The year 2021 has been a big year for the MCU. Wanda threatened to break reality; the Falcon became the new Captain America, and Marvel’s not-so-subtly setting us up for assembling the Young Avengers. However, the biggest shake-up came in Loki, which saw the introduction of the MCU’s version of the multiverse. As a result, fans have spent the last two months exploring these new, alternate universes in the new show “What If…?” Of course, we haven’t been alone; we’ve been guided by the mysterious being known only as the Watcher.
However, some people may be wondering just who the Watcher is? Is he a god? A stand-in meant to represent the viewers and their relationship with the media they’re watching? A character created in the vein of the omniscient narrator found in fiction? In truth, the Watcher’s a little bit of all these things, along with one of the oldest and most important characters Marvel ever created. To better understand why he’s so important and why his now inevitable intervening in the MCU is very important to the franchise’s future, you need to know more about the being himself. So, without further ado, here is the background of the being known as the Watcher.
Who Are The Watchers?
Regarding the character himself, the Watcher, whose name’s Uatu, first appeared in Fantastic Four #13 back in 1963, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. However, to understand Uatu, you need to know about his people, also known as the Watchers. According to the comics, they were some of the earliest beings to evolve in the multiverse. Wielding nigh-godlike powers, the Watchers sought to gain a greater understanding of the cosmos. Thus, they took to the stars and began to observe other, less advanced civilizations as they progressed. Then, after eons had passed, they decided to become more proactive and share their knowledge with others. This decision would have tragic consequences.
A delegation of Watchers led by Ikor, Uatu’s father, contacted a less advanced civilization. They gave the aliens the knowledge of nuclear technology, hoping they would use it to advance their society to the point of utopia. However, because they didn’t develop the morals to use this power responsibly, these aliens created countless nuclear weapons. In the end, the species nearly wiped itself out, leaving their civilization in utter ruin.
The Watchers were horrified by what happened. They had the best of intentions, but their decision led to unimaginable suffering. They were so traumatized by this experience that Ikor created a sacred vow for them to follow. From that moment forward, their people would only observe events in the universe, never interfere. Thus, they became known as the Watchers, their last name forgotten.
This decision did not sit well with Uatu, but in time, he grew to accept it. Until that is, he got assigned to watch over a little planet called Earth.
The Watcher Does What He Thinks is Right!
Making his home in the area of the Moon that was breathable (long story!), Uatu settled into his role as the Watcher of Earth. As the planet changed and humanity eventually evolved, he observed everything that went on. Despite a few encounters here and there, Uatu kept out of human affairs, letting them develop independently. Until one fateful day, a crew of four astronauts flew into the middle of a cosmic storm and became the Fantastic Four.
The Fantastic Four’s founding would kickstart the modern age of heroes on Earth. Within a few years, the planet was crawling with metahumans, sorcerors, and super scientists! Again, Uatu kept out of this until the Fantastic Four wound up on his doorstep. While battling against a supervillain, Uatu revealed himself to the groups before letting them slug it out. When Marvel’s first family won, Uatu was impressed by their heroism and encouraged their efforts to keep exploring the universe. However, he decided to pack his bags and leave to do his job far away from interference.
Then came the Molecule Man. He was a normal human until a freak accident gave him the power to manipulate the atoms of any inorganic life. That’s the kind of power that can destroy a universe or recreate it. Uatu was faced with a dilemma. He could step in and help, but that would violate his sacred oath. However, the Watcher of Earth correctly concluded that he couldn’t let the universe get wiped out. Working with the Fantastic Four, the heroes were able to stop Molecule Man, letting Uatu take him away. As a result of this, Uatu became firm friends with the team, even letting Reed and Susan Richards honeymoon in his citadel on the Moon.
Standing Up to Galactus and Getting in Trouble
From here on out, Uatu did his best to stay out of Earth’s affairs. He knew that it would be best to let the heroes and villains of Earth resolve things on their own. However, then came the threat of Galactus, the guy who devours planets to survive. Knowing that the heroes of Earth stood no chance against the cosmic entity, Uatu openly helped the Fantastic Four drive Galactus off. This would mark another time that the Watcher would break his vow of non-interference.
Eventually, though, his repeated violation of his people’s strict rules caught up with him. Despite getting several warnings to stop, Uatu refused to listen. As a result, the Watchers temporarily kicked him out. Despite this, Uatu would not learn his lesson.
And you know what? I’m glad he didn’t.
The Wisdom of Knowing When to Act
I understand why the Watchers chose not to interfere in the affairs of others. With their immense power, their intentions, no matter how pure, could end up backfiring on them. That said, I think that they were so traumatized by their past failure that it stunted their collective emotional growth. They failed to understand that, while there’s value in non-interference, there’s a difference between that and cowardice. Some threats need to be dealt with for the sake of everyone, especially if they can wipe out the entire universe. Thanks to watching Earth for so long, Uatu remembered how important it was to stand up for what was right.
Or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say he never forgot it. The premise behind the What If…? series involves Uatu observing alternate realities. This is the same in the comics, but Uatu has an ulterior motive behind it. He’s looking for the one reality where his father’s decision to help those aliens was the right one. He wants to prove to the Watchers that they’re wrong.
Having learned all of this, it makes the Watcher’s decision to intervene in the multiverse following recent events make a lot more sense. Uatu knows that sometimes, not doing anything can be the worst thing to do.