It’s Heroes Vs Aliens on The CW’s 4 Way Superhero Crossover
By Justin Carter
It’s the holiday season, which means it’s time for family, merriment, and coming together. More importantly, it’s time for another CW crossover, and this time, it’s kicked into maximum overdrive. Not only are Flash and Arrow coming together, but they’re bringing their spinoff, Legends of Tomorrow, and the standalone (but no less important) Supergirl along for the ride.
The first crossover from 2014 went a long way in establishing how Flash and Arrow are different from each other tonally while showing that they can tonally coexist in the same universe. By the end of the adventure, both Barry and Oliver had respectively learned to take things a bit more seriously and get over themselves, and it was also a ton of fun. Last year’s crossover was a step down, but largely because a lot of Flash’s early episodes were devoted to setting things up for said crossover, which later tied into Legends. With Heroes vs. Aliens (the CW’s special name for this four-way crossover), the intent here is just to bring some old friends together and watch them go up against invaders from another world. It’s certainly intended to have the same scope as crossover comics do, even down to the flashy intro title sequences and the “To be Continued…” offered at the end of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday’s shows.
Supergirl’s adventures kick things off first, though her inclusion in the crossover isn’t until the last couple of minutes. Her primary story this week is dealing with Cadmus’ kidnapping of her last week and trying to figure out what their plans are, which involve an airborne virus called Medusa created by Kryptonians for the specific purpose of killing aliens. Making matters worse is the fact that the Medusa virus was created by her father with no cure in mind, which effectively makes both her biological parents complicit in murder, despite the best of intentions that they had.
A big part of Supergirl is about characters (mainly young women) stepping out of the shadow of their parents and blood relatives, both for the title character herself and season two addition Lena Luthor. The Girl of Steel has her own show, but a lot of people were worried that Superman’s short guest run when the season first began would cause her to recede back into the shadow of her more well known cousin, and in some ways, that’s what we get here with Lena. Kara’s convinced that she can get Lena to flip on her mom Lillian (the head of Cadmus), and the show has largely done a good job of showing that Lena really does want to turn her family’s name around after Lex tarnished it.
While Katie McGrath does strong work as Lena, it also feels like the show maybe relies a bit too much on folks to have a good enough grasp of the Luthor family to properly buy that she’d switch sides over the course of one episode. Yeah, it turns out that she was just duping her mom, but we haven’t really seen either Lena or Lillian interact with each other much to really get a good enough idea of their relationship. All we really know is that Lena’s adopted and her mom hates aliens for what Superman did to her son. There’s no time to take in the idea that she actually could be tempted, because once the next commercial break rolls around, it turns out that she switched the isotopes to make the virus a dud. Still, the ultimate point of the storyline is effectively what J’onn says to Kara: “Death and destruction aren’t your parents’ legacy. It’s you.”
There are few parents in this DC/CW universe that aren’t completely horrible, and it’s Kara’s adoptive mom Eliza who can stand with them. Alex’s coming out has been one of the highlights of the season, and the holidays means that she has to come out to her mom. Getting drunk at Thanksgiving dinner isn’t exactly the best way to do that (though it is hilarious), but luckily, the second time is much better. Of course, her mother is very understanding, pointing out that literally none of the lives of the Danvers women are remotely normal, so Alex being gay isn’t going to change that. To add to the good news, she and Maggie finally move forward in their relationship, now that the latter is convinced that Alex is actually gay and not gay for her specifically.
Romance is something that the DC/CW shows aren’t going to get away from, which is why it makes the love story between Kara and Mon-El all the more frustrating. He largely feels like a character who exists solely to be a love interest, and with that in mind, I couldn’t help but find myself groaning as he and Kara kiss while he’s delirious from the virus and under quarantine. Even just taking his general uselessness aside (there’s a hint near the end that some aliens are coming to Earth for him for whatever reason that can’t be good), it just straight up does not look good in any light for a show to quickly jettison its lead’s romance with a black man for a white guy.
It’s good that the show doesn’t take too long to bring that romance to any further attention than is needed, ending the episode with Barry and Cisco finally making their way over to Kara’s world (it’s apparently dubbed “Earth-38,” according to a producer) so she can help them fend off an alien invasion over on Earth Prime.
As it turns out, mere in-show hours before the two Flash alums come over to grab Kara, an alien scout ship crashes in Central City home to our Villains of the Week, the Dominators. They originally showed up in the 1950’s to abduct humans for information, which led to a fight with hundreds of human casualties. Since then, they’ve left the Earth alone, but that clearly didn’t take, and now that the scout ship has been downed, that to the Dominators translates to a gauntlet being thrown.
Barry’s smart enough to realize that ARGUS and the government aren’t going to really make any headway on that front, so he jets over to Star City to grab Oliver and Diggle as they’re in the middle of getting shot up by the Vigilante. (Felicity joins up because they need a tech person, and Thea winds up tagging along because as she appropriately says, “it’s aliens.”) Once they’re together, they send out a call to the Legends–or rather, the veterans: Ray, Sara, Mick, Jax, and Stein (Amara and Nate are absent, but return for the Legends quarter of the crossover).
