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When Punching Nazis in The Face Is Not Enough: Why the Arrowverse Crossover Event Failed Its Heroes on ‘The Flash’

When Punching Nazis in The Face Is Not Enough: Why the Arrowverse Crossover Event Failed Its Heroes on ‘The Flash’

All of our faves are problematic. All of them. From Game of Thrones with its brown folks can only be slaves narrative to the Arrow/Supergirl/Flash/Legends crossover event in which Nazis were utilized as a narrative plot point; there’s no denying that many of the series that we enjoy are incredibly tone deaf and obtuse at times.

The eighth episode of The Flash, which has been making major faux pas as of late, should have been about Iris West and Barry Allen’s wedding. It should have been a fun-filled episode with GQ shots of Wally West and H.R. Wells rocking snappy tuxedos as Barry’s groomsmen. It could have included Caitlin Snow having a heart to heart with Iris about the whole Killer Frost situation. It should have been filled with scenes of Cisco and Cynthia smiling at their friends and Cisco catching the bouquet during the famous bouquet toss. This episode should have been about Iris and Barry and their love. It should have been all fluff, with some danger posed by evil dopplegangers. It should and could have been many things, but instead, we got Nazis.

It wasn’t long ago that social media was trending the # NoConfederate hashtag in protest of HBO’s Confederate series (thank God there’s presently no movement on that proposed show). With the systemic racism that black people and people of color face in this country, many in our community found the production of a show based on the Confederate South winning the Civil War tone deaf, racist, disgusting, and unnecessary. Some even described the show as making light of black pain, trivializing it as if it doesn’t exist today.

If #NoConfederate trended because modern day black slavery narratives are distasteful, how is having Nazis killing Jewish people, spouting horseshit about superiority, and flashing images of Hitler on our television screens any better? This is a question asked by one of my BGN colleagues, Carolyn, who wrote on Twitter:

The suffering and pain of any ethnic group should not be trivialized as a narrative plot line, which is exactly what The Flash did in its crossover last week. Six million Jews died during the Holocaust. The descendants and survivors of World War II shouldn’t have to turn on their televisions to catch up with their favorite characters, only see replicas of concentration camps, Hitler’s face, and mass graves. To watch as a major network slips in the Nazi love story about Nazi Kara having heart failure and her lover, Herr Oliver, doing everything in his power to get non-Nazi Kara’s heart as a transplant feels a lot like normalization. Fans of the Arrowverse pointed out this normalization, saying:

The normalization of hate groups is something that is being discussed a lot as of late. With the present Administration giving a platform to ideologies that are violent towards women, Jews, the LGBTQ community, and PoC; there’s an active movement in our country to normalize hate. We saw it in the New York Times Nazi next door piece; we heard it in Trump’s “Both Sides” speech; and we saw the result of this normalization of hate when Heather Heyer was killed by literal Nazis in Charlottesville. That’s why having Nazis and Nazi love stories as a narrative plot point is such bullshit! The last place Nazis should show up is on a show that is the equivalent of a visual candy corn.

Having Nazis on The Flash wasn’t only problematic because of normalization issues, but because of the visual, spiritual, psychological violence it delivered to some fans (should be all, but…). The crossover event has a Jewish character killed by Nazis (played by Victor Garber, a gay Jewish man); had a black superhero (Jimmy Olsen aka The Guardian) murdered within the first five minutes of The Flash; showed “Jewish” people walking around in those infamous striped uniforms in concentration camps; and flashed Hitler’s face in the promos as if it were advertising the Infinity War trailer.

Some might argue that the whole Nazi crossover event was meant to be empowering. That by having Jewish, queer, and people of color literally punching Nazis in the face, it is an ode to stomping out the Nazism and hate issues that are presently thriving in Trump’s America.

Quite a few people on social media found The Flash and its sister shows participation in the crossover to be therapeutic. Fans suggest that all the Nazi face punching that took place in the crossover allowed them to vent their frustrations in response to the uptick in Nazism in this country. However, others argue that utilizing Nazi culture and ignoring how it impacts and continues to impact survivors has absolutely no place on a superhero series, especially if the message isn’t nuanced and the writing humanizes genocidal maniacs. The commentary that the writers were attempting to make could have easily been conveyed by creating a militant evil doppelganger (a la Stormtroopers, HYDRA, Death Eaters, etc) group instead of using Nazis, a fact pointed out by BGN colleague Jonita:

This got me thinking about all the superhero movies that feature Nazi characters. Captain America and X-Men comes to mind; both films enjoyed by myself and many in the fandoms. Everyone loves Captain America and there are plenty of memes out there of the Capt. serving face-punches to Nazis. Is this just as problematic as what happened on The Flash and the Arrowverse crossovers?

The Ninth and Final Season of 'The Flash' Will Premiere in Feb 2023

Are we all guilty of ignoring or making exceptions when it comes to things we enjoy? Since people have fought and died fighting Nazism (and continue to do so), do we really need to talk about fighting them in superhero culture? Is there a right and wrong way to fight Nazis in the genre, as some would suggest? Or was the Captain America movie and X-Men/Magneto plotline dealt with in a nuanced enough manner, resulting in meaningful social commentary rather than cheapening the experiences of millions of people?

