Let’s get the superlatives out of the way, while Justice League was serviceable and hopefully starts to course correct for the DCEU, Crisis on Earth X was absolutely what DC fans want and need in this time of great tribulation.
To be fair, I enjoyed Justice League – and I went to Galleria at the Mall to watch it the Saturday it came out – which should tell you something. I don’t share the nitpicking concerns of some of my fellow comic book fans – Cyborg’s teenage angst, Henry Cavill’s superstache CGI, CGI in general, underwhelming villain etc – but I understand it. DC is in the unenviable position of being compared to a juggernaut that is 10 years into telling one big ass story through 20 or so movies in varying levels of overlap. Justice League was never going to measure up to the first or second Avengers films. Where I do agree with critics is that DC needs to look inward at its own TV universe as a view to how to properly approach world building.
Last week the Greg Berlanti helmed Arrowverse had its third major crossover event within its shared universe, Crisis on Earth X – needless to say the gods and fanboys were pleased. This crossover was everything that the DCEU is striving for – rich backstory, fully developed characters, stakes that felt meaningful, and moments of fan service just to name a few. While there are one or two complaints to be made – the importance of which could be debated – overall this event was a success. It was 168 minutes of Superfriends that outmatched the 120 minutes of Justice League repeatedly. Anyway, I’ll try to keep the JL bashing to a minimum. Also, this is not a Justice League review.
** SPOILER ALERT **
Connected But Detached
The first thing Berlanti got right was to mostly detach the crossover from the major story arcs of each of the four shows – Supergirl, The Flash, DCs Legends of Tomorrow and Arrow – while connecting smaller, but similarly important character details to the Crisis and using the event to move specific characters forward in meaningful ways. We got to put down Oliver standing trial for crimes committed as the Arrow. We got to put down the Thinker’s plans and schemes on Flash. We got to put aside Reign in Supergirl. We got to put aside anachronisms in Legends. In doing so we got to see Alex Danvers have get-over-the-ex-sex with Sara Lance. We got to see Oliver and Felicity approach marriage talk in truly awkward fashion. We got to see Wally still pushed to the side in favor of the vets (this is hopefully going somewhere). We got to see Stein and Jax continue to discuss their separation in very profound and meaningful ways – more on that later. Using Barry and Iris’ (doomed) wedding as the event that gathered our heroes was a key emotional linchpin to why all of these heartfelt character moments made sense. It also was the perfect intro for the crossover. Each hero or team in their own city or world discussing whether or not they had RSVPd for the West Allen wedding.
They got fan service right. For most of last season – prior to the Adrian Chase reveal – there was a great number of Arrow fans who were convinced – or at least wishfully thinking – that Prometheus would be revealed to be none other than Tommy Merlin. Obviously that wasn’t the case, but on Earth X guess who took on the persona of Prometheus, oh it damn sure was Tommy Merlin. That moment allowed Arrow fans to feel vindicated that they were right all along, even though we weren’t. It was a moment that played well. We likewise got the return of Arrowverse fave Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold. We got a glimpse of other DC heroes like Red Tornado and The Ray. We potentially got a glimpse at Barry & Iris’ daughter or granddaughter – the jittery server at the wedding. We got a glimpse at ‘shipping that most haven’t even ever considered with Earth X Ollie and Kara being an item. Fan service done right – within the context of the main story instead of a post credits scene – and in a way that was reasonable and believable.
They killed someone off. Look, we need to have a serious heart to heart about how on the money everything about Jax and Grey’s situation was. Jax finding a father figure to replace the one he lost/never truly had. Stein finding out how to love something other than his wife and his work and having the son he never had. The setup for the sequence In the portal room on Earth X to Stein’s final moments to Jax breaking the news to Clarissa and Lily to Clarissa’s embrace of Jax at the funeral – the groundwork for this had all been laid in the excellent start to Legends this season. This was a moment that Justice League was never in a believable position to pull off. By having two plus seasons of development to the relationship between Jax and Stein to go off – by having all of their ups and downs as prelude to the events of the crossover – Berlanti and crew earned the emotional death of Dr. Martin Stein. One can argue that some of it was heavy handed. One can even argue that it was too emotional. One can argue that it suffered from the same “family” concept from the Fast franchise. But as a fan of Arrow from season 1 who has watched every minute of every Arrowverse show, this moment was earned.
The other earned moment – which at times seemed destined to be a begrudging one – was the marriage of Iris West and Barry Allen, at long last. For those of you who may have skipped out on the Barry-Iris love situation since around the midpoint of Season 2, I understand. For those of you who stuck it out, the big wedding that was subsequently crashed by Nazi Overgirl (Kara) and Nazi Oliver Queen that turned into a private two minute reading of vows by John Diggle were both moments that we needed.
First, big superhero weddings never go off without a hitch. I mean, Ollie and Felicity couldn’t even get engaged without Felicity getting shot and paralyzed. Second, we got to see the literal running gag of Flash speeding Diggle somewhere followed by Dig vomiting – it remains one of the best gags among the shows. So we finally get that out of the way and Felicity asks Oliver to marry her – after a crisis-long resistance to Oliver’s renewed engagement proposal. So we finally got the Oliver and Felicity wedding as well. Now, I know that there are a TON of people who are over that relationship, but let’s let that breathe for now. Like Chloe Sullivan from Smallville, Felicity Smoak is probably here to stay.
The Actual Crisis
I have covered 1200 words without even getting into the real meat of the Crisis – which is a testament on its own to how well this was done overall. The nuts and bolts of the story is that there is a 53rd Earth called Earth X. On this Earth, Hitler and the Nazis won World War II and the rest of the world was subject to his rule. Oliver and Kara grow up in a world where arian values are the order of the day. They are an item on this earth and continue ruling Earth X under these Nazi values. So why did they come to Earth 1 and crash the wedding? The long and short of it is that Overgirl is dying from radiation and they want to perform a heart transplant with Earth-38 Kara. The funny thing is, if you remove the Nazi component and the killing “our” Kara part, this is essentially a story about a man trying to save the love of his life. When you add in the Nazi killer parts, then you get the story of a psychopath willing to destroy the world for his own selfish desires. It’s an interesting thing to consider when you parse the motive and actions of the Earth X-ers.
Now, I have seen some commentary online about this being a “bad time” to try to tell any story involving Nazis and the like but I firmly disagree. It is important to show people that the world was only a few key moments away from a much different outcome to the Hitler story. It is necessary to shine a light on the ignorance of Nazi-ism and do so in a way that is relatable. Oh wait, you don’t want that from your comics? Then I don’t think you are actually a comics fan. The X-Men comics are a discussion about the civil rights movement and how to not think about people as less than just because you don’t look alike. Even in the current atmosphere the Arrow shows have mostly endorsed the idea of people being different and normal all at the same time without it seeming like a PSA for inclusiveness. So miss me with any statements about how they shouldn’t be tackling this or showing that because they are doing a much better job of it than most shows on TV right now.
Nonetheless the story is well told. The big moments are sufficiently large. The small emotional moments are tight and pack just the right emotional punch. The most difficult question coming out of the event however is how the hell will they try to top this next year?