[This article contains Arrowverse SPOILERS]
The televised realm of the DC Extended Universe underwent some massive changes over the last year. The Greg Berlanti/Marc Guggenheim-constructed Arrowverse (also referred to as the Berlanti-verse) added the time-bending Legends of Tomorrow to their dockets. In addition, CBS superheroine flagship Supergirl launched and, in the wake of its first season, the producers announced that Kara Danvers and her friends were headed to The CW. Even though Supergirl hasn't officially been added to the Arrowverse, her first season crossover with The Flash, coupled with her new home, are extremely suggestive of a presence in The CW's shared realms.
As the production gets settled in Vancouver, BC and the next round of storylines are drafted, could some big names make their presence felt on the CW? The newly re-networked Supergirl already announced a major change (and major draw) for their second season: Superman. His presence isn’t technically that big a deal, since he stopped by on occasion during the first season, in text or shadow form. However, the announcement of a legitimate physical presence during the second season could herald some major changes for the televised corner of the DCEU.
Will DC Entertainment break out some of its biggest stars on TV alongside the DCEU? And if so, who will sign on?
Superman Flies In for a Visit
The specter of Superman hung over the entire first season of Supergirl. An elephant in the room, the producers understood what the Man of Steel meant to the program. Not only would his introduction to the show potentially undermine Kara's development, but he could tear open the fabric of the DCEU for other major superheroes.
Originally, part of the reason Supergirl remained separate from her previously cross-network cohorts was due to Superman. Supposedly, The Man of Steel doesn't technically exist in the Arrowverse. However, when Flash caught a ride from the Speed Force to transition into Kara's world, the damage was done. Despite initial uncertainty, Supergirl was now a part of the shared universe.
Now, the second season is set to feature Superman in a two-episode story arc. Not only will it mean Clark Kent’s alter-ego could pop up in further episodes of the series, but he could also find himself in other areas of the previously forbidden Arrowverse. Bringing another major league player into the fold could open the door for other big shots in the DC shared universe, perhaps even a series or a massive TV event to rival that of the DCEU’s Justice League extravaganza (more on that later).
It's All Barry Allen's Fault
So what changed DC Entertainment's mind? As many DC fans are well aware of, the second season of The Flash climaxed with a major comic book connection. Saving his mother's life created a parallel world, one originally documented in the major story arc, Flashpoint. Superman, Batman, and many other major DC players were thought off limits or simply didn't exist in the Arrowverse – despite rumors of an overarching organization.
However, Flash's alteration of the timeline could have revised the shared universe in an inclusive way. In the comic version of Flashpoint, Barry Allen's life-saving time-trip has several adverse effects, including killing Bruce Wayne and rerouting Superman's baby rocket. As a result the Man of Steel grows up a prisoner of the U.S. government, and Thomas Wayne dons the cape and cowl of Batman. Although this is merely speculation, Barry's alteration of the timeline could potentially allow Superman to soar again and Batman to regain his life and his mantle. Supergirl could also step into a role as Earth One's protector.
Of course, the story arc had a number of other major effects (including the loss of his Speed Force connection, which happened during Season 2), but that's a story for another day. In addition to Barry Allen, if the producers require additional universe-hopping, the Arrowverse has another ace-in-the-hole; as long as Legends of Tomorrow remains in the air, the Waverider will always be a foolproof superhero-introduction tool.
An Established History of Crossovers
Since his debut in Arrow's second season, the Flash essentially created what we now call the Arrowverse, with the shared TV universe becoming a complex and interesting undertaking. Barry Allen’s ability to connect with the Speed Force and jump about through time and even across the multiverse allows for all kinds of marvelous character exchanges across parallel dimensions.
With four concurrently running DC series, CW has a great opportunity to explore DC's rich collection of superheroes - both major and minor. Television, unlike film, is a long-form medium, capable of delving into the nuances of the characters. And while it’s highly unlikely that the cast of FOX’s Gotham would ever join up with the Arrowverse (due more to inter-network intellectual property rights, as well as temporal continuity issues), Marc Guggenheim and the DC TV producers do have a time machine at their disposal.
FOX and CBS probably aren’t capable of coming to a shared-universe arrangement (like Sony and Disney in the MCU), but that doesn’t necessarily negate a Gotham City presence in the Arrowverse. The characters portrayed Gotham are significantly younger than their standard-issue comic book selves. As such, the standard versions of DC heroes are probably fair game for use in the overall televised DCEU.
Should DC's TV Universe Break Out the Big Guns?
