Thursday, June 20, 2024

Avengers on Earth X: Talking Crossovers

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This piece is a guest submission by Patrycja

Captain America and the Green Arrow? What do they have in common? Every superhero fan will answer with “absolutely nothing” and they would be right. One belongs to Marvel the other to DC. So why put them together?

The idea of a crossover

After the introduction of Barry Allen in Arrow (episodes 2. 08 & 2. 09), fans were eager for a team up. We had some characters cross over to the other show (Felicity in Flash 1.04), but that wasn’t the full thing yet.

Finally, we were given the first real crossover between the shows in “Flash vs. Arrow.” As with everything, there was a learning curve. The first attempt wasn’t the most exciting. The characters came to the show, but there wasn’t a reasonable plot warranting the crossover. The following crossovers would go on to be better and better. The plots made more sense and were more grounded in the shows established dynamics (some were used to launch other shows – DC’s Legends of Tomorrow)

The Arrowverse grew and so did the aspirations of the writers and the expectations of fans. With the Arrowverse consisting of four shows, the idea of a four-way crossover suddenly gained popularity. The bold idea grew to make something that has never been done on television before: a crossover that latest as long as a movie. The event was arranged in a way that changed the scheduled time of Arrow even, moving it to Monday night, giving us two episodes of the crossover on each night.

Everyone put a lot of work into making the event possible. The logistics must have been a nightmare because scheduling the work of four casts where actors had to simultaneously work on their respective shows is a logistical nightmare full of sacrifices. Yet still, it happened.

A different kind of crossover

It’s hard to say that the Avengers movies are crossovers. The whole idea of the movies is the superhero team ups. That’s how they’re designed. Most characters were introduced in solo movies or were a part of other productions.

The whole universe first build up to the Avengers and than slowly to Avengers: Infinity war. Even though the MCU movies had separate plots, they all added towards the big event, connected by the after credits scenes or some small pieces of information within the movies. And so, these happened as well.

There is a familiarity

The first sign that allowed me to draw connections between these two events was the fact that both universes were well-established before they gave us a team up or crossover.

The Arrowverse, which started with just Arrow, grew and let us become familiar with all the characters. We were able to be invested in their onscreen lives and dilemmas. It wasn’t until we had a keen understanding of the characters that we got a massive story with all of them.

The MCU used the same trick. Over the course of 18 movies and 10 years we got to know the struggles, motivations and ideals of the characters. The dynamics between them.

It may seem that the Arrowverse didn’t take as much time, but that’s not true. We get 23 episodes of television so we had even more time to get to know the characters. Comparing the two, we know a similar amount of facts about the heroes and likely feel emotional connection with at least some of the characters in both cases. The viewers know the rules that apply to each universe, as well as possible repercussions of the actions taken by not only the villains but also the heroes.

Since we know them so well…

The knowledge we have about the characters is the reason behind some of the expectations we as fans have for the storylines. The producers and directors definitely understood that while creating the events. They gave us enough subplots and personal issues to make the team up a little bit more interesting. That also made the transition  back into the respective shows easier.

These scenes are something that helps break all the action and gives the crossovers more dimension. Like mentioning Felicity’s Jewish heritage or Tony’s engagement to  Pepper. Those two things kept us grounded in the character work previously established.

The smaller plots don’t take away from the overall theme and story. They make it stronger and build up the relatability of the events. Adding these personal aspects allows to connect with at least one character on the show. Showing Felicity and Iris working together gave us that “girl-power” we’d expect, even without battle experience. Showing Wanda and Vision’s relationship makes him more human.

It especially shows in Avengers: Infinity War. Not only in the scenes I already mentioned, but also in the way the movie is built. Whereas Crisis on Earth X is like one big team up, with the heroes splitting temporarily (when some of them are on Earth X and some in Star labs), the MCU composed their movie in a way where a lot of smaller subplots add up to the overall story. It makes the movie more dynamic but it’s also easier to lose track while we jump from one superhero team to the other. 

The consequences of their actions

The crossovers are generally presented as a separate, arc but we can’t forget that the characters have to carry on in their own shows. That means the choices they make and relationships established or grown have to be hashed out in the following episodes. All the decisions made during the events of Crisis on Earth X were in some way, shape, or form carried out in the following episode of each series. This setting was also used to launch a new plotline or to end a story, allowing an actor to meaningfully leave the show.

