All of reality is threatened when the CW's superhero shows launch Crisis on Infinite Earths this Sunday, beginning a storyline that will encompass five different series — Supergirl, Batwoman, The Flash, Arrow and DC's Legends of Tomorrow — as well as multiple realities. But, as it turns out, it's even bigger than initially announced.
Two further chapters of the story will appear on the comic book page, with DC releasing a two-issue Crisis on Infinite Earths Giant series featuring familiar Arrowverse characters dealing with the threat of the Anti-Monitor on the printed page as well as onscreen. The two-part series was written by someone familiar with comic book crises: Marv Wolfman — writer of the original Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book series in 1985 — with Arrowverse executive producer Marc Guggenheim on board as co-writer.
Each issue will feature a 24-page main story illustrated by Tom Derenick, Trevor Scott and John Kalisz, with an additional backup strip also written by Guggenheim and Wolfman, illustrated by Tom Grummett, Danny Miki and Chris Sotomayor. Both issues will also reprint material from the first Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book series, with the second issue including material from DC Universe: Legacies No. 6, from 2010.
Ahead of the oncoming super heroic apocalypse, The Hollywood Reporter talked to Guggenheim and Wolfman about the comic book chapters, including the reveal of just which characters fans can expect to see. (Felicity Smoak fans, you'll be happy.)
Marc, obviously the shows have been building to Crisis for some time now, but can you talk to the origins of this particular project? When did the idea of a comic book chapter to the television event come about, and how did Marv come into that?
Marc Guggenheim: It came pretty early on in the process. We were marking out big-picture stuff to be able to pitch something to the showrunners and it occurred to me that this story we were looking to tell was actually bigger than the five hours we're going to have for broadcast.
I thought to myself, "This is a potentially once in a lifetime kind of opportunity; I don't think we're ever going to do a crossover of this scale and ambition again. Certainly not for a good long while.' I thought that having a comic book tie into [Crisis] would not only be a cool thing to do, it would allow us access to all of the characters that we don't have in the crossover proper for logistical reasons, or financial reasons, or creative reasons.
So it was basically killing two birds with one stone. It allows us to tell a major piece of the story that we're designing, with characters and concepts that we couldn't achieve in live action.
I went to Dan Evans at DC — he's the main guy there that I work with on the shows — and said, 'I've got this crazy idea, can we do a comic book tie-in?' Dan discussed it with the folks at DC, and it was suggested, why don't you co-write this with Marv? The moment that was suggested to me, it was a no-brainer. I wasn't originally going to write any of it, but the opportunity to work with Marv was too good to pass up.
Marv, Crisis on Infinite Earths, the original comic book series from the mid-80s, is something that's come to define not only your career, but the very idea of the superhero event story as a whole. What's it like to return to something like this, three decades later, especially in light of what's followed?
Marv Wolfman: It still hasn't completely come together in my mind, because the idea of having five different television shows come together is something I never thought would happen, and then having a bunch of comic books tie in as well — you don't think in that way. You don't think it will ever happen, so you move on and think about something else. (Laughs.)
It's a phenomenal testimony in so many ways to the work that George Perez and I did back in 1985, and we could not be more thrilled by it.
You talk about the work you and George did on Crisis, but also The New Teen Titans. At the time those books were being released, it felt as if you two were ahead of your time with what you were doing with comics, and now you can see the influence of what you were doing not just in comics, but obviously, in movies, and on television. Is that something that's been rewarding to see?
Wolfman: It's unbelievably rewarding. I don't know if it's that we were ahead of our time or not, but we did books — on the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, certainly on Titans — that we wanted to see ourselves. So much of Crisis actually comes out of what I was thinking about as a 7-year-old; it's been mentioned before, so I'm not making it up for this particular thing, but back then, DC was just starting Justice League of America and the like, but they didn't have enough characters back then. As a kid, I wanted to see every DC character, not just Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman. I wanted all of the characters in there.
So I made up my own story, and put everyone in there, including a character in a satellite that I called the Librarian, because he was cataloging all the characters. Obviously, I did not have a good sense of names at 7 years old. So, this is a child's dream come true in so many ways.
