Remember those times when Tyler Hoechlin appeared as Superman on Supergirl and then met the entire cadre of heroes during the Crisis on Infinite Earths? Well, apparently that was a different Superman, and a different Lois, than the ones we’re seeing on the CW’s excellent Superman & Lois every week. This revelation comes courtesy showrunner Todd Helbing, who also produced The Flash until 2019, in an interview with TVLine.
A Can of Worms
At the end of Superman & Lois Season 2, when Tal-Rho is throwing Superman into the sun–at Superman’s request–Sam Lane explains to Jordan Kent that while he’s seen other worlds with “entire Leagues” of heroes, on their Earth, this Superman is the only superhero. In other words, Barry Allen is not the fastest man alive, Oliver Queen never had to become someone else and something else, and the Legends never met Beebo.
“From day 1, there were questions of how we were connected to the Arrowverse,” Helbing said. “If you go back to the first script that got sent to Warner Brothers and DC, it had a lot of references to other heroes like The Flash. There were moments when we were shooting, and I think I’ve said this before, but there was a photo of Kara on Lois’ desk at the Daily Planet. All of that stuff got slowly pulled out, and the more we did that, the more it became a can of worms to even mention it.”
“DC and I had a conversation during season 1, and the decision [to keep Superman & Lois separate] was made then, but I couldn’t make it public until the end of this season,” Helbing continues. “So when I got all these questions [in previous interviews], I knew what we were doing, but I could never talk about it. It got a little frustrating on my end, but I totally understand DC’s position. So this put that to rest. I’ve said from the beginning that we want to put our own stamp on the Superman property. This wasn’t meant to alienate us from the Arrowverse, but because a lot of the other shows are sadly no longer going to be on the air, it felt like the right thing to do.”
“We have to think about this as a separate Superman, a doppelganger of the one who was in the Arrowverse,” he added. “I understand why everyone has been wanting the references, but it would have felt wrong.”
A Pre-Arrowverse Attitude
When the CW unceremoniously canceled Legends of Tomorrow, we examined the question of whether or not the Arrowverse is dead; consider this new and conclusive evidence. This feels like a really strange decision on the part of Helbing, the CW, and DC. It feels weirdly pre-Arrowverse. That family of shows, like the MCU films, had the confidence to assume that people were watching enough of their shows to know what was going on, or assumed that they would just figure it out. So why do they think the audience is stupid now? People know that Supergirl ended, that the Green Arrow died, and so forth. Anyone who is watching Superman & Lois is likely at least vaguely aware of that information. Having a picture of Kara on a desk wouldn’t be confusing to viewers.
What is confusing to viewers is spending most of a decade establishing a universe of interconnected shows and characters, premiering a character on one of those shows, bringing them back to play a major role in crossovers, and then saying that he’s not connected to any of that stuff after two seasons of his show.
This is Multiverse Abuse
This is, really, the dark side of the multiverse. The multiverse opens up all kinds of possibilities for storytelling; you can have Supermen of different generations meet, you can go to new worlds or have visitors from other worlds without having to spend 3 episodes explaining how they got there. But it’s also an escape hatch. That’s how Helbing used it here. It undeniably simplifies the process of making this show to some degree.
It does explain things like why Team Flash isn’t aware of Ally Allston’s cult trying to unify two worlds in Superman & Lois Season 2, for example, but it also makes recurring characters like John Diggle that much more confusing. Why keep bringing him on? Yeah, sure, you can explain it away narrative-wise by mumbling “multiverse” and waving your hand dismissively, but his appearance means more than that to viewers.
John Diggle isn’t a Cool Leather Jacket Guy that shows up in Smallville from time to time, he’s Oliver Queen’s old buddy, now an ARGUS agent, who helped kick off the Justice League. That’s how fans see him when they watch a show like this. Helbing mentions in the same interview that he and Diggle actor David Ramsey decided to keep his longer hair and beard as a way to differentiate the two. Either they’re really drinking the Clark Kent Disguise kool-aid, or I have a nose-and-glasses disguise I could use to replace Tyler Hoechlin. The moment The Flash busted open the door to the multiverse, the network boarded it up and told us there was nothing to see here.
Let’s put the past aside, though. What it really means is that making connections between these shows is no longer meaningful for the network. With Arrow, Supergirl, and Black Lightning ended and Batwoman and Legends of Tomorrow canceled, we’re left with The Flash as the only original Arrowverse show. If Superman & Lois is not connected, then what they’re saying is that there aren’t connections moving forward. They’re not going to suddenly reconnect the shows.
All of this retroactively makes the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover look less like a crossover and more of a finale. After the event ended in early 2020, lots of stuff happened. Ruby Rose burned, blew up, and launched into the sun any bridges she had with the CW by quitting Batwoman after one season. The pandemic hit, putting all of these shows on hold for most of a year. Those two things together put basically all crossover stuff on hold. Batwoman got two entire seasons of TV in there somehow, but Javicia Leslie’s Ryan Wilder was never fully accepted by fans or the Arrowverse; the casting change just made everything weird. Supergirl ended rather suddenly following Melissa Benoist giving birth to her child.
Running on Fumes
Early this year, The Flash raised hope by launching with a five-episode story arc that had crossover characters from a bunch of Arrowverse shows, including the aforementioned John Diggle. But not that John Diggle. The crossover, however, didn’t actually do much, because it used characters from canceled shows and retired characters from existing ones. In other words, Arrowverse alums who didn’t have a serial TV-sized job filling their schedules. Ever since the Crisis, the Arrowverse has been running on fumes. The Arrowverse was dead; Batwoman and Supergirl just didn’t know it yet; The Flash has decreased in scope (and actually been better for it, incredibly), so it has an idea. that something has changed.
It feels like a lie then, for Greg Berlanti to have told us that the Crisis was the biggest crossover when it was really the last crossover. Maybe they didn’t know it yet. Maybe if there hadn’t been a pandemic complicating television show production, things would’ve continued unabated and Barry would’ve joined Clark for the Superman & Lois finale. We’ll never know for sure. But if the Arrowverse torch is too much of a burden for Superman to carry, then it’s too heavy for anyone.