With the series finale ofThe flash May 24 marks the end of The CW's ambitious and groundbreaking superhero saga known as The Arrowverse (unofficially at first, then semi-officially). If it weren't for the fact that it was aimed at television, the Arrowverse would be considered one of the few movie universes outside of the MCU that actuallywork- and if you base it on purehours of content, the Arrowverse is completely unparalleled.
Why Benedict Cumberbatch plans to take a break
Why Benedict Cumberbatch plans to take a break
For eleven years, the Arrowverse tied together one show, then two shows, then three shows, then four, five, sometimes six, then - once the multiverse was introduced to theCrisis on Infinite Earthscrossover event - the aggregate of all live-action DC superhero shows and movies ever made. by Michael KeatonBatmanmovie happened in the Arrowverse. The 60'sBatmanshow happened in the Arrowverse.Titans,Superman is coming back, from 2002Birds of preyshow, NBC's short-livedConstantine, VosLucifer, InSmallville everything happened in the Arrowverse (at least on some level of its vast multiverse).
But it all started with its namesake,Arrow, in 2012. Somewhat incongruously given where things ended,Arrowstarted out as an obvious nod to the standalone Christopher NolanDark Knightmovies: gritty and "realistic" in quotes, with no magic, no superpowers, and no aliens. Just a vigilante in a costume with a growling voice. Early inArrow, Stephen Amell's Oliver Queen didn't even have a superhero name, but he did have a surprising penchant for downright killer villains.
Not that the show was ever like thatseriousas it occurred. This was the peak era of the CW soapy genre show, withThe diary of vampires InSupernaturalgoes strong, and earlyArrowwas about a third violent superhero action, a third survival mystery with Oliver learning superhero skills while stranded on a not-so-deserted island, and a third relationship drama involving a bunch of characters whojust refused to tell each other how they really feel.
The balance was adjusted in the second season of the show, which is one of the best examples of superhero storytelling on television today. Featuring a phenomenal villain in Manu Bennett's Slade Wilson, the gradual introduction of more comic-book-esque concepts (namely a drug called Mirakuru that grants superpowers/insanity), and a prominent role for future Arrowverse queen Caity Lotz (debuts as Sara Lance, the assassin eventually dubbed White Canary), the show grew into more of its own thing than a pastiche of CW-friendly tropes and Nolan Batman aesthetic.
More importantly, season two featured a few appearances from Grant Gustin's Barry Allen, a crime scene detective from a nearby town with his own friends, his own tragic backstory, and - once he got splattered with chemicals in the middle of a thunderstorm and developed super speed - the potential for years and years of his own superhero stories.The flashpremiered in 2014 and comfortably carried the torch ofArrow's second season with a striking freshman year that offered a nice, better counterpartArrowtypical gloom.
Buoyed by the speed of the Flash (as in, how quickly it got a foothold and knew what kind of series it wanted to be), the two shows quickly expanded the fledgling Arrowverse with a number of character introductions that went on to become notable. would be: Brandon Ray Palmer of Routh, Captain Cold of Wentworth Miller, Martin Stein of Victor Garber, Mick Rory of Dominic Purcell and Kendra Saunders of Ciara Renée (along withArrow's Caity Lotz) would all become founding cast members ofDC's Legends of Tomorrow, which would premiere the following year.
That same seasonThe flashbroke the barriers between not just superhero universes buttelevision channelsfor a crossover withSuper us, which aired on CBS at the time. The sparkling chemistry between star Melissa Benoist and Grant Gustin (both veterans ofcheerfulness) guaranteed we'd see them together more in the future, so it wasn't really surprising - other than the fact that it was kind of a weird shake-up that turned out better than it was entitled to - when CBS and Warner Bros. agreed to pull the show from CBS and transfer it entirely to The CW (only losing some budget and the character of Calista Flockhart).
