Friday, July 12, 2019

Who Watches The Watcher

Longtime Marvel readers who happened to take a look at the recent PPC post on the Trial of the Watcher may have recognized the names of both Emnu, who presided over those proceedings, and Ikor, who was mentioned in exclamation following the return of Uatu, our solar system's Watcher, to their world to account for his recent behavior against Captain Marvel. While obviously more alarmed at Uatu's outright aggression toward Mar-vell, Emnu had also presented a brief history of Uatu's many infractions regarding their race's solemn vow never to interfere in the affairs of those they observe--a promise that Emnu is all too familiar with, given that he was present at the time it was made (along with Uatu himself and Uatu's father, Ikor).

Much has been made of the Watchers' universal task over the course of Marvel's countless tales throughout its publication history--and how ironic it must be that their "spokesman" (as long ago appointed by Stan Lee) has been the one Watcher who has made a habit of side-stepping that vow, considering that it was he and his father who had seen first-hand the folly of such interference. And so it seems appropriate to retrace their steps and bring to light Lee's origin for the character, a backup feature to the 1968 Silver Surfer #1 which reveals why those who became "Watchers" took up that role, and where we learn that the race of Watchers is not only from another galaxy, but also incredibly old--arguably old enough to know better.

And yet our first stop is present-day Earth, where Uatu (a name that wouldn't see print for some time) is observing the drama of life and death that all too often transpires in a mortal operating room, while fully admitting that it's within his power to preserve the life of the patient whose doctors are helpless to save.

The Watcher's musings then take us back to a moment in time when his people* began to take more of an interest in other civilizations than simple curiosity or exploration called for--an interest that would be influenced by ego, as well as a touch of arrogance.

*Though we would later come to know this race as "the Watchers," simple narrative makes up for the fact that at this point, their race's beginnings were so ancient that the knowledge of their own history--including whatever name they'd called themselves as a race--was lost to them. That appears to be by design on Lee's part, presumably in order to establish the foundation for a race of "Watchers" whose role in the universe is self-explanatory.

It's interesting to note that for all their power, the Watchers, like Galactus, the Celestials, and the Stranger, have a dependence on technology to accomplish certain tasks and objectives, such as transportation or means of study--which is a clever way to set them apart and has helped to avoid lumping them in with those who have been presented as gods or the like (though some nevertheless think of the Celestials as "space gods"). We've never seen our Watcher making a point to expose himself to "delta rays," nor has he ever seem preoccupied with doing so; but if Galactus must drain the life force from whole planets for survival, surely the Watchers think of this means of energy sustenance as trifling by comparison.

We've learned in this exchange that both Ikor and Uatu are strong proponents for their race reaching out to contact lesser beings and offer to improve their way of life; but there is also the possibility of adulation and even reverence on the part of those whose lives they improve that spurs these beings onward, while never once considering the consequences of their actions. For how can a world hold anything but gratitude for those so selfless?

As we'll see, however, our envoy of four would learn quickly how grievously mistaken they had been to offer unbridled generosity to those not ready to receive it.

Though obviously a hardliner when it comes to avoiding contact with other species, Emnu's concern in this case turns out to be well-founded, as those they left to master their technology eventually begin to embrace its other uses, as they fall prey to ambition, to paranoia... and to aggression, on a scale that is almost unimaginable.

With two worlds paying the price for their ignorance and ill-considered agenda, the lesson learned by these four is returned to their world and results in the formation of and adherence to a vow that would regard the destinies of other species in the universe as sacrosanct--a vow that Uatu, having personally witnessed the aftermath of this