Elseworlds Part 3
The Elseworlds crossover wraps up with an evil Superman and the promise of bigger events to come in the relatively near future.
I have mixed feelings about this crossover on the whole. On one hand I’ve found all three parts to be immensely entertaining but I’ve also found the storytelling problematic as it buries what should be the main plot underneath broadly episodic content. “Crisis on Earth-X” is my go-to example of what I want from the crossovers and I freely admit that I was expecting something more along those lines than what was delivered with this three part story.
As I said, the story was still immensely entertaining and this episode was the best of the three as far as I’m concerned. The episode picks up right where part 2 left off with a rewritten Oliver and Barry confronted by a black suited Superman. It turns out that this Superman is actually Dr. John Deegan who has rewritten reality to put him in the role of the hero. If any time had been spent establishing Deegan prior to this point his desire to put himself in this role might have felt earned but since he has barely appeared it’s unclear why he would want to paint himself in this light. Such is the folly of not spending time developing villains.
Putting that aside, it’s easy to go into this episode with the mindset that the villain of this part of the story is an evil Superman and it’s all the better for it. Tyler Hoechlin makes for a great traditional Superman and his dark twisted version of the character is equally excellent. His performance is unrecognisable in the best way which makes him very different beyond the different costume. Hoechlin plays him as unhinged, arrogant and more than a little insecure which really works as an antagonist as he comes across as someone who has lots of power but always feels like they have to justify having it. This is a great contrast to Superman’s effortless confidence and clear grasp of his own sense of identity.
Evil Superman has Kara locked in the pipeline because he considers her to be a curiosity as the book has no record of her or Superman which sort of explains why the reality altering has a lessened effect on her. The fact that she doesn’t belong to that universe likely means that whatever power the book has can only make changes around her rather than altering her in any real way. She also ends up inspiring Deegan’s change of form to the Evil Superman as he looked to become everything that Kara is except male which apparently means looking like her cousin. This does nothing to counter the argument that Kara is basically a gender swapped version of Clark but it works well enough in context. Fans of the shows will know that Kara is so much more than a copy of Clark so it comes across that Deegan’s insecurities are the root of his appearance as Kara points out to him.
In order to escape, Kara does what she does best and brings out the best in the Earth-1 version of Alex who has also been rewritten to be a subservient assistant to evil Superman. This is the first appearance of the Earth-1 version of Alex which should be a big deal but fails to achieve the level of significance that it deserves because the alteration of reality means that this isn’t the true Earth-1 Alex so she might as well be an altered version of the Alex we already know.
Regardless of where this Alex comes from, Kara uses her knowledge of the person she knows her Alex to be in order to get through to her. She makes an appeal to her sense of ambition by telling her about everything that her Alex has accomplished and encouraging this one to live up to that high bar. Kara basically exploits the clear misgivings she has about Evil Superman in order to encourage Alex to free her and it works because Alex wants to believe that there’s more to life than what she currently has. The implication is that Alex is a very lonely person who is in need of a meaningful relationship of some sort so Kara talking about the sisterly bond that they share on her Earth gives her hope that she could have something similar. It’s enough to get her on side and secure Kara’s freedom showing that being an inspiring and encouraging presence is a better way to be a hero. Melissa Benoist is excellent in those moments, fully embodying the inspiring presence that Kara is supposed to be.
Barry and Oliver are getting closer to being their old selves but aren’t quite there in the early part of the episode. Deegan’s rewrite of reality has them as known criminals called “The Trigger Twins” which makes things difficult for them as Barry has no powers and they are wanted by the police. In order to fix this they seek out Cisco who is a crime boss using his Vibe powers to rob banks and secure his position. It’s a fun alternate characterisation for Cisco that Carlos Valdes clearly has a lot of fun with though there isn’t enough time in the episode to milk it for what its worth. He basically exists to ferry Barry and Oliver to Earth-38 so they can recruit Superman and is dismissed shortly after they return with him. Based on the limited screen time this version of Cisco receives it doesn’t really makes sense for him to help them especially after it becomes clear that going to another Earth has no advantage for him. There’s no point in taking the time to show Cisco motivated by greed and self interest if it is cast aside almost immediately.