The Arrowverse succeeded in doing just that. They started the story of Felicity’s and Oliver’s marriage, but also the very emotional and heartbreaking scene of Stein’s death. The impact of that scene is even bigger, firstly because of his relationship with Jackson and being one half of Firestorm. Secondly it’s powerful because Stein was killed while on Earth X and fighting the Nazis, which is important because he was Jewish. That shows the sacrifice was even more meaningful.

Talking about the well-developed and established characters and relationships in the MCU brings to mind a different fact. The decisions made by the characters are not only having far reaching consequences, they are also influenced by prior experiences and decisions. As shown in Tony’s reluctance to call Rogers, his comments to Banner about missing things. It’s also shown in the relationship between Loki and Thor at the beginning of the movie. It carried over directly from Thor Ragnarok. The pain and suffering the Thor felt when his brother died seemed genuine and seeded from how that relationship had grown.

Both the MCU and the Arrowverse referenced past situations and relationships developed in previous seasons. E.g.,  Diggle the one to officiate the wedding. We see plots carried into the events from the shows or movies. Like the struggles to break off Firestorm or Vision’s and Wanda’s relationship.

Even though previous movies and problems seem to carry into the event, the MCU doesn’t address all the pressing matters from the past. They seem to skip over the conflict between Tony and Steve or the fallout of Bruce leaving and the state of his relationship with Natasha. It could be explained by the severity of the imminent threat and the way the heroes split into smaller groups. It’s something that should be resolved in the following movies.

Building towards a climax or keeping steady

The planning of the plot in the event is built as one separate arc. Yes there are far reaching consequences, but rather on the character development or relationship side of the show, and not their overall plotlines and villains.

On one hand that’s a huge advantage. It makes it possible to enjoy the crossover without watching all of the Arrowverse shows. You only need limited knowledge about the shows. Everything is nicely laid out for you during the scenes. The relationships are explained, decisions justified etc. You might miss some of the references to previous episodes, characters that already left or any other Easter eggs the producers put into the crossover. But that’s a small price to pay.

The same cannot be said about Avengers: Infinity War. There it’s crucial to have seen the previous movies (especially Thor Ragnarok and Captain America: Civil war). You also have to keep track of what happened in the whole universe. Without it, you will have trouble understanding quite a lot of the reasoning and behavior of the characters.

What we don’t get is a real climax and build up in the Arrowverse event. It’s like a whole different story and it isn’t anchored in the shows as strongly as one would imagine. Everything is introduced in the crossover and not build out of little sneak peek in the shows.

We get a solid performance and quite stable flow of the story. It doesn’t really build up to a real climax even with the big showdown in the end. The way of telling is very…steady.

It’s different in the MCU.  Avengers: Infinity War is somehow complete story, like a closed arc even if the villain has yet to be defeated. The movie in itself is a climax of all the previous sneak peeks, references, and rumors. It still manages to build up the tension until a critical moment, which surprisingly wasn’t the big fight but rather the consequences of losing the showdown.

Why do we team up?

In the beginning the Arrowverse producers had some problems with figuring out what kind of adversaries would be big enough to warrant a team up. The threats posed just wasn’t cutting it. But in Crisis on Earth X, everything worked just right as far as the danger of the situation.

The evil doppelgängers of Oliver, Kara, and Dr. Wells were formidable opponents for our heroes. Furthermore their reason for invading Earth 1 was also an interesting choice. It wasn’t as many may have thought expansion or conquering of new lands. It was far more personal and emotional which showed the depth of the characters.

The whole arc of the crossover was also nicely planned around Barry’s and Iris’s wedding, giving all the heroes a reason for meeting. There is no indication of trouble at the beginning of the event. This allows the plot to look more organic, like a coincidence. The main reason for meeting up wasn’t defeating the Nazis. It was coming together and celebrating a friends wedding.

The wedding was also used to tie everything together as far as telling a story goes. We start the crossover with a wedding and we end it with one. That was an interesting idea, which offered a happy ending.

Marvel took a different approach to the crossover. There is no other reason for teaming up than defeating the villain. And what an opponent it was. Thru 10 years the creators managed to build up an almost undefeatable foe in Thanos. Furthermore he’s not the only adversary to beat.

Thanos is also very frightening because he truly believes in what he does. That and the fact that he was able to get all of the infinity stones makes him extremely dangerous.

Giving them a backstory

Sadly where the MCU delivered, by giving the main villain enough of a backstory to give us a clear picture of the situation, the Arrowverse disappointed a little bit. The villains don’t get a real backstory. We know their reasoning but I was left wanting more. It could be explained by the lack of time to really build the characters. The producers also gave us some kind of consolation by giving us the (animated) series Freedom Fighters: The Ray.

