While there were moments in this year’s DC TV “Arrowverse” crossover “Elseworlds” that gave fans of those respective shows huge feelings, the real beneficiaries may have been the fans of classic DC Comics TV, movies, and animation who could find Easter eggs and references galore in the three-hour CW Network event.
The hints of past worlds colliding first bubbled to the surface when actor Stephen Amell (star of Arrow) revealed through a photo on Twitter that classic Flash actor John Wesley Shipp would be wearing his classic red tights from the 1990 CBS TV series. The Flash starred Shipp as police scientist Barry Allen at a time when visual effects weren’t as easily created, and the film side of DC had recently had their first big comic book hit in several years with Tim Burton’s Batman. Shipp’s Flash series, produced and developed by Danny Bilson and the late Paul DeMeo (The Rocketeer), definitely took on a darker vibe, even adopting a score by Danny Elfman, whose soundtrack for Batman was so memorable.
To be fair, this is far from the first tribute to the classic Flash series that has been seen in the Arrowverse. John Wesley Shipp himself has been a part of the modern Flash show from the beginning, first playing the wrongfully jailed Henry Allen (Barry’s father) and later taking on the role of Jay Garrick, the Flash of another world. Mark Hamill, who portrayed the villainous Trickster on the original show, reprised the role more than once in the new show; Corinne Bohrer who played his Harley Quinn prototype sidekick “Prank” also showed up. Additionally, Shipp’s other Flash co-stars Amanda Pays, Alex Desert, and Vito D’Ambrosio have made returns to the world of The Flash on the modern series.
While it was a replica of the suit John Wesley Shipp wore for only one season nearly thirty years ago, this is the first time Shipp has worn that particular costume since — and it is also the first time he was playing Barry Allen, his character from the original show. A new viewer might have been confused, but those who watched the original show knew what was up. In many ways, aside from perhaps Lynda Carter reprising her role as Wonder Woman, John Wesley Shipp’s Flash was the most ideal of the classic heroes to come back, as the actor still looks great in the suit and was fondly loved by a generation who wanted to see more.
That wasn’t the only hint that fans got in advance of Elseworlds’ premiere: Photos posted by the actors on Instagram led fans to figure out that the classic “Kent Farm” location used on the long-running WB/CW series Smallville would be featured on the show, prompting many to hope that series stars such as Tom Welling or Michael Rosenbaum may appear as well. While they didn’t — this year, at least — Smallville fans were still treated to an extra bonus as the classic Smallville theme song “Save Me” by Remy Zero was heard as Barry and Oliver headed to Supergirl’s Earth-38. As expected, fans went wild, especially those fans who followed The CW’s first big superhero hit that preceded the entire current explosion of series. The same stock footage of a small town that was seen weekly in the opening credits of Smallville also accompanied the classic theme music, making it a Smallville triple-whammy, especially when one factors in the use of the classic location.
Smallville was also represented in the teasers that aired at the end of the shows’ midseason finales which led to the big crossover, albeit only if you looked closely. Before the Monitor and John Wesley Shipp’s Flash have their confrontation, the dead bodies of many heroes are seen — including a fallen hero wearing Justin Hartley‘s Green Arrow costume from Smallville. (This Is Us star Hartley played Green Arrow in five seasons of The CW series).
Moving on through the crossover, the Shipp-Flash’s warnings were evocative of two DC Comics projects — the original Crisis on Infinite Earths comic book series which inspired a bit of Elseworlds, and Ezra Miller‘s Flash in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (though one might make the argument that Miller’s BvS sequence was also inspired by Crisis). When Shipp’s Flash finally does make it to Earth-1, there is also a reference to a fan theory that John Diggle (David Ramsey) from Arrow is actually John Stewart, the Green Lantern best known from the Justice League cartoon series, as Shipp asks John why he isn’t wearing his ring. This reference was made even clearer Monday night when Stephen Amell Tweeted a GIF of John Stewart as the scene was airing. (Barry and Oliver also got to play around with being other comic characters, not just with that swapped powers, but as DC villains the Trigger Twins).
Elsewhere in “Elseworlds,” Arkham Asylum in Gotham City was actually filmed at a facility in Vancouver that has been used for The X-Files: I Want To Believe, Psych, Riverdale (where it doubled as South Side High), and, yes, Smallville. Fans of Batman lore might have noticed some familiar names on those doors as well; P. Isley is Pamela Isley, Poison Ivy; O. Cobblepot is The Penguin; and E. Nigma is The Riddler. Jonathan Crane’s hallucinogenic gas is what made Barry and Oliver see their old foes Reverse-Flash and Malcolm Merlyn. And of course, V. Fries is Mister Freeze, and his wife Nora was played by Cassandra Jean Amell, Stephen’s real-life wife. Many of these names would also be familiar to those who watch Gotham, which will see its fifth and final season premiering in early January. If the Arrowverse version of Gotham City looks familiar, by the way, there’s a reason for that: Chicago also doubled for Gotham City in the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy.
Finally, there’s the Superman factor. Superman introduces himself as “a friend” in “Elseworlds Part 1,” much like he did in the classic Superman: The Movie which starred Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. And speaking of Margot Kidder, the final moments with Tyler Hoechlin‘s Superman and Elizabeth Tulloch‘s Lois Lane at the Fortress of Solitude were completely out of Superman II. (“Bizarro!”)
And it all leads to something big. Worlds will live. Worlds will die. The Monitor was hinting at a Crisis, and Crisis on Infinite Earths is the subject of the crossover for Fall 2019. It’s a safe bet that even more beloved relics from DC’s past will be back for that one.