Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Crisis on Earth X

Supergirl, Season 3 episode 8 (part 1) - CW/Showcase, Nov 27, 2017
Arrow, Season 6 episode 8 (part 2) - CW/CTV, Nov 27, 2017
Flash, Season 4 episode 8 (part 3) - CW/CTV, Nov 28, 2017
Legends of Tomorrow, Season 3 episode 8 (part 4) - CW, Nov 28, 2017

I last year's "Invasion" crossover among the DC CW "Arrowverse" shows was quite disappointing.  My chief complaint was that it wasn't a cohesive unit.  Despite being a crossover, each episode still tried to remain a Flash or Arrow or Legends episode first and foremost.  The comic book analogy is when there's a big event comic, like Crisis on Infinite Earths or Invasion or Zero Hour where all the big, fun, important stuff happens in the event book, and then there are tie-in issues in the ongoing titles.  "Invasion" last year had no event book, it was just made up of tie-in issues, and thus the event was barely an event.

Creators/producers/writers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg (who was literally just fired for being a sleazebag) seemed to understand the faults of last year's "event" and tried so much harder this year with the two-night, four-part "Crisis on Earth X".  The fact that each episode opened not with the usual Supergirl or Arrow, Flash or Legends title card, but instead the "Crisis" title card alluded to this fact: this would be the event story, not the tie-ins.

"Crisis" was exactly what I had expected from "Invasion" last year... a seamless crossover that delivered a single epic adventure for a multitude of characters.  But this isn't just a 170-minute movie, it's a true comic-book styled event, where the status of the characters at that time isn't just as much a part of their story as the crisis they face.

Barry and Iris are getting married, which reunites Oliver and Felicity with team Flash, as well as the Legends who spun out from Flash and Arrow - Sara, Mick, Stein and Jax.  Stein and Jax are still fighting like family members because of Martin's looming departure and Jefferson's father issues.  Kara is reeling from the return of her boyfriend (who is now married), while her sister Alex is still upset following her break-up with her partner, so the wedding is a perfect opportunity to forget about it.  Oliver uses the wedding as an excuse to take a break from being Mayor, and under investigation from the FBI, and a new dad, and focus on his relationship with Felicity.  Obviously there's a lot of supporting cast members not invited to the wedding but most are not forgotten.

The introduction to Earth X, or the reality where the Nazis won WWII and many of the superheroes we know and love either don't exists or are the bad guys, we first see the Black Arrow (or whatever the Nazi Oliver calls himself) facing off against James Olson as the Guardian.  We know they're playing for keeps here when Oliver murders James without any hesitation.  Nazis suck you guys.  Throughout various cast members are seeded into the crossover: in the opening act Joe West gets to make a toast, and Wally is charged with protecting Joe and Cecile (effectively explaining why Kid Flash isn't part of the ongoing fight); in the second act Mr. Terrific, Wild Dog and Black Canary showing up after the Earth X-ers invade STAR Labs (and proving that even together they're still not a match for Oliver); in the third act Winn's doppleganger shows up as a hard-bitten General on the good guys' side, while Quentin Lance is a high ranking official on the bad guy's side; and in the third all the rest of the Legends come to the rescue, to join for the big finale showdown.  Even Diggle makes an appearance at the end, continuing the ongoing gag where he barfs after Barry moves him at super-speed.  Where last year most of the supporting cast were cast aside when it wasn't "their show" here there's no reason why characters shouldn't be all over this thing.

What I wanted most out of "Invasion" last year was character interaction, a sense of discovery as people from different teams meet each other for the first time, and this delivered in spades.  The best of which was Sarah and Alex hooking up during the rehearsal dinner, and having that play out in an exceptionally meaningful way (more for Alex than Sarah, because Sarah's cool like that) across all four episodes.  Alex, of all people, probably has the biggest character arc here, but a lot of characters have meaningful events by the end... Barry and Iris, Felicity and Oliver, Jax and Stein.  Hell even Leonard Snart (albeit a much different Leo Snart) is back to torment Mick.   This event doesn't leave our characters in the same place where they started, which is amazing.

As for the Crisis on Earth X story itself, well...hell, it's better than Justice League.  The basic strokes are Barry and Iris' wedding is interrupted by an Earth X invasion.  Their goal is to capture Supergirl and steal her heart to save her dying Earth X counterpart.  After that, their plan is to take over yet another Earth.  By episode 2 our main heroes are captured and deported to Earth X for episode 3, where they escape, meet the Freedom Fighters led by General (Winn) Schott, The Ray, and Leo Snart, and have to return home.  Episode 4 is the big showdown climax, because of course it is.

