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Marvel's History Of The Watcher Explained

Uatu the Watcher is one of Marvel's oldest characters, which is fitting because he came from one of the oldest races in the universe. The Watchers are pledged to observe other races but not directly interfere with them. Uatu is the Watcher for Earth, and he is infamous for his tendency to repeatedly break his oath. Sometimes he does it by simply appearing at an event in person but not saying a word; however, his mere presence often changes events because everyone involved knows who he is. On other occasions, he's been a lot more blatant about his actions in trying to help, and it has cost him dearly. 

The Watcher was also the host of Marvel's long-running alternate reality series, What If? In each issue, he'd introduce a familiar Marvel story and then look at a single event that could have changed it, asking "What if...?" The Watcher is also hosting an animated Disney+ show of the same name — asking, for example, "What if Peggy Carter had received the Super-Soldier Serum and become Captain America?"

Let's take a look at his long history of observing other worlds, interfering with Earth, and having to defend himself against those charges. We'll also examine him investigating the mystery of a suicide-inducing virus that affected the Watchers, defending Reed Richards in a cosmic court, saving the Multiverse, and his death — as well as his resurrection. 

Sins of the father

Uatu is part of an immortal race ho were some of the first technologically advanced beings in the universe. Uatu's father Ikor was part of a delegation that decided they should try to aid other civilizations and pass on their knowledge to them. They brought nuclear energy to a planet called Prosillicus, and to their horror, it wasn't long before the natives killed each other with nuclear weapons. Chastened, Ikor's people declared that they should no longer interfere in the lives of other races; instead, they would just observe them and record these observation for data. This was the start of the Watchers. 

Uatu fundamentally disagreed with his father, even as he created their new rules against non-interference. Essentially, he argued that Ikor and the others weren't responsible for the Proscillians choosing to kill themselves; their intentions were to help the Proscillians, not hurt them. Ikor disagreed, saying that the outcome was the only important thing, inadvertently setting up the foundation for one of the central arguments of moral philosophy. Which matters more, intention or outcome?

Later, Uatu saw a race called the Yrds get rid of nuclear waste by sending it into space. Uatu felt like he should do something about this, because it might harm some other planet. Instead, he watched and waited. He watched a rogue planet hit the nuclear waste, blasting both to bits without harming anyone else, and realized his father might be right. 


Uatu set up his base on the Blue Area of Earth's moon, a small, abandoned city created by the Kree. Uatu watched until he was alarmed by events that occurred in 1602, when a series of extraordinary beings appeared in the new colony in America. He learned that the presence of a human from the future, known as the "forerunner," was somehow accidentally changing the timeline. 

Uatu took the then-unprecedented step of contacting that world's Stephen Strange, a sorcerer, and bringing his astral form up to the moon. The Watcher had been subtly manipulating Strange, making him believe that the world was going to end in order to get him to investigate the identity of the forerunner. Uatu told Strange about his non-interference oath, but when speaking to the other Watchers, they realized that the disruption the forerunner was causing wouldn't just destroy this reality — it would wipe out every reality. 

Uatu guessed that this universe created heroes to stop this temporal threat, which is why variations of the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Thor, etc. suddenly started popping up. Strange was given this knowledge, but couldn't share it while he was alive. He thought the forerunner might be a shapeshifting Virginia Dare, but it turned out to be Rojhaz, a Native American who was actually a time-lost Captain America. Strange was killed, but told the others how to get Rojhaz back to the future. When it was all settled, Uatu received a pocket version of this universe to watch forever. 

Meeting the Fantastic Four

Knowing that the Age of Heroes had come, Uatu revealed himself to the Fantastic Four the first time they appeared on the moon, battling the Red Ghost and his communist Super-Apes. He didn't interfere in their battle, but did give Reed Richards some subtle encouragement to keep exploring the universe. Later, he warned the FF about the coming of the Molecule Man and took the step of undoing the damage caused by that villain after he was beaten. 

Those were relatively petty crimes by Watcher standards, but Uatu completely abandoned his oath when he learned that Galactus was coming to devour Earth. The Watcher tried hiding the Earth with holograms of fire and meteorites surrounding it (which freaked everyone in the world out), but Galactus' herald, the Silver Surfer, was able to find it. Uatu begged Galactus to spare Earth, but the world-devourer was hungry and unwilling to seek out another meal.

