Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
I talk about Crisis On Infinite Earths a lot in this space, and justifiably so, given its place in DC history. However, I’ve never been entirely comfortable with its lead villain, and it starts with his name: The Anti-Monitor.
Now, I know he calls himself simply “The Monitor,” and I know (thanks to various recent DC events) that he’s actually the Monitor assigned to the Anti-Matter Universe. Still, he’s best known with the prefix — and again, the prefix is where the trouble begins.
See, Anti-M (so nicknamed by R.A. Jones, critic for the classic fanzine Amazing Heroes) isn’t the only villain defined as the evil counterpart of a familiar superhero. There’s the Reverse-Flash (and his Golden Age predecessor, the Rival), the Cyborg Superman, the Composite Superman, the Sinestro Corps, Black Adam, and probably some others buried deep in my Who’s Whos. Heck, I can think of three “anti-Batmen” right off: Cat-Man, the Wrath (parents fatally shot by Jim Gordon on the same night the Waynes were killed), and Prometheus (psychopathic-criminal parents also shot by cops).
Anyway, those villains all have the advantage of well-known opponents. The Anti-Monitor is the evil answer to … a guy DC readers barely knew.
Conceived as “The Librarian” by teenaged Marv Wolfman, and introduced in New Teen Titans as a mysterious supervillain-supplier who kept records on super-people, the (good) Monitor turned out to be something of a custodian for the old Multiverse. As Wolfman, penciller George Pérez, and inker Jerry Ordway explained in October 1985’s COIE #7, the Monitor was born billions of years ago on Oa’s moon. He spent the rest of his existence either cataloguing as much as he could of the Multiverse, fighting his dark twin (born simultaneously in the Anti-Matter Universe, on Qward’s moon), or both.
This gave the Monitor an obvious metatextual role in Crisis, which is also a nice way of saying he was very close to being a walking plot device. Beyond paternal affection for his protegé Lyla/Harbinger, the Monitor wasn’t working with much in the way of characterization. Instead, DC’s assembled heroes had to deal with his benign-but-inscrutable plans — and after his death in issue #4 (of 12), Harbinger and the rest of DC-dom were pretty much on their own.
Twenty years later, in the wake of Infinite Crisis, readers learned that there were multiple Monitors, one for each universe in DC’s newly-expanded cosmology. Featuring prominently in the Countdown miniseries and in Final Crisis, these Monitors were basically nigh-omnipotent beings, each struggling to some degree with those pesky human emotions. Final Crisis left only two Monitors standing, the “Over-Monitor” and his emissary Nix Uotan; but after spending the better part of three years with dozens of Monitors, neither the fans nor Dan DiDio seemed anxious to use them again.
Apparently none of that affected the Anti-Monitor, who has had a few different roles since Alex Luthor appropriated his corpse in Infinite Crisis. As the Sinestro Corps’ “Guardian of Fear,” he was killed by Superboy-Prime. He was then reanimated as part of the Black Lanterns’ Central Power Battery before being revived fully by the White Lantern. Now back in the Anti-Matter Universe, most recently he fought Firestorm towards the end of Brightest Day.
Through it all, Anti-M has been fairly one-dimensional, which is not surprising for a character designed specifically for destruction. Part of me is sorry the Monitor(s) won’t be back anytime soon, because the potential is there for a kind of Watcher/Galactus dynamic. In fact, I imagine the M/A-M relationship as “the Watcher and Galactus are brothers,” except that the Monitor would be more proactive, manipulating the Multiverse’s superheroes so as to thwart Anti-M’s rampages. (Helping him, perhaps indirectly, would be the Green Lanterns, charged for millennia with keeping the Qwardians, and related entities like the Sinestro Corps, in check.)
However, because he’s still a Monitor, there is something of the scholar in Anti-M. Like his brother, he studied the Multiverse, and in particular learned enough to know which super-beings were of the most interest. During COIE he “recruited” Red Tornado and Psycho-Pirate for specific nefarious purposes, and abducted the Earth-1 Flash so that his dimension-hopping abilities wouldn’t be a bother. That tells me he’s more than a mere marauder (*cough*Superboy-Prime*cough*). It even makes him scarier, because in theory he knows a whole lot about our heroes, and is able to reach across the dimensional divide to get at them. (At least, he could do that during COIE, at the height of his powers.)
In other words — and I can’t quite believe I’m about to type this — he could be the thinking fan’s Superboy-Prime. Of course, S-P has become a straw figure, combining narrow-minded fandom with omnipotent petulance. For all his belligerence, Anti-M strikes me as smarter than that (again, perhaps not saying much), and therefore capable of being a real, continuing threat to any number of characters. I do like the idea of him and Deathstorm (sigh…) teaming up against Firestorm, because Firestorm is the fusion of two people, Anti-M is half of a set of twins, and Deathstorm is some weird amalgam of both. It would also not surprise me if the fundamental forces which power Firestorm have some connection to the Anti-Matter Universe; especially since COIE #7 revealed that anti-matter messes with his powers.
Anti-M’s apparent knowledge of DC’s characters also allows him to comment, perhaps not quite as fannishly, on their relative strengths and weaknesses. If Superboy-Prime is an exaggerated (I hope) caricature of message-board commenters, Anti-M could take a longer view, not unlike — you guessed it — a superhero-comics blogger. We fans come up with apocalyptic scenarios all the time, often without letting sentiment get in the way. Back in the heyday of Grant Morrison’s JLA (and before Mark Waid did it “for real”), Wizard explained in detail how Batman could take out his fellow Leaguers. Accordingly, emphasizing the Anti-Monitor’s intellect would be a nice counterpoint to (and reminder of) the Monitor’s exhaustive research.
Furthermore, there’s no reason to think Anti-M wouldn’t just pick up where he left off. He’s been studying the positive-matter universe(s) for eons, all the while with an eye towards conquest; he has no particular ideological axes getting in the way; he’s the ruler of an entire dimension, and he’s probably not working on deadline. Not that he would need it — he could put together a Kryptonian-killing army in a weekend and still have time for “60 Minutes.”
Trouble is, he’s recently back from the dead, so rebuilding his power base is probably a higher priority. Anti-M could even be prompted by an ambitious underling who’s reviewed his comprehensive records and has many ideas of his own.
Nevertheless, Anti-M faces only temporary setbacks. The current Monitor is inactive, and thanks to this week’s Green Lantern, Anti-M may actually have a pretty significant ally in a very prominent position. Never mind what could happen if Anti-M decides to throw his weight behind the Sinestro Corps again. What’s more, Anti-M can lie low in his home universe until the time is right. It is all very ominous.
(That is, it’s ominous as long as I don’t hear Anti-M speaking with the voice of Lrrr, ruler of Omicron Persei 8. For some reason I keep coming back to that….)
Anyway, I’m eager to see what DC does with Anti-M. Presumably we’ll see him in the new Firestorm series (co-written by Ethan Van Sciver, who also contributed to the “Sinestro Corps” saga), but I imagine the Green Lanterns will want to check up on him from time to time; and he’s just the kind of extinction-level adversary the Justice League should face. There is always room in superhero comics for a bad guy who knows more than the good guys do — or, at least, more than the good guys think he knows — and who isn’t afraid to act on that knowledge. I kid the Anti-Monitor, but he’s one scary dude. Besides, Trigon and Imperiex are dead, Brainiac’s out of commission, and Darkseid’s taking a breather. Right now DC needs all the credible omnipotent villains it can get.