With worlds set to collide on a scale no one could've imagined in the upcoming "Crisis on Infinite Earths" crossover, the CW's Arrowverse has truly hit its peak. It's an event seven years in the making, and it's ready to reel in even more viewers as the TV event of the year. The question is, though: Is it too late for new fans to enter this universe?
As it stands, the Arrowverse consists of five shows: Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow and Batwoman. Black Lightning will officially become a part of it during the crossover and a new series will spin off from Arrow in the 2020-2021 TV season. It's fair to say that's a lot of TV to catch up on. Especially considering Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl have multiple seasons of 20+ episodes. Also, there are animated web series, Vixen and Freedom Fighters: The Ray, which take place in this universe.
This colossal backlog might intimidate new viewers since it's unlikely anyone would be able to watch all the episodes of all the shows before "Crisis on Infinite Earths." Some might even fear starting a new show like Batwoman, because they don't have prior knowledge of what happened in the other related series and crossovers. Just thinking about the vast breadth of this world could be overwhelming to many would-be viewers.
So, it's understandable why some might be reluctant to enter the Arrowverse. A shared universe is meant to be connected and influenced by the sum of all its parts, so context is extremely important. Given the vast amount of story that's already been told, jumping into the Arrowverse now might feel like the equivalent of jumping on to the Marvel Cinematic Universe at Avengers: Endgame -- a move that would inevitably result in confusion because you have no idea what happened in these characters' stories previously.
The good news is, the Arrowverse shares more in common with a comic book universe than the MCU. While the characters are all part of the same world, their stories have the ability to work as self-contained standalones. The showrunners of each series were smart enough to realize that not every viewer will be part of another show's audience; therefore, the series are structured in a way to appeal to regular and new viewers. Even the crossovers are typically planned in a way that makes it possible for a first-time watcher to understand what's going on.
If you watched Batwoman's pilot, for example, you would've noticed how it didn't mention any of the other Arrowverse series. Instead it focused on the story of how Kate Kane became the costumed vigilante, while also establishing the premise for the rest of the season -- even though the character had already been introduced in last season's "Elseworlds" crossover.
The Flash operated in the same way when it started. Barry Allen was first introduced in two episodes of Arrow. Since the fans expressed an interest in Grant Gustin's version of the Scarlet Speedster, it led to a fully developed series being fast-tracked. The new show told the Flash's story from the beginning and didn't presume everyone knew him from his stint on Arrow.
Perhaps more importantly -- and for better or worse -- the Arrowverse isn't kknown for its subtle storytelling. Every show's intro begins with the main character saying, "My name is X and I'm Y. One day, blah, blah…" In fact, every season receives an updated, on-the-nose intro that summarizes everything that's happened to date. So you could watch the latest episode and feel fairly confident that you know where the hero is in their journey.
For the lack of a better comparison, the Arrowverse's storytelling technique is similar to that of a soap opera. While there are many wheels turning and multiple arcs and subplots, there's a consistent and familiar baseline. It's a formula that's received a lot of slack from fans who prefer more nuanced and intricate narratives, but no one can deny that it works. The shows turn into comfort food, in the sense that you know exactly what to expect from them.
That isn't a slight on the Arrowverse by any means. What it's achieved since 2012 is simply remarkable, and "Crisis on Infinite Earths" is gearing up to be a love letter to fans of the superhero genre. Even if you haven't watched from the start, it's never too late to join in on the fun of the Arrowverse.