Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know The CW’s programming is about 50% shows based on characters and stories pulled from DC comics. The “Arrowverse” stems from 2012’s Arrow, initially a gritty Nolan-esque take on street-level vigilante Green Arrow (Stephen Amell), and now includes a young adult soap about people living with superpowers (The Flash), a riff on Doctor Who with time-traveling superheroes (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow), and its newest acquisition from CBS (Supergirl). This year, producer Gregg Berlanti and his team took a huge gambit to see if they could make a massive 4-part crossover that carries a story over four episodes actually work. The crossover ended up being a huge ratings success, but what about the story? All said and done, “Invasion” highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of all four shows.
Right off the bat, Part 1 is just your standard episode of Supergirl. Besides some brief foreshadowing that Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) will be meeting up with Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) later in the episode, most of this revolves around the Cyborg Superman (David Harewood) plot introduced in the previous episode. The Hank Henshaw resolution is one of the show’s greatest missteps in a mostly stellar second season: Henshaw’s disappearance (and his impersonation by J’onn J’onzz) was one of the first season’s coolest mysteries, and the character being another Cadmus stooge is slightly disappointing. Most of this episode is sitting around waiting for the “fireworks factory” of the crossover to show up, and we get everything we need from the Flash episode anyway. The only other thing to say about this episode is Chyler Leigh’s Alex Danvers continues to shine brighter than most of the cast, and Helen Slater also delivers a solid performance as Mama Danvers.
The Flash starts things off with a boom by introducing the main villains of the crossover, an alien race called The Dominators. The basis of this story is the classic Invasion! storyline from the late ’80s. While Todd McFarlane’s art holds up, the crossover is particularly dated in its portrayal of the Dominators as being a vaguely Asian stereotype. Thankfully, the live-action Dominators are reworked to subtly reference the design, sans the Yellow Peril. In fact, the Dominators seems more similar to Mars Attacks! aliens than anything else, with their exposed brains and bared teeth. The Flash part of the crossover deals mainly with getting the gang together, including Supergirl, Green Arrow’s team, and the Waverider crew of Legends of Tomorrow. Probably the coolest bit is the reveal that S.T.A.R. Labs owns a giant warehouse that looks very similar to the Hall of Justice from the comics where the teams train to fight the alien threat. That’s right, the CW shows actually beat the DCEU films on getting their own Justice League together.
The best interactions in the episode are easily from Kara finally meeting Oliver, as their dispositions clearly rub each other the wrong way. Barry is given more crap for causing Flashpoint by the other characters (deservedly so), and there’s a big battle scene between the characters who are brainwashed by a Dominator device. All in all, it’s really fun! The episode pretty much serves as a low-key version of Marvel’s first Avengers outing, and that’s not a bad thing to strive for.
The third part of the crossover gets even more interesting, since it also serves double duty as the 100th episode of Arrow. At the end of The Flash, many of the characters get sucked up into space by the Dominators and placed into essentially a virtual purgatory. Oliver, Diggle (David Ramsey), Sara (Caity Lotz), and Ray Palmer (Brandon Routh) live out fantasy lives in an idealized version of Star City. It’s full of references to past seasons of Arrow, including guest-star turns from Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson), and even Robert Queen (Jamey Sheridan), back for the first time since the pilot. It’s a heartwarming, if bizarre, episode, and a treat for fans who’ve watched from the beginning. It’s hilarious that a show that once debuted as a gritty, realistic superhero show had its 100th episode technically set in space, but the writers managed to make it work. There’s also a subplot where Cisco (Carlos Valdes) and Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) hang out with the rookies on Team Arrow, but that’s mostly fluff and set-up for the next episode.
The Legends of Tomorrow section of the crossover is probably its weakest, which is a shame, because it had the most potential. The captured characters are freed from the alien spaceship, and Felicity and Cisco travel back in time with the Legends to the first Dominator invasion to gain more intel on how to defeat them. It’s revealed that the Dominators are on Earth because Barry meddling with the timeline has made them a cosmic threat, along with the proliferation of other metahumans. The Dominators are planning to unleash a “metahuman bomb” (a plot element cribbed from the source comic). The superhero teams eventually all join together and save the day, and the Dominators are destroyed. Supergirl goes back to her own dimension, with the newfound ability to return to this one at any time. The best thing here is probably the pointed Superman Returns joke, with Ray remarking Kara looks kind of like his cousin. Other than that, it’s a passable episode of Legends of Tomorrow, albeit where not many of the characters interact with each other (possibly due to different shooting schedules).
The verdict? I think the crossover was a solid success. This served as a test run for an upcoming crack at a Crisis on Infinite Earths-level event, the “white whale” of all comics-based entertainment. I fully trust that the production and the cast can really pull that off, and while the crossover itself wasn’t perfect, it was an entertaining series of moments, with a clear arc and progression, which is more than you can say for a lot of modern DC adaptations.