Introduced in 1963's "Fantastic Four" #13 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Uatu the Watcher has been one of the most important cosmic character in the history of Marvel Comics. His people, the Watchers, are devoted to observing all of the most important events in the history of their respective universes. The key word here is "observe," that's all that they are supposed to do. They have pledged never to interfere with the events that they observe, just watch. Hence the name.
However, Uatu tended to go a lot further than just let people know that he was watching them. He would very often actively interfere with the events that he was observing. Here are the 15 most egregious examples of Uatu breaking his code of non-interference.
Marvel writer and editor Mark Gruenwald was a master of what you would call "continuity minutiae." He was the kind of guy who liked to give explanations for everything. There's a reason that he spearheaded Marvel's "Official Guide to the Marvel Universe" during the 1980s, after all. In "Fantastic Four Annual" #22, he did one of his little continuity explainers and it also showed Uatu getting actively involved for a curious reason -- sentiment.
Towards the end of John Byrne's run on "Fantastic Four," the FF's headquarters in the Baxter Building was destroyed by Doctor Doom's heir, Kristoff. They then built a new headquarters called Four Freedoms Plaza. In the aforementioned annual (by Gruenwald and artists Tom Morgan and Mike DeCarlo), Reed and Sue Richards discover all of their old stuff pop up in their new home. After investigating, it turns out that Uatu had taken them in for "inspection," which he does as part of his observation. He just happened to take them in for observation right after their home was destroyed and forgot to return them until after their new home was finished. Reed was so out of touch that he didn't even realize that it was just Uatu being nice to them.
The Molecule Man was a fairly obscure Fantastic Four villain before Jim Shooter took a shine to him when he was writing "The Avengers" in the early 1980s. He liked the idea of Owen Reece, the Molecule Man, just being a normal, if neurotic, man who happened to be one of the most powerful beings in the universe. Shooter explored this idea further in the pages of the original "Secret Wars," when Molecule Man was brought to Battleworld by the Beyonder along with a bunch of other supervillains. By then, though, Owen had little interest in actually partaking in villainy (he did drop an entire mountain on the superheroes, though). While there, Owen met a woman who Doctor Doom had turned into a supervillain and they became a couple, retiring to the suburbs together at the end of the series.
In the sequel series, the Beyonder came to visit Earth to learn about humanity. The all-powerful being ended up trying to erase the very concept of death and that scared the heck out of the cosmic beings in the Marvel Universe, so much so that in "Secret Wars II" #6 (by Jim Shooter, Al Milgrom and Steve Leialoha), Uatu gladly broke his oath of non-interference to implore Owen to lend his power to the universe against the Beyonder. Owen said no at first, but by the end of the series, he did lend a hand.
The storyline that culminated in "Fantastic Four" #213 (by Marv Wolfman, John Byrne and Joe Sinnott) was a momentous one because it resolved the oath that Galactus had vowed years earlier never to try to attack the Earth again. Such an oath was problematic from a narrative standpoint because you either had to have Galactus attacking other worlds or you would have to come up with some loophole as to why Galactus was allowed to attack Earth (because Galactus is always going to eventually try to eat the Earth).
In this story, the Fantastic Four enlisted Galactus' help against a more immediate threat of the powerful Sphinx. Reed Richards absolved Galactus of his vow in exchange for his help defeating the Sphinx. Once the Sphinx was finished, Galactus then turned his attention to the Earth, but Reed (who was artificially aged at the time) threatened him with what Reed claimed was a rebuilt Ultimate Nullifier. Galactus couldn't call his bluff, so he left, but now that the vow was lifted, he could return at any moment. As it turned out, it was all a bluff by Reed; his new Nullifier was just a useless weapon. How did Galactus not read Reed's mind and know the truth? The Watcher happened to be reading Reed's mind at the same time and blocked Galactus' attempt. He wasn't interfering, it was just a coincidence. Suuuure, it was.
"Fantastic Four" #262 is famous for the fact that it guest-starred the writer and artist of the issue, John Byrne. It was also part of "Assistant Editor's Month, where each title did something slightly weird under the idea that the assistant editors were in charge for a month while the main editors were at the San Diego Comic Con. Byrne was brought from his home due to his status in the Marvel Universe as the official writer/artist of the licensed "Fantastic Four" comic book, and was asked to report on the events from a cosmic courtroom where Reed Richards was on trial for his role in sparing the life of Galactus in an earlier "Fantastic Four" storyline.
Abandoning non-interference, Uatu actually served as Reed's defense attorney in the trial (Uatu won through the use of Eternity to show everyone that Galactus served a natural purpose in the universe). Byrne even stood in for the fans when he asked why Uatu wasn't constrained by his oath, but Sue Richards explained that it was just too important of an event for him to stay silent.
While they certainly weren't the first comic book characters to get married, the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm in "Fantastic Four Annual" #3 (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta) was still a really big deal. The problem for Reed and Sue is that the various supervillains of the Marvel Universe at the time decided to make the wedding of two of the most famous superheroes in the world a place where they could wipe out all of the heroes at once.
