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Behind What If… the Mysterious Watcher Uatu

Watcher Uatu

The Watcher Uatu is a character that has a long and complicated history. He was, in fact, created by the OG comic book classics – Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, during their legendary (and many would argue revolutionary) Fantastic Four run. 

The Watcher has not often been the focus of the story, despite being around since 1963. Usually serving either as the one who delivers the exposition to our heroes or acts as a sort of MacGuffin, his role is in helping the hero find the solution to the problem.

His appearances outside the comic books have been sparse, but the character gained significant momentum after appearing in a brief cameo in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in 2017 – and is bound to gain more recognition from Disney+ animated show What If…? that has him acting as the main unifying character across the stories.

And considering the upcoming MCU movies are likely to expand the cosmic corner of the universe much further in the years to come, now is a great time to learn who the Watcher is and why his appearance in GotG Vol. 2 sent longtime comic book fans into such frenzy.

The Watchers and Watcher Uatu

The Watchers are probably one of the most powerful and terrifying cosmic races in the Marvel universe and that says a lot, considering this is the world housing the likes of Eternals, Celestials, and Beyonders.

Luckily for the entire universe, unlike many of the cosmic entities housed by the Marvel Universe, the Watchers are – and seems to have always been – dedicated to, if not bettering the universe, then at least preserving it to the best of their abilities.

They are perfectly well aware of their powers and capabilities, as well as the horrors their attempts at intervention may result in, so they keep a policy of total non-intervention, instead dedicating themselves to keeping track of the rest of the universe, watching, and compiling, and preserving (or at least attempting to) the knowledge on all things in our universe.

Watcher Uatu

Such wisdom, unfortunately, came from experience. The Watchers, who are billions of years old, were not always calling themselves the Watchers. And before they did, they sought to benefit the universe not by standing aside but taking active participation and bringing knowledge to the less advanced races.

As these stories usually go, the not-yet-Watchers’ well-meant attempt to advance the progress through artificial means instead of letting the people develop at their own pace ended in tragedy. People of the planet Prosilicus accepted the knowledge of atomic energy the not-yet-Watchers shared with them – and used it to create weapons, later resulting in a genocidal war that wiped the planet out.

Observing the Universe

Horrified at what had transpired, the aliens decided that the policy of non-interference was the best course of action they could take, yet still desired to help the universe. As such they became the Watchers, keeping the knowledge but vowing never to interfere. Each of the Watchers keeps watch on their own “sector”. There they set up their habitats on moons of various inhabited areas of space to keep track of the activities.

Watcher Uatu
Source: Captain Marvel Vol. 1

Of course, no race is without it’s black sheep. And among the Watchers, Watcher Uatu is the rebel. The one assigned to watch over the Earth (and the Solar System at large) – who has interfered multiple times, breaking the Watchers’ vow of non-interference.

One of Earth’s heroes – Blue Marvel – whom Uatu considers a friend, even calls him a “Doer” behind his back. Being nearly omniscient, Uatu is well aware, but he seems to take the nickname in good humor, if not outright delight, seeing as it makes him smile.

Uatu lives in a Citadel on Earth’s Moon and has been observing the planet for billions of years. His first depicted encounter with an Earthling took place in 1602AD so it seems that not sticking to the non-interference vow has been a long-standing tradition for Uatu.

Even though he managed to keep it largely under wraps until Earth starting becoming the hotspot for various large-scale catastrophes, and cosmic beings started paying closer attention.

Brief History of Watcher Uatu

In any case, Watcher Uatu’s encounters with humanity didn’t make big waves. Though considering how comic book timelines work, an incident or another is bound to pop up sometime down the line).

That is until the 1950’s when Howard Stark and Nathaniel Richards (the fathers of Iron Man Tony Stark and Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, proving comic book fathers are just obliged to create trouble for their children even before they’re around) managed to compromise the citadel. 

The Earth was starting to look at the Moon, and now would likely be a good time to pack up and find a better spot for his Citadel, but Uatu stayed – which resulted in him making a human friend down the line when a 60’s hero Blue Marvel (Adam Brashear) went to the moon and started a commotion trying to let some steam out.

