But it’s also the fact that we have six separate shows, each of which has its own writers and its own writers’ room, and each show retained some control over its characters. And yet, the characters behave consistently and the show has already managed to pull out some stand-out performances. Just days after word came out that Warner Bros. doesn’t know how to make Superman relevant for modern audiences, Routh’s performance on Crisis showed what a silly notion that is.

Lois asked him why he added black to his ‘S’ insignia. Routh’s Superman replied that “even in the darkest times, hope cuts through, hope is what lifts us from the darkness.” That’s exactly the kind of corny, inspirational line that made Superman an American icon.

Superior Lex Luthor

Then you have Lex Luthor, played by Jon Cryer. Many fans clutched their pearls when the CW announced the casting, the same way fans did with Michael Keaton’s Batman, Ben Affleck’s Batman, and Robert Pattinson’s Batman. Cryer was both the dope from Two and a Half Men AND Lenny Luthor from Superman IV: Quest For Peace, the worst Superman movie.

Cryer’s Luthor is, in my opinion, the best live-action Luthor. For what it’s worth, Kevin Smith says the same. This Luthor isn’t a clown, but a megalomaniac genius. He acts just like you’d imagine Lex Luthor would in so many situations. On Supergirl Season 4, Lex waited in the background until he was ready to make a triumphant return; he carefully engineered a world that hates aliens to make himself the hero. In Crisis, he first takes the Book of Destiny and tries to kill all of the Supermen in the multiverse despite the fact that the multiverse is dying. And if you dangled infinite power in front of Lex, that’s about what he’d do. Then, later, he edits the Book of Destiny to make himself one of the heroes that saves the universe. Again, that’s the kind of grandiose behavior we expect from the character.

The Flash, Season 6, Episode 9 - Crisis on Infinite Earths

There are other touching interactions, too, like those between the 1990s Flash and Grant Gustin’s Flash, between Lex Luthor and Smallville‘s Clark Kent, between Black Lightning and Barry Allen. The chemistry between Supergirl and Batwoman has been great to watch, too.

This shouldn’t work – but it does.

The Flash, Season 6, Episode 9 - Crisis on Infinite Earths

There are flawed moments, like the sudden appearance of Jim Corrigan in Purgatory, suddenly dumping a mission on the dead Oliver Queen, or Barry’s single-minded focus on reviving Oliver when the literal multi-verse is dying, but they’re in the minority.

I realize that if you already dislike the Arrowverse, Crisis probably isn’t going to change your mind. But what Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim have accomplished is something special. The same way that Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame were an unprecedented achievement in movies, Crisis on Infinite Earths brings together almost a decade of storytelling and 60 years of DC live-action, animated, and comic-book stories into a five-hour-long love letter to superhero fans. It’s truly something amazing.