So, the wedding turned into a giant brawl that brought in pretty much every major hero and villain Marvel had at the time (except for the Hulk, interestingly enough). Uatu then showed up in the middle of the fight and transported Reed to his home base where he let Reed choose a single weapon. Reed found a machine that would turn back time and prevent the fight from ever happening. It's hilarious to watch Uatu explain how he can't interfere by telling Reed which weapon he should take. That's too much, but transporting him to your home and letting him take a powerful weapon is just totally not getting involved, right?
"Strange Tales" #134 was the final issue of the series to have the "Human Torch and Thing" feature be the lead in the book (that feature was originally just a Human Torch feature before the Thing joined his antagonistic little chum). In a story written by Stan Lee and drawn by the underrated Silver Age art legend Bob Powell (with inks by the iconic Wallace Wood), Uatu shows up at the Baxter Building and not only informs the Human Torch and Thing about a threat that they face from Kang, but also transports them back in time to the time of King Arthur. While there, Kang has decided to conquer Earth in the past so as to avoid the Avengers and Fantastic Four from ever even existing! After Johnny and Ben defeat Kang, the Watcher brings them back to the present day, while still trying to claim that, since he didn't actively attack Kang himself, he wasn't really interfering. This guy's got more loopholes than a belt.
In an adorable, if inexplicable, Christmas story, "Marvel Team-Up" #127 (by J.M. DeMatteis, Kerry Gammill and Mike Esposito) saw Peter Parker visit his Aunt May at her boarding house for a Christmas Eve celebration. One of her boarders was depressed, since he had invited his granddaughter, Bette, (the only family he had left after his son and daughter-in-law were killed in a plane crash) but she had not showed up. Later, Peter was visited by Uatu, who gave Peter a jewel with a picture of Bette and essentially told Peter that he had to make sure that Bette made it through the night.
This led Spider-Man on a wild night through New York City, as Bette was involved with some really bad dudes. Spidey kept hitting dead ends as we saw that Bette's days really were numbered. He seemingly ended up saving her right as she was about to be killed by some drug dealers, but she ended up shot anyway. Spider-Man was aghast. All of this, and for what? The Watcher then showed up again and used some sort of magic/science to save Bette's life. Her grandfather visited her in the hospital and they joyfully spent the night holding hands. Back at his home, the Watcher also shed tears of joy.
The three most significant creative talents of the Marvel Age of Comics -- Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko -- all worked together on the first appearance of the Watcher in "Fantastic Four" #13 (Ditko inking Kirby). Right from the get go, the Watcher was interfering to a certain extent. While his involvement in this issue was less than some of the other examples on this collection, we think that they stand out as more egregious because they happened in the issue that established that he did not interfere!!
The Fantastic Four and the Red Ghost and his Super Apes were fighting the Cold War on the moon when the Watcher showed up and told them that they had to stop messing around with his stuff. He then sent them off to where they could have a fair fight. During the fight, though, the Red Ghost snuck into the Watcher's home. Uatu freaked out and tossed the Red Ghost out so that Reed could hit him with a paralyzing blast and win the day.
In his second appearance in "Fantastic Four" #20 (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers), Uatu was already just outright interfering in things. He showed up to warn the Fantastic Four of the existence of the Molecule Man, who had just gained his powers for the first time in that issue (at the time, Owen Reece thought that his powers only worked when he used a special wand). Uatu explained that the Watchers were worried that Molecule Man might be powerful enough to even destroy them eventually, so he sent the Four off to fight the Molecule Man.
After they successfully defeated him, Uatu showed up again and imprisoned the Molecule Man. Uatu then used his powers to reverse all of the damage that Molecule Man had done with his matter-altering abilities. It was only his second appearance and he was already explicitly involving himself in the lives of the people of Earth! It's not "observing" to fix damage, Uatu!
The most famous example of the Watcher involving himself in the events of the people of Earth occurred in the famous "Coming of Galactus" storyline in "Fantastic Four" #48-50 (by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Joe Sinnott). The Watcher learned that the mighty Galactus was headed towards Earth's general area, so Uatu created a series of illusions designed to hide Earth from Galactus' herald, the Silver Surfer. That's already interfering pretty heavily right there. The Surfer saw through the illusions, though, so Galactus arrived and got set to take the Earth down.
Eventually, while fighting the Surfer, the herald landed in New York City where he was convinced by Alicia Masters that he could not let Galactus destroy this planet. The Surfer's attempts to stop Galactus distracted him long enough for the Human Torch to return from a mission that Uatu had sent him on to Galactus' ship to get the Ultimate Nullifier, a device that could wipe out the entire universe. Uatu entrusted it to Reed Richards, a guy he had met a couple of times before this. Reed used it to threaten Galactus and the devourer of worlds had to back down and leave the Earth.