Punching Nazis in the face has a long history in comic books and served as a means of resisting fascism. Comic book artists have trended the hashtag #ComicsHateNazis on Twitter to remind fans of this fact, pointing out that comics have always “punched out Nazis.” However, on the other end of the stick, by including powerful Nazi organizations in the story-telling process, humanizing these characters, and selling Hydra tee shirts, essentially treats Nazism as a boogie man that can be cosplayed and revered as the equivalent of Darth Vader.

The CW Crossover failed to follow in the footsteps of comic artists of the 1940s with their anti-facism message. The CW’s Nazis were treated as boogie men, and the story could have been conveyed without them. BGN’s comic book aficionado, J.N. Monk, who contends that Earth-X is canon, had this to say about The CW crossovers:

I guess why I’m so bothered outside of [it] coming from legit DC lore (even if they barely used any of the best parts) is that you could’ve gotten pretty much the same results with like an Earth-3 analogue, Crime Syndicate storyline.

In other words, why use Nazis? That’s a question television and comic writers should ask themselves next time something like this is pitched.

With that being said, here’s what happened during the crossover on The Flash if you choose not to watch it.

• Iris and Barry’s wedding was disrupted in the Supergirl portion of the crossover by Nazi Oliver and Nazi Kara, so there’s no honeymoon for them this episode. In fact, they spend much of the episode separated with Barry trapped on Earth-X and Iris sneaking around Star Labs with Felicity trying to save Kara.

• Kara is kidnapped by her Nazi Doppelganger and spends much of the episode strapped to a table as Reverse Flash prepares to remove her heart.

• Barry, Oliver, and members of Legends are stuck on Earth-X in a Nazi concentration camp and meet Ray Terrill (Russell Tovey). Ray is a meta who is part of The Resistance along with his lover, Leonard Snart (aka Captain Cold). When the group of heroes escape execution by firing squad, they meet up with The Resistance led by a hardened Earth-X Winn. (The Ray has his own animated series on The CW Seed.)

• Earth-X Winn is set on destroying the multiverse gate leading back to Earth-One and refused to hold off so that the team can return home to save Kara.

• Barry and the team have to fight an army of Nazis before the multiverse gate is destroyed by Winn. A battle ensues.

• While Barry and Oliver and company work on getting back to Earth-One, Iris and Felicity team up to try and rescue Kara. With Cisco and other members of Oliver’s Team locked in the meta-human proof cells at Star Labs, it’s up to the ladies to rescue everyone.

•  While fighting Nazis, Professor Stein (one half of Firestorm) is shot and mortally wounded. Jefferson Jackson (the other half of Firestorm) merges with Stein in an attempt to save him and joins the team as they make it through the multiverse gate.

• We find out later in the Legends portion of the crossover that Professor Stein, who is Jewish, succumbs to his injuries.

While the pacing, action sequences, and stitching of this episode of The Flash with Arrow, Supergirl, Legends was well done, I gave this episode a poor rating due to the whole Nazi story arc.

The Flash airs Tuesdays on The CW.

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  • Regarding X Men and Captain America, I think it was more than fine that Nazis were central to the plot. Jack Kirby was Jewish. As such, him choosing to write about Nazis and how Nazis hurt his people is not something we, as non Jewish people, can say is inappropriate.

  • I hate that the (presumably white) writers of this crossover seem to think denouncing Nazis is a profound act of political defiance. There are Republican congresspeople who will publicly denounce Nazis on Twitter on a Monday and sign harmful legislation that burdens poor people, women and people of color on Tuesday. Saying “Nazis are bad,” for 4 episodes is doing the least.

  • Thank you for writing this. I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors and had very mixed feelings about this episode. There were times when something would be shown on scene, like the mass grave (which some of my family members were buried in) I would flinch. I thought I was going to throw up at one point from it. Other parts I was grateful for them doing, I think they just didn’t do it right. There is a lot of hate in the world and while the Nazi’s killed a lot of different nationalities, the Jews were the biggest scape goat of their rise to power, and a lot of people have forgotten that. People have accused Jews of having white privilege and forget that there is still an entire generation that lived through that, and many people who would like it resume. I appreciate that they were trying to bring that to light, especially when they showed things like Earth x Felicity and Prof Stein. The issue was the way they did it was tasteless so the message got lost in the awful portrayal. I felt like they were trying to make sure everyone was represented that was persecuted in the Holocaust, but by doing so, they missed the mark on everyone from Jews, to the LGBT community, to the black community and to those who opposed them politically. It felt like children who just learned about the Holocaust where putting on a play to show what they had learned. I’d like to commend them for their attempt to bring to light and remind people that this was an awful time and it wasn’t that long off but they missed the mark.

    I’d like to think the Holocaust love story that was added into it with the evil dopplegangers was to show that people who hate that much can be perceived as normal at some points and do and act the same way the good people do and that evil isn’t this black and white picture we think of. A lot of Nazi’s had families, children, spouses, parents. They loved them and acted the same we we act to our loved ones. I think if done right the point was to show that evil isn’t one dimensional.

  • It’s in the tradition of superhero fiction trying to do social issues right but really, really misfiring, I guess. Like the time Lois Lane turned black for a day and solved racism by giving blood to a black militant and making him think twice about white people. Like, I see what you were aiming for there, but holy cow.

    I mean, I guess. They’ll have to come out on Netflix before I get to see them.

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