Every year, the annual Arrowverse crossover is a chance for the various CW superhero shows to stretch themselves with comedy, action, and special effects spectacles. This year’s story saw The Book of Destiny rewrite the lives of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), causing the Flash and Arrow to swap each other’s lives. Roping in Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) and her cousin Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) to aid their attempt to undo the Book’s alterations gave each show — The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl — plenty of opportunities to redefine how far they can push the limits of superhero television.
But it was also a chance for the participating programs to get very geeky about themselves and comic-book mythology overall. This year’s crossover, “Elseworlds,” is no exception, with nods to previous crossovers, a future crossover, and deep pulls from comic-book lore. Here’s a look some of our favorite references and what they mean for the Arrowverse.
Almost as soon as the first part of “Elseworlds” began, it made the same joke about Barry’s disregard for the timeline that the internet does. When Oliver realized he was the Flash, he immediately asked the most sensible question anyone would in that situation: What the heck did Barry do now?
The joke goes back to the resolution of the “Flashpoint” storyline in the third season of The Flash. Barry prevented his mother’s murder, but also prevented the circumstances that led to him becoming the Flash. When he undid this choice, it had ramifications for The Flash, like the appearance of Killer Frost (Danielle Panabaker), and Arrow. In the latter program’s case, his cavalier attitude toward time changed John Diggle (David Ramsey) and Lyla Michaels’ (Audrey Marie Anderson) daughter, Sara, into J.J., their son. The change was even predicted in the first season of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow when the Legends discovered J.J. acting as the Green Arrow in 2046.
As it happens, no one was thrilled to learn about Barry’s tinkering with time.
His “Flashpoint” mistake led to a favorite online meme about disappointing events. And considering how often Arrow tries to resist the wilder Arrowverse plot points, Oliver’s question seems like a great joke and a fair point.
A regular feature of Arrow’s early years, Oliver’s main means of working out his core has taken a back seat in recent years. Luckily, the equipment was still set up in the remains of the Arrowcave, allowing Barry to try it out as he seemingly inherited Oliver’s abs during the life-swap.
For years, fans of The Flash have debated the morality of the Pipeline. Set up as a way to contain wayward metas like Girder (Greg Finley), viewers quickly began to question how the Pipeline functioned and Team Flash’s cavalier attitude toward the metas’ constitutional rights. Though prisoners in the Pipeline were eventually transferred to Iron Heights Prison, the show never really acknowledged what the Pipeline was until Barry pieced it together in the first part of “Elseworlds.”
Like much of the humor in the first episode, the moment revealed that the producers of The Flash do listen to those complaints, even if it takes them four years to respond. But the underlying theme of the joke was amplified in Part 3 as John Deegan (Jeremy Davies) turned S.T.A.R. Labs into a literal prison.
Also, the sequence from Part 1 finally resolved a longstanding concern about the humane treatment of the metas in the Pipeline: Yes, the cells do indeed have toilets.
While not part of the Arrowverse, Smallville was The CW’s (and The WB’s) first foray into the DC Universe. Using the theme song as the action moves to the Earth-38 Kent Farm — which happens to be the same location used on Smallville — was a nice, playful touch. See also: Jonathan Kent’s old red truck in the background of many shots at the farm.
Before Barry and Oliver arrive on Earth-38, Clark Kent mentions some of the things he and Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch) did on their trip to Argo City, including a trek to the Jewel Mountains. This is a particularly deep pull from the DC Comics mythos as the Jewel Mountains of Lurvan appear in only a handful of early 1980s comic books. In the mountains’ second appearance, Kryptonian criminal Jax-Ur traveled back in time to create a Jewel Kryptonite as a means of affecting reality outside the Phantom Zone. Now that sounds like a future Supergirl story to us.
When Clark agrees to help Oliver and Barry, he announces himself as “a friend.” The line will be familiar to fans of 1978’s Superman motion picture — which happens to be celebrating its 40th anniversary later this week — as Clark’s (Christopher Reeve) answer when Lois (Margot Kidder) asks “Who are you?” after he saved her from a helicopter accident. It is the first of many nods to the Earth-38 Superman’s feature-film counterpart.
In Part 3, Barry and Kara’s scientifically unsound plan to slow the rotation of the Earth and slow down time is a direct lift from the end of Superman; though, in that case, Superman was seen reversing the rotation of the Earth to turn back time. The visual is recreated in “Elseworlds,” but as many have noted over the years, reversing the rotation of the planet would not alter time. Instead, it would break the Earth’s gravitational pull. Nonetheless, the visual is very consistent with the way Superman traveled through time in issues of Action Comics and Superman during the 1950s and ’60s.
Another nod to Superman comes at the tail end of “Elseworlds” when Clark proposes to Lois. The dress she is wearing is a duplicate of the one movie Lois wears during her first interview with the Man of Steel. Feature-film Superman was also known to use his strength to make diamonds, which is seen here with the engagement ring he gives Lois. Even his attempt to grill and Lois’s subsequent suggestion to use heat vision is a roundabout reference to a deleted Superman II scene in which Clark uses that ability to make a soufflé.
When Barry, Kara, and Oliver finally decide to make a trip to Earth-1’s Gotham City in Part 2, Oliver boldly claims the Batman is a urban legend. This is a joke with many meanings.
