It can be easy to get lost in the industry machinations of The CW putting itself up for sale, and canceling a large swath of its long-stable schedule this season to make way for a handful of new projects and spinoffs of reliable brands. But for some, the cancellation bloodbath also signaled a significant shift: It’s not just the network that’s in flux—the Arrowverse as we’ve known it is effectively on the chopping block, too.
The CW’s loosely connected universe of DC Comics series started in 2012 with the grounded, Batman Begins-esque series Arrow, and has grown to encompass a half-dozen shows, featuring characters like The Flash, Hawkman, Batwoman (two of them, actually), Supergirl, Naomi, Firestorm, Black Lightning, and far too many more to list. The Arrowverse has grown to encompass hundreds upon hundreds of hours of television, and crossover events so epic they literally broke the multiverse (a few years before Spider-Man and Doctor Strange did the same on the big screen).
But all that changed this year. Unlike most networks, The CW has traditionally renewed most everything, with older shows phasing out while the schedule stayed largely consistent across the board. This time, the network abruptly axed fan favorite DC series Legends of Tomorrow and Batwoman this season, along with freshman DC series Naomi. Those cuts followed the series finales of Supergirl and Black Lightning, which both wrapped their runs last year (Arrow itself ended in 2020).
That leaves the network’s longest-running ongoing series The Flash, which is set for a shortened ninth season next year (which could likely be the show’s farewell tour), as well as breakout hit Superman & Lois, which has already been renewed for a third season. There’s also Stargirl, which has a third season in the can and on the way, though there’s been no word on if the show will continue beyond that (reading the tea leaves, it doesn’t seem likely). The network has also placed a series order for a new DC Comics series in Gotham Knights, which will follow Batman’s adopted son as he teams with former villains to try and solve Bruce Wayne’s apparent murder.
For those keeping score, that leaves The Flash, Superman & Lois and Stargirl on the roster—with Gotham Knights on the way to join them at some point in 2023. Admittedly, that still makes for four DC shows in the rotation, but it’s a far cry from the days when established hits Arrow and The Flash were standard bearers of the network’s lineup, and the fall and midseason cup would runneth over with superheroes.
Looking at what’s been lost, it’s understandable for fans to feel a bit grim about the future of a TV universe that has been a cornerstone of the geek landscape for more than a decade. If you started with Arrow in the early days and stuck around, you’ve seen this world grow exponentially with new characters, adventures, crossovers, and creative swings that hadn’t been seen all that often on television. Legends of Tomorrow had one of the most diverse, inclusive casts on TV; Black Lightning told the story of a Black superhero family protecting their community; Naomi and Batgirl both told stories of young Black women carving their paths as heroes; and Supergirl and Stargirl built sagas around strong, young women who just so happened to be saving the world.
As for what remains, there’s still a strong foundation, and perhaps the thinning of the herd has a chance to help those series paint with a brighter brush since they’re effectively the only super-shows left in this world. Fans will certainly miss Legends of Tomorrow, but does this set up the Flash’s ninth season for some large-scale crossovers featuring those cliffhanger-ed characters? Could the next season of Superman & Lois possibly bring in some of the key Supergirl players (maybe even Lex Luthor himself, last seen on Supergirl and played by Jon Cryer)? It’s a shame to see Batwoman and it’s inventive version of Gotham City go by the wayside, but Gotham Knights sounds like a fascinating pitch, populating its own version of Gotham with new rogues and heroes all tossed into a melting pop of a murder mystery. It’ll be the only Batman-related show on the network when it arrives, so it stands to reason anything and everything should be on the table. Stargirl has always played in its own sandbox with the Justice Society of America, but who knows, maybe Season 3 will push the boundaries even further.
Hopefully, this will be an opportunity for the remaining shows to tell bigger stories and dig deeper into their own worlds and canons. Superman & Lois, itself a spinoff of Supergirl, has quickly blossomed into one of the network’s biggest hits in recent years—and it did it without splashy crossovers or rehashing the same origin story struggles fans have seen time and time again. Instead, Superman & Lois focused on the family drama of the Kent family, with all the super-action mostly coming secondary to the life stuff. Think more Friday Night Lights, just with… Superman on the sideline alongside Coach Taylor. After a decade of superhero-ing, the winning formula is finding what makes the story interesting outside the tights and Speed Force MacGuffins. Hopefully now, a fresh slate can let that happen more often.
It’s understandable for fans to see the state of the network this year as the death knell for the Arrowverse, and long-term there’s every chance that theory could prove true. But for now? There are still some genuinely good shows left in the lineup, with The Flash likely gearing up for a swan song that can hopefully restore some of its first season glory. Superman & Lois and Stargirl are as good as they’ve been, and Gotham Knights is at least an eyebrow-raising concept.
It might be a bit weird and different from what fans are used to, but it’s still the Arrowverse—and it still has a multiverse or two of potential. Let’s enjoy it while we have it, and just cross our fingers The CW’s pending sale doesn’t prove to be its Kryptonite.
Trent Moore is a recovering print journalist, and freelance editor and writer with bylines at lots of places. He likes to find the sweet spot where pop culture crosses over with everything else. Follow him at @trentlmoore on Twitter.
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