Thanks to that some of the fans’ questions could be answered. It wasn’t the first time the executives used this solution. They did it with Vixen and Legends of Tomorrow, using the crossover as a launching platform.

Furthermore, Marvel openly addressed the absence of some characters giving a clear explanation as to why they aren’t there. The DC shows didn’t do it. The reasoning for Diggle being in just one scene was shown on Arrow and carried onto the event.  Assuming the viewers watch the show, they should know why it happened that way.

Something old something new

While watching the crossover we get a small glimpse at new, different relationships. Like the one between Kara and Oliver of Earth X, the one of the Ray and Leo, or the encounter between Sara and Quentin from Earth X. Sadly we only get a tiny bit of these dynamics. Especially the Kara/Oliver one, which seemed completely unexpected. As with the characters’ backstory, we can probably discover more in Freedom Fighters: The Ray.

Besides the new relationships, we delve into the already existing. The Arrowvese focuses on the already established dynamics and relationships a tiny bit more than the MCU. The relationships seem to be driving force behind the actions of the characters. Avengers: Infinity War also explores new dynamics and all relationships seem to be centered in the newly formed ones and the workings of the created groups.

The exploration of the dynamic between Tony and Peter gives the movie depth, and shows a different kind of love. On the other hand we have the camaraderie of Thor and Rocket Racoon, that adds a humorous element to the movie.

It’s all about the balance

Both universe’s did a fantastic job in balancing the tone of the event. The crossovers are a perfect mix of serious and fun. They take the fans on an emotional roller coaster where they can experience a wide range of emotions.

Crisis on Earth X felt a little bit heavier and darker than Avengers: Infinity War. The Arrowverse producers had a little bit more to juggle than just the fun and the serious. They also had to take into account the specific tone of each show, since each episode of the crossover resembled the tone of its respective show. It’s a nice little touch the fans surely appreciate. This wasn’t the case in Avengers: Infinity War.

Eastereggs…the joy of fans

Since we’re speaking of little touches, it’s worth mentioning that both events had a lot of Easter eggs and throwbacks. It’s a wink to the fans who seem to enjoy finding them. We had the classic and traditional by now Stan Lee cameo. Besides that we had a few pop culture references. Peter threw us an Alien allegory and Wakanda wanted a Starbucks. Thanos met Red Skull giving us Captain America: The first avenger feels.

The Arrowverse offered us a Prometheus with the face of beloved Tommy Merlyn. Also Kara fighting a Dominator and stating ‘it’s so last year’.

Thanks to all these, the events became a multitextual, cross-cultural piece that can be referenced on many occasions but primarily it’s just fun to see all these small touches. It shows how devoted the producers and directors are.


What fans hate most

Yes, there are cliffhangers in Crisis on Earth X, but most of them are resolved in the following episode. When the doppelgängers kidnap our heroes after a fight we learn what the destination was in the next episode. Thanks to the scheduling we don’t have to wait long for it.

That’s the main drawback of Avengers: Infitniy War. The questions and cliffhangers we are left with will take well over a year to be resolved. Yes, the after credits scene sets up Captain Marvel and there are other MCU movies coming before the next Avengers but they have separate plots.

The hidden message

Even though the crossover should be mainly seen as entertainment, there is some deeper meaning behind the stories. It shows the consequences we could have suffered if the Nazis won World War II. How humanity would still fight to get it’s freedom back. Brilliantly shown thru the characters of Leo, The Ray, and Winn of Earth X.

There are opinions that say it was a little too much, but I must disagree. I think it’s a particularly current topic. Especially if we factor in all the protests that took place shortly before or after the episodes aired. The event gave us a creative platform were we could discuss repercussions of these choices through the lens of speculative fiction. The topic is in fact terrifying, but also not really talked about enough.

That also applies to Avengers: Infinity war. Underneath all the action and visual effects discussed are meaningful problems. Like, “are children responsible for the wrongdoings of their parents?” or “how much does freedom cost?”; “Does an ideology and the believe in bettering the world justify mass murder?”, and so on.

That proves the point that these events are more than just entertainment. Crossovers may not be everyone’s favorite form of media, but they can provide jumping-off points to many different things: watching new shows or movies, enjoying new characters you didn’t expect, or talking about things you otherwise wouldn’t.

Images courtesy of Marvel and The CW

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