This year will see Arrow end its eight-year run with a bang, as it once again teams up with The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow and many, many more for Crisis On Infinite Earths – surrounded by the expansive TV universe it helped create.
It may seem strange given that we’re now in 2019 looking back on a TV-altering franchise, but circa 2012, the odds weren’t necessarily stacked in Arrow‘s favour. Its predecessor, Smallville, had wrapped up its 10-year run just one season earlier and, with the term ‘dark and gritty’ already leading to rolled eyes rather than piqued interest, a grim, grounded crime drama centring on DC’s Green Arrow wasn’t exactly a guaranteed smash hit.
Many wrote it off initially as just another frothy teen show, and initial episodes did little to prove this assumption wrong. But something happened around the mid-point of the first season, as is so often the case, and Arrow became less invested in its love triangles and forced family strife, and far more in the moral dilemma of a hero who kills and the state of the city he’s working to save.
There was still a healthy dose of camp and humour, but the formula and team, comprised of Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) John Diggle (David Ramsey) and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), had been locked down and, after an incredibly strong second season, its success solidified.
After Arrow had laid its groundwork and proved that costumed heroes could still work as well on the small screen as they were clearly working in cinemas at the time, Warner Bros started to think seriously about expanding. Grant Gustin won the role of The Flash and audiences responded immediately to the series’ lighter tone and more fantastical approach.
Creator Greg Berlanti and his team were understandably amassing an increasing amount of clout at the network and, finding themselves with a surplus of great characters, they decided to house various fan-favourite heroes and villains in brand new time travel adventure series Legends Of Tomorrow which, once it found its feet, became one of the most unique and fun things on television. Supergirl, despite starting out on a different network, soon found its way home to the CW-verse and became as vital a part of the franchise as any other.
NBC’s short-lived Constantine show was folded in proper after a great guest appearance by Matt Ryan in Arrow season four, and Black Lightning – up until now existing in a world of its own – will feature in the Crisis On Infinite Earths extravaganza. And that’s not even mentioning the upcoming Batwoman and recently announced Canaries series.
Spin-offs weren’t initially a wholly positive thing for the parent show, and a split focus on Arrow and Flash is what many believe to have contributed to the dip in quality for seasons three and four. We may never know what was really going on behind the scenes, but it’s possible that the success of The Flash led to the notion that adding more heightened elements across the franchise would please the fans.
But it was a mystical peg forced to fit a grounded hole, and Arrow suffered as soon as it began distancing itself from the crime drama it started out as.
But the show is nothing if not adaptable, and season five – the last in a purported five-year plan – was a significant return to form. Back was the focus on a team dynamic, some of the best action and stunt-work around, and the moral journey of its protagonist.
The restored vision of Arrow also led to the best crossover thus far – 2017’s Crisis On Earth X. The most impressive feat of contract negotiations, scheduling and pure nerve outside of the upcoming Infinite Earths, Earth X was a veritable blockbuster that packed weddings, doppelgangers, Nazi Supergirl, beloved main character deaths and a whole lot more into one seamless 4-hour event. It was a tribute to the world that had been built across multiple shows with dozens of interconnected characters that have deep, developed relationships with each other and the audience.
The first crossover is now almost quaint in retrospect, with Barry and Oliver having two separate adventures in each others’ cities before going back to business as usual. But it was a solid start and one that was rapturously received by fans. Seasons four and two of Arrow and Flash, respectively, featured another two-parter that served primarily to set up Legends Of Tomorrow, premiering not long after. The following year, Invasion!, was the first to expand the scope to three series.
As each series had its ups and downs apart from each other, the crossovers were always a date in the calendar that fans wanted to check-in for. But no one could have predicted what was being planned behind the scenes. After Elseworlds (this time ditching Legends Of Tomorrow in favour of a three-parter) debuted to a slightly more muted reaction, the big talking point was the tease of a crisis – this time on all earths instead of just one. Casting news started to pour in from places as varied as Batman: The Animated Series, Smallville and one-season WB wonder Birds Of Prey.
None of this would have been possible without the show that started it all, and it’s a testament to its legacy that the universe has every chance of running indefinitely – spinning off in as many different directions as it pleases. There’s nothing stopping popular characters from one show getting their own, or for particular actors who are a hit with the audience being allowed to stick around as other characters. The fact that the Arrowverse has been so willing to play fast and loose with traditional TV rules is key to its success.
It’s fitting that Arrow will leave us at least in part as one cog in an ever-moving machine, as we take stock of the amazing achievement that is one show building an entire universe of stories, characters and infinite possibilities. It has changed the way TV crossovers are made, proving what’s possible when you have enough love for the properties involved, and Crisis On Infinite Earths promises to be the cherry on top of a game-changing tenure.
Arrow season eight, The Flash season six and Supergirl season five are currently airing on Sky One and NOW TV in the UK.