Monday, July 8, 2019

The Trial Of The Watcher!

OR: "Better Late Than Never..."

There were probably a good number of us back in the day who wondered how the Watcher--one of a race of beings who took it upon themselves to observe significant events and noteworthy races throughout the universe while adopting a posture of non-interference with those they surveyed and contemplated--nevertheless tended to indeed make something of a habit of interfering and interacting in those affairs, while also managing to keep his activities on the down low as far as his fellow Watchers were concerned.

Inevitably, however, the Watcher's past was bound to catch up with him--and that time comes when Captain Marvel travels to the moon to investigate the activities of the Lunatic Legion. But Mar-vell's real surprise--and ours--comes when he heads to the Watcher's dwelling to gain information on the Legion's whereabouts, only to receive quite a different welcome than he expected.

Naturally, our first instinct would be to suspect that the Watcher is under some form of control, since he should have no clear reason to wish harm to Mar-vell, much less wish his death; but more importantly, given his role, he really shouldn't have even the inclination. Yet we'll find that the Watcher is indeed acting of his own free will. What's going on?

Unfortunately, Mar-vell meets the Watcher at a disadvantage, suffering from the effects of a drug-induced "trip" unknowingly inflicted on him by Rick Jones, the human who has been merged with him and who also suffers the drug's effects at his location in the Negative Zone. And so Mar-vell's resistance to the power of the Watcher is hampered, and short-lived.

Shock follows shock, as we see that the Watcher, however remorsefully, has apparently done the bidding of the Legion--a group of renegade Kree who wish nothing less than Mar-vell's death. What's the story here? Had Mar-vell not been debilitated, would the Watcher have slain him? And why? Whatever the Watcher's motivations, we can all agree that he crosses the line here with malice prépensée--and so this being who has often defied the strict code of his race will finally be called to task, when he at last stands before his fellow Watchers in judgment.

And frankly, it's about time!

But since Mar-vell will play a part in that drama, we should first see to his predicament, since our Kree assassins get right to it and perform a method of execution in use by the Kree for 900 years, designed to destroy both mind and body in order to prevent the victim's brain patterns from reassembling even after reincarnation. (Now that's thinking ahead.)

The story of the Lunatic Legion has been dealt with in detail in an earlier PPC post; suffice to say that, thanks to the three-hour limit that restricts the amount of time that Mar-vell can exist in our universe, the execution is aborted by the sudden appearance of Rick in the device, leading to Mar-vell eventually being able to turn the tables on his captors.

Yet that still leaves the issue with the Watcher--who, this time, responds differently to the entreaties of those he previously aided.

And after three simple words -- "I am... unworthy." -- the device the Watcher activates fires a bolt of energy into space; and what follows will enable both Mar-vell and Rick to be witness to a forum that, in our Watcher's case, has seldom if ever needed to be convened.

Thank heaven Rick's Denver concert was four days off--otherwise, who knows what fate would have befallen the Watcher. </sarcasm>

Whatever part Mar-vell hoped to play in the Watcher's situation, however, is rejected by those who insist that what is to come is for their eyes alone. But as Mar-vell and Rick muse on their escape from their forced stasis, they conceive of a way that may, and does, lead to their freedom at last from the circumstances of being trapped in each other's lives.

After Mar-vell deals with an unexpected attack from a "rackcat," an antlered and highly evolved beast that also inhabits this world, he and Rick head to the arena where the Watcher stands in judgment. What follows from the "prosecution" serves as a capsulized history of the Watcher for the uninitiated, all of which certainly seems to make a more than adequate case for his guilt. (And that just takes us as far as 1975, folks.)

This case seems open and shut at this point; but Mar-vell no sooner begins his defense when the rackcat, called Mad-Eye, manages to track him down and attack him on sight, while a young Watcher named Aron (good lord, it's not the same one, is it?) has watched their entire encounter from the beginning and followed it to its apparent conclusion.

