The superhero crossover has been a staple of the genre since the very early days in the 1930’s, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the crossover achieved full maturity with Crisis on Infinite Earths at DC Comics and Secret Wars at Marvel. Invasion! is a lesser known DC Comics crossover from 1988 which is probably most notable for being partly drawn by Todd McFarlane, and it’s also the basis of the CW’s four part crossover between Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. It doesn’t always work, but considering how the ambition of the project outweighs the budgets and resources available, it actually works fairly well, while also managing to capture the scatty nature of those 80’s crossovers.
Mixing the various tones of four different shows isn’t easy, and the producers and writers get away with adding too much dark into Supergirl’s crossover episode by having Barry Allen and Cisco only pop up in the last scene. It’s a bit of a cheat, but it perfectly captures those crossover tie-in comics where Green Lantern or Iron Man would just pop up for a panel to warn the title’s hero that a crisis was coming or they needed their help. The actual crossover itself kicks off in The Flash and right away the programme’s budget shows strains as the mighty alien invasion (an alien race called the Dominators) isn’t that scary, or indeed, huge. Much of the menace is explained though typical Arrowverse shows burst of exposition where two or more characters stand around telling us the plot, or what’s happening elsewhere they can’t afford to show us.
Yet in terms of staying faithful to the comics, I can’t think of a better episode. Barry Allen’s recruitment of a de-facto Justice League of America (there’s some major teases of a JLA throughout all these episodes) is fan pleasing, the introduction of superpowered aliens in the shape of Supergirl into the universe is dealt with well, and there’s a fight between all our heroes thanks to the mind-controlling aliens. The next instalment in Arrow is actually the series 100th episode so it acts as crossover and a celebration of the last four years. It’s actually the strongest episode of the crossover, which is let down somewhat by a far too crammed conclusion in Legends of Tomorrow which tries to have a huge global battle be represented with a rooftop battle in whatever Canadian city they were filming in that week.
Invasion! is for all the flaws, the script issues, the sometimes bland characterisation and sometimes cheapness, massively entertaining. It not only captures the source material well, but shows that a superhero crossover need not be grim or miserable but fun and this is fun with plenty of little Easter Eggs for fans. It’s also clearly setting up plots in each individual programmes as well as something huge in the future, which I imagine, is an even larger scale crossover as after all, there’s a lot of characters conspicuous by their absence here. Hopefully next time the producers learn from the mistakes of this time, and manage to get a few extra zeros on their budget so their ambitions can be achieved.