As with any crossover, there comes the team tension, which is here amplified by the other heroes learning of Barry’s Flashpoint tampering and the message Jax and Stein found from Future Barry some time ago. The ripples don’t affect Kara in any way, but it’s Cisco and Diggle who harbor the most anger over this. Learning that your child isn’t exactly your child is a tough pill to swallow for Diggle, and Cisco is still holding a grudge for his brother being dead. (The Legends are upset as well, but given how often they seem to break the rules of time travel themselves, it pretty much doesn’t matter, and Oliver is the king of making bad decisions.) I’d feel more sympathetic to Cisco if Dante were more of a presence on the show; he didn’t show up enough to really be more than The Brother, and the case of mistaken identity with his Earth-2 counterpart last season didn’t change that.
Barry and Oliver choosing to keep the message a secret from the others is a smart thing to do, but Iris and Joe trying to stop Wally from being a hero is not. The kid’s already got powers and is actively using them, so their reasoning for trying to keep him out of the hero game is flimsy and borderline stupid. As it is, the only thing it does is push him towards training with HR instead of his family, and when that inevitably gets found out, they’ll have no one to blame for his secrecy but themselves.
Oliver and Barry choose to sit the mission to recover the President out after he’s been nabbed by the Dominators, which ends up working in their favor when the others get mind controlled. It’s been clear that both Arrow and Flash are basically TV stand-ins for respectively Batman and Superman in terms of tone, and nowhere is it more apparent than here. Oliver’s solution to end Barry’s moping is to basically “out-guilt” him, and it’s clear that the two have a ton of respect for each other, even if they don’t always show it. If nothing else, the yearly crossovers confirm that these two have reached “Best Bros” status, from Barry introducing the archer to Kara with glee, or Oliver declaring that he won’t go on the mission without Barry.
It’s a little disappointing that we’re using mind control again for a crossover to instigate a fight between heroes–frankly, the show could’ve justified it with the others working out their frustrations at being lied to–but the Flash/Arrow team up vs. everyone else is still pretty cool. Oliver holds his own against the non-powered humans, Flash handles the flyers, and the chase between him and Supergirl hits the right kind of comic book ridiculousness–in particular, the visual of Barry spinning around to run down a building to dodge Kara’s heat vision is great. Exactly why Cisco doesn’t help out and use his Vibe powers on them is regrettable, but we do get a tiny bit of Kid Flash before he’s knocked out by Kara.
Barry’s quickly able to trick Kara into destroying the device turning the others into mind slaves, but the Dominators retaliate by kidnapping Oliver, Thea, Diggle, Ray, and Sara, which nicely dovetails into Ollie’s solo series. The third part of the crossover has extra weight to it in part because it’s also the 100th episode of Arrow as a whole, so it uses the occasion to recreate Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s classic “For the Man Who Has Everything” story. Our scenario here is that Oliver’s getting married to Laurel, his parents are alive, Diggle’s the Hood, Ray and Felicity are engaged, and Sara’s just a regular party girl.
It’s a smart way for the show to also address how far its title character has come over the course of five seasons (Diggle as the Arrow quotes Ollie’s old season one line, “No one can know my secret”), and also highlight that him becoming the Green Arrow was, more than anything, a stroke of luck. The only thing that really made him and the others into the heroes they came to be was having tragedy strike, but even with the tragedy gone, there’s still shades of their true selves in there. Oliver can still pull off his “Arrow voice” when he’s not actually the Arrow, Diggle would still be doing some form of heroism as a form of atonement, things like that. On some level, all of the desires here are both direct, while others are more subtle–Sara’s always wished she could save her sister, Thea’s always wanted her parents alive, and Oliver gets the approval from Lance that he’s always wanted deep down.
Naturally, it’s not too terribly wrong before the others realize that there’s something not quite right with the world and that they quickly need to get out of their fantasy construct, which is hellbent on pushing Oliver to getting married with Laurel. Oliver’s quick to get Sara, Diggle, and Ray in on the idea that it’s all fake, but Thea’s the only one who wants to stay, and it’s hard to give her grief for it. She hasn’t had the best life since Oliver returned, and everything in that world feels too real to pass up the chance of being with happy with family members who’ve died or were cut out of her life (it wouldn’t surprise me if Roy was intended to show up in the original draft of the script). The others can accept their place in life and the tragedies were needed, but she’s still much younger than the rest of them and can’t. So yeah, it comes as no surprise that she wants to stay, but she also realizes that Oliver’s her only true family left, and she can’t lose him for anything.
In all honesty, if you’d told me that this episode was going to be the series finale of Arrow as well as its 100th episode, I think I’d be pretty okay with that. Everyone gets their time to shine here, from Sara giving Deathstroke and Damien Darhk the finishing blows when the Dominators summon old enemies to deter them from leaving, to Oliver looking back on those he’s lost over the years. The show’s definitely come a long way since 2012, and even with all the bumps, it stands as one of the most entertaining superhero shows ever. I’m not sure how many more seasons that the show has under its belt, but I’m sure I’ll be watching them all.