Uatu had watched Galactus' birth millennia earlier. He used his inside knowledge of Galactus' world-ship, boosted the Human Torch's powers, and sent him inside the ship to retrieve an object called the Ultimate Nullifier — the one thing that could destroy Galactus. Richards threatened Galactus with it and he backed off, sparing Earth. The Watcher went back to the moon, having saved the day through his machinations. It wouldn't be the last time.

What If?

Uatu used his ability to see into other timelines and realities to narrate them for his own purposes in the pages of What If? Introducing himself as the Watcher in each issue, he'd bring up some classic Marvel story, interrupt at a crucial moment, and then ask what if it had gone another way. The reason he was so obsessed with other realities is that he hoped that his father was wrong, and there was a reality where the Watchers aiding Prosillicus had resulted in a positive outcome. As such, he became an expert in sharing with his unseen audience some of the more dramatic possibilities for familiar Marvel characters. 

Many of these alternate realties were grim. In "What If Phoenix Had Not Died?," Jean Grey didn't kill herself with a laser cannon. Instead, the Shi'ar stripped her of her powers when she got injured. When she later got them back, she did it defeating Galactus and saving the Shi'ar. However, the Dark Phoenix hunger eventually returned and she destroyed the Earth — and then the universe.

"What If the Avengers Had Become the Pawns of Korvac?" was another story that hinged on a split-second decision from a god-like entity. Instead of allowing himself to be killed when he saw his lover Corrina doubt him, he instead killed the Avengers when he saw Corrina stay resolute. He then resurrected the Avengers and tried to take over the universe, destroying it in the end. 

The Trial

The Kree hero Captain Mar-Vell was dealing with a group of weird villains called the Lunatic Legion when he got a clue that they may have been operating from the moon. At the time, Mar-Vell was sharing consciousness with Rick Jones, who was in the Negative Zone when Mar-Vell was on Earth and vice versa. They could affect each other mentally through their sub-space connection, however, and when a bored Jones took some drugs, Mar-Vell was investigating the moon.

The Watcher found him and inexplicably started attacking him. Uatu decided to help the Blue Kree who had come to the moon to kill Mar-Vell, and the hero barely escaped with his life. A guilty Uatu summoned the others of his race for judgment, and Mar-Vell hopped on a transportation beam to travel to the Watchers' home world. He spoke in defense of Uatu, who reverted to his normal non-interference policy when a creature attacked Mar-Vell. Uatu had no defense for his actions on the moon, saying that he had become so intoxicated in all of the realities and their possibilities that he hated not being able to act. When Mar-Vell became Cosmically Aware and became Protector of the Universe, Uatu felt jealous and helped the Kree. 

He said he was very sorry and promised not to do it again and inexplicably was let off the hook by his people. One of the Watchers said that acting against Uatu was a form of interference, so he got off on a technicality. 

Defending Reed Richards

In 1984, all of Marvel's chief editorial staff went to the San Diego Comic-Con, leaving their assistants in charge for a month. What resulted was Assistant Editor's Month, resulting in some of the weirdest and funniest comics that Marvel ever published. In Fantastic Four #262, artist and writer John Byrne wrote one of the more self-indulgent — but still highly entertaining — comics of all time. Because the Marvel artists also existed in the Marvel Universe, Byrne was waiting for the Fantastic Four to come back to the Baxter Building so he could adapt one of their real adventures into comic book form.

However, the Watcher brought Byrne to the Shi'ar Empire in order to chronicle the trial of Reed Richards, who had been captured by Princess Lilandra on behalf of many angry alien races because he had saved Galactus when he almost died attacking Earth. Things were looking grim for Reed, as alien after alien detailed how Galactus had wiped out their planet. The Watcher was acting as Reed Richard's defense and he sent the Human Torch to fetch Odin as a character witness. Not for Reed, but for Galactus, because Richards had argued that even though Galactus was a world-devourer, he served a greater purpose in the universe. 

Galactus showed up to argue for Richards, but the jury was unconvinced until Galactus and the Watcher summoned Eternity to the court, who made everyone understand his cosmic plan. Byrne went home and had his story.

Oblivion Plague

Quasar, protector of the Universe, was helping the Squadron Supreme, who had accidentally found themselves in the main Marvel universe. He traveled to the homeworld of the Stranger, which was being attacked by his old enemy the Overmind, who had mentally enslaved the Squadron. Meanwhile, the Stranger was off investigating a mystery: an epidemic of dead Watchers. 