The Watcher, of course, is perhaps best known for being the host of Marvel's "What If...?" comics, where Uatu introduced readers to the stories of what happened on different Earths in the Multiverse. The stories were generally self-contained, but in a five-part storyline from "What If...?" #35-39 (by Roy Thomas, Jean-Marc Lofficier and a bunch of different artists), the stories were no longer self-contained.
You see, some mysterious beings pretending to be Time-Keepers got involved in a plot to protect four "nexus" beings from four different previous "What If...?" stories (including Wolverine from the "What If...?" comic where he became the Lord of the Vampires) to protect the sanctity of the Multiverse. Uatu teamed up with the Time Variance Authority (the group in charge of monitoring time travel in the Marvel Universe) to recruit other past "What If...?" characters to help avoid the destruction of the Multiverse. This was a rare storyline built around Uatu being directly involved in a plot.
Early in Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines' popular run on "Hulk," their new creation of the Red Hulk made waves by fighting all sorts of characters in the Marvel Universe. In "Hulk" #4, when the Watcher showed up to comment on something, the Red Hulk just hauled off and punched him in the face!!
A few years later, though, when Jeff Parker had taken over the writing duties on the series, Parker wrote a storyline that showed that the Watcher might have actually allowed himself to be punched! You see, many years earlier, the Watchers had collectively decided to move a cosmic "red hole" that would eventually generate a powerful destructive being known as the Omegex away from all the known galaxies. That alone was an egregious example of breaking their non-interference pledge, but they figured they wouldn't have anything to watch if Omegex killed everyone. However, soon before "Hulk" #4, the Watcher sensed that Omegex was coming anyway, so Uatu figured that the Red Hulk had the best chance of stopping it (due to the Red Hulk's ability to drain the power from other beings). When Omegex showed up, Uatu became intangible, but the remnants of Red Hulk's DNA remained and Omegex detected it and sought him out, just as Uatu planned. The Red Hulk ultimately defeated Omegex. It's debatable whether that was really Uatu's plan or if he just wanted the guy who beat him up to be attacked himself.
In "Deadpool Team-Up" #884 (by Tom Peyer and Jacob Chabot), Watcher and Deadpool accidentally end up trapped together on an elevator while Deadpool is hunting a monster. The Watcher won't help get them out of the elevator because that would be interfering. Eventually, Deadpool frees them. They are then visited by a cute little puppy. Imbued with both cosmic powers and a soft spot, the Watcher was impressed by its adorableness. That's when Deadpool realized that the puppy was the monster he was hunting!
That's when the Watcher determined that he had to interfere -- he could not let Deadpool kill this adorable puppy! However, while Uatu was pummeling Deadpool, the puppy transformed into the shapeshifting monster it had been all along. It attacked the Watcher and poked him in the eyes. Here's a tip -- do not poke a Watcher in the eye! Uatu freaked out and actually bit the monster, killing it. Deadpool agreed not to tell anyone how much Uatu had interfered so long as Uatu agreed to no longer observe Deadpool. He agreed.
In a long story that culminated in "Fantastic Four" #400 (by Tom DeFalco, Paul Ryan and Danny Bulanadi), the Fantastic Four were manipulated until they took on the Dreaming Celestial. In the end, Sue Richards' powerful cosmic force fields proved to be the perfect weapon for attacking Celestials. She managed to cause enough damage that the Celestials decided to hold off on their judgment of Earth for a few millennia. As Sue figured out, that was precisely what Uatu planned. He loved humanity enough that he manipulated the Fantastic Four into delaying the judgment.
However, Sue noted that there was a rogue watcher causing trouble, and if Uatu really cared, he would take him on. Thus, Uatu went into direct combat with one of his own people and ended up essentially killing him (turned him into energy). For this, Uatu was exiled from being a Watcher by the rest of his people. Naturally, this did not last that long.
Even by the mid-1970s, the Watcher's constant interfering (despite his oath not to interfere) had become a bit of a joke among Marvel fans. One of those people was writer Steve Englehart, who decided to address it head-on in the pages of "Captain Marvel," which Englehart had taken over from writer/artist Jim Starlin. In "Captain Marvel" #37 (by Englehart, Al Milgrom and Klaus Janson), Uatu grew more and more annoyed over his oath. He especially grew jealous of Captain Marvel's recent promotion to becoming "Protector of the Universe."
In a fit of anger, Uatu agreed to work with the Lunatic Legion to capture Captain Marvel and then let them kill him. This led to the shocking sequence where Uatu just beat the heck out of Captain Marvel in a battle. Seeing Uatu throwing punches was quite a shock. In the end, Uatu could not bear to allow the Legion to kill Captain Marvel, so he saved his life. Uatu then went on trial for his constant interferences. Captain Marvel testified on his behalf. In the end, though, Uatu accepted that he had to stop interfering so much, so he vowed to change his behavior. Clearly, this was Englehart hoping to, in effect, reboot the character. Later writers just went right back to having Uatu interfere in events.
What was your favorite Uatu the Watcher story? Let us know in the comments section!