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Bedlam On A TV Budget: Which Comics Crossover Should DCTV Tackle Next?

by  in TV News Comment
Bedlam On A TV Budget: Which Comics Crossover Should DCTV Tackle Next?

The heroes of the CW's super-shows: Green Arrow, Supergirl, the Flash and the Legends of Tomorrow

Since “Invasion!” has been such a smashing success for The CW’s superhero shows, naturally our thoughts turn to possibilities for next season’s get-together. While DC Comics has been producing superhero team-ups on various scales since the Golden Age of Comics, the realities of TV production — including the characters available on today’s super-shows — tend to limit a network’s options.

RELATED: Arrow Hits Season High Ratings with Crossover, 100th Episode

Nevertheless, Greg Berlanti and company can still draw from a deep well of source material. Today we’ll look at some of the most promising stories, plus a few longshots which have potential.

GROUND RULES

CW superheroes, Fall 2015

Speedy, Green Arrow, Black Canary, The Flash, Spartan, Hawkgirl and Hawkman, from 2015’s “Flash”/”Arrow” crossover

The heyday of DC superhero crossovers lasted about 25 years, from 1985’s “Crisis On Infinite Earths” through 2009-10’s “Blackest Night.” The publisher produced crossovers before and after, from the Justice League/Justice Society team-ups of the Silver and Bronze Ages to the more targeted epics of the New 52; but the most memorable came in the post-“Crisis,” pre-“Flashpoint” era. Therefore, with a couple of exceptions, that’s where we’ll draw from the most.

Right off the bat we can eliminate crossovers which fit in a few broad categories. First, let’s nix “Crisis” itself and its follow-up, 1994’s “Zero Hour.” Both involve wholesale cosmic changes which, as far as I can tell, the CW’s shows don’t really need right now. They’re tools for projects like integrating Supergirl’s Earth-38 with the Arrowverse’s Earth-1, or fixing catastrophic faults in the timeline. The whole “Identity Crisis”-“Infinite Crisis”-“52” cycle is also too continuity-heavy (not to mention too Trinity-heavy) to be adapted effectively.

We can also eliminate crossovers which depend on characters the TV shows probably can’t use. First among these are the ones involving Darkseid and the New Gods: 1986’s “Legends,” 1997’s “Genesis” and 2008-09’s “Final Crisis.” Similarly, 1991’s “War of the Gods” and 2007’s “Amazons Attack” both centered around Wonder Woman; while “Blackest Night” and its semi-sequel “Brightest Day” were based in the Green Lantern mythology. Clearly The CW can’t use 2001’s “Joker: Last Laugh” (although maybe “Gotham” could take a stab at a loose adaptation), and “Emperor Joker” is likewise right out.

Obviously, we have to deal with the show’s existing characters and situations. Barring any “Crisis”-style integration, if we want Supergirl, we have to justify going to Earth-38, or having her come to Earth-1. Hanging a lantern on it, as the JLA and JSA did with their “annual reunions,” might be the simplest solution, and might expand to include Earth-3’s heroes as well.

Collectively the shows give us a potentially-huge cast of super-people:

  • “Supergirl”: Supergirl, Superman, J’Onn J’Onzz, Guardian
  • “The Flash”: Flash (Barry), Flash (Jay), Vibe, Kid Flash, Jesse Quick
  • “Arrow”: Green Arrow, Speedy, Spartan, Mr. Terrific, Ragman, Wild Dog, maybe Black Canary and/or Red Arrow
  • “Legends of Tomorrow”: Firestorm, the Atom, White Canary, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Jonah Hex, Vixen, Heat Wave, Captain Cold, Citizen Steel, Commander Steel, Hourman, Stargirl, Obsidian, Doctor Mid-Nite

That’s as many as 32 heroes, even without stalwarts like Winn Schott or Felicity Smoak. (I’m assuming Mon-El will be in the Phantom Zone before too long.) By my count, “Invasion” has used 16, plus appearances by “Flash” and “Arrow’s” supporting cast. While a crossover should represent each show, you don’t want to get greedy, even with the fate of the Multiverse at stake.

Now, on to the crossovers!

