The CW’s Arrow began with a very simple premise. Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) was a billionaire playboy, stranded on a deserted island, returning years later to become the vigilante hero eventually known as Green Arrow. But over nearly a decade, Arrow has spawned an entire expanding universe of TV series including The Flash, Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and Batwoman, as well as several animated spinoffs. And with the series’ final season premiere, “Starling City,” it’s clear that what began as one man’s quest to clean up his city is ending in the biggest, boldest fashion possible, officially kicking off the highly anticipated “Crisis on Infinite Earths” crossover.
Spoilers for Arrow‘s Season 8 premiere “Starling City” past this point.
For those who haven’t been burying themselves in behind the scenes instagram posts and squealing over the mere mention of DC stars past, “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is essentially what Avengers: Infinity War was for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but for DC Comics TV series. Based on the groundbreaking 1985 comic books by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez, “Crisis” will span six TV series (including the technically not part of the Arrow-verse Black Lightning) and five episodes of television. Beyond basically every character who has ever appeared on one of the Arrow-verse series, it’ll also feature guest turns from Batman ’66 (Burt Ward), Smallville (Tom Welling and Erica Durance), Batman: The Animated Series (Kevin Conroy) and a ton more.
Though we don’t know the exact plot of the mini-series yet, it was teased during last year’s “Elseworlds” crossover with the appearance of The Monitor (LaMonica Garrett), who warned that “a crisis is coming” and made a deal with Oliver: sacrifice his own life, in exchange for saving the lives of The Flash (Grant Gustin) and Supergirl (Melissa Benoist). By the end of Arrow Season 7, which effectively wrapped up the main plot of the series as well as most of the character arcs, Oliver headed off with The Monitor on a last ditch effort to stop the Anti-Monitor (also Garrett) from obliterating the entire multiverse.
Since his introduction, The Monitor has shown up on most of the other shows, warning The Flash in this year’s season premiere that he, too, will die in the upcoming Crisis, and in classic cheeky Legends fashion, was hanging out and eating popcorn in last year’s season finale. But it wasn’t until “Starling City” that it became clear how big The Monitor’s plan will go.
In the episode, Oliver is on Earth-2 — not his usual home on Earth-1 — complete with frequent Batman references, a twisted history for Star City (sorry, Starling City), and even a few long-dead characters who are very much alive on this alternate Earth. Over the course of the hour, his main task is to grab some dwarf star alloy, a metal that powers Ray Palmer’s (Brandon Routh) Atom suit, among other things; though according to The Monitor, there’s a specific type that only exists on this version of Earth.
Naturally, Oliver gets mixed up in some shenanigans over the course of the episode while trying to grab the alloy, but it’s the end of the episode that’s the jaw-dropper, particularly for comic book fans. As Oliver says goodbye to his Earth-2 counterparts, a strange red light starts flashing in the sky. Then a wave of red and white energy washes through the Starling City police station, evaporating people as it touches them. Terrified, Oliver grabs Earth-2’s Black Canary (Katie Cassidy) and his version of John Diggle (David Ramsey) and jumps through a portal to Earth-1, as Earth-2 gets entirely destroyed.
Again, I’d like to emphasize this show started as a series about a dude serial killing bad guys with arrows.
As mentioned, for anyone who has read “Crisis on Infinite Earths” — i.e., most comic book fans who grew up in the ’80s — it’s clear what’s going on here. For everybody else, maybe not so much. The short version is that for a variety of reasons (mostly “I’m evil” reasons) the Anti-Monitor wants to wipe every reality from existence. His antimatter waves are preceded by “red sky” events, which lead to what we saw on TV, almost beat for beat, as characters fans knew and loved from the books were erased, forever.
So yes, in the continuity of the Arrow-verse, Earth-2 is gone, as is everyone on the planet who didn’t manage to escape through a portal, like Black Canary.
In the comics, the actual, behind the scenes goal was to simplify DC Comics continuity, which had gotten out of control with a confusing array of alternate universes and multiple versions for the same characters. By the end of the event, there was one DC universe, and one of each hero and villain. Granted, DC Comics got lax, reintroduced alternate universes, and had to have another Crisis (and have done the same several times since); but it certainly seems from this Arrow season premiere that the Arrow-verse is going for the same thing.
Right now, the DC TV multiverse, at least when it comes to The CW, isn’t exactly confusing to the level of DC Comics back in the mid-’80s. But for the casual fan, it can be difficult to remember that The Flash and Arrow take place in the same universe, as does Batwoman (though that currently takes place a few months back in time). DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, meanwhile, regularly takes jaunts through the multiverse. Supergirl is on a different Earth (mostly due to the show originally airing on CBS); and up until the “Crisis” crossover, Black Lightning is entirely unconnected to any of the shows.
What Arrow teased with “Starling City” is the promise of the comic’s original tagline: “Worlds will live. Worlds will die. And the DC universe will never be the same!” They are clearly going for it, and will end up destroying multiple Earths, before — pure speculation here — condensing all the shows into one, cohesive universe. That will probably mean some serious ret-cons (i.e., changes in backstory) for some of the characters, which is a headache of its own for casual fans. But ultimately having all The CW superhero shows in the same place will save on a lot of in-show explanation about how they jumped through portals and stuff. We’ll politely ignore that the other DC Comics based shows on the DC Universe streaming service are in their own universe, but whatever.
From a comic fan perspective this is thrilling, not just to see iconic moments from the books on screen, but because, as usual, The CW is treating their shows like live action comic books. When it comes to an event like “Crisis,” you’ll have lead-ins and tie-ins, issues that slowly work their way up to the main event. And that’s clearly what they’re doing, not just with the The Flash, but with treating Arrow like “Countdown to Crisis.” Sure the plot will tie in when we reach the main event, but it also serves to make this final season of Arrow feel vital. Every episode is a must-watch, necessary to understand this enormous crossover that will happen later on. And with only 10 episodes, it means that (hopefully) the storytelling will be more focused than the usual 22-episode season.
That’s pretty exciting, whether you’re a fan of the comics, or the TV series, and a fitting way to let Amell and company say goodbye to the hero who kicked off modern comic book based television. And to think, it all started with one guy stranded on an island.
Arrow airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on The CW.
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