A look back on CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS - One of the Worst Things Ever to Happen to Television

It's been over a year now, but the stings inflicted upon the masses are still tangible after this ferocious display of stupidity and incompetence.

Reviews Opinion

For nine years, the so-called Arrowverse has found a place in the hearts of fans across the globe due in large part to a bevy of loveable, well-developed characters. However, it has also consistently had its share of narrative problems.The scripts and story movement often feel rushed and even hackneyed, with very poor, half-baked explanations either for the events that are happening or characters’ motivations for the actions they commit.

Nowhere is this more true than in its latest, and biggest, crossover event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, which, in spite of some great fun and incredible fan-service moments that make television history, also features plenty of downright  rancid moments of almost unbelievable stupidity that will make you question our place in the universe.

But before we get into that, let’s take a quick look at the events that brought us here.

It all began in 2018, with the crossover Elseworlds, which introduced the character of Mar Novu, AKA The Monitor, a cosmic being who holds The Book of Destiny, a fairly cumbersome volume which gives its user effective omnipotence, allowing them to rewrite reality to their wishes. To make a long story short, The Monitor gives the book to a psychopath who does terrible things with it. Novu’s reasoning for this is apparently to “test” the Earth, to see if they could handle a “Crisis” that is coming, with a villain much more powerful than he. 

By 2019, The Monitor had factored into the different series. He still doesn’t really share what this Crisis is, but in both Barry and Oliver’s cases, he has looked into their future and become assured that they both die in the events therein. 

Barry decides to use one of many hastily-made miracle machines on his show to be able to look into the future and see for the first time what the Crisis entails: A wave of anti-matter ripping through the universe, destroying everything in its wake. Aside from that, he comes out saying that he has seen a million versions of the future, and they all end with him dying. However, those are about the only details he's gotten from the whole experience:  Not what’s causing the threat, not anything else that happens. No. All he knows is that there’s a wave of antimatter, and that he will die in a million scenarios that he cannot describe. How strange for him to know only these two details, which the writers want so much for him to know. (see above note on half-baked explanations).

For Oliver’s part, he too sees that the Crisis deals with the antimatter wave, as he sees it rip through Earth-2, destroying it and thus effectively beginning the Crisis. The Monitor has begun sending him on missions needed to win the day, such as retrieving dwarf star particles from a secret lab. Novu is also so incredibly powerful that he makes people appear and reappear at will, seemingly knows what anybody is up to at any moment, and literally brings Oliver’s grown daughter Mia back in time from the future to help out. Thus, the idea of him needing Oliver to run any of these errands is fairly ridiculous. In spite of his seeming omniscience, when Oliver begins to suspect that the Monitor is actually causing the Crisis instead of trying to stop it, he attempts to go behind his back and investigate him, somehow believing such a thing possible. This investigation leads him to an ancient book that say that, indeed, The Monitor is the cause of the Crisis.

In response to this, the Monitor, again showcasing the ludicrous immensity of his power, sends Oliver into an alternate reality of his own making, complete with a time loop, showing his old friend Quentin Lance dying again and again, all in the name of making Oliver accept his own impending death. Not only does Oliver do this, but he walks away from the experience now saying that he has learned Novu is a good guy, and not the cause of the Crisis. There was, of course, nothing in this experience to make him think this, and he still has that book, which I’m sure he’s forgotten about, but the writers need them to be on the same side now and to get the ball rolling. (see above note on half-baked explanations, or rather, no-baked explanations.)

In any event, there’s also Nash Wells, a traveler across the multiverse who is never given a shred of backstory, but is looking to destroy The Monitor for reasons not given. Nash finds an entrance to what he believes is The Monitor’s lair in the tunnels beneath Central City, being sucked into it.

All of this leads us to the event itself: Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Part One

The first episode does fairly well, functioning largely as a somewhat faithful adaptation of the first three issues of the comic book mini-series upon which it is based. The anti-matter wave has now reached Earth-38, home of Supergirl. The Monitor, now using John Diggle’s wife Lyla Michaels as his harbinger, recruits his team of heroes to help stop it. This involves a giant turning fork that disrupts the antimatter wave’s energies. The Monitor’s enemy is finally named as the Anti-Monitor, but anything else about him remains in the dark other than the fact that he seeks to destroy every positive-matter universe in existence. The heroes must defend the cosmic tuning fork from an army of the Anti-Monitor’s shadow demons while the planet is evacuated via another miracle machine that transports billions to Earth-1. (So much for all the other planets in Universe-38, I guess). 