GOOD GUYS GONE BAD

"Eclipso: The Darkness Within"

Detail from the cover of “Eclipso: The Darkness Within” #1, by Bart Sears and Mark Pennington

DC used this plot three times in four years, and the TV “Invasion!” incorporated it briefly. In 1988’s “Millennium,” the android Manhunters impersonated or otherwise infiltrated the inner circles of every major superhero and super-team, in order to take them out and subsequently take over the world. This is a natural TV plot, because it lets the producers reset unsatisfying character beats. More to the point, “Millennium” itself featured big battles on the Manhunter homeworld (involving Superman, a squad of Green Lanterns and Doctor Fate) and in the Earthbound Manhunter citadel. TV’s version could therefore start with the betrayals and end with the carnage, while skipping all the tie-ins to Green Lantern backstory. It could also introduce one or more heroic Manhunters (Kate Spencer, Mark Shaw, et al.) to the Arrowverse.

Next is one of DC’s more infamous crossovers, 1991’s “Armageddon 2001.” Instead of a loved one’s betrayal, it warned of a totalitarian society ten years in the future, thanks to one superhero finally going over the edge. Needless to say, this is perfect for “Legends of Tomorrow,” particularly since the Legends’ warning could itself be a red herring to disguise the fact that the villain is one of them. (I’m not saying it is, mind you — that probably depends on contract negotiations. But it probably is.) Much as the comics did with the series’ various Annuals, the individual shows could depict the decade-away dystopias for their own characters, with the big wrap-up on “Legends.” It would be a good way to introduce Captain Atom, who would seem like the obvious choice for tyrant, but who naturally would be absolved by the end.

The very next year, DC went back to the mind-control well with 1992’s “Eclipso: The Darkness Within.” This was a straightforward supervillain-takeover story. The twist was that each of Eclipso’s black-diamond shards would turn the holder evil as long as he or she were angry enough when they held it. I suppose the surprising plot development of an Arrowverse version would be Ollie not getting angry enough to be turned. While the miniseries ended with a big battle on the Moon — far away from the sunlight which weakened Eclipso — its real high point was Nightwing and Guy Gardner leading a squad of heroes to rescue an Eclipsed Superman. I’d like to see that adapted for Ollie (or maybe Thea?) in the Nightwing role and Supergirl filling in for her cousin.

NEW HEROES (MOSTLY)

Neron

Neron, from the cover of “Underworld Unleashed” #1, by Howard Porter and Dan Green

One of DC’s first intertitle crossovers — if not the first — was “Zatanna’s Search.” Running through October-November 1964’s “Hawkman” #4, February 1965’s “Detective Comics” #336, June-July 1965’s “Atom” #19, January 1966’s “Green Lantern” #42, September 1966’s “Detective” #355 and February 1967’s “Justice League of America” #51, it took over two years to complete. (Clearly DC wasn’t that concerned with a crossover’s marketing potential.) Nevertheless, it’s an unintentional forerunner of how the CW’s superhero shows have expanded their rosters. Besides the likes of Barry Allen, Ray Palmer and Sara Lance appearing first on “Arrow,” Hawkgirl and Hawkman debuted in 2015’s “Flash”/”Arrow” team-up before going on to “Legends.” It’s a long way of saying that if the CW shows wanted to introduce Zatanna, they could look to her comics debut, where she spent several issues meeting various Justice Leaguers while tracking down her missing father Zatara.

One crossover best remembered for the one breakout character it introduced is 1993’s “Bloodlines.” Its plot was simple: extraterrestrial monsters land on Earth, and if they don’t kill you, they activate your metagene. After activating the metagenes of several rather nondescript characters, they struck paydirt with Tommy “Hitman” Monaghan, the gunman with telepathy and X-ray vision. A TV version of “Bloodlines” could introduce more familiar DC super-people to the Arrowverse (and give it a new catch-all explanation for super-powers); but certainly fans in the know will expect Tommy to be among them.

Villains were the focus of 1995’s “Underworld Unleashed,” in which the demon Neron traded power upgrades for souls. His ultimate goal was the hero with the purest heart, which everyone thought was Superman. This was reassuring, because Supes was off-planet at the time and apparently beyond Neron’s reach. Shocking twist — it turned out to be Captain Marvel, and the heroes almost realized it too late! Obviously, for TV purposes Supergirl would have to step in for Cap. “Underworld” was also a dark milestone for the Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery. Tricked by Abra Kadabra, the Rogues died in order to bring Neron to Earth, but “Underworld” writer Mark Waid brought ’em back several months later in the Scarlet Speedster’s own title. The TV version wouldn’t have to do that, in part because the Rogues aren’t so much of a thing anymore. Still, it could give the producers an excuse to tweak their bad guys generally.