Clark aka original Superman has a massive role in this episode starting with his fight against his evil doppelgänger. The fight between the two Supermen is an impressive visual spectacle that is greatly enhanced by the verbal exchanges that take advantage of how secure Clark is with his sense of identity as a contrast to Deegan’s insecurities. The latter may be poorly developed but Tyler Hoechlin’s performance does a great job of contrasting Clark’s confidence with his evil counterpart’s insane compulsion for validation. Adding that layer to their conflict makes it so much more than an empty brawl between two super beings.
Luckily Clark has encountered similar reality rewriting books in the past so is the best chance they have to restore the world to its former state. He mentions that there is a cost though there doesn’t seem to be one for him which is slightly confusing considering the episode makes a point of there being unknown consequences to using the book. What happens on screen is that Clark uses the book and things start to return to normal though the implication is that future knowledge is the burden that he has to deal with.
Naturally Deegan retrieves the book and the team have to come up with a plan to get it back from him. Barry comes up with the idea of speeding around the Earth with Kara in order to use their combined power to slow the Earth’s rotation in order to slow down time which will make it easier to make a move on Deegan. It’s a strange idea that doesn’t really work on any level as slowing the Earth’s rotation wouldn’t slow down time for a start and if everyone is equally slow then there’s no real difference. A better idea would be for Barry to use Flashtime which would in theory make him significantly faster than Evil Superman allowing him to easily take the book from him. The main purpose of the idea is to increase the stakes through Clark pointing out that he saw Barry and Kara die as a result of that plan when he had the book. They are even shown starting to dissolve as their speed gets to the point where the plan starts to work.
The risk of Barry and Kara dying is where Oliver can become important to the story instead of being a bystander due to him being outclassed by the power level of everyone else around him. Instead he is able to use his intelligence to come up with a solution and approaches the Monitor with his own theory on the situation. It has been established that the Monitor is testing the multiverse to see which Earth will be strong enough to face the coming Crisis. Oliver concludes that he’s testing those Earths for their capacity for good rather than the strength of their heroes. Apparently goodness will be most important and Oliver makes an appeal to the Monitor on behalf of Barry and Kara who he sees as examples of the best of everyone. This results in Oliver making a deal that spares them and presumably dooms him in some way. The details aren’t revealed but there is clearly going to be a personal cost for him that will come into play at some future point. At the end of the episode he makes cryptic remarks about enjoying everything good in life while he can. As strong as this was the Monitor is underserved and never quite feels like a tangible part of the crossover story.
Oliver has learned a lot about Barry through running several miles in his proverbial shoes. For the past few years Oliver has been consumed by his own personal darkness and let that define him to a degree but experiencing life from Barry’s point of view has allowed him to reconsider how he views the world. Whether this new outlook will spill over into his ongoing development remains to be seen but it makes the body switching feel more worthwhile than it otherwise would have been. Barry doesn’t have as profound a realisation though does gain a greater understanding of Oliver’s inner demons which will make him better equipped to support him when he needs it.
He is also shown talking about goodness as a concept on a number of occasions. When the episode is wrapping up he points out to Barry that he’s not as good a person as Barry thinks he is but he feels that given enough time he will eventually get there. This ties into Oliver’s ongoing arc this season where he struggles with his own morality and his ability to do the right thing under challenging circumstances. It’s likely that his deal has something to do with that on a symbolic level but we’ll have to wait and see what that turns out to be in due course.
I was surprised at how significant a role Superman had in this episode especially since it largely came at the expense of Kara who has been oddly sidelined throughout this entire crossover. The story has been more focused on Barry and Oliver’s predicament with Kara in a role that supports them. She fits in with this well but I would have liked to see more emphasis on the impact these events have on her. The most significant development for Kara is that she she will have to handle heroics on her Earth without her cousin around as he and Lois are moving to Argo city to start a family. Even though Kara is very much her own person the spectre of Clark has always been hanging over her as a safety net that she could turn to if things escalated beyond the point she could deal with it. She rarely falls back on that but removing this completely is in theory a game changer as it will force her to truly come into her own as a hero.