Quasar found the Stranger and asked him to help, but was roundly ignored. Using his cosmic mentor Eon for help, Quasar found two Watchers talking to each other. One looked upset and the other one, Otmu, tried to remove Quasar peacefully, but he returned. Otmu then dramatically broke his oath of non-interference and punched Quasar. When the Stranger showed up to help, Otmu decided to kill himself rather than fight. 

Otmu had been spreading a pernicious new philosophy: the "oath of ultimate non-interference." The theory went that by simply existing and observing, the Watchers were still interfering with the universe: the observer affected the observed. So he tried to convince the Watchers to kill themselves in order to truly fulfill their mission. The Watchers said Otmu's suicidal theory was spreading like a plague: an Oblivion Plague. Quasar saved the day by telling them that even killing themselves was a form of action and affected events around them. A little fuzziness was worth their mission of recording all events for the benefit of the next iteration of the universe. Quasar had countered the plague with the Life-Affirming Idea and saved the Watchers


The Watcher learned of and observed the beings known as the Time-Keepers' attempt to destroy powerful Nexus Beings in order to preserve their own existence. These beings had special time-and-reality bending powers, and the Time-Keepers had commissioned Immortus to destroy these kinds of beings and their realities before. They included realities that Uatu was familiar with: one where Spider-Man accepted Reed Richards' invitation and joined the Fantastic Four, one where the Vision had become all-powerful and set up a team of Cosmic Avengers in the future, one where Wolverine became lord of the vampires, and one where Thor became a servant of Seth. The Time-Keepers sent lackeys to try to kill the Nexus Beings in each reality: Franklin Richards, the Vision, Phoenix, and Odin. 

The Time-Keepers were opposed by an entity called the Whisperer, who took Doctor Doom, Irondroid, and Wolverine from those realities to rescue Thor. The Whisperer saved the Nexus Beings of two of the realities and severely hurt the Time-Keepers. When they rescued Odin, the Whisperer was revealed to be Immortus as the last of the Time-Keepers disappeared, leaving him to become a Nexus Being himself.

The Time Variance Authority contacted the Watcher for help, and he advised them to strike at Immortus when he was still young Nathaniel Richards. They sent several versions of the Fantastic Four at him, but the one that worked was the group that never gained super-powers, and they stopped him from becoming a Nexus Being.

Original Sin

The Watcher was discovered on the moon by Thor, murdered and his eyes gouged out. In trying to solve the mystery of who killed the Watcher, it was revealed that he recorded everything he watched in his eyes. With them out of his head, deeply held secrets started to leak. Eventually, it was revealed that the villains the Orb, Dr. Midas, and Exterminatrix attacked Uatu in his citadel in order to raid his weaponry. The Orb wondered what it would be like to see like the Watcher and attacked him, but didn't kill him. He did take one of his eyes, however.

Nick Fury revealed that the Omega Formula that had kept him young for decades was starting to wear off, and that he had a secret job: he was the front line of defense against extraterrestrial threats and wanted to pick a successor. He found the Watcher after he had been attacked, but the Watcher wouldn't tell him anything. Fury realized that someone took his eye because of the information it held, so he shot and killed the Watcher to get the other eye. 

Fury realized that the Watcher had manipulated these events and he took the Watcher's place as the Unseen, guarding his weapons and watching endlessly after other Watchers fused him with the remains of Uatu. Meanwhile, the Orb still had the other eye.

Return of the Watcher

Of course, life and death are relative terms for Watchers. When a billion of them died by suicide after the Oblivion Plague, they brought themselves back to life with the Life-Affirming Idea. Nick Fury carried out his duties as the Unseen, observing the star-spanning conflict between the Kree, the Skrulls, and the Cotati. He watched the Kree and Skrulls band together under Dorrek VIII, better known as Hulkling of the Young Avengers. He saw Thor take the bloodthirsty Cotati leader Quoi to a new planet far away to carve out a new life.

One question remained: who gave the Cotati their highly advanced weapons and armor? They were so powerful that they nearly defeated the combined forces of Earth, the Kree, and the Skrulls. An Elder of the Universe named the Profiteer studied them and said they were even older than she was. The Unseen took a look at them with Uatu's eye and realized that they came from someone called the First Race. When he saw that, Uatu popped out of his eye and was resurrected, saying "There shall be... a reckoning." The Watcher told Fury that he had returned because a war was coming — and he made a now-restored Fury his first soldier in that war.