1999’s “Day of Judgment” relaunched the Spectre with a new human host, after a battle with the Justice League and their magical allies. There’s a rumor that “Arrow” is about to introduce the Ghostly Guardian, who was teased on NBC’s “Constantine” series. Accordingly, the CW shows may have to wait a while to switch out host bodies, but — at the risk of being ghoulish — by that time there may be more dearly departed characters from which to choose. It’s not that I want Quentin Lance to die, mind you….

ALIENS, AGAIN?

"Action Comics" #675, by Bob McLeod

Superman, Supergirl and friends fight Brainiac in “Action Comics” #675, by Bob McLeod

1992’s “Panic In The Sky!” was a storyline in the four Superman titles involving Brainiac taking over Warworld, and Supes recruiting a dozen or so superheroes to fight back. While I don’t expect The CW to do another heroes-vs.-aliens story as a follow-up, it could be a decent reversal of TV’s “Invasion!” If we assume that “Supergirl’s” Superman has already fought Brainiac and/or Warworld, they could be explained as just another old menace come back to haunt him. In fact, Supergirl might be inspired to retrieve Flash, Green Arrow and the Legends because Brainiac has captured Supes and is holding him on Warworld. “PITS!” split its action between the ultra-powerful folks aboard Warworld and the non-powered ones (Batman, Nightwing, Deathstroke) defending Metropolis, so the TV version could do the same.

(There’s also 2001’s “Our Worlds At War,” but a) it gets a little complicated once Brainiac is involved and b) it was more of an outright “combat across the galaxy” thing, geared towards the ultra-powerful folks that the CW shows tend to lack.)

I do like the idea of adapting 1996’s “The Final Night,” wherein a Sun-Eater does what it does best and Earth’s heroes have to save as many people as possible while trying to reignite ol’ Sol. In the comics Parallax did the deed, but on TV Steel could make like Ferro Lad and deliver the necessary jump-starting device.

POTPOURRI

"Super-Team Family" #11

Supergirl, the Atom and the Flash fight the Matter Master in “Super-Team Family” #11. Art by Alan Weiss and Joe Rubenstein

In 1977 writer Gerry Conway and a handful of artists crafted an Atom-centered tale which would be perfect for a CW crossover. Running through “Super-Team Family” issues #11-14 (June-July 1977 to December 1977-January 1978), it saw the Tiny Titan chasing fianceé Jean Loring across the universe after she’d been bombarded with cosmic energy and driven a little insane to boot. Teaming up at first with the Flash and Supergirl, the Mighty Mite got help from Green Lantern and Hawkman, Aquaman and Captain Comet, and finally Wonder Woman. Ultimately the latter two confronted the Secret Society of Super-Villains in Gorilla City, and everything turned out fine. It was also something of an ego-boost for the Atom, which I suppose the TV version of Ray Palmer will probably need from time to time. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a fianceé to chase just yet.

1988’s “The Janus Directive” was a smaller-scale espionage-heavy crossover featuring the Suicide Squad, Checkmate, Firestorm, Captain Atom and Batman. It involved a plot by the terrorist organization Kobra to replace Amanda Waller with a double. That would have made it easier for Kobra to launch its space-borne microwave cannon and usher in the apocalypse, but the Wall killed her double and apparently “went rogue” to uncover the real plot. “Janus” could be pretty easy to adapt for the Arrowverse, and could even bring back Amanda Waller by explaining that her Kobra-fied double was the one killed. Still, there’s not much for Supergirl, the Flash or the other Legends to do beyond destroying the space cannon and fighting Kobra and his army.

Although 1998’s “DC One Million” focused on Superman and the Justice League, there are a couple of ways it could be adapted for TV. First, it could be told from Supergirl’s point of view, as she and her super-friends travel to the 853rd Century for the big party honoring Superman-Prime and have to fight off Vandal Savage and Solaris the Tyrant Sun. Alternately, however, it could make Supergirl the guest of honor, on the anniversary of “Supergirl”-the-show’s 1,000,000th episode — which, in these days of 22-episode seasons, works out to somewhere around the year 47,471. Either way, J’Onn J’Onzz would still be on/in Mars and DC could still do a passable Justice Legion A. Potential pitfalls include bringing back Vandal Savage (who turned out rather underwhelming) and finding some plot substitute for a certain off-limits DC artifact.

Finally, speaking of Gorilla City, 2000’s “JLApe” crossover had Gorilla Grodd (who else?) turning people — including the League — into apes. A TV version would certainly be makeup- and effects-heavy, but I bet now you’re wondering what “Simian” Amell would look like. Ah, the magic of television!

Which DC crossover do you think The CW should attempt next? Let us know in the comments!

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arrowverse
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