When Brandon Routh plays Superman once again in the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, does this mean the Arrowverse is making Christopher Reeve's Superman movies canon? It was announced at San Diego Comic-Con that Routh will once again don the red cape and blue tights during this year's Arrowverse crossover. He and Tyler Hoechlin, who plays Superman in Supergirl, will each portray different versions of the Man of Steel, reportedly from different time frames.
Routh starred in 2006's Superman Returns and he is already part of the Arrowverse as Ray Palmer in DC's Legends of Tomorrow. However, Ray slyly alluded to his Superman role at the end of the Invasion crossover in 2006; after briefly speaking with Kara Danvers aka Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), Ray mused, "She kind of looks like my cousin." This was a nod to Superman Returns that can now be looked back on as a foretelling of what was to come as The CW's DC Universe has begun welcoming prior versions of the World's Greatest Superheroes into its Multiverse. After all, prior to last year's Elseworlds crossover, The Flash, played by John Wesley Shipp in his short-lived 1990 CBS series, officially joined Arrowverse canon. Elseworlds also introduced Clark Kent's Kansas farm exactly as it appeared in Smallville. While that didn't bring the long-running Superman TV series into the Arrowverse as many fans hoped, it was certainly a loving homage.
But bringing Brandon Routh's Man of Steel into the Arrowverse indirectly means that the late Christopher Reeve's Superman movies (at least the first two) will join the Arrowverse canon. This is because director Bryan Singer made Superman Returns as a sequel set five years after Superman II (outright ignoring Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace), and Routh was playing the same character that Christopher Reeve portrayed. Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie and Superman II were clearly set in the late 1970s/early 1980s. If the five-years-later timeline held, then Superman Returns would have been set in 1985. But Singer's film is vague about its timeline; there were flatscreen televisions in the Daily Planet building Routh worked in. However, Superman Returns was meant to evoke the old-fashioned, romantic style of Donner's films and Routh modeled his earnest but commanding performance after Reeve.
But the key point that makes Routh's Superman joining the Arrowverse fascinating is that he and Tyler Hoechlin's Man of Steel are reportedly from "different time frames." This could mean that Routh's Kryptonian hero is from a different era or decade, which would ideally contrast with Hoechlin's Superman who fights evil in the Arrowverse's present-day setting. Routh's Superman could be older and more experienced like Shipp's Flash was to Grant Gustin's Flash. This could be an intriguing way to showcase different versions of Superman's heroism.
In fact, Routh's Clark Kent was more melancholy than Hoechlin's Smallville farm boy. Hoechlin's Superman is happily engaged to Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch) and confident that he's not alone since his cousin Supergirl has emerged as Earth-38's greatest heroine. Routh's Superman was an alienated hero; his Lois (Kate Bosworth) moved on from their love affair and got engaged to Richard White (James Marsden). Lois and Richard were also raising Jason (Tristan Lake Leabu), their five-year-old who was actually Superman's son - a secret that Lois, Superman, and Jason all shared by the end of the film. What's more, Routh's Superman never disclosed his secret identity to Lois, which, sadly, left him even more isolated.
But if Routh is indeed playing an older, more time-tested version of Superman, he could even portray the Arrowverse's version of the Kingdom Come Superman, which would, in turn, have the weight of Reeve and Routh's combined legacies behind him. After all, Crisis on Infinite Earths is about worlds being destroyed, so this likely means Routh's Superman will be trying to save his own Earth, which could be doomed. Indeed, Crisis on Infinite Earths could be providing closure to the Reeve/Routh Man of Steel. But that doesn't curb the excitement about seeing Brandon Routh don his Super suit once more and he also carries the legacy of Christopher Reeve's Superman with him into the Arrowverse.