EP Marc Guggenheim on the 'pressure' of adapting Crisis on Infinite Earths for TV.
The Powers That Be of the Arrowverse are not taking their adaptation of DC Comics’ Crisis on Infinite Earths lightly at all.
“I felt so much pressure. We all felt enormous pressure,” crossover executive producer Marc Guggenheim tells EW of tackling Marv Wolfman and George Pérez’s iconic maxiseries of the same name, which forever changed the face of the DC Universe and comics in general when it was released in the ’80s, for this year’s annual Arrowverse crossover. “There’s only one Crisis on Infinite Earths and you only get to do it once, and we’re terrified about screwing it up.”
That being said, Guggenheim is confident that they’ve crafted something that homages both the comic and the expansive DC Universe as a whole with this year’s Arrowverse crossover, “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” which begins this Sunday. Unfolding across the CW’s Supergirl, Batwoman, The Flash, Arrow, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, the five-episode television event follows the many heroes of The CW (and beyond!) as they band together to stop the Anti-Monitor (LaMonica Garrett) from destroying the multiverse. In keeping with the spirit of the comic, the outcome of the crossover will have dramatic ramifications on the entire Arrowverse going forward.
“One of the things the comic always promised was that ‘Worlds will live. Worlds will die. And things will never be the same.’ There were characters who died. New characters were introduced. The whole status quo of the universe changed,” says Guggenheim. “I hope that everyone feels that we’ve lived up to that.”
To craft the crossover’s story, Guggenheim combed through the 12-issue limited series like it was the Book of Destiny and plucked out story beats that could serve as tentpoles for the five hours they had to play with. “In fact, when we pitched it out to the studio [Warner Bros. TV] and network, we had corresponding covers for the 12 issues of the comic that matched five episodes,” he says, adding he also pitched the structure to the many showrunners, too.
While Guggenheim won’t reveal which elements of the comic they homage, he did share that the comic helped them solve one major problem they faced. “We basically spoiled our own story by telling the audience Oliver [Stephen Amell] is going to die at the end of season 7,” says Guggenheim. “Working out, quite frankly, just plot twists and surprises and reversals, that was an interesting challenge. I think the original Crisis comic provided a lot of points of inspiration. Even if it didn’t give us the answer to the test, it inspired the answers.”
Crisis was originally conceived as a way for DC Comics to clean up its then-convoluted continuity, which was rife with too many parallel worlds, alternate timelines, and doppelgängers that intimidated potential new readers. Luckily, the Arrowverse doesn’t have a massive continuity problem, which means the writers were able to zero even further in on their characters — especially the number ones of each of the shows.
“While we honor the Barry and Oliver relationship, what’s been really, really nice is developing the relationship between Kara and Kate [Ruby Rose],” says Guggenheim. “We really just teased it at the end of the ‘Elseworlds’ last year with the World’s Finest reference, but we really get a chance to dig deeper into that and have those two characters supporting each other much in the same way that Barry and Oliver have been supporting each other in previous crossovers.”
With regards to Legends, which is an ensemble show, “the crossover focuses primarily on Sara, Caity Lotz’s character for a variety of different reasons — certainly related to what happens with Oliver in the crossover,” he says. “You’ll also see that the events of the crossover sort of kick off Sara’s emotional journey for season 5 of Legends. We really come out of the crossover with Sara having a different perspective on things.”
The Arrow hour of the crossover is particularly special because Guggenheim co-wrote it with Wolfman. “I could not have asked for a better experience. It just worked out extremely, extremely well,” says Guggenheim, admitting he was initially nervous about collaborating with one of his idols because, by his own admission, he writes with a “heavy hand.” Thankfully, that turned out not to be a problem. “Marv’s pages came in and they were brilliant. Like unbelievably brilliant. Such great writing, so vivid. I literally didn’t end up changing that much,” he says. “Marv’s interpretation of Lex Luthor, in particular, is genius. What phenomenal, phenomenal material for Jon Cryer!”
In addition to honoring the comic, Guggenheim also wanted to make sure this year’s crossover paid tribute to DC’s history on television and at the movies. That explains why fans are getting a Smallville reunion, Black Lightning’s Arrowverse debut, and Legends‘ Brandon Routh suiting up as Kingdom Come Superman, which was one of many highlights of production.
“It’s fun because [Routh] gets to not only play Superman but also Clark Kent, and watching him inhabit those two roles. I say two roles because he plays them obviously very differently from one another,” he says. “We also had the opportunity to see Brandon act opposite himself, because Ray Palmer is in the crossover as well. We certainly wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity for Superman played by Brandon Routh to interact with Ray Palmer played by Brandon Routh.” He adds, “We really felt an obligation to visit all of the different corners of the DC Universe that we could get our hands on. It’s exciting to see all of the different ways that has come together.”
Because “Crisis” is the Arrowverse’s biggest crossover ever, it’s easy to understand why one might be tempted to compare it to Avengers: Endgame. For his part, Guggenheim doesn’t want to prescribe any Endgame comparisons, preferring to leave that to the fans; however when pressed, he does offer up one tease: “I’d say certainly for Barry and Oliver, there is an emotional denouement that is reminiscent of Endgame,” he says. “Endgame is an exclamation point. ‘Crisis’ is a semi-colon.”
“Crisis on Infinite Earths” kicks off with Supergirl on Sunday, Dec. 8, followed by Batwoman on Monday, Dec. 9, and The Flash on Tuesday, Dec. 10. After the winter hiatus, the crossover will resume Tuesday, Jan. 14, with Arrow at 8 p.m., and conclude with Legends of Tomorrow at 9 p.m.
For expert analysis, interviews, and scene breakdowns, watch EW’s official “Crisis” after-show, Crisis: Aftermath, hosted by Kevin Smith and airing 9 p.m., immediately after Supergirl (Dec. 8) and The Flash (Dec. 10) on The CW.