These days, comic-book crossover events have a reputation for returning to the status quo at the end, with the size of the stakes directly correlating to how meaningless those stakes will end up being by the end. You can’t really kill Superman anymore, because you need to sell a Superman comic next month. It’s funny, then, that Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s extremely influential Crisis On Infinite Earths comic actually had real concrete consequences that extended past the conclusion of the event: The collected heroes of the multiverse, including multiple Supermen, were unable to prevent the destruction of DC’s infinite alternate realities, leaving just one single universe that all of the best parts of the others were condensed into. And it stuck! For a while, at least.
Over on The CW, the first part of a Crisis On Infinite Earths-inspired crossover ended this week with the obliteration of an entire onscreen multiverse—covering not just the “Arrowverse” of the network’s superhero shows, but Smallville, Lucifer, Titans on DC Universe, the 1989 Batman movie, and long-dead shows like Birds Of Prey, the ’90s Flash, and the ’60s Batman. At the last second, the remaining seven survivors of all reality were dispatched to the end of time and space to formulate some kind of plan. It’s a grim state of affairs for our heroes—not to mention all life in every reality—but it leaves Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends Of Tomorrow, Black Lightning, and Batwoman in a very good position.
The Arrowverse, for as much fun as it produces for The CW ever week, has grown into a bit of a mess. That can happen to any single genre show that’s been on the air for years, but the Arrowverse consists of five genre shows (plus Arrowverse-adjacent Black Lightning, which mingled with its network companions for the first time via Crisis), each with their own mythology. Plus, a lot of those shows sometimes dip into traditional CW-style soapy drama, so there are complicated relationships to deal with on top of the superhero action. Cases in point: Supergirl takes place in a different universe than the other shows; the character that Arrow regular Katie Cassidy Rodgers originally played was killed off a few years ago and replaced with her formerly evil doppelgänger from another Earth.
To make it all a little more confusing, this season saw the launch of Batwoman, a spin-off of last year’s Elseworlds crossover. Because of the reality-bending nature of that event, it was totally unclear until Crisis On Infinite Earths started when and where Batwoman took place—Gotham City, obviously, but the Gotham City of Arrow’s Earth? Supergirl’s Earth? A totally separate one? It only matters because these shows have insisted that it matters, jumping through hoops to explain why Supergirl can or cannot join the other heroes from time to time or by making a point to give characters on The Flash the ability to hop over to parallel Earths.
If you want to follow more than one of these shows—and the whole point of crossovers like Crisis is incentivizing you to do just that—you have to at least be aware of important distinctions like where in the multiverse each series takes place. You should also know the history between Earth-2 Laurel Lance and Earth-1 The Flash, why Flash gets in trouble for messing with time while the Legends regularly travel into the past, or how the Batman of Earth-38 (who’s never been seen on Supergirl) has nothing to do with the Batman of Earth-1, the primary setting of Arrow, The Flash, and Batwoman.
But here’s the good news: That’s all gone now! Most of those people and planets have been wiped out by a wave of antimatter, and The CW has the opportunity to reshape its universe in a way that makes a little more sense. After all, that’s exactly what Wolfman and Pérez did with the entire DC continuity in their Crisis On Infinite Earths. Before that comic, there really were infinite Earths for writers and artists to tell DC stories in. One had the heroic Alexander Luthor fighting the evil Ultraman and Owlman of the Crime Syndicate, another housed the Golden Age Justice Society Of America, and others focused on cowboy heroes or cartoon animals—but don’t forget Earth-Prime, a world where all of this multiversal history was just made up for comic books published by a company called DC. (If you can even imagine something so silly!) Crisis On Infinite Earths erased all of that, creating a composite universe that sanded down the rough, complicated edges in favor of a simplified history that only had room for the stuff that would make sense with contemporary versions of the characters.
It didn’t last forever, but there’s no reason The CW can’t follow the same path and come out on the other side of its Crisis with all of these shows sharing a single Earth in a single universe. There’s bound to be some kind of reset at the end, since literally everyone everywhere is dead except for the villain and the seven survivors, but it would be strange if we went through five hours of superhero action just to bring everything back exactly how it was before. (Though that’s not exactly unheard of…) If all these shows were to exist on the same Earth, The CW could, for example, reposition the friendship between Ruby Rose’s Batwoman and Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl as the franchise’s new core relationship, replacing Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen and Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen after Arrow leaves the air in 2020.
The stakes of Crisis could still matter, since it’s safe to assume that some of the more prominent deaths so far will stick, but nobody would need to question where in the multiverse a particular show takes place or how the characters from one are able to meet up with the characters from another. It’s basically a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to refresh multiple TV mythologies in one fell swoop.
We don’t know what the endgame for CW’s Crisis On Infinite Earths looks like, and we won’t until the final two parts air on January 14, but the smartest move for the future of the Arrowverse has already been depicted in the comic that inspired the TV crossover. The shows just need to commit to the eradication of their multiverse and the deaths of billions of people across every possible reality.