I thought it had come true just with the comics Crisis, but to have it happen with a mass medium like television — it's unbelievable to me. I know that George and I are both absolutely thrilled to see that work we did 35 years ago is still resonating.
Marc, Marv just called this a child's dream come true and I have to ask, were you reading Crisis growing up? Is this a child's dream come true for you, too, getting to work on the television Crisis, never mind getting to work with Marv on the comic book?
Guggenheim: Completely. I was 15 when Crisis came out, and I had been reading Titans up to that point, so I didn't just read the main event, I saw everything leading up to it. I saw the Monitor be introduced in various DC books in the year leading up to Crisis, and that was — it was a revelation! No one had ever done a comic book event on that scale before. A year before, Marvel had done Marvel Super Heroes: Secret Wars, which was seminal and groundbreaking in its own way, but nothing of the magnitude and ambition that Crisis displayed. Frankly, it just blew my 15-year-old self away.
You mention the lead up to the comic book Crisis, and it feels like the shows have done something similar, was that intentional?
Guggenheim: Absolutely. Wherever possible, we tried to take our cues from what Marv and everyone at DC at the time was doing. Even down to this comic book tie-in; back when Marv and George did the original Crisis, there were tie-in comics to that event. If you picked up a copy of Superman during that time, you could read a Superman tie-in story, and that was happening across the whole publishing line.
In many ways I feel like Marv and George just gave us the answers to the whole test. We're just running their plays.
Marc, you talked about the comic book chapters having story that didn't fit into the five hours of television. How did you decide which characters you were going to focus on, and what story you could tell?
Guggenheim: I was on a flight back from Prague, and I was working on two things — the beat sheet for the fourth hour of the crossover, as well as a proposal for the comic book tie-in, so I was basically swimming in the same waters, which allowed the comic book to be well-integrated with the live action component.
As far as characters, I started off with Felicity Smoak. I think, of all the characters that are not in the crossover that I think people wanted to see, Felicity is probably at the top of that list. I included the Ray, from the Crisis on Earth-X crossover we did a few years ago as well as the animated series we did for CW Seed, and then there was going to be another character — a brand new character, because I thought it could be fun to add to the toolbox, but we had a lot of creative discussions, and it was decided, let's use a pre-established Arrowverse character, so I chose Nyssa Al-Ghul, because Katrina [Law] is on another show and wasn't available to participate in the crossover.
Finally, there's Wally West, because, again, scheduling limitations prevented the actor from being in the live action … but it's easy to populate your comic book with whoever you want. Using those core four, we worked out our story and brought in characters like the Atom … and Batwoman … and Sara Lance … and Barry Allen. But it's those core four that really drive our story.
Judging from the first issue, it really feels like part of the main story; it didn't feel like an ancillary spinoff. We've all seen comic book tie-ins to movies or television stories that feel like after-the-fact additions; this didn't feel like that.
Guggenheim: That was very much by design. In fact, Marv and I were talking about that this morning; neither of us like it when the tie-ins are superficial, or with trade-dress only.
Wolfman: One of the things when I was growing up, again, was buying the tie-in novel and it never feeling like the actual show. I remember a Prisoner novel that began in a way that the Prisoner show never would have began. It made me feel so angry I threw the book across the room.
This was created to tie in perfectly with the CW shows. Everything felt correct; I wasn't worried about if the characters felt right, because Marc was there to ensure that it was correct, as I was on the comic book side. I thought it was just unbelievable, because I'd never seen it work like that before. It feels perfectly tied in with the TV shows, because it has the same people working on it. I think that's great.
I'm curious — there are two issues of Crisis on Infinite Earths Giant that you're using to build on the television story. Was this enough? Could you have kept going?
Guggenheim: We had a list of where the various universes were, where everything fell, but as big as this thing is — and it's a 48-page story over two issues, with a 16-page backup story — but as big as the DC universe is, as expansive as it is, there were still worlds that we didn't get a chance to visit, that we would have liked to.
Crisis on Infinite Earths Giant No. 1 will debut exclusively in Walmart on Dec. 15, ahead of a comic store release the following month. The second issue will be available at Walmart on Jan. 19, with a comic store release in February.