Our final episode of the segment focuses on the Legends of Tomorrow crew and their efforts to help deal with the alien invasion. Cisco and Felicity help Nate, Amaya, and Mick head to the 1950’s to snag a Dominator for info while the others stay behind in the present to deal with the current threat. No surprise that the Legends trio ends up getting nabbed by G-Men while grabbing the alien, but their efforts to learn more about the aliens lead to the discovery that the Dominators arrived to Earth (both in ‘51 and 2016) because of the growing metahumans on the planet, particularly Barry’s mucking around with the timeline.
The Dominators have seen this kind of thing happen before on other worlds and want to deploy a bomb that’ll wipe out the metahumans and everyone else in the present, something that not even Cisco and crew saving one of them in 1951 can change. Flashpoint the comic arc spent plenty of issues basically all circling around to “this is all Barry’s fault,” so it’s no real surprise that the “Invasion” crossover takes the same approach. It’s this that helps Cisco realize that the whole time travel gig isn’t easy on the people affected or the person who committed the act in the first place. You can do things with the best of intentions, but you won’t know the effects of those actions until you go back to them.
This is what Stein learns as he interacts with his “new to 2016” daughter, Lily. He has no memory of her beyond brief flashes, but she remembers him and feels hurt that he’s putting her at arm’s length. It’s only through Caitlin’s advisement (no doubt reflecting from her own personal experience) and seeing himself in Lily that he grows to care about her, making his desire to erase the “Aberration” that she is all the more complicated. Things’ll surely get found out by the others, but his desire to protect her is understandable.
Cisco finally forgives Barry because of this, but there’s no time for hugs as the Dominators begin their planetwide assault on Earth. The fight on the rooftop is full of some cool moments to be sure, like Kara giving Oliver a much needed save, but it largely just functions as an “End of Event” fight and one where they shoot off a bunch of fireworks in celebration for making it this far. But it’s after the fight and post Firestorm morphin the bomb into harmless water where the true nature of the crossover shines through, and that’s letting these characters just hang out and bounce off one another in different ways.
A lot of people were dreading the crossover just because it would mean that Kara and Oliver would have to interact, but he’s not entirely wrong to want distance himself rom her. His life’s already changed so much, and just hours after running away from a simulation of what his life could’ve been constructed by aliens requires one to plant their feet and say “I can’t accept this.” The scene where he apologizes to her and more or less welcomes her into the little hero club that they’ve established is very much a Batman and Superman moment, and Melissa Benoist shines as she tells Oliver that his universe could use someone like her. She, Amell, and Gustin have been used primarily in photos as the Trinity for this universe, and it’s easy to see how the three of them balance each other out. With Kara being given an easy way to travel between universes, I hope she’s able to show up more when she can, even if it’s just to join Barry and Oliver at the bar to drink.
As a whole, the “Invasion” crossover doesn’t have a lot to it as far as the grander things are concerned beyond basically dragging Barry for being an idiot. In all honesty, I’m totally fine with that; I like these different groups of characters and love how they were all used, and the structure is a good way to weave the narrative across all four shows. The emotional moments are all properly earned, mostly, and it’s nice to see Supergirl interact with all of her fellow heroes instead of just Barry. Separately, each episode hits a fairly high point for their respective shows–Arrow’s in particular may hit the “series best” territory that’s inhabited by most of season two–and as a whole, the crossover hits 2nd place for me over the original one.
- Arrow’s episode has a subplot largely about Felicity and Cisco helping the recruits try to find Oliver and the others, which takes longer than it should. Wild Dog has a thing about metahumans and then gets over it almost instantly, Artemis is weirdly absent (no one comments on it), and everyone’s shocked that the others are being held captive in space, even though they shouldn’t be.
- Mick’s interactions with Supergirl are brief, but Dominic Purcell makes the most of it by hitting on her and delivering the driest of deliveries he’s ever done. (Benoist’s face makes the interactions even better.)
- Seriously, how weird is it that Arrow’s birth in 2012 has led to all of this? If you’re someone who doesn’t care for the recent DC movies, you’ve got a pretty damn good alternative universe to turn to for your superhero goodness.
- The special title cards they have for this crossover is great, and I love it.
- I’m sad that Snart wasn’t here to join the Legends in meeting Supergirl, because that feels like a series of interactions that deserve their own spinoff.
- Everyone more or less ignoring Curtis’ jokes in the Arrow episode just sort of goes to show how thin his shtick is becoming.
- “There she goes. Off to her time-travelling spaceship like it’s totally normal.”
- Shout out to the show for killing off the President and replacing him with a black woman over the course of two episodes like it’s no big deal.
- Mick: “The new President’s hot.” Sara: *looks around* “Yep, she’s hot.”
- Next week, it’s midseason finales ahoy, but in the meantime, I’m going to relax, because writing all this was exhausting.