**SPOILER WARNING For Crisis On Infinite Earths**
One of the things I’ve noticed in fandom is the prevailing idea of television adaptations of comic books being less significant than their feature film counterparts. Admittedly, this may only count for a small subjection of fans, but I’ve always found it rather hilarious nonetheless. As some fans continue to push the most meaningless rivalry since Dan vs. Dave, there is this undercurrent regarding Marvel’s dominance of the multiplexes, versus DC’s overwhelming presence on the small screen. Personally, I’m happy that we have both, because I can still remember the days when comic book adaptations were a rare commodity. Even with the success of Tim Burton’s first Batman film inspiring several studios to produce comic book movies, it was still a rather random occurrence. Even if they averaged one or two per year, very few films managed to truly cement themselves in the popular culture zeitgeist, in the years that preceded the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Television provided even fewer options. So to see the landscape change so dramatically in recent years, and furthermore for these shows to be recognized, and in some cases, praised among “prestige television”, I can’t imagine wasting time trying to devalue any given adaptation based on the medium.
This brings us to Crisis On Infinite Earths, based on the DC Comics mini-series of the same name, taking place across the half-dozen shows on the CW network that make up the so-called “Arrowverse”. In addition to serving as Black Lightning’s introduction to the rest of the CW’s DC multiverse, the event has wrangled an impressive collection of cameos and guest stars from other disparate DC-based series both past and present. The crossover even gave Legends of Tomorrow series regular Brandon Routh the chance to play Superman again. An even bigger get for the event, however, has to be the man who has voiced Batman for almost 30 years, Kevin Conroy, stepping into the role of Bruce Wayne in live-action. For many fans who consider him to be the definitive actor to portray the character, to say that this was a big deal would be a profound understatement.
Fan service on this level can feel too much like a gimmick at times, but when it legitimately impacts the overall story, it can make for some deeply resonant moments. Such is the case with the Barry Allen of Earth-90, played by John Wesley Shipp, reprising his role from the CBS Flash series, which premiered in 1990, and lasted only one season. His inclusion in the Flash series from the beginning has been a constant source of homage to his portrayal of the scarlet speedster, playing not only the father of Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen in the Arrowverse’s Earth-1, but also the Golden Age version of the Flash, Jay Garrick, from a parallel Earth. Even with the establishment of the Multiverse in the CW Flash’s infancy, I was still taken by surprise when last year’s Elseworlds crossover revealed that Shipp would reprise his role as Barry Allen. Having watched that original Flash series as a kid, you can’t imagine how excited I was to see Shipp in the red suit again.
Developed by producers Paul De Meo and Danny Bilson, the CBS incarnation of The Flash sought bring the level of production value and excitement seen in Tim Burton’s Batman to the small screen, and no expense was spared. The two-hour pilot alone reportedly cost 6 million dollars, featuring a costume built by Stan Winston Studios, and over 120 visual effects shots. Even by today’s standards for visual effects on television, I’m amazed at how good the effects for the Flash’s running still look today. Keeping with the idea of trying to bring the level of execution seen in Burton’s Batman to television, the series even enlisted that film’s composer Danny Elfman to create the theme song, while collaborating composer Shirley Walker scored the actual episodes. A blend of action, drama, and comic book camp, The Flash’s timeless aesthetic and cinematic visual sensibility made for exciting television, no doubt proving influential for ABC’s Moonlighting-esque take on Superman four years later, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Even the collaboration of Elfman and Walker would carry over into Fox’s groundbreaking Batman: The Animated Series. Unfortunately, The Flash had to contend with the powerhouse that was The Cosby Show on Thursday nights, in addition to its spin-off series A Different World, and the upstart animated series The Simpsons. Schedule re-shuffling could only do so much to keep the expensive show afloat, and it was ultimately canceled after one season, shattering my 10 year-old heart.
Needless to say, seeing the CW’s DC shows recognize the legacy of this series has been quite the treat. And with Crisis On Infinite Earths, we finally saw closure to the series that was arguably ahead of its time. Merely hinted at when the Grant Gustin-starring Flash began in 2014, the ominous threat of the Flash disappearing in a “crisis” in the future has been leading to this current crossover, in which an inter-dimensional being known as the Monitor has called upon every hero to fight against a malevolent force spreading a wave of anti-matter throughout the Multiverse, destroying all parallel Earths in its path, and making it clear that the Flash and Green Arrow had to die for the multiverse to be saved. With part three, the Flash, along with heroes Vibe, Black Lightning, and Killer Frost, finally discover the source of the anti-matter wave destroying parallel earths across the entirety of the Multiverse: The Flash from Earth-90, aka the Earth of the original CBS series. Imprisoned in a machine powered by the Speed Force since Elseworlds, he had been running in place, generating the energy needed to produce the anti-matter wave. Unfortunately, removing him from the treadmill actually causes an overload that threatens to wipe out all the remaining earths simultaneously. Realizing that this might be the moment the Monitor spoke of, the Barry Allen of Earth-1 knows that he can stop the anti-matter wave from destroying his earth if he gets on the treadmill and runs in the opposite direction, reversing the flow of energy, and killing him in the process. But the Monitor never specified WHICH Flash needed to die. And with 30 years of being tapped into the Speed Force under his belt, its Earth-90 Flash who makes the choice to sacrifice himself, taking enough of Earth-1 Flash’s power temporarily, to give him the necessary speed to destroy the anti-matter machine, quite literally running himself to death.
Not only was this a great reimagining of one of the original comic book storyline’s most defining moments, but more importantly, it was a fitting end to John Wesley Shipp’s version of Barry Allen, which had been all but forgotten before CW’s Flash series, only to be given new reverence after its premiere through Shipp’s multiple guest appearances. Whether or not he appears as Jay Garrick again in the future, there was still a poignance to his last appearance as Barry Allen, utilizing that classic Danny Elfman theme during his final moments, that was immensely gratifying as someone once too young to understand why a show he loved so much ended prematurely. I’m not gonna say that I cried, but there was definitely something in my eyes. . .