Since its inception with Arrow in 2012, the CW’s Arrowverse has proven to have a staying power rarely associated with superhero shows, going from strength-to-strength in the past six years, whilst its rivals (such as the ill-fated Marvel Netflix shows) have come and gone. With the upcoming “Elseworlds” crossover set to feature Superman and introduce us to Ruby Rose’s Batwoman and Gotham City, it’s time to look back on why this universe has been such a resounding success and why these shows are well worth the time of the uninitiated.q
First and foremost, the connected universe works – and wisely avoids the mistake of trying to connect with the movies. Following Barry Allen’s introduction in Arrow’s second season, the interactions between these silver screen heroes has always been part of what makes the universe work so well. With Oliver mentoring Barry on his heroic journey, the Green Arrow advances his own story and expands his role as a protector far beyond Star City; with Barry then allowed to go from student to teacher in Supergirl’s first season. Later, Barry’s actions impact the lives of Oliver Queen and his team in significant ways, showing the consequences of actions extended far beyond one show in this exceptionally detailed universe. Expanding this further still is the idea of the multiverse with an infinite number of earths (such as the one where Supergirl is set) and the comedic and dramatic possibilities of alternative characters appearing from different earths – such as Tom Cavanagh’s Harrison Wells who has appeared as a super-villain, a clueless imposter and an arrogant detective – amongst others. The ability to jump from earth to earth – and dimension to dimension, not to mention the occasional cosmic mission – allows for huge variety in characterisation and location, ensuring all four of these shows continue to evolve and remain compelling.
“By casting lovable leads such as Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist, the Arrowverse immediately invests us in a humorous and good-natured protagonist”
The birth of Legends of Tomorrow allowed secondary characters from Arrow and The Flash to exist in a new creative space, develop in ways we never thought possible (e.g. villains such as Captain Cold and Heat Wave) and build surprising and lasting bonds. The eternal question of ‘what would happen if this character met that character’ – a fantasy for most shows – is a reality consistently fulfilled within the Arrowverse where the unlikeliest of teams are forged on a weekly basis. Best of all are the yearly crossovers where the four teams unite to defeat a common enemy – utilising their unique abilities for spectacular action scenes and offering opportunities for witty interactions between the various ensembles.
All of these shows are both fun and funny and offer a self-aware humour that never derails their more serious moments. They are aware of each other, the actor’s past and all the tropes of the genre and poke fun at these in a manner that never feels like too much. The casting of Brandon Routh (who portrayed Superman in Superman Returns) as the Atom has provided a few good laughs and also hints at the Arrowverse’s loyalty to DC actors and respect for its history, with Mark Hamill and John Wesley Shipp creatively reprising their roles from the 1990s TV series in the new iteration of The Flash. Furthermore, all four of these shows contain hilarious secondary characters – from Supergirl’s Cat Grant to The Flash’s Cisco Ramone – who often prove to be the highlight of every scene they are in, offering levity but at all times heart. By casting lovable leads such as Grant Gustin and Melissa Benoist, the Arrowverse immediately invests us in a humorous and good-natured protagonist who we yearn to see succeed from the outset of their journey. As we follow them from villains that range from colourful to genuinely intimidating, we feel like we are reading issue after issue of a truly great comic run, falling deeper into the world of our hero and its lore as we go on. As our hero learns lessons, grows stronger and forms bonds with friends and love interests we invest in and root for them in a way that is rare in any medium, let alone superhero television.
In an era where the MCU is cutting lesbian sex scenes and deleting comic-accurate gay relationships from their movies, it is worth shining a light on the Arrowverse for being truly diverse – presenting captivating characters of all ages, races, genders and sexualities. These are shows unafraid of tackling real issues, with Supergirl taking a strong feminist stance and the Legends exploring socially conscious themes through time travelling. They are shows about how we are stronger together and how we should celebrate our differences, fitting for a universe that offers the gritty vigilantism of Arrow alongside the gaudy comedy of Legends of Tomorrow. Ultimately though, it is the similarities that matter most – with the Arrowverse presenting four funny, good-hearted and highly enjoyable shows that everybody should be watching.