But untilCrisis on Infinite Earths,Super usremained in its own separate universe away fromArrowInThe flash, if only as an easy comic-book-esque explanation for why the other heroes couldn't simply call on Supergirl or her famous cousin (as Superman was often referred to) when they needed help. Besides, the other Arrowverse shows had their own issues when they tried to launch a new spin-off, and it didn't go as smoothly as the first time around.
DC's Legends of Tomorrowmakes perfect sense on paper: as the superhero universes ofArrowInThe flashstarted to swell and more characters were introduced without necessarily going anywhere, this series could do just that. It was aAvengers-style team of support players from other shows (Captain Cold! The Atom! A barista with wings!) who travel through time and simply stay away from the main canon of the other shows. They even had oneDoctor whoveteran in charge, with Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter.
The problem withlegendsin its first season,as we discussed, is that it wasn't... particularly good. With so many superheroes in its cast, it relied heavily on special effects, which either involved limited fight sequences or similar repetitive fight scenes, or had to jump through hoops to explain why certain characters weren't using their powers (a problem that persisted throughout). of the show, to be honest). But worse than that was the fact that none of the characters were given the space to do anything. There was a ton of plot to deal with, specifically an immortal villain doing bad things throughout history and some star-crossed hawk lovers from ancient Egypt, and all that stuff wasn't very interesting.
legendsunderwent a gradual retooling over the next several years, thanks to the fact that for a while The CW seemed to exist as a creative outlet for people making the kinds of TV shows that attracted diehard followers. There were years when the network just revamped everythinga lot of, the gaflegendstime to grow and gain a foothold, eventually making it more of a quirky workplace comedy that also happened to be a superhero action show.
This breathing space also allowed the shows to find things that worked instead of simply forcing the plot, like how the largely positive fan response to Emily Bett Rickards' Felicity Smoak and her chemistry with Amell made one of DC Comics' most established turned upside down. romantic combinations (some of us will be Team Olicity until we're dead and buried), or how Caity Lotz could perfectly adapt to the changing notes oflegendsso good that she ended up taking over the entire series.
But the long, long line The CW kept to the Arrowverse also gave the shows room to stumble. After several seasons, bothArrowInThe flashoften felt like they were just going through the motions. Struggling to find compelling season-long villains, characters started doing unexplainable things to create drama. (Oliver Queen unknowingly fathered a son at one pointArrow(and the boy's mother insisted—for no reason at all—that he keep the child's existence a secret.) In a sign that the Arrowverse's power might be beginning to wane, The CW even ordered a new DC Comics -superhero show,Black Lightning, which was completely disconnected from the other four.
By the time another crossover event sent Oliver, Barry, and Supergirl to Gotham City in 2018Elsewherecrossover, it felt like the franchise had reached a true "break glass in case of emergency" moment.Finally, seven seasons in,Arrowdid real Batman stuff. Of course, the Dark Knight himself never showed up, but his cousin Kate Kane (played by Ruby Rose) did. Kate, as the vigilante Batwoman, got her own spin-off a year later where she tried to defend Gotham after Batman's mysterious disappearance (not to mention the unrelated mysterious disappearance of billionaire Bruce Wayne).
The first season ofBatwoman was classic Arrowverse: super-powerless superhero vigilance with a ton of family drama thrown in (Kate Kane's sister, Beth Kane, had gone rogue Alice, and there were many battles going on for her soul). Rose decided to leaveBatwomanafter one seasonPeter Roth, director of Warner Bros. TV, accusing him of running an unsafe setcausing her and other cast and crew members to be injured, in addition to accusations that showrunner Caroline Dries refused to shut down the set during the pandemic and alleged that co-star Dougray Scott verbally abused a female stunt actor.