But the real turning moment in Uatu’s billions of years of life was when Fantastic Four landed on the moon, with the goal to explore the Blue Area (where Uatu’s citadel is located). A fight broke out between them and similarly cosmic-ray enhanced villains, forcing Uatu to reveal himself. After the Fantastic Four won the fight, Uatu revealed himself again, imparted some much-needed wisdom, and disappeared. 

Watcher Uatu’s involvement

After this encounter, Watcher Uatu started to participate in the fate of the planet entrusted to him more actively, like taking the initiative to inform the Fantastic Four about Molecule Man, helping Reed Richards defeat Dr.Doom, and – most notably – trying to mask the Earth.

When he found out Galactus’s herald Silver Surfer was looking for a new world for his Master to consume, and actively helping Human Torch acquire the one weapon Galactus feared, when he was unable to spear the Earth from the attack.

Numerous involvements have placed Uatu in hot water more than once. He even stood numerous trials, one of which had him stripped of his title. He eventually recovered it (as it happens in comics), but even exiled he kept watch over his beloved Earth.

The Watcher has a habit of personally appearing during key events in history and has shown himself during the Stamford Incident (which lead to the Superhero Registration Act and the resulting Civil War), during the battle between superheroes and Skrulls (Secret Invasion), and by Odin’s side to witness Skadi’s rise (Fear Itself). 

The Dreaming Celestial has revealed that Uatu has broken his vow of non-interference almost 400 times. 

Drawing the line

Despite this, Watcher Uatu does seem to put a certain weight on the Watchers’ vow of non-interference, staying true to it unless he sees no other way. During the Original Sin event, he was attacked and heavily injured, but refused to implicate the criminals staying true to his vow, which cost him his life.

Watcher Uatu
Source: Original Sin (2014)

That said, in true comic book fashion he did later come back to life and took up the mantle of the Earth’s Watcher once more. He even enlisted his murderer to work together to weather the upcoming conflict. This indicates that he somewhat understood why his murder was a necessity.

(And also because the Watchers as a whole have little reason to fear death).

Watcher Uatu’s Powers and abilities

In a way, the Watchers are definitely overpowered. Only if Marvel’s cosmicverse wasn’t full of overpowered individuals as a whole.

During his appearances, Uatu has displayed a multitude of powers. It’s indicated that their full potential hasn’t been seen since they are all more or less bound by the vow of non-interference. As a rule, they try to use as little of their powers as possible.

And yet, Uatu has shown to possess:

  • Telepathy (including the ability to telepathically cloak his and others’ visibility and create illusions);
  • Energy manipulation (including generating force fields);
  • Teleportation;
  • Time Travel;
  • Size Alteration;
  • Flight;
  • High durability (Uatu is nearly immune to physical damage);
  • Cosmic senses;
  • Immortality (not only do the Watchers not get old; but they can simply choose to die if they wish as well as come back to life if they wish not to be dead anymore – which explains Uatu’s cavalier attitude about his own death).

The Watchers are near-omniscient and possess enough power to set galaxies shaking. So if we’ve yet to witness any of them do it – it’s because of their vow. Seems like taking it was a smart decision after all.

More about Watcher Uatu

Here are the best storylines to check out if you wish to see Uatu the Watcher in action:

Silver Surfer Vol. 1 #1-7 (1968-1969) – A classic arc, where Uatu finally starts taking a more active role in Earth’s fate and helps the Fantastic Four defeat Galactus. 

Captain Marvel Vol. 1 #37-39 (1975) – Uatu on Trial for breaking the non-interference vow.

Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #371-375; #387-400 (1992-1995) – The arc centered on Uatu’s nephew, Aron, who went rogue influenced by his uncle breaking the non-interference vow. Unlike Uatu he does not do it to help the Earth. A good showcase of both Uatu, and Watchers as a race as a whole. 

Original Sin (2014) – A crossover event, which is kicked off due to Uatu’s death. Despite him not being alive for very long, he is still a central character and an integral piece of the plot. The miniseries does a good job showcasing his character, despite him being more of a background actor. 

Fantastic Four vol. 6 #25 (2020) – Uatu’s resurrection and further set-up for his future storylines. 

Written by Tamara Elle

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