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Who Watches the Man? Tracking Stan Lee’s Character Across the MCU

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Who Watches the Man? Tracking Stan Lee’s Character Across the MCU

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” in theaters now.

An ingenious, if improbable, fan theory sprang up a few years ago that proposed Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee has been playing the same role in his numerous film and television cameos, from 2000’s “X-Men” to 2008’s “Iron Man” to 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” — quite possibly Uatu, one of the Watchers, an ancient race of extraterrestrial observers created in 1963 by Lee and Jack Kirby. As clever and amusing as the idea might be, it was seemingly dismissed by Lee himself, who joked, “No, I’m afraid I don’t have any super power and I’m not extraterrestrial. Though, I’ll admit I’m a wonderful human being, but I’m really just a little more wonderful than most.”

RELATED: “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” Soaring Toward $140 Million Opening Weekend

However, fast-forward nearly three years, to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” and it turns out the crazy fan theory wasn’t that far off the mark. As Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige recently confirmed, and the sequel depicts, Lee has been playing the same character all along, at least within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, only it’s not one of the Watchers. Rather, it’s one of their associates.

“Let’s just say he, Stan Lee, is certainly is a different type of entity within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who can hang out with the Watchers and tell them stories about all his cameos,” Feige told Slashfilm, characterizing the “Vol. 2” role as “hands-down my favorite Stan Lee cameo that we’ve ever done.”

Lee appears twice in director James Gunn’s film, once when he’s heard telling a trio of Watchers about the time he was a FedEx delivery agent — a reference to his cameo in last year’s “Captain America: Civil War” — and again after the credits, when the extraterrestrials, bored of his stories, walk away. Lee is credited in the film as “The Watchers’ Informant,” which is probably vague enough to spawn even more theories.

Keeping in mind that, in Marvel Comics lore, the Watchers are committed to observing and compiling knowledge on all aspects of the universe (without interference, at least in theory), it would only make sense for them to delegate the less-important duties to others, freeing the ancient aliens to be on hand for pivotal events in the cosmos. Lee’s character has certainly been present for a lot of events over the years, but just how important they are is up for debate. But what do those Marvel Cinematic Universe appearances tell us about the nature of Lee’s Watcher Informant?

Stan Lee May Indeed Be An Extraterrestrial

Despite Lee’s claim to the contrary, we have to consider the possibility that he himself is an extraterrestrial capable of bending reality to his will. Although his first live-action cameo was as a jury foreman on the 1989 TV movie “The Trial of the Incredible Hulk,” Lee’s Marvel Cinematic Universe journey began in 2008’s “Iron Man,” in which he’s credited as playing “Himself.” While Tony Stark mistakes him for Hugh Hefner, a gag repeated in the 2010 sequel (only there he’s thought to be Larry King), those early cameos have reality-warping implications: His Watchers’ Informant masqueraded as none other than Stan Lee, presumably to collect information on Stark, and most certainly not to be lavished with attention on the red carpet.

The Watchers’ Informant Is Extremely Long-Lived

At 94 years old, Lee remains impressively spry, even as he begins to dial back the frequency of his convention appearances, but his informant character is relatively ageless. For proof we need look no further than 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” in which he appears as a World War II general who, in an echo of Tony Stark, mistakes another man for Steve Rogers. He also pops up after the war, in a 2015 episode of “Agent Carter,” to borrow the newspaper sports section from Howard Stark.

Of course it only makes sense that the Watchers would seek out informants who could perform their duties across decades, if not centuries. They’re busy aliens with big responsibilities, with little time to recruit new spies every few years.

He Doesn’t Worry About Keeping a Low Profile

One might assume that the role of Watchers’ Informant would require the ability to blend into the background, to move from city to city, and galaxy to galaxy, without attracting attention. However, Lee’s character apparently relishes the spotlight, whether that means attending high-profile galas (“Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2”), judging a televised beauty pageant (“Iron Man 3”) or being interviewed for a newscast (“The Avengers”). On Marvel’s Netflix dramas, he’s even lent his image to the New York Police Department for crime-stopping posters (“Luke Cage”) and a recruitment campaign (“Iron Fist”). So much for secrecy …

He Can’t Be Bothered With a “No-Interference” Vow

In fairness, it’s the Watchers who have vowed not to interfere with the events they observe, and they’re not always sticklers for their own Prime Directive. Still, you’d think those in their employ would make a similar pledge. If so, Lee’s Informant is in clear violation, and not merely by swaying the results of a beauty pageant. In 2011’s “Thor,” he throws non-interference out the window when he joins with dozens of others in trying to free Mjolnir from the crater formed when the hammer landed on Earth.

He was unsuccessful, of course, and damaged his pickup truck in the process. Perhaps he can expense the repairs.

The Watchers May Not Be the Only Ones He’s Talked To

In 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World,” Lee’s character pops up as a patient in a mental ward where Erik Selvig was institutionalized following the events of “The Avengers.” All that was known at the time was that he simply wanted Selvig to return his shoe, but we might now theorize the Watchers’ Informant may have been under observation because of his endless stories about superheroes, other worlds and FedEx delivery agents. Or maybe he was simply keeping an eye on Selvig’s activities for his cosmic employers.

He’s Either Very Good At His Job or Very, Very Bad

As a spy for the Watcher, perhaps Lee’s character is tasked with simply cataloging the broad scope of the human experience, in which case he may be in the running for Informant of the Millennium. After all, he’s done everything from rub elbows with celebrities to drink Asgardian liquor with Thor and Captain America (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”) to chat up a young woman on far-flung Xandar (“Guardians of the Galaxy”). However, if he’s assigned to observe, then his job may be in jeopardy, because Lee’s Informant isn’t particularly … observant.

Whether he’s drinking soda tainted by Bruce Banner’s blood in “The Incredible Hulk,” misidentifying Steve Rogers in “Captain America: The First Avenger” or allowing the Sentinel of Liberty’s World War II uniform to be stolen from the Smithsonian in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the Watchers’ Informant has amusingly bumbled his way across the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even somehow missing the fight erupting around him in “Doctor Strange.”

(It’s worth noting that the Informant’s misstep in “The Incredible Hulk” may provide the best evidence yet that he’s no mere mortal: The resulting “gamma sickness” was enough to draw the attention of General Ross, yet Lee’s character was no worse for wear in “Iron Man 2.”)

Still, He Always Has Time For Romance

Lee’s character has a woman on each arm in 2008’s “Iron Man” and again on a 2014 episode of “Marvel’s Agents of S.HI.E.L.D.” And when he’s spotted in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” he’s chatting with a young lady on Xandar (“What a Class-A prevert,” observes Rocket Raccoon). However, the Watchers’ Informant is also willing to dole out advice to others, which undoubtedly could be construed as interfering in events. When Steve Rogers fails to pick up on a server’s interest in a deleted scene from “The Avengers,” Lee’s character turns gruffly tells him, “Ask for her number, you moron.”

Written and directed by James Gunn, Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” stars Chris Pratt as Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, Vin Diesel as Baby Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon, Michael Rooker as Yondu Udonta, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Elizabeth Debicki as Ayesha, Chris Sullivan as Taserface, Sean Gunn as Kraglin, Glenn Close as Irani Rael and Kurt Russell as Ego.

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