In the very near future, all four superhero shows that will be airing on The CW as of this autumn – Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl – will have a four-way crossover event, as announced by the network’s president, Mark Pedowitz.
Congratulations, nerds, you have finally crossed the line from merely damaging the properties you claim to love to actively destroying them.
A while back, Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, uttered the two most awful things I could ever fear to hear him say in an interview with Newsbeat.
First, on the subject of Star Wars:
“There will be more after that, I don’t know how many, I don’t know how often.”
Then, somehow even worse:
“Marvel, you’re dealing with thousands and thousands of characters – that will go on forever.”
I’m sure a lot of people are happy to hear both those things, or at least one, but all I could feel was sadness. Not even outrage, which at least would have livened up what had been a pretty slow day. I just felt sad.
And I felt sad not at what Bob Iger or anyone else at Disney had done. They’re just responding to demand, after all, and I’m not naive enough to pretend they haven’t done their best to cultivate this demand, but I also don’t think so little of the average person’s intelligence to suppose we’re not all aware that businesses try to make us want their products, and that we don’t have a choice in how we respond to their efforts.
I’m embarrassed that we’ve apparently thrown all good taste and common sense to the wolves and convinced Disney that we want these properties to go on forever. We shouldn’t.
For unrelated reasons, I recently reread the letter that Gerard Way wrote when My Chemical Romance announced their breakup, and I was reminded once again of the integrity and strength of character that he and the rest of the band showed by ending when they felt that continuing would compromise what they stood for.
As he put it:
“When it’s time, we stop.”
This is not integrity that we can expect from a corporate megalith like Disney. We can’t blame a commercial machine for churning out dross if we keep paying for it. My Chemical Romance could walk away because no one else can be My Chemical Romance, but when a director walks away from a Marvel film, they just find a new director. If ever an actor walks away, they’ll just kill their character off and replace them with a new model.
We have to be the failsafe for our own franchises. We have to show the character and good taste that no media empire is ever going to do. We have to insist these stories are written to be good stories. On the one hand, that means telling Disney and Marvel that stories deserve endings. On the other hand, that means telling The CW and DC that stories are at their best when they’re focused on themselves, not contrived together into a nonsensical crossover shitfest.
I cannot conceive of a single way this mega-crossover crap could go anywhere good. I don’t have access to Supergirl‘s ratings and demographics breakdown, but I doubt there’s a ton of people who weren’t watching Supergirl when it was on CBS that are going to start watching it now that it’s on The CW. Not only is there essentially no room to grow viewers, but if the switch to The CW, and the subsequent move of production from Los Angeles to Vancouver, causes Callista Flockhart to vacate her role as Cat Grant, inarguably the show’s breakout character, then it’s more likely to bleed viewers, and should probably spend more time convincing the many current viewers skeptical that Supergirl will be as good without Callista Flockhart and/or its current high production values, given a likely slash in budget-per-episode, that they should remain loyal to the show on its own merits, rather than chase the imaginary viewers of almost every other superhero show on television who haven’t already tried out Supergirl and decided it wasn’t for them.
So, leaving side corporate synergy, does anyone really think this crossover will have anything but detrimental effects to the shows involved?
I mean, it’s not like the crossover even seems likely to make a lick of sense. What villain could the heroes unite against that Oliver, a guy who shoots arrows good, could credibly threaten on an equal level with Kara, a woman with enough physical strength to push the moon out of its current orbit? Moreover, what villain powerful enough to require that many heroes could be reasonably contained within that crossover event? Surely anyone that powerful is automatic season villain material, like when Vandal Savage was the villain of this season’s Flarrow crossover and then went on to be the main villain of Legends of Tomorrow.
But that only made a modicum of sense because Legends of Tomorrow started after the crossover. Since it now seems likely to start in the same week as the rest of the lineup, and presumably won’t spend its first eight episodes without a villain, it seems we’re faced with the possibility of a one-off extremely powerful villain, which brings its own problems, or the completely ludicrous scenario where it takes all the heroes combined to defeat the villain the first time (or to fail to defeat the villain, maybe), yet it takes just some of those heroes to do it again.
