The superhero team-up is getting to be commonplace nowadays with both Marvel and DC films throwing heroes together with a variety of success, but it is to the world of television that we should look for what is by far the best example of how to do a superhero team-up and that is the four-part ‘Arrowverse‘ story, Crisis on Earth X.
One of the reasons the Justice League film failed was it pulled characters from the comics in a pretty generic ”bad guy looks to take over the Earth” storyline. Crisis on Earth X uses an old JLA storyline from 1982 written by Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas called Crisis on Earth Prime as the basic inspiration of the storyline which was given away from their marketing material a few months back. They also take a few things from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitley’s All-Star Superman…
As well as elements of Alan Moore’s Superman stories, especially this…
Essentially they dip into the history of DC Comics, nick what they want, adapt it to the storyline and spit out something that works beyond what the limits of telly budgets should do. By using mainly second tier characters (thanks to the restrictions imposed upon them by the film arm of Warner Brothers) the producers have carved themselves a superhero universe unafraid of not just embracing the soap opera elements of serialised superhero comics, but the political aspects that often get buried in superhero comics.
The plot revolves round an alternative Earth where the Nais won WW2, and the Nazi counterparts of Green Arrow and Supergirl, along with Prometheus, Reverse Flash and Metallo along with hordes of disposable Nazi soldiers invade the Earth of our heroes not just to expand the Nazi empire but to steal Supergirl’s heart and place it into Overgirl’s (the Nazi Supergirl) body as she’s dying as she’s soaked up too much solar radiation. The stakes essentially are high so virtually every superhero (along with various sidekicks and partners) in the Arrowverse comes together to fight the Nazi menace. That is a lot of costumed characters!
It should fall apart. It is simply too big for a TV series to do but ambition, along with a nice script that gives everyone their little, or big moment and although there’s some heroes not included in this (Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter and the Arrowverse Superman) this somehow makes a gigantic cast work in 162 minutes of television, as well managing to propel all four series (Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow) on in terms of characterisation and plot.
There are faults. There’s a bit too much crawling around in air-shafts in one episode, Supergirl is effectively written out the action for nearly two episodes, and some of the supporting cast vanish after episode one. In the final showdown the ambition overtakes the budget as the effects of an army of super-powered Nazis who happen to have a space/time ship on the civilian population falls down as they couldn’t get the masses of extras. However all the big actions set-pieces still outdo anything the Justice League film did, and matches much of what Marvel splash billions on.
But the positives outweigh the faults. Having Nazis as the baddies is more relevant in 2017 than it was in 1982, and this element of politics of having a diverse squad of heroes made up of of men, women, straight, LGBT, white, black, Muslim, Jewish, Hispanic, etc heroes beat Aryan white supremacists into the ground. In the era of Trump, Brexit and increasing white nationalism across the west it is nice to see Nazis being hit, and hit a lot. Crisis on Earth X works and to think it’s based off a 35 year old comic only people like me remembered makes it deliciously fun. I mean, the sight of The Flash and The Ray (a second tier DC superhero played by Russell Povey who pops up out of nowhere) fighting the Red Tornado will give old DC fanboys like me more fun than we’ve had in ages. Even seeing the Crisis logo is a nice buzz.
Does this wash away the taste of Justice League? yes. Does it give Marvel a few tips? Yes. Does it respect the comic source material and wallow in the fact? Yes. Is Crisis on Earth X perhaps the best example of a superhero team up outwith of the first Avengers film? Yes. This is a joy from the minute it starts to the end with its flaws being weak enough to ignore.and you can sit down and enjoy this as a wonderful letter to the superhero comics of the past as well as showing how to do superheroes in the present.