It could be said that Clark is abandoning his responsibilities by moving to Argo with Lois to start a family and I can see that argument to an extent but I also think that his decision makes sense. For one thing he’s about to become a father which means that his responsibilities are going to change and his sense of responsibility has to change with it. It’s dangerous for Lois to remain on Earth with a half Kryptonian child growing inside her as it’s likely to be too strong for her to survive when it starts to kick as she points out. Tyler Hoechlin’s performance conveys that he didn’t arrive at this decision lightly while making it clear that Clark was able to make it because his trust in Kara to take up his mantle and do it justice is absolute. He sees how well she handles herself and knows that Earth is in good hands. It’s very much a passing of the torch moment and a very good one at that.
Clark and Lois’ relationship is very briefly featured in the first part and further shown in this episode. It manages to be really charming and nicely lived in despite the short screen time. Little touches like them saying that Clark has to go and do his duty as a hero at the same time show that they have a connection that works based on mutual understanding of the responsibilities that Clark has. There are other fun touches such as Lois encouraging Clark to be more direct while demonstrating her lack of filter on her own speech. I mentioned in my review of the first part that they have great chemistry and this episode makes for a great showcase of that. The proposal scene is very sweet and feels earned based on what is known about the couple.
The episode ends with a surprising tease for next year’s crossover. It has now been confirmed that the Arrowverse interpretation of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” is coming and I find myself really excited by the prospect I wonder if this counts as early confirmation that all of the shows have been renewed for another season. All I can say is that this story is the biggest and most ambitious thing they’ve ever tried and the writers had better make absolutely sure they don’t screw it up.
A strong and entertaining ending to the Elseworlds crossover event that delivers excellent action and strong character beats. John Deegan altering reality to turn himself into an evil Superman is interesting on a conceptual level; he is framed as unhinged, arrogant and insecure as a contrast to Superman’s clear grasp on his own identity. This adds an extra layer to their conflict beyond the physical even if John Deegan’s need to be a hero and his relentless desire for validation is poorly developed because the crossover has failed to spend any time on John Deegan. Kara being locked in the pipeline and convincing Earth-1 Alex to free her is an example of what Kara does best and furthers her characterisation as a beacon of hope who can inspire people. This crossover has very few moments specific to Kara who finds herself sidelined for most of it so this is definitely appreciated. Clark’s decision to leave Earth and fully pass the torch onto her is well done as a moment as it’s clear that Clark doesn’t arrive at this decision lightly but is able to do so because his trust in Kara is absolute. He is ready to take on different responsibilities as a father and is secure in the knowledge that she no longer needs his help. Lois and Clark’s relationship is well handled thanks to their great chemistry and little touches such as the shared understanding of what Clark has to do. The proposal scene is really charming as well and feels earned given the context.
Barry and Oliver get closer to returning to their old selves before being fully restored. The body switching gimmick is especially profound for Oliver who starts to see that there is another way to view the world. He is able to conclude that the Monitor is testing realities for goodness rather than strength which gives him a purpose in a story that might otherwise have him as a bystander. He is the one who points out that Barry and Kara are examples of the best that people have to offer so makes an as yet unrevealed deal so that they can be saved. Barry also understands Oliver’s mindset a lot more clearly than before so both characters learn a lot from their experience. The Monitor talks a lot about goodness as a concept and clearly has a methodology to his testing process but he is massively underserved, never feeling like a tangible part of the crossover story. The episode ends with a tease for “Crisis on Infinite Earths” coming around this time next year. I’m excited by the prospect but can’t imagine how the writers will pull it off.
- Tyler Hoechlin’s excellent performance as John Deegan/Evil Superman
- the Superman vs. Evil Superman fight
- Melissa Benoist’s strong performance when Kara appeals to Earth-1 Alex’ better nature
- Oliver still being useful despite his much lower power level in comparison to everyone around him
- exploring the concept of goodness and how that relates to Oliver as a character
- the charming Clark/Lois engagement scene
- confirming “Crisis on Infinite Earths”
- John Deegan’s desire to be seen as a hero not being established prior to this episode
- Earth-1 Alex’ arc falling flat because there is no baseline for this version of the character
- crime boss Cisco helping Oliver and Barry despite having no reason to do so
- Elseworlds in general suffering from being broadly episodic rather than focusing on the overall threat
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