It all started out with a single TV series – Arrow – in 2012. But six years on and the DC TV universe has transformed into something complex, tangled and – we're just going to say it – confusing.
Also known as 'the Arrowverse' after its flagship series, this shared canon has come to include four television shows, multiple web-series and literally dozens of different Earths.
Confused? Us too. But here's our valiant attempt at unpicking the whole thing...
Alright, so this bit's (relatively) straightforward. Earth One is the setting for the three major DC series to air on The CW – Arrow (as of October 2012), The Flash (from October 2014) and Legends of Tomorrow (since January 2016).
This trio of shows all cross over with each other – and with the animated web spinoff Vixen, with actress Megalyn Echikunwoke both voicing the eponymous heroine for the cartoon and playing her in live-action on Arrow.
Then there's Constantine, which aired 13 episodes on NBC from 2014-2015. The Hellblazer adaptation has also been confirmed to be part of this same universe when – after the show was axed – lead Matt Ryan reprised his role in episodes of Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow.
So this is where it starts to get a little complicated...
Earth Two is a parallel world first introduced in season two of The Flash, featuring alternate versions of Earth One's heroes and villains.
That includes The Flash's ally Dr Harrison 'Harry' Wells (Tom Cavanagh – above). Still alive on Earth Two, his Earth One counterpart was murdered and replaced by Eobard Thawne, the time-travelling villain Reverse Flash (still with us?).
Earth Two is also the home of Hunter Zolomon, the evil speedster better known as Zoom, who plagued Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) throughout the second season of The Flash.
This third universe has a Flash of its own, but it's not Barry Allen...
Jay Garrick is The Flash of Earth Three – and he's also this world's version of Barry's father Henry Allen (with actor John Wesley Shipp – above – playing both roles).
Just to make things even more confusing, when Earth Two's Hunter Zolomon first arrived on Earth One, he posed as Jay – fooling Barry and his pals for months.
Jesse Wells – also known as speedster Jesse Quick – also currently resides in Earth Three, though she – like her father Harry (see above) – originated on Earth Two.
Pretty complex, right? Oh, it gets so much worse...
Supergirl (Earth 38)
Supergirl, which aired its first season on CBS, also exists within this multiverse, though Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) again lives on another world, separate from her fellow heroes (though she leaps across whenever a crossover is required).
The reason the Girl of Steel had to be kept separate from The Flash and the Green Arrow was simple: there's no Superman in their world, so the "simple" answer was to invent one more alternate reality.
2017's 'Crisis on Earth X' crossover introduced Earth 53, more commonly known as 'Earth X' – this world, where the Nazis won World War II, doesn't have a formal designation, since no sane individual from any of the other Earths ever willingly travelled there.
The Flash (1990 TV series universe)
John Wesley Shipp was originally cast as Barry's father Henry on The Flash as a nod to his stint playing Barry himself in a previous The Flash series, which aired for one season on CBS in 1990.
But that series can't possibly be contained within this multiverse, right? Think again...
A scene in The Flash (2014 version) – from the episode 'Welcome to Earth-2' – briefly shows us glimpses of all the different worlds contained in the Arrowverse... including a shot of Shipp as Barry Allen from the '90s series!
So for those of you taking notes, Shipp's version of Barry Allen (from the '90s series), his Henry Allen (from Earth One) and his Jay Garrick (from Earth Three) all co-exist.
Brain. Hurts. So much.
Wait... there's EVEN more!
Though only Earths 1-3, 38 and Earth X (see above) have been featured prominently, the Arrowverse has also afforded us fleeting glimpses (or made mention) of a number of other worlds, finally establishing in the 'Crisis on Earth X' crossover that there are 53 (known) Earths in total.
Here's a quick rundown:
Earth 12 – home to Harrison Wolfgang Wells, mentioned in The Flash season 4, episode 6, 'When Harry Met Harry...'
Earth 13 – home to wizard Wells the Grey, again featured in 'When Harry Met Harry...'
Earth 16 – home to Olivia, a woman Cisco from The Flash briefly dated, referenced in online in-character blog, 'Chronicles of Cisco' (post 39)
Earth 17 – home to an alternate Harrison Wells, who spoke in archaic language, and referenced in The Flash season 3, episode 4, 'The New Rogues'
Earth 19 – one of the more prominent alternate Earths, this is the home to The Flash's late, lamented HR Wells, as well as Cisco's girlfriend Gypsy (Jessica Camacho) and his bounty hunter father Breacher (Danny Trejo).
Earth 22 – an apocalyptic world where humans have become cyborgs to survive the harsh living conditions. Home to Wells 2.0, who again appeared in 'When Harry Met Harry...'
Earth 35 – mentioned in passing in 'Chronicles of Cisco' (post 62), though we know very little about it.
Earth 37 – home to another woman who Cisco briefly dated. Mentioned in 'Chronicles of Cisco' (post 39).
Earth 47 – home to the playboy H Lothario Wells, who again appears in 'When Harry Met Harry...'
Earth 48 – home to an unidentified hunter who was later killed by Breacher (as mentioned in The Flash season 4, episode 4, 'Elongated Journey Into Night')
There are also a few Earths that have mentioned mentioned in passing but have not been given a clear designation, including the homes of cowboy Hells Wells and a French-speaking Wells who make cameo appearances in 'The New Rogues'.
The DC Movies
One for the completists, this. There is, of course, an entirely different universe in which Superman and Batman both exist, the Green Arrow (apparently) doesn't, and The Flash / Barry Allen is played by Ezra Miller.
Unlike Marvel, DC has opted to keep the big and small-screen iterations of its heroes separate, though Justice League director Zack Snyder explained that he and his creative team had "made a commitment to the multi-verse [idea]".
So does this mean that the DC movies do co-exist with the TV shows, just in another parallel world? Could be...
Outside of the Arrowverse
The CW is firmly insisting right now that Black Lightning – about a former superhero coming out of retirement – is "not part of the Arrowverse" but that was the intention with Supergirl too at first.
Titans – about a young team of heroes led by Robin (Brenton Thwaites) – is also being positioned as a standalone, while there's been no official word yet on Krypton – set on Superman's home planet decades before the Man of Steel was born.
Titans and Krypton crossing over to The CW from rival networks / streaming services might be tricky, but if Constantine can do it, anything's possible.
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