But at least Rose was around long enough to land a memorable roleCrisis on Infinite Earths, the ultimate culmination of everything the Arrowverse had been doing since it began - and while it had some slow moments, it did exactly what it set out to do. The miniseries managed to adapt one of the totemic texts of superhero fiction, the comic book event that all comic book events are modeled after, with Rose's Batwoman meeting an alternate universe version of Batman (played by iconic voice actor Kevin Conroy), Supergirl meeting a version of Brandon Routh's Man Of SteelSuperman is coming back, the Flash encounter with Cress Williams' eponymous heroBlack Lightning, InArrow' is Oliver Queendyingand being reborn as The Specter - a classic DC character who was about as far removed fromArrow's grounded start as you could get.
And it all felt deserved. The Arrowverse had put in the work to set this all up, so when recurring character Lyla Michaels appeared asCrisisHarbinger, it wasn't just a bit of comic book fan service, it was a deep callback to things that had happened years ago onArrow. The same applies toThe flash's Tom Cavanagh plays a take onCrisisPariah - a meta nod to the running gag where Cavanagh keeps playing different versions of the same manThe flashand Pariah's versatile role in the comics.
The series finale ofArrowwas deeply intertwinedCrisis, a fun way to pay homage to the show that started it all and brought hugely significant, universe-shaking stakes to the end of the flagship series. AndCrisissmartly ended with a never-resolved tease for the future acknowledging that the Arrowverse hadn't worked to create the Justice League (something even the mega-budget DC movies couldn't get right), but that it was all building toward the creation of another DC hero team:The super friends. That alone summed up the appeal of the entire experiment. Self-esteem and gritty action hadn't really worked for any of these shows, but what always worked was emphasizing the joy of superheroes and the appeal of fun superhero stories with found families and hard-won friendships.
In hindsight, maybe it all should have stopped there - just pretty promises for a future that could never have (or should have) actually been paid for. The Green Arrow is dead, but he got a nice farewell and the other heroes will follow his example and remain good heroes supporting their friends.
But all shows exceptArrowkept chasingCrisis on Infinite Earths, some of which reflect the major multiversal changes that occurred during that event. (Super usInBlack Lightningwere officially integrated into the main onesArrow/Flashuniverse, although in the end it didn't really matter.)The flashkept doingFlashstuff,Legends of tomorrowfully embraced just doing his own thing(it even brought onein-universe holiday special about favorite character Beebothat islegit really good), InBatwomanhad to be adjusted to account for the loss of Ruby Rose (Javicia Leslie was brought in as the new star and developed her own fan base), but the most dramatic change in the Arrowverse post-Crisisis explicitly not about the Arrowverse.
Originally set up as a spin-off fromSuper usrun from the end ofCrisis, The CW launched in 2021 with Tyler Hoechlin and Elizabeth Tulloch reprising their rolesSuper usas Clark Kent and Lois Lane. But it was eventually confirmed that, despite the same actors initially introduced in the Arrowverse, the show is actually in its own separate continuity - for no apparent reason other than that it's easier than sticking to the established canon. And once you decide to put convenience over continuity, your cinematic universe might as well be dead. (And just after surviving destruction at the hands of the Anti-Monitor inCrisis!)
MetThe flashdone, the Arrowverse is officially over. Unfortunately, the end of the saga doesn't convey a sense of triumph, a celebration of the many great things these shows have accomplished. Instead, it feels like sputtering, withThe flashInRivierdal being the last gasp of the one timecreatively unleashedCW succumbs to hisnew, tightly belted business masters. The Arrowverse deserved to go out on its own terms, but most of its shows didn't get the chance.
The ultimate you can get out of the Arrowverse isn't just that it's one of the few times this kind of shared universeworkedsince the beginning of the MCU (and that it was, creatively speaking, significantly more successful than the big screen DC Universe that Warner Bros. spent much of its life trying to start up). The main takeaway, especially these days, is to appreciate the cool things you have while you still have them. After all, the Arrowverse lived as long as it did because the shows built and maintained a strong fan following. Support the characters you like, of course, but also support their creators, the people you like and respect whose work connects you, so they can keep doing cool things. That, and the fact that Caity Lotz rules so hard they have to put her face on money.