Mar-vell is the equivalent of a "public defender" in this matter, and a green one--especially as he was well on his way to making Emnu's case for him. For example, the Watchers' oath to never take an active role in the affairs of those beings they observe comes from their first attempt to do so, resulting in the mutual annihilation of those they sought to help--and so Mar-vell's point about how the Watcher's interference has always aided Earth probably resulted in a lot of shaking heads in that arena, since it could only remind the assembled Watchers of how they had thought their interference was beneficial at first.

Secondly, Mar-vell's suggestion that the Watcher attacked him because he may have thought Mar-vell was an intruder is pure baloney. While the Legion held Mar-vell captive, they shared with him the fact that, upon their arrival, the Watcher welcomed and aided them after hearing their plans for their unsuspecting victim--i.e., there was no misassumption at all on the Watcher's part regarding Mar-vell's reason for being in his home. And finally, there's Mar-vell's audacity in suggesting to the Watchers en masse that they should all follow the example of the one who has already admitted that he was "not worthy"--which may be tantamount to admission of guilt in the Watcher's case.

As for the crisis at hand--will the Watcher do as Rick pleads, and step in to save Mar-vell's life? Well, we still haven't received an explanation of why the Watcher wanted to kill him himself, so perhaps his answer isn't surprising--though with the eyes and ears of every Watcher in the arena upon him, it's made to seem as if his refusal stems from wanting to prove to his peers that he's learned his lesson.

Yet after dealing with Mad-Eye, it seems Mar-vell hasn't learned his, as he advocates more strongly than ever for all of the Watchers to put aside their misgivings and fears and step in to help those races who are clearly in need of it. Thank goodness there are saner minds at hand--especially when Mar-vell need only look to the fallibility of our own Watcher to see how the path he proposes can lead to taking action that once seemed inconceivable.

As for Mar-vell, he feels pretty good about losing, since the rejection of his argument in this case translates to absolution and a reprieve as far as whatever consequences the Watcher might have faced without his participation. But I hope someone will explain to me the witticism intended in this story's final panels, because Mar-vell is obviously quicker on the uptake than your humble host as to why he feels his final words on the subject are amusing.

Gee, Mar-vell, it's no wonder all the points you made in this trial fell flat.

(This post covers the events presented in Captain Marvel #s 37-39.)


George Chambers said...

I have two possible answers to the last-panel "witticism".

1) We Earthlings don't understand Kree humor;

or 2) The Marvel Method strikes again! Presented with the pencilled and inked last page, Englehart had to come up with something witty and appropriate for the grinning-like-a-fool Mar-Vell to say, and fell short. Maybe it was a tight deadline.

Tiboldt said...

As the Watcher, Uatu has one job... and he constantly gets it wrong!

I don't want to big-up Earth - I'm a bit biased towards it - but it must be one of the more exciting planets to watch and the waiting list for assignment to it is likely to be very long. Uatu the Watcher messed up? Okay, promote Reg the Watcher into his place and send Uatu somewhere less interesting, like the DC universe.

Big Murr said...

I always translated that last panel as: the Watchers do nothing but bear Official Witness. And, in the full spirit of every TV court trial, a witness has to tell nothing but the truth. So, what Uatu says he'll do, he'll do.

That does not explain the smirk on Mar-Vell's face, though.

I don't know if your cynicism is warranted about the Watcher, CF. After this trial, it is my impression that Uatu toed the Watcher line much harder, failing in his oath far fewer times. But, I could be wrong. I certainly never tried to count a) his appearances and then b) infractions after this trial. It has to have been less than his constant mucking-in pre-trial.

lordjim6 said...

Didn’t the Watcher directly chat up the Hulk and let him take a sphere of ultimate knowledge thingy from his moon base on behalf of the Leader? It was in the Tales to Astonish phase, so it had to predate this trial by a wide margin. Plus, it directly lead to the Leader’s death at the end of the issue, so you’d think it would be perfect for the prosecution to bring up. Do I get a no prize for remembering a story Englehart clearly didn’t?