But even if we generously assume that the crossover could be reasonably coherent, it’s hard to see how this crossover could be anything but destructive to Arrow in particular. Once we watch Oliver, Thea and Diggle kicking and punching a god to death with Kara and Barry and whoever’s still alive in Legends of Tomorrow, how are we supposed to take it seriously when they fight Some Dude, the perennial bad guy of every season of Arrow? The show’s addiction to unnecessary escalation already meant the only reason Damien Darhk was a threat this season was because they gave him magic, and that alone has diluted so much of Arrow‘s identity, even as it seems poised to collapse back into the routine of an annual attempt to destroy Starling City (newsflash: there are other kinds of stakes than “everything blows up”, writers of Arrow, and this was already boring and trite when Ra’s did it last year). If we’ve just seen Oliver kick out the Anti-Monitor or something dumb like that, are we gonna have to deal with street-level superhero thiller Arrow bending over backwards to accommodate someone ridiculously out of touch with the show’s setting, like Despero, just so the bad guy seems like a reasonable threat compared to whoever they fought in the crossover?
Worse still, there’s already a problem with Arrow and The Flash not adequately justifying why the heroes don’t constantly zip over to help each other out. I know there’s an extent to which I as a viewer can and maybe even should numb myself to that problem, but there’s a much greater extent to which the writers of these shows should just learn to fucking write. Never was this problem more apparent than when Barry showed up in the Arrow S3 finale to help break Team Arrow out of Nanda Parbat, which is on the other side of the world from Central City, but didn’t have time to also help them save Starling City, which is so close that the two cities share a prison. On the flip side, there’s Oliver showing up in Central City to help Barry fight the Reverse Flash when he was pretending he’d joined the League of Assassins, and suddenly whipping out an arrow full of “nanites, courtesy of Ray Palmer” to drain the Reverse Flash’s speed, a weapon that (1) he shouldn’t be able to ask Ray to make given he’s pretending to have turned evil and (2) mysteriously never appears again even though it would have been really handy for beating the second season’s evil speedster Zoom, just because the only way Oliver could be remotely useful in that fight is if he brought along a magic arrow to completely neutralise the Reverse Flash’s powers, but also didn’t use it straight away, because then we couldn’t have a cool fight scene, I guess.
This problem is only going to get worse when you have an entire team of heroes completely unconstrained by time management issues on Legends of Tomorrow, as well as Kara, who would automatically be, at the bare minimum, one of the top five most powerful people to ever set foot on Earth of the Arrowverse if she appeared in one of their shows. That’s a lot of narrative hoops to jump through at the best of times and with the best of writers, but as much as I love these shows (except Legends, which I admittedly have a very very mixed relationship with), their writers are not the best of writers, and in the middle of a network-mandated crossover is not the best of times.
This crossover is happening because it’s what The CW think fans want. They may even be right about a pretty large chunk of their audience. But it’s this cheap, pandering, lunatics-running-the-asylum bullshit that has already dragged down these shows and is going to keep dragging them down. The three seasons of superhero TV just about to wrap up on The CW over the next week have already gotten a deservedly mixed response, which is especially unfortunate for Arrow, which spent this season trying to soft-reboot itself out of the hole it dug for itself in the previous season. The Flash has mostly just underwhelmed relative to a very strong first season, but Arrow, Legends and especially Supergirl are going to need to do a lot of work next season to justify viewer’s continued faith in them.
They won’t do that work with gimmicks. They can and will only reaffirm the trust of their viewers by telling good stories. The high quality of storytelling in the first two seasons of Arrow is what launched this age of superhero television in the first place, and it’s no coincidence that Arrow was at its best when it aggressively rejected conformity to the comics and to nerdwank expectation and just focused on telling the best and most compelling story it could.
If we don’t stop with this clambering for endless new content stuffed with infinite characters, a double whammy of quantity over quality that’s increasingly turning into an avalanche of stories too full of characters to tell a coherent story because we want or have convinced the business end of the creative industries that we want every single character who has ever appeared in three panels of Detective Comics or, for that matter, four minutes of Star Wars, to appear in every single adaptation even loosely related to whatever great source material we claim to genuinely love and care about.
I feared this the first time I heard someone complaining that the guy who played Green Arrow in Smallville wouldn’t be playing him in Arrow. But I never thought it would be this bad. I don’t know if we can turn back now. I don’t know if we can tear down the monster we’ve created.
But if we can, and if we care about these stories, then we have to make it stop. We have to stop demanding more content than anyone could ever supply us without cutting the product with bleach.
You know why?
Because fuck Boba Fett, that’s why. He was in the movies for like five minutes and is best known for dying like a wuss. We don’t need a movie about him. We don’t need this absurd crossover. We don’t need any of this crap.
We just need good stories.