From Monday, November 28, to Thursday, December 1, 2016, the CW television network premiered its highly anticipated crossover event. Heroes v Aliens brought together characters from all four DC universe television shows, Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. Here to discuss this television event from two different fan perspectives are J.L. Gribble, who regularly watches all four shows but has never read a single graphic novel related to any of the properties, and Nancy O’Toole Meservier, a fan of the collective Arrowverse. She is also a comic book reader, and although she reads DC comics regularly, she has not read the Invasion! storyline that inspired Heroes v Aliens.
Be aware that this discussion will include spoilers of every episode of the crossover event and potentially of each individual television show if you are not caught up.
J.L.: I think the elephant in the room that has to be discussed first is that the commercials lied to us. This wasn’t a four-part event, it was a three-part event with a bit tacked on at the end of Supergirl to kick things off. Which was a shame, because it was a truly phenomenal episode of Supergirl! Dramatic and intense, with lots of great overall plot and character development. But it was hard for me to care about any of that when all I wanted was for Barry Allen to snag Supergirl and start the main story we were promised. Come on, CW! Supergirl might still be in a separate universe, but stop treating her like she’s on a different network.
Nancy: I think the placement of the crossover event was the problem. “Medusa” wasn’t just part 1 of Heroes v Aliens, it was also Supergirl’s fricken mid-season finale, putting the writers in the difficult position of addressing the overarching plotlines of season two, plus teeing up this massive crossover. I felt that this kind of robbed the episode of some of its suspense. From the previews, I knew that Kara was going to end up all bright and cheerful on The Flash, so I knew things weren’t going to end too tragically on Supergirl.
At the same time, I really liked this episode too! One thing that can be argued is although it doesn’t really tie into the crossover event plotwise, it does thematically. The concept of family (both blood-related and makeshift) is a pretty important one to the event as a whole, as is the drawbacks of keeping secrets. In Supergirl, three secrets were revealed between family members: Lena found out about her mother’s involvement in Cadmus, Kara found out about her father’s role in the creation of Medusa, and Alex came out to her mother. I think Alex’s coming out was my favorite of the three, but I’ve been a really big fan of her character arc all season.
J.L.: I’ve also been enjoying Alex’s character development this season, especially because I’m a huge supporter of representation on the big and small screen, and I’m glad the CW took an opportunity that perhaps CBS might have passed on. Now I just have to cross my fingers that Alex and Maggie don’t suffer many of the same tropes that tend to plague queer women on television. Lena Luthor is also quickly becoming one of my favorite characters on the show, specifically because she is bucking the “all that is Luthor is evil” trend but doing it in a way that makes her very much the hero of her own story rather than a supporting character in Kara’s.
Nancy: Hell, Alex and Maggie also have to worry about the route that pretty much every couple (save Diggle and Lilah) on the Arrowverse tends to go down. The minute they finally get together, the show starts to plan their demise. I wouldn’t be surprised if a certain “Kate Kane” (aka Batwoman, Maggie’s comic book love interest) starts to show up in the back half of the season. Honestly, I’m really rooting for them though. They’re just so cute together.
As far as Lena goes, I like the fact that in many ways, she is a Luthor. She can be devious and and underhanded, but so far has used her “powers” for good. It will be interesting to see what path they chose for her in future episodes. I like her as an ally, but if they do decide to flip the switch and make her a bad guy, I hope that they’ll wait for the bond between her and Kara to develop even more, to make her betrayal more painful.
J.L.: I know we could dedicate an entire post to this fantastic episode of Supergirl alone, but the moment we were waiting for happened at the very end. Hi, Barry! Hi, cranky Cisco! Thanks for wasting 3 minutes of this Supergirl episode that could have been dedicated to more of Alex and Maggie being adorable together.
And we’re off to Earth 1, where we actually go back in time (but not in a “Barry, no!” sort of way) to set up the real reason for why they need Supergirl in the first place. Aliens have arrived, and only our heroes can save the planet. Here is where I would like to state for the record that superhero team-ups are basically my favorite thing ever, and that I would happily watch an entire show of just Oliver being cranky and Barry being chipper at each other.
Nancy: I have to agree. In fact, I’m a sucker for any type of team-up storylines. It can be thieves gathering for a heist, musicians joining up to make a band, or superheroes coming together to face off against a greater threat. I’m totally there, regardless. It was also nice to see Kara’s first proper introduction to the greater Arrowverse. It was clear from the way that she took everyone out without breaking a sweat what a different type of threat aliens are from people with weapons or metahumans. That, and she’s just a badass.