The planet is ultimately destroyed, and when our heroes reconvene on Earth-1, Oliver is mortally wounded, passing on his last admonitions to his friends and family before dying. The death of Oliver happening before we’ve even learned much about the antagonist causing it all, seems ill-designed but it ultimately proves to be but the first chapter in the story of his death.

Oh, one last thing: Nash Wells shows up in a funky new costume, revealing that, by opening the door he found in the tunnels, he actually freed the Anti-Monitor, thus creating the whole Crisis, and is now a pariah sentenced to bear witness to his actions.

Wait, so after all of this, it turns out that all The Monitor had to do to stop the Anti-Monitor and prevent this entire mini-series was use that omniscience of his to watch over a DOOR in the sewer? And he couldn't even do that?

You had ONE job, Mar Novu!

Part Two

It is now that the writers introduce perhaps their most poorly designed, half-explained, and altogether ill-advised plotline: The paragons. Apparently, the paragons are seven beings throughout all of existence who, for no real reason in particular, are the ones who can stop the Crisis. They also represent different virtues like “hope,” "courage,” “humanity,” etc. (It really doesn’t matter). Thus, we must spend the next two episodes killing time looking for them. 

All of this is partially learned through the Book of Destiny, and even though it’s firmly established that anyone can use the book to change reality as long as its on a relatively small scale, no one seems to think of using it to bring back their pal Oliver. 

Lex Luthor, recently resurrected and recruited by the Monitor, steals the thing and uses it to go from universe to universe killing Superman. This ultimately leads to us briefly seeing the characters from Smallville before meeting the Superman from the film Superman Returns, who proves to be our first paragon. In spite of a pile of dead Supermen, the Monitor says it’s all okay, because it needed to happen to find this one. We couldn’t have just looked ourselves. No, sir.

Almost as poorly thought out is the finding of the second paragon. Kara and Kate travel to Earth-99 where we get the much-anticipated first live-action appearance of Kevin Conroy as Batman. However, he turns out to be a bad guy, the heroines return to base, and the Monitor reveals the Paragon was Kate all along. So why the trip to the other Earth? In his words, “I said the path to Earth-99 would lead you to the paragon. And so it has.” In other words, we really needed to kill the time.

Of course, all this is unnecessary anyway, as Ray has been hard at work on building a paragon-detector. Now, it’s very important right now to really allow that pair of words to truly sink in...Paragon detector.

Paragon detector.

No, seriously, folks. Paragon. Detector.

Of course, Oliver’s loved ones cannot accept his death, so they decide to try the good old put-him-in-a-Lazarus-pit-and-use-Satanism-to-return-his-soul trick. Works every time, right? Well, not this time, as we see in part three. 

Part Three

After Barry, Mia, Diggle, and Constantine get some help from Netflix’s Lucifer and find Oliver’s soul, the character of The Spectre is introduced, bidding his soul on a different journey. Now, in the plus column, what this plotline does is make Oliver’s death more drawn out than his unceremonious demise in the first episode, and this scene gives him and Diggle a chance to say goodbye. Still, it happens maddeningly fast, and is therefore quite silly, with a total stranger showing up and saying, “Hey, you can’t go back, you gotta go with me,” and Oliver saying, “Okay!” and leaving.

Meanwhile, Ray completes his fancy paragon detector (ugh), and it turns out that, not only can this thing detect paragons across the multiverse, it even detects what they’re paragons of, with “hope,” “courage,” and “destiny” listed right under their nicely-chosen headshots. Wow, the science behind that must be extremely complex!

So yes, the seven paragons are Barry, Kara, Kate, Sara, J’onn, the Brandon-Routh-Superman, and a new guy, a scientist named Ryan Choi whom the team quickly locates, and who will have no influence on the plot of this series, nor any of the individual series moving forward. Meanwhile, Cisco makes the astonishing discovery that the Anti-Monitor’s location is exactly where Nash previously found it. (Where did that guy go, by the way?)

