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Who Is The Watcher? What If Narrator's Powers & Comics Backstory Explained

Warning: The following contains SPOILERS for the first episode of Marvel's What If...?

Who is Uatu The Watcher, the narrator of Marvel's What If...? and what fantastic powers does this cosmic being possess? Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Uatu first appeared in Fantastic Four #13 in April 1963, officiating a fight between Marvel Comics' first family and the Red Ghost on Earth's moon. This story established Uatu as a mysterious being of unknowable cosmic power, though it would soon be revealed that he was but a single member of an ancient and mighty race of aliens.

Uatu's unique position in Marvel Comics' cosmology gave him an unlikely role as the host of Marvel Comics' What If...? comic book series. Written in the same anthology style as classic horror comics like Tales From The Crypt (which typically featured a colorful narrator describing the events of each issue's story) each issue of What If...? opened with Uatu addressing the reader and describing how he not only saw the past, present and potential future of Earth but could also gaze upon "what might have been." This set up the story of each issue, which typically explored how a single choice might have changed a classic Marvel Comics' story, usually with a far unhappier ending than the original.

Related: Where What If...? Episode 1 Fits Into The Marvel Timeline

Uatu The Watcher plays the same role in the first episode of Marvel's What If...? inviting viewers to join him in observing a world where it was Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter who became the world's first Super Soldier rather than Steve Rogers. Yet Uatu is capable of much more than simple narration, despite rarely taking an active role in the events he observes. Yet it seems likely he may have to cease being a passive observer by the series' end.

It's understandable if the voice of the Watcher in Marvel's What If...? sounds familiar. Uatu is voiced by Jeffrey Wright, who has won a Tony, a Golden Globe, and an Emmy for playing the role of Belize in the Broadway production of Angels in America and the HBO miniseries based upon it. Wright is also well known for having played Felix Leiter in the Daniel Craig James Bond films, Valentine Narcisse in Boardwalk Empire, and Beetee Latier in The Hunger Games movies. He will also be playing Commissioner Gordon in the upcoming The Batman movie.

It is unknown precisely how old the race known as the Watchers are, but they were capable of interplanetary travel billions of years before any other known race. Having solved most of the problems posed by life on their home planet, the Watchers looked to the universe and decided it was their duty to share their technology and knowledge with less advanced races. When their first effort at neighborly good-will resulted in a nuclear war that destroyed the planet of Prosilicus, the Watchers all swore an oath to never again interfere in the affairs of other races, save in self-defense or in defense of the universe itself. Shortly afterward, each Watcher was assigned to observe the activities of a young race from the moons of various inhabited worlds.

Uatu was the Watcher assigned to Earth, but he came to break his oath of noninterference several times during what became known as The Age of Heroes. While his first encounter with the Fantastic Four could be written off as self-defense as they and the Red Ghost had come close to his sanctum on Earth's moon, he later approached the team directly to warn them about the dangers posed by the Molecule Man and the time-traveling Kang the Conqueror. Uatu ultimately went beyond simply offering information and warnings, taking an active role in the defense of Earth during the battle with Galactus, Devourer of Worlds, by helping the Fantastic Four to acquire the Ultimate Nullifier, which was the only weapon that Galactus feared.

Related: What If…? Episode 1 Cast Guide: Every New & Returning MCU Character

If knowledge is power, then Uatu is powerful indeed. Like all Watchers, Uatu is omniscient and possesses a cosmic awareness of most things that have happened, are happening, might happen or might have happened. Beyond his superior knowledge, Uatu is also a powerful wielder of psionic energy, capable of moving objects with a thought, reading the minds of any sentient being, projecting his thoughts into the minds of others, and altering their perceptions.

Uatu can teleport himself and others anywhere in time and space at will and alter his physical form to assume human proportions. He can manipulate energy on a level just below that of giant Marvel villain Galactus and focus the cosmic energy at his command to fashion force fields. Beyond that, Uatu is largely invulnerable, effectively immortal, and can heal any damage dealt to him with a thought. It has been said that the eldest of Watchers can alter reality at will and that one Watcher was able to come back from the dead simply by choosing not to be dead anymore.

Given their phenomenal cosmic power and immortality, it is probably for the best that most Watchers are passive beings who consider themselves above all other sentient life and the base emotions that govern lesser beings. Uatu the Watcher is a notable exception, having broken his oath to not interfere in the affairs of humanity on 337 recorded occasions, according to the Dreaming Celestial. This was due to Uatu having developed a fondness for the beings he was charged with observing which his fellow Watchers found unseemly. While Uatu was usually able to justify his actions as not explicitly going against his oath (such as when he allowed Reed Richards and Susan Storm to celebrate their honeymoon at his Citadel to ensure they would not be disturbed) he was placed on trial for violating his vows as a Watcher more than once and was stripped of his powers on one occasion.

It remains to be seen if the Uatu of the MCU will remain a passive narrator as Marvel's What If...? unfolds or if he might take a role in some kind of larger narrative. Given the current state of flux in the MCU in the wake of the ending of Loki's finale and the forecast for multiversal turmoil based on what little is known about the upcoming Marvel Phase 4 releases, it seems likely Uatu might have to break his oath to never interfere in cosmic affairs for the greater good once again. After all, if the Earth is destroyed, what will he have to watch over?

More: What If...? How Many Episodes There Are (And When The Finale Is)

Marvel's What If...? releases new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+

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