J.L.: At the same time, I actually appreciated that the episode bucked the traditional “team-up training montage” in favor of dealing with more of the time travel fallout shenanigans. While it would have been entertaining to watch Kara kick everyone’s ass repeatedly, I’m sure it saved valuable production cash to just give a hint at what everyone already figured would happen. Fans of all of the shows already know what every character is capable of, but even if you’re only along for the ride as, say, a fan of The Flash, they still show enough for people to get the gist. Which is Kara being badass.
So many less flashy moments in this episode were important, too. Caitlin placing herself on Team Nerd rather than risk using her powers — and everyone else accepting her decision, rather than pressuring her into helping them fight. There was also the bigger shock of Dr. Stein meeting his daughter, which was a predictable plot twist that was still lovely to watch unfold. While I know that Legends of Tomorrow has probably surpassed maximum character capacity, I hope that this crossover event is not the last we see of her.
Nancy: I know. It’s funny, I’ve always found it strange that Dr. Stein talks so much about how he really loves his wife on Legends, yet we never see her in present day. I sometimes wonder if it has to do with the fact that the actress just isn’t available, and writing in a daughter is a way to get around that. I know I’d like to see her interact with the rest of the Waverider crew as well.
One thing I felt like both The Flash and Arrow did really well is balance their ongoing stories and characters arcs with the big crossover elements. The Flash episode really is a “getting the team together” type of episode, but it still deals with a lot of the ongoing issues of season three — the fallout from Flashpoint and Wally’s status as a budding speedster. I have to admit, I don’t really like the way they’re dealing with Wally’s powers. I get that his family is going to be concerned about his safety, but didn’t we JUST go through the same situation with Jesse Quick? There’s only so long you can hold a speedster down. He’s going to become Kid Flash. Why not do it the right way, instead of lying to him about his powers?
J.L.: And of course, it wouldn’t be the Arrowverse if we fans weren’t yelling at the television screen about multiple characters being idiots! At the same time, there are still things that the writers just do right. In this case, the inevitable in-fighting spectacle that always has to occur when a million superheroes get together. While I was prepared for this crossover event to follow the traditional arc of the character clash happening later in the storyline when half the team has some moral hangup about a way to fight the aliens, the writers knocked this one out of the park. I was not expecting the set-up and resolution to happen so early in the event, but I appreciate it at the same time. Later, it would have felt like more of a distraction from the main conflict. And we had the added bonus of Wally getting to use his powers to help save the day.
Nancy: And then everyone gets abducted by aliens! Well, at least all the Arrow-related characters.
I have to admit, while I enjoyed all four episodes, it was Arrow that really gave me the feels. Like serious, holding back tears-type feels. The episode basically follows the same plotline as the Supergirl episode “To the Girl who Has Everything” from season 1 (which, in turn, was based off of an Alan Moore comic), but I felt it more here. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that we’ve spent so long with Oliver and the rest of the cast (it was Arrow’s 100th episode after all). To watch them suffer tragedy after tragedy over the course of four and a half years, then to see all that sorrow just erased, even if it was just an illusion. I could see why Thea had a hard time turning away from her happy family and back to her messed up life.
J.L.: This episode’s position in the middle of the crossover event was a happy coincidence, I think, though one of my favorite elements to this entire mini-series was how each episode managed to focus on primarily on that show’s characters while still including everyone else. The abduction/head-trip storyline gave such a good excuse to bring back old characters for Arrow’s 100th episode “celebration” while also moving the alien plot forward. I also succumbed to a bit of the feels, not just from seeing Laurel again, but also Oliver’s parents. And maybe it’s because I have sisters, but seeing Laurel and Sara say goodbye to each other was way more emotional for me than seeing the potential of Oliver and Laurel living happily ever after together.
Of course, HOW CONVENIENT for the show’s budget that they didn’t need to ask Manu Bennett back because Deathstroke wears a mask.
Nancy: I also liked getting to see the old characters (even if some didn’t get to take off their masks!), and felt like the episode did a great job of paying homage to the actors that just couldn’t show up. I heard that the actor who plays Tommy was invited, but he’s just too busy with his new show. Getting to see his memory show up at the end was a nice touch.
But as much as I wholeheartedly loved this episode, I felt like it kind of highlighted how misused Ray Palmer is, as he kind of comes off like a fifth wheel. Near the end, the characters need to fight their way out of this shared illusion by getting past their greatest foes. Oliver must take out Deathstroke, Sara faces off against the man that murdered her sister, Thea goes toe to toe with her own father, and Diggle takes on the “ghosts” that stole his brother from him. And then we have Ray who must take down… discount Deathstroke. Come on now, writers! We’re going into year 3 on this character and that that’s the most interesting thing you can come up with?
