In my comic-book reading youth, crossover stories were the means by which stray issues of comics I otherwise never bothered with would end up in my collection. I always enjoyed the annual team-ups between the Justice League and Justice Society of America because they were generally self-contained, but I sometimes resented having to pick up an issue of Aquaman just to find out how Batman got out of a particular mess.
If you don’t follow the other CW superhero shows regularly, large chunks of “Crisis On Earth-X, Part 3" might feel like stray issues of comics you never bother to read. It certainly doesn’t feel like an episode of The Flash, given that Barry Allen is barely a supporting character throughout most of the hour. In every way, it’s a middle chapter that’s barely comprehensible on its own (and I’m not the first to wonder how future viewers on Netflix will be able to navigate this web), featuring numerous characters that a casual Flash viewer won’t recognize. Judging it in a vacuum, the episode is a total mess.
I’m guessing, however, that that vast majority of Flash viewers are, if not rabid followers of all four DC-derived series on the network, at least familiar enough with the major characters from Arrow, Supergirl, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow to get by. And I would especially hope that any viewer of tonight’s episode has already watched the first two parts of “Crisis On Earth-X,” given that the big event The Flash has been building toward all season—all series, really—did not happen on an episode of The Flash.
That would be the wedding of Barry Allen and Iris West, and technically it didn’t happen on Supergirl either, but only because super-powered Nazis from another world crashed the party. Still, it is more than a little strange that all the build-up to the “I do” moment that never came unfolded on a different show. Given that “Crisis” is built like a four-hour miniseries, would it have been so hard to swap out the series titles so that “Part One” played out on The Flash on a special night? After all, Arrow was moved to Monday night to accommodate this event, so it wouldn’t have been unprecedented. Instead, The Flash ends up getting saddled with the grimmest, least fun chapter of this saga, and clearly that should have been Arrow’s job.
One reason this installment is so dark is that much of it plays out in a concentration camp on Earth-X, which is not a location that lends itself to quippy banter and hijinks. I’m all in favor of reinforcing the idea that Nazis are bad guys, given that somehow that’s become a thing not everyone agrees on anymore, but there is a danger in playing with that kind of imagery in what is basically a colorful punch-em-up. I don’t think the episode crosses a line into bad-taste territory, given that the Nazis are not used merely for their fearsome iconography; their fascist, genocidal ways are on display as we see gay and Jewish prisoners marked for death. I don’t generally need a message with my epic comic-book battles, but “punching Nazis is good” is a timely and always welcome one.
Evaluating the episode on its own may be my job, but it feels like a mistake in this case. On the whole, I’ve found “Crisis On Earth-X” to be fantastically entertaining (although as of this writing I have yet to see the concluding chapter), and having seen Justice League last week, it makes for an inevitably favorable comparison. The Big Three may be absent, but “Crisis” is jam-packed with moments big and small to delight the inner DC fan. Even a lesser installment like this one features the spectacle of the Flash and the Ray battling the Red Tornado, as well as the appealing non-superpowered Nazi-fighting team of Iris and Felicity. For the most part, I’ve felt like a kid coming home with a fresh stack of comics, and I can think of no higher praise than that.
- MIA from both the West-Allen wedding and the crossover so far: Ralph Dibny. I guess I can buy that he hasn’t been part of the team long enough to score an invite to the nuptials (although if I were him, I think I’d be a little offended that Heat Wave rated higher on the guest priority list), but this would seem to be the perfect opportunity to introduce him to the larger CW-verse. (Again though, I’m writing this without seeing the final chapter.)
- Heat Wave is conspicuous in his absence from this chapter, which is a shame since he was a comic highlight of the first two parts.
- I have to confess, I have no idea how Earth-1's Thawne is here in his Wells guise, but I’m not going to question it. Cavanagh still gives good villain.
- It appears we’ve witnessed the death of Professor Stein, given Victor Garber’s planned exit from Legends. Of course, in a multiverse with time travel and doppelgangers, there’s always the opportunity for a return.
- Always good to see Wentworth Miller as Snart in any version, although it sounds his time with the CW-verse is also coming to an end.