With the Monitor having apparently nothing to say about this, Barry, Cisco, and Caitlin break in and find the source of all their woes: The Anti-matter cannon, with Earth-90’s Flash being forced to power it by running on a treadmill.

Nash finally shows up again, saying he is under the Anti-Monitor’s power, that he only goes where the disasters happen that his boss causes, and that he is here to see a tragedy. He then uses his powers, given to him by the Anti-Monitor, to help destroy the anti-matter cannon. 

I’ve certainly taken issue with the series up to this point, but nothing, not even paragon detectors, can compare with what happens next. The team frees Flash from his prison only to discover the canon has the ultimate failsafe: If you take away the guy powering it, it will do its job faster!.

After Pariah uses his powers to recruit Black Lightning from a dying earth to help out, the team figures out that if a Flash runs on the treadmill in reverse, it will destroy the whole thing. The only problem is, it will kill him too. Barry decides this is how he is meant to die (Wait, he decides this now? Didn't he see a million versions of his death, and...nevermind). At the last moment, however, the Earth-90 flash incapacitates him and takes his place, destroying the anti-matter cannon and disintigrating in the process. (Guess that was the million-and-first scenario).

Remember how, since the very first episode of The Flash, there was a newspaper from the future that said that Barry vanished during this Crisis? Remember how his daughter from the future had to grow up without him because of it? No one came back from the future to change all that. There’s no outside catalyst that would make things happen differently from what we’ve continually been told it happens/would happen/did happen. This would appear to have always been what happened in those other futures, and yet, he simply doesn’t die. 

The idea of Earth-90 Flash taking Barry’s place is a good one, even a great one. It manages to stay faithful to the comic book, in which the Flash died in just this way, while both keeping our Barry alive and calling back to the original Flash series. It’s a very emotional moment, at least for those of us who watched the ‘90s series. But it is rather hampered by the fact that it makes absolutely no sense in the actual context. It also probably would have helped the emotional connection if Earth-90 Flash had been present for more than a few minutes in the Arrowverse thus far, but there you have it.

I’m not sure why the Anti-Monitor allowed his canon to be destroyed, but it's okay, becuase he still has a back-up plan. Once the heroes allow his henchmen Pariah to accompany everyone back to base (seriously?), the Anti-Monitor shows up, having possessed Lilah. He kills the Monitor, drawing his power into him and using it to reignite his now-nonexistent antimatter cannon (I guess he had a spare?), destroying Earth-1, the last positive matter universe. Yet at the last second, before all our heroes are erased from existence, Pariah uses his power to transport the seven paragons to the Vanishing Point, a place outside time and space where the Anti-Monitor cannot follow (in spite of them being sent there by powers granted by the Anti-Monitor). 

So...This has been a pretty negative review. However, I will say that the ending of this episode actually managed to make me somewhat excited. Once the heroes turn up in vanishing point, Superman disappears in a flash of light, being replaced by Lex Luthor. Luthor reveals that he saw all of this happening in the Book of Destiny, so wrote in his own name in place of Superman’s, thus saving himself from destruction. “So,” he says. “What do we do now?” To be continuted.

Structurally speaking, this moment is kind of perfect. After a seeming victory over the main instrument of destruction, the heroes are ultimately defeated, everything is lost, and a ragtag group of survivors are stranded without knowing what to do, only for the snarky villain to show back up again to throw one more wrench into the machine, with a killer final line. It’s the kind of cliffhanger that’s more satisfying than anything else in the series, and made me glad to wait a month. If only the rest of the series could have featured equally clever writing.

Question: If I actually dared to hope here, to think that maybe the second half of this series would be worthwile, would actually measure up to this cliffhanger and deliver something entertaining, effective, and well-thought-out, does that make me the Paragon of Hope?