While there are moments -- as the CW shows always have its moments like this -- where the needs of the story more dictates the events than logic, it's a hugely entertaining crossover.  There's so much to delight in.  The fact is the crossover is so joyously LGBTQ positive, with Sarah proudly declaring to her father's Nazi doppleganger her bisexuality, the wonderful interactions between Sarah and Alex (every.time.), and the so adorable pairing of The Ray and Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller's new take on Captain Cold is even more delightful than the last one).  The show isn't even trying to make a huge deal out of it (otherwise that interaction between Mr. Terrific and The Ray would have been about being gay instead of their charming discussion of their superhero identities).

Likewise, for an event written by a guy who just got fired for sexual harassment, it's resoundingly awesome in its depictions of female heroes.  Not just Sarah and Alex, who make for a fantastic, and deadly, duo, but the trio of Zari, Vixen and Frost get to wreck a Waverider doppleganger, and Iris and Felicity tag-team to save Supergirl using smarts and moxie. Even the Earth X Felicity is a hero, just by being a good person amidst such evil.  Hell I even count it as a win that they remembered to bring back Clarissa, who has rarely been mentioned with all the talk of Lily and baby Ronnie.  There's a real sense of equality in this event, which is important when facing down against fascists and bigots.

I had to admire the event for not ever trying to make the Nazi Earth-Xers into anything remotely approaching sympathetic.  Oliver frequently tries to appeal to various opponents sense of humanity and finds them sorely wanting at every turn (including to the surprise reveal of Earth X Prometheus...probably one of the biggest surprises I've gotten from any entertainment in a long long time).  Thankfully there's absolutely no sympathy for straight up killing these top-tier a-holes, and there is even something mildly cathartic about it.  I mean, from a character arc perspective, Oliver has been wrestling with being a killer for quite a few seasons now, so it's a little uncomfortable seeing him do it with such relentless efficiency...but I feel no sympathy for the generic stormtroopers.  Barry on the other hand, when faced yet again with Eobard Thawn (somehow alive after the end of Season 2 of Legends), still can't bring himself to kill.  That even in the background we see the lethality of some characters and the non-lethal nature of others shows a remarkable attention to character detail.

It's almost impossible to not bring up Justice League when looking at "Crisis on Earth X" given the timing.  I mean they're two different beasts, but at the same time "Crisis" manages to entertain on an even bigger scale than Justice League on a fraction of the budget and time.  Sure there's hundreds of hours of character set-up backing "Crisis" up, but the payoff is huge, and constant, where Justice League flounders at even coming up with an antagonist with any real motivation or character.  Even at a fraction of the cost, "Crisis" still manages to deliver action sequences that, while maybe not as polished, are more dynamic than Justice League.  That even with the time and budget they had, Justice League's Flash effects are somehow inferior to the TV show.  "Crisis" legit feels like an event, Justice League feels like a small, forgettable story arc.

Looking at the Ivan Reis-drawn "cover" for Crisis on Earth X above, it's totally inspired by the late-70's/early-80's Justice League/Justice Society crossovers.  It sparks a fury of nostalgia, which the show legitimately harnessed and executed upon.  If the goal is to outdo themselves every year, I can't wait to see what comes in 2018 (especially if they get Black Lightning in the mix). But seriously, there's 15 heroes namechecked on the cover, with a few more even missing:

Everyone who appears:
1- Supergirl
2- Green Arrow
3- Flash
4- White Canary
5- Firestorm
6- Heat Wave
7- Vibe
8- Killer Frost
9- Black Canary
10- Wild Dog
11- Mister Terrific
12- The Atom
13- Vixen
14- Zari
15- Citizen Steel
16- Alex Danvers
17- The Ray
18- Captain Cold
19- The Guardian
20- Red Tornado
21- Iris West
22- Felicity Smoak
23- Kid Flash
24- J'onn J'onzz
25- Mon-El
26- Winn Schott
27- Joe West
28- Cecile
29- Clarissa Stein
30- Lily Stein
31- John Diggle
32- Kid Flash
33- Harrison Wells
34- Dark Arrow
35- Reverse-Flash (Thawn)
36- Overgirl
37- Metallo
38- Quentin Lance
39- Prometheus

That's an epic scale cast list we're not going to see again until Avengers: Infinity War.