Although clearly the casting of Superman for Supergirl's second season was a carefully metered decision, one lingering question remains: is it wise to establish more big-name heroes in DC’s TV realm? The various series already have access to some heavy hitters (i.e. Flash, Green Arrow, Supergirl, Hawkman), but typically spread the comic book love among second and third stringers like Vibe, The Atom, and Vixen.
As is, the series regulars do an effective job of holding fan attention. The main concern with adding more big name cameos and recurring roles is making sure they don't outshine the shows' other major players. Clearly, Greg Berlanti wanted to establish Supergirl before bringing Kal-El into the equation. Similarly, Arrow needed to develop the character's strengths, and the staying power of the show, before the Flash showed up to herald his own spinoff.
Is it possible that adding a high profile guest star or superstar story arc could detract from the impact of the other characters, or even the other major characters? Certainly. Yet if handled as judiciously as previous minor and major DC heroes’ entrances, the Arrowverse could really pack some additional ratings wallop.
Will the DCEU Create a TV Justice League?
With a Justice League movie in production right now, adding an Arrowverse-based League could get a little confusing. Nevertheless, having all these high-powered superheroes on one network without forming a super-powered collective would be a serious waste of resources. CW bigwig Marc Pedowitz already teased that a four-way crossover was on its way. Could that exchange be the building blocks of a TV League?
Even though a TV Justice League hasn’t materialized yet, the foundations have been laid and little hints are littered throughout the Arrowverse. During the Flash's time miniature Legends exchange, Gideon, the Waverider’s 29th century Max Headroom, is cut off before announcing the speedster as a cornerstone member of... something sounding tantalizingly like the Justice League. In addition, although Supergirl remains on the fringes of the Arrowverse at the moment, her time at the Fortress of Solitude revealed a link to the Legion of Superheroes in the form of a Legion flight ring.
Since the Justice Society of America was also recently hinted at, thanks to the arrival of a bonus time ship carrying Rex Tyler a.k.a. Hourman (Patrick J. Adams) on Legends of Tomorrow, there may already be one established superhero organization on the way. A duplicate League is starting to sound far-less farfetched, than it ever has before. Where there's a Justice League, there are major players in the DC universe. Geoff Johns, now a driving force within the DCEU, has hinted at a TV superhero collaboration before. It would come as little surprise if the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place on The CW.
Who Should Stop By?
It goes without saying that, if used sparingly, Batman would make a fantastic addition to the Arrowverse. Other major characters, such as Wonder Woman, have a great deal of appeal to fans and casual audiences alike and could bring major attention to The CW's shows. Green Lantern (however unlikely) would be amazing, especially if somehow a Green Lantern show could find its legs again.
In addition, parts of the Birds of Prey team already exist in the Arrowverse. Introducing Oracle and Catwoman would make for a great addition and a possible spinoff, although a similar series didn't fare so well in the early 2000s. Aquaman's presence was also teased in a deleted scene/Easter egg from The Flash. Major characters like Shazam and Cyborg, as well as popular second stringers like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, would also make a big splash on any or all of the CW's shows - especially given Booster Gold's connections to Rip Hunter.
As well as popular heroes, a number of menacing adversaries also theoretically show up. Superman's presence could conjure up Lex Luthor (his sister is already on her way) or General Zod, among many others. The Flash's reality-bending abilities could also allow for appearances by The Crime Syndicate, more Bizarro, and even Black Adam. Just a hint of Batman could also return Deadshot and Deathstroke to the show, or pull Red Hood (for good or evil) out of the woodwork.
The Advantages of Super-sizing the Arrowverse
Now more than ever, it seems likely that some big names are poised to enter into the picture in The CW's small-scale DC world. If the overall trend towards a completely split film and TV universe continues, fans could find themselves watching a few extra spinoffs – perhaps even a Justice League show or miniseries.
The continued incursion of major DC characters also depends on the success of newer shows like Legends of Tomorrow, as well as worries about superhero over-saturation, which may have contributed to network disinterest in other comic properties. Presuming superhero devotees and general audiences don’t tire of caped crusaders, DC has a fantastic opportunity to explore their shared universe in two alternate realities (it's convenient that they have access to several different dimensions!)
Overall, DC’s potential gains far outweigh their possible losses. Fans are always looking for new and interesting takes on superheroes. Also, general audiences may be confused by second string characters, but will easily latch onto name properties. Expanding the presence of major DC heroes, at least in cameos and minor roles, could pull in new fans and keep things very interesting in DC's TV realm.
The time is right to break out the big guns in the Arrowverse.
Supergirl returns for season 2 in the fall on The CW. The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8pm on The CW, Arrow in the same timeslot on Wednesdays, and Legends of Tomorrow on Thursdays.