Who is the strange, cosmic being known as the Monitor, and what does he have to do with Arrowverse‘s upcoming Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event? This question has weighed heavily on the minds of Arrowverse fans since his first appearance during the Elseworlds event in 2018. The question was raised again recently, when the Monitor made a cameo appearance in every Arrowverse season finale except for The Flash.
The Monitor’s actions thus far have been difficult to judge. On the one hand, much of what he has done has hardly seemed to have been to the benefit of the multiverse, laying waste to whole realities and condemning untold numbers of heroes to oblivion. On the other hand, the Monitor has shown some stoic regret for his actions and proven capable of being reasoned with and willing to bargain with those heroes he has encountered.
Created by writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez, the Monitor first appeared as a shadowy figure in New Teen Titans #21 in July 1982. Nearly three years would pass before the Monitor’s face would be revealed in G.I. Combat #274. This issue also confirmed his status as an alien being. Wolfman’s conceit for the Monitor was to create a new villain who could appear in any of the many comics that DC Comics was publishing at the time, including their non-superhero books.
His motivations would be a mystery, as would the means by which he was capable of easily crossing the boundaries between the many Earths making up the DC Comics multiverse. Even though he’s been around for decades, his powers were never fully revealed; he can simply traverse between realities and can logically be compared to a god. Of course, all of this paved the way for a big event timed to coincide with DC Comics’ 50th anniversary in the mid-1980s.
At first the Monitor seemed to be an intergalactic arms dealer, selling his wares to the villains of various worlds, much like the aliens of Apokolips who once backed Intergang in Metropolis. Yet the Monitor was also seen committing heroic deeds, such as when he saved a young girl named Lyla Michaels from being lost at sea. While he nominally did this to train the young woman as his assistant, transforming her into a being he dubbed Harbinger, it was suggested that the Monitor truly did care for her as if she were his daughter.
The motivations of the Monitor were finally explained in the early chapters of Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was revealed that the Monitor was an avatar of all life in every alternate universe made up of positive matter. He was matched by an equal and opposite being known as the Anti-Monitor, who was born of an anti-matter universe that rose up as a mockery of everything life-affirming. At some point, the Anti-Monitor learned that his realm would expand and fill the void whenever a positive-matter universe was destroyed. This increased his powers while simultaneously weakening the Monitor, leading the Anti-Monitor to start bringing about the destruction of whole universes.
When the Monitor realized the cause of his growing weakness, he sought a means of stopping the Anti-Monitor, whom he could not confront directly without risking all of the positive-matter realities being destroyed. This led to a bold plan – to build an army that could fight the Anti-Monitor where the Monitor was helpless to act. With the aid of Harbinger, whom he gave the power to divide into multiple clones of herself, the Monitor traveled the multiverse, seeking out heroes and villains who might be able to stop the multiverse’s destruction. While Harbinger appealed to many beings directly, the Monitor frequently tested the character of his potential recruits, trying to find which villains had ethics enough to exploit for his purposes and which heroes had the resolve to do whatever was necessary to save all of reality.
In the end, the Monitor’s plan was a success, though he didn’t survive to see his schemes come to fruition. One of Harbinger’s clones became corrupted by the Anti-Monitor and struck a fatal blow to the Monitor. Thankfully, he had anticipated this and bequeathed his powers to the true Harbinger, saving reality and allowing her to continue to lead the heroes of multiple Earths against the Anti-Monitor. The wounded multiverse eventually healed, being reborn as a single shared universe, where few had any memory of what had existed before.
The Arrowverse‘s version of the Monitor was first revealed in a scene that aired at the end of the midseason finales of Supergirl, The Flash, and Arrow in 2018. The scene, set on Earth-90, depicted the aftermath of a great battle, with the dead and dying bodies of various heroes strewn about, as one hero struggled to crawl towards a book, which is picked up by The Monitor. This Flash asks the Monitor why he did this to his world, prompting the Monitor to say that the heroes did this to themselves and that now they would all perish. The book and the Monitor came into play during the Elseworlds crossover event, when the Monitor gave the book to Dr. John Deegan – a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum in Gotham.