J.L.: Poor Ray. Especially since so much of that combat scene was brilliant, such as the choreography of tossing weapons back and forth. Seeing the Legends crew fight together is becoming a regular occurrence, but seeing the original Arrow gang, who are all highly skilled, experienced fighters at this point, was a delight. I was on the edge of my seat.
Aaaand then we’re into the final night of this extravaganza, with Legends of Tomorrow! Where we go from sweet connections between mature adults back to Cisco being cranky. Sometimes I have to remind myself that Team Flash are basically the babies of these shows (and that I am reaching that awkward point in my own life where I have become older and more mature than my heroes).
Nancy: Cranky Cisco was not my favorite part of the episode either. I think this has a lot to do with how they handled his crankiness this year. At first, he was upset at Barry for not saving Dante. But he moved past that. To have him go back to being angry again felt like a regression, even though I understood the thought process behind it. I’m glad that it looks like we’re really moving on.
To be honest, I expected the Legends crew to be a little more understanding of Barry’s mistake. Seriously, how much did they mess with the timeline in season one alone? It’s not like saving the Dominator was the first anomaly they’ve created.
And speaking of mistakes, am I the only one that hopes that Heat Wave fries Steel’s ugly helmet during the winter break? The rest of his new costume is fine, but I honestly don’t see why we’re covering up Nate’s attractive face. It’s not like he needs the extra protection.
J.L.: I also cannot adequately describe the hatred I have for Steel’s stupid helmet. The rest of the outfit is okay. BUT THAT HELMET.
Your comment about Cisco’s regression really highlighted a few inconsistencies within that episode for me. Cisco went from being cranky about time travel to “Time travel! I’m in!” in about half a second at the beginning of the Legends of Tomorrow episode. In addition, shouldn’t Stein know enough about time travel by now to know that his daughter is a real person, even if he doesn’t remember her? His dismissal of her as an “aberration” was sad. I think the writers attempted to develop a theme about how the characters all reacted to the time travel shenanigans differently, but a lot of it fell flat.
Nancy: It’s probably one of the drawbacks to having multiple teams of writers involved in one arc. Hopefully, that can be handled better in next year’s crossover. Although as inconsistent as Cisco’s attitude was, it was a lot of fun to see him and Felicity pal around on the Waverider together. I laughed when they showed up to save the day as “tech support.”
One thing I felt that they did do really well was the big throw down at the end. Clearly somewhat inspired by the airport fight scene in Captain America: Civil War, it was so exciting to see them get to accomplish something so cinematic on a TV budget (and a CW TV budget, at that!). And I love that Firestorm got to be the one to save the day. He’s such a powerhouse, but the show doesn’t always explore that.
J.L.: The grand finale did suitably pay off in terms of visual spectacle, just as it was lovely to see the follow-up of all of our heroes, masked and unmasked, getting their due from the new (female! But not Linda Carter, alas) president.
Despite my criticisms above, I was overall satisfied and entertained by this crossover series, and I do hope they continue to make this an annual event. Seeing all of these characters interact with each other in so many different combinations was a treat. While Oliver and Barry going out for a drink between two friends was a nice way to close out the story, in the end, my favorite bit of this crossover was the quiet moment between Oliver and Sara, where they acknowledge that absolutely none of this would have happened if they hadn’t gotten on the Queen’s Gambit together. I especially appreciated the lack of relationship angst. Just a moment of solidarity between two people who have grown to be friends and comrades-in-arms.
Nancy: I really liked that scene between Oliver and Sara too. It’s just so effective as a character moment, but also as a commentary on the shared universe as a whole. It’s crazy when you sit back and take a look where this all started with Arrow season one, a little show that was almost afraid of its own comic book roots. Now, four and a half years later, it’s a highly successful franchise that spans four shows and covers everything from time travel, to alien refugees, to psychic gorillas.
Although I have my nitpicks (and, let’s be honest, they come from love), I really enjoyed this crossover event. Heroes v Aliens beautifully illustrates just how grand and ambitious the Arrowverse can be, but never loses sight of the smaller, more profound character moments. Because that’s what really gets me coming back after what must be hundreds of episodes collectively, the characters. I spend four out of seven nights of my week with these crazy superheroes, their larger than life conflicts, and soap opera-like relationships. Hell, I would easily spend a fifth if they ever decide to make another show.
And now I have to wonder. How are they going to possibly going to top this one next year? How much bigger can they possibly go? All I know is, I’ll certainly be tuning in.
J.L.: Same here!
Thanks for joining us as we discussed this massive crossover event between Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow. Please feel free to continue the conversation in the comments below. What was your favorite moment? What was your biggest nit-pick? Does anyone dare to defend Steel’s helmet?