In the comics of the 1990s, Batman was considered to be an urban legend despite his membership in the Justice League. The notion was dispensed during the 1999 “No Man’s Land” storyline, in which Batman was forced to appear in broad daylight to reclaim his city and partner with the Gotham City Police Department.
The concept, however, serves well as a joke about who appeared first in the Arrowverse. Until “Elseworlds,” Oliver was presumed to be the first costumed vigilante — for a moment, let’s dismiss the Justice Society of America in the 1940s — which would be true if the Batman is a myth. You may notice Ollie gets really defensive about this point, which is another nod to the comics as Green Arrow was something of a Batman clone for decades.
But the joke also has a real-world connotation as Batman remains a character the Arrowverse cannot use for obscure corporate reasons predating the Warner Bros. purchase of DC Comics and the character’s continued status as feature film star.
Despite the prohibition on the character himself, the entire Gotham City sequence in Part 2 is stuffed with weighty Batman references. The Chicago exterior shots recall Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. The overgrown vegetation in the Wayne Tower and the glimpse of Kate Kane’s (Ruby Rose) hideout is a direct reference to the treehouse her comic-book counterpart, Batwoman (who will likely be getting her own series in 2019), utilizes. The names glimpsed at Arkham Asylum are, of course, members of Batman’s rogues gallery — although executive producer Marc Guggenheim clearly had some fun by making the caped crusader’s Earth-1 counterpart an inmate there — and back in Bruce Wayne’s office, the Shakespeare bust is a welcome tip-of-the-hat to Batman ’66.
Also, Batwoman’s suggestion that she and Kara could be the “world’s finest” team recalls the comic book of the same name, in which Batman and Superman regularly teamed up.
When the Earth-90 Barry Allen (John Wesley Shipp) finally makes it to Earth-1, he spots Diggle and asks why he is not wearing his ring. The joke is a reference to the fan theory (or is it an abandoned storyline?) that Diggle is really John Stewart, who became Hal Jordan’s back-up as Green Lantern in 1971’s Green Lantern #87. Fans of the Justice League animated series will also remember him as the Green Lantern of Earth.
Arrow has made plenty of knowing references over the years to the Diggle-Stewart connection as their histories align in certain ways, but it is unlikely the producers ever really intended to make Dig the protector of space sector 2814. For one thing, the show is the most grounded of the Arrowverse programs, so it seems unlikely that a ring would ever come to Earth and judge him to be a man without fear. Additionally, it was always presumed Warner Bros. Pictures’ interest in Green Lantern feature films made it impossible for the Arrowverse to feature a Green Lantern Corps, although executive producer Beth Schwartz recently suggested this may not be the case.
Either way, it is fun to think that in other realities, John Diggle is a space cop. Maybe once Arrow finishes its run, producers could spin him off into his own Green Lantern series.
In the end, “Elseworlds” proved to be a test for the coming Crisis, as the Monitor (LaMonica Garrett) eventually explained; in fact, we already know the Arrowverse plans to bring Crisis on Infinite Earths to television next year.
The epic 1985 maxiseries redefined DC Comics continuity by ending its Multiverse (don’t worry, it eventually returned). In the series, the Monitor assembled heroes from various realities to stop the approach of the Anti-Monitor from the antimatter reality: a creature bent on harvesting the energies of the other realities. In the end, the heroes were forced to merge the remaining realities into a single, supposedly cohesive, universe.
And as ads for the series remarked, worlds lived and worlds died. The death count included the entire Crime Syndicate of America on Earth-3, Hank Hall’s brother Don (a.k.a. Dove), and, most notably, Barry Allen and Kara Zor-El.
Since “Elseworlds” proved to be a prequel to “Crisis,” references to the storyline proliferate across the story with Crisis’ red skies following Barry and Ollie from Central City to Star City, the Monitor’s test of the heroes reflecting his goal in comic books prior to the Crisis series, Psycho-Pirate’s (Bob Frazer) brief appearances in Parts 2 and 3, and, most crucially, Clark’s revelation that Barry and Kara will both die. Sure, he meant during their attempt to slow time in “Elseworlds,” but fans of the original Crisis will know the deeper meaning immediately.
Which makes you wonder if Ollie traded his life for theirs when he spoke with the Monitor…
Even the crossover’s final moment, in which Psycho-Pirate assures Deegan everything will be fine, calls back to the final page of Crisis on Infinite Earths. In both cases, he recites a version of the ad copy for the event series: “Worlds will live. Worlds will die. And the DC Universe will never be the same.”
These are our favorite Easter Eggs in “Elseworlds,” but our list is not comprehensive. Things like the Trigger Twins, Deegan’s black Superman suit, James Olsen’s (Mehcad Brooks) reference to “Superman’s worst pal,” and even Gary’s (Adam Tsekhman) cameo in the villain’s bar all call back to other connections to comics and the Arrowverse. Plus, there’s one major question “Elseworlds” introduced: If James and Alex (Chyler Leigh) exist on Earth-1, where are that reality’s version of Kara and Clark? Did Krypton ever explode?
Perhaps we’ll learn the answer in next year’s crossover.