The book had the power to rewrite reality, and Deegan, who desperately dreamed of having the power of heroes like Green Arrow and Flash, attempted to use the book to become them. Unfortunately, Deegan bungled the transfer of power and caused reality to change so that Barry Allen was the Green Arrow and Oliver Queen was Flash. Supergirl, Superman, and the heroes of Team Flash and Team Arrow learned of Deegan’s manipulations and the Monitor’s existence through one of Vibe’s visions. However, they wouldn’t meet the cosmic being until he revealed himself to Flash and Green Arrow after Deegan’s second attempt at rewriting reality, where he transformed himself into the Superman of Earth-1. The Monitor was pleased that the heroes had proven capable of outwitting Deegan and countering him even when working with unfamiliar powers and skills and that they had proven willing to sacrifice themselves for a greater good. The Monitor then confirmed that his “game” with Deegan was a test to see if the heroes were who he needed to help him avert a coming crisis.
When Superman reacquired the book from Deegan and started repairing the damage dealt to Earth-1’s reality, he discovered that Supergirl and Flash were destined to die in the battle with Deegan. This led Green Arrow to seek out the Monitor again, confronting him over his own immorality in killing countless heroes as part of a seemingly arbitrary test. The Monitor was pleased by Oliver Queen’s righteousness, revealing that the test was one of virtue, not strength, and that his goal was to find heroes who were ready to sacrifice themselves but would also make those sacrifices count rather than needlessly throwing their lives away on noble gestures. Unfortunately, there was a cosmic balance to be maintained and saving the lives of Kara Zor-El and Barry Allen would require another act of self-sacrifice.
The Monitor next appeared in Arrow‘s season 7 finale, where it was confirmed that Oliver Queen had made a bargain to save the lives of Flash and Supergirl during Elseworlds. In exchange for that boon, Oliver agreed to leave his wife and newborn daughter, Mia, to help the Monitor do “whatever the Multiverse requires to survive the crisis that is looming.” The final scene of the episode revealed that Felicity Smoak had made her own bargain with the Monitor, after swearing that she would find Oliver again someday. The episode ended with the Monitor taking the Felicity Smoak from the year 2040 through a portal, apparently guiding her to somewhere in time and space where Oliver Queen still lived.
The Monitor appeared twice in Supergirl’s season 4 finale. In the first scene, he opened a portal, freeing a black-robed figure from some form of imprisonment before telling him that he must seek out the brother who wronged him. The black-robed figure was not named in the episode, but he immediately swore revenge on J’onn J’onzz, revealing him as the Martian Manhunter’s evil brother, Malefic. The final scene of the episode showed the Monitor regarding the corpse of Lex Luthor and starting to open a portal.
The Monitor’s final appearance in the season finale of Legends of Tomorrow may have been his most mysterious and confusing. The Monitor manifested in the middle of the audience during the Heroes vs. Monsters stage-show that the Legends put on in an effort to counter the demon Neron’s efforts to draw upon the public’s fear of unknown monsters to open a portal to Hell. At first the Monitor looked displeased by the show, which left the audience bored and booing. However, once the witch Tabitha arrived with a dragon in tow, the Monitor was seen to be eating popcorn and enjoying the show as the crowd began to panic and run for the exits.
While the Legends may seem like unlikely recruits for Monitor’s army, they are capable heroes despite their unorthodox methods. It should be noted that the events of season 4 saw three members of the team risk Hell to save the soul of a loved one and the season finale saw one hero give up their life to save every soul captured by Neron from eternal torment. The Monitor cannot easily afford to disregard that kind of drive when the fate of the Arrowverse at stake, though it remains to be seen what role the Legends will play when Crisis on Infinite Earths begins later this year.
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