Anonymous said...

"You're certain, Rick? What about your concert in Denver?"
Looks like the people of Denver might have had a narrow escape there...


Comicsfan said...

Tiboldt, that's quite a good point of the Watchers simply relieving Uatu of his post and giving him, oh, a desk job. Archiving all the observation reports from all the other Watchers should certainly keep him busy and out of trouble.

George, I suppose we'll have to assume Rick understood Mar-vell's humorous remark, though that's not saying much, is it? Since this isn't the first time Englehart's dialog has made me react in bemusement, however, I'd have to say there may indeed be some merit in your second point.

Murray, you're quite right about the Watcher making a determined effort to stick to his vow--the operative word being "effort," since he could have easily watched the events in question without making his presence known. (The incidences which come to mind off the top of my head are the two-part WWII story that spanned the 1976 annuals for both Fantastic Four and Marvel Two-In-One, while using Christmas Day to justify his interference in an '83 story featuring Spider-Man.)

lordjim6, excellent recall! And it's funny you mention it, since I'd only yesterday put the finishing touches on a PPC post that will feature that very story. (Look for it to be tucked away in a Marvel Trivia Question scheduled to post in a few weeks.) I suspect that Englehart omitted that incident to avoid dealing with one or two issues that called into question the very oath of noninterference that Uatu is being called to task for violating--specifically, that oath's ironclad nature being indirectly responsible for the Ultimate Machine's use in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Rick is now free to resume his musical career. But will the Watcher stand idly by and let this cosmic catastrophe occur? Or will he be tempted to act for the good of Earth and kill Rick?


Anonymous said...

Kill Rick? Some might think that a bit harsh M.P., but its the only way to be sure.


Eric said...

I had the last issue of this story arc way back when. Comics were only available in spin racks at the local K-Mart, and I wasn't old enough to drive myself. Plus, K-Mart wasn't going to care if they maintained steady title collections. Comics were only bought by kids with their parents' money. So, I had no idea what happened previously.

After 45+ years, I just happened to reminisce and Googled "Trial of the Watcher" today. I finally know what the whole story was about, and I appreciate you posting the summation.

As for Mar-Vell's comment at the end, I remember thinking the Watcher race was so far advanced above humans, their non-interference code was endemic to their means of self-governing. Oatu however, strayed and needed an intervention from his kinsmen. He had been pushing the envelope inch by inch, much like when a dieter has a "cheat day" that starts to occur more frequently. It may seem infeasible to us humans that any species can self-govern, because we're painfully aware of our own shortcomings, but the Watchers are a much older race and developed different standards. Oatu's transgression was the equivalent of a human constantly farting at the dinner table and thinking no one hears it. It didn't mean he was incapable of doing his job.

Comicsfan said...

sean, an excellent shout-out to "Aliens"--bravo!

Eric, some insightful thoughts--particularly the comment on Uatu needing what we terrans call an intervention, which precisely hits the mark. I'd disagree, however, that his "transgression... didn't mean he was incapable of doing his job." For one thing, his behavior consisted of a number of transgressions, which were evidence of a disturbing pattern of disregard for his race's credo for which Uatu needed to be called on the carpet. A Watcher, as we understand it, has two responsibilities that go hand-in-hand: to observe the races and crucial events which make up the universe, and to never interfere or otherwise become involved in what they cast their gaze upon. The very fact that Uatu transgressed so frequently meant that he indeed wasn't capable of reliably exercising his responsibilities.

The outcome of this trial, frankly, had me shaking my head at Uatu's statement that he had learned his lesson and that such behavior on his part would not reoccur. That would translate to no Earth super-beings ever again seeing the Watcher appear in their midst--a favorable development for Uatu's fellow Watchers, to be sure, but a rather dubious edict for Englehart to propose considering how useful a character Marvel writers have found Uatu to be in stories. ;)