A Short Break:
Comparison with the Source Material

Thus far, I've avoided making comparisons to the source material in question, the actual 12-issue comic book miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths, published from 1985 to 1986. At this point, however, I deem it necessary. The intent here is certainly not to criticize the television event simply for being different. However, three of the scenes in the series, while taking their inspiration from the comic, are not only very different, they are also among the series' worst in terms of logic and dramatic continuity. Showcasing the source material shows us where the writers got the ideas and where exactly they went wrong.

The first main divergence is that, in the comic books, the Anti-Monitor fails in his attempt to destroy the positive-matter universes, almost entirely due to the sacrifice of The Flash, who, as here, destroyed his anti-matter cannon with his last breath. The Anti-Monitor then goes with Plan B, retreating to the Dawn of Time to try and destroy the universes where it all began.

In the television event, the situation is reversed. He succeeds in his mission despite the Flash's sacrifice, destroying all positive-matter universes. It is then predictable that our heroes will now find themselves in the Dawn of Time, trying to reverse his actions.

What this ultimately means, however, is that everything preceding the Anti-Monitor’s destruction of the Earths actually ends up being perfectly meaningless, and all-for-naught. That includes The Flash’s sacrifice. 

Nothing mattered.

Part Four

In the opening scene of Part Four we are treated to a special origin of the Monitor and Anti-Monitor (which is actually largely taken from Pariah’s origin in the source material). So, how did this all happen? As it turns out, Mar Novu, the future Monitor was a time traveler who traveled to the dawn of time (which is a rock quarry). Yet in the process, he accidentally finds himself in the anti-matter universe, where his presence creates an anti-matter version of himself.

That’s it.

I have no idea how that anti-matter version of Mar-Novu grew to become a powerful despot with an anti-matter cannon buried beneath Central City, destroying entire universes, nor how Mar Novu himself grew to become the supremely powerful being known as The Monitor and devote the next 10,000 years to stopping his evil clone, nor how the omnipotent Book of Destiny factored into all of this. This scene seems to exist to give some backstory to the series. Yet all we really learn from it is this: There was a guy, and then there was another guy.

We then meet back up with our heroes at The Vanishing Point, apparently the last survivors of all universes. Barry can’t even tap into the speed force to reverse time, making their situation apparently hopeless.

Then Oliver shows up, now having become the powerful being known as The Spectre. Yeah, you remember that spirit guy who randomly showed up and bid Oliver to come on a journey with him? He's now made him an all-powerful being!

Deus-ex-Oliver juices up Barry’s powers, enabling him to enter the speed force and go back in time. They split into two teams: One will try and prevent Mar Novu from going back to the Dawn of Time and creating the Anti-Monitor, while another will meet The Anti-Monitor at the Dawn of Time itself and try to take him out there. 

The group that tries to get back to the Dawn of Time runs into some problems getting there, and get stuck in the speed force, finding themselves in different points in time. These points are, of course, emotional moments the various characters. We’re used to these little trips down memory lane in the Arrowverse, but this one seems particularly pointless, as the characters seem to glean the least poignant insights possible from these moments. “Oliver didn’t used to trust people, and now he does." "Oliver and Kara didn’t used to be friends, and now they are." "Sara used to be dead, and now she’s not.”

Meanwhile, the other half of our friends manage to talk Mar Novu out of going back to the Dawn of Time, but it turns out plenty of his dopplegangers from other Earths made the same decision. So it didn’t make any difference. Nothing mattered. (I’m sensing a theme here). 

Since team one was deyed in getting to the Dawn of Time, this means that all of this was complete time-filler so that all our heroes can converge there at the same time, on the fight that really does matter! The Dawn of Time (which, again, is a rock quarry) manages to become a moment the characters can take advantage of to reset the universes. How? Oliver sends out some power blast while fighting the Anti-Monitor, while the group fights Shadow Demons (including Lex and Ryan just punching them), and then hold hands while focusing on the page of the Book of Destiny.

The “how” doesn’t really matter (and doesn’t make much more sense in the comics, either) as much as the why. Why "reset" the universe? What does that even mean? Shouldn't they be going back to the moment they lost, or some other moment they can stop the Anti-Monitor. What about "resetting" the universes from the beginning guarantees that the Anti-Monitor will not still prevail in the year 2019...again? 

Here is the second part which we must compare to the source material. In the comics, the universe is reset, yet it happens largely by accident, as the heroes try to stop the Anti-Monitor. Here, it is their intention. Again, why?

At any rate, this action is fatal to the Spectre, meaning Oliver once again sacrifices his life. Time is rewritten, with the apparent result being that the teams did not lose to the Anti-Monitor in 2019.


Part Five

Actually, it turns out the Crisis never happened at all!

Here is the third important point of divergence with the comics. In both cases, the heroes wake up from their adventure at the Dawn of Time in their own homes, to find the world has changed. The different universes that our heroes lived in up until now have been merged into one. Only they, the heroes present at the Dawn of Time, remembered how it used to be.

In the comics, one thing that remained the same after this merger was that the Crisis, or some version of it, had still happened. Everyone else on Earth still remembered the major events, right up until the Anti-Monitor traveled back to the Dawn of Time. In the television version, however, the whole thing never happened!

This begs questions like: How did Oliver die? With no Crisis occurring, he never would have been killed by the Shadow Demons, let alone become The Spectre. His death in the present is said to be a direct result of his sacrifice at the Dawn of Time, but what happened to his present-time self? Did he just pop out of existence at a certain point? Doesn’t this also mean Earth-90’s Flash is still alive? How about Nash Wells? We meet him right where he was before the Crisis began: In the tunnels beneath Central City. Yet why would he be there, or even on that Earth, or a part of the story, if it wasn’t for the Crisis?

Then, the Anti-Monitor shows back up. Did he, in this timeline, just never decide to attack the Multiverse, until the version that remembers everything we’ve seen so far returns to the present?

All of these questions could have been completely avoided by simply going the route of the comics and establishing that, while this new timeline has its share of differences, a close approximation of the events we have seen thus far has still recently occured.

Our heroes decide that it is impossible to destroy the Anti-Monitor. Why? Oh man, you're gonna love this one! They can't destroy him because the Anti-Monitor is composed of antimatter, and I quote, “anti-matter, like matter, cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed.”

Well...sure, but a being made of matter can still be destroyed when you transform his matter into a pile of ash. You've literally destroyed dozens of beings made of matter. Like, it happens every day. Yet this somehow stands as an explanation for the Anti-Monitor being invulnerable. 

That is stupid.

So, our heroes decide that instead of destroying the villain, they have to simply shrink him really small, sending him into the microverse. In classic Arrowverse fashion, the scientists in these groups whip up a nifty dohicky in the space of an hour, they throw it at the bad guy, and he’s defeated.

And in the End...

The original Crisis of DC Comics was done to consolidate the multiverse into a single shared universe, to spare readers the confusion. The company later realized this was a creative mistake and completely reversed the decision, bringing the multiverse back into play.

In this case, the main point to be redressed was that the shows on The CW took place on different Earths, and the mission became to simply combine those while,  learning from the mistakes of the past, still maintaining a multiverse. Hence, all our (current) CW heroes now exist on Earth-Prime, while we’re treated to a few other scenes of characters from other adaptations in their own universes, establishing the new multiverse.

In addition to so many plot holes, contrivances, and just lazy writing, one of the main problems with the mini-series lay in the buildup. On these past seasons of Arrow and Flash, so much time was wasted chasing dwarf star particles and seeing Barry trying to avert his death, time which could have been spent building up characters like The Spectre, Earth-90 Flash, or the actual origins of the Monitor and Anti-Monitor. The series could have benefited from these aspects being more stretched-out and built-up. That is something to consider, even if it's only a small part of the problem.

There’s been a lot of terrible, negligent writing here. And yet we’re not done. There remains one distinct sequence of dialogue that shows that, to an absolutely ludicrous degree, that the writers didn’t even understand what they themselves were writing.

Near the end of the episode, as Superman is flying through the air, he speaks on comms to Lois, who reminds him of “the boys.” “They boys?” he asks. She responds “Your sons!” eliciting surprise from the Man of Steel! Oh, wow! So, in this new timeline, Superman and Lois had two children! And he didn’t realize it, of course, because he was one of those heroes at the Dawn of Time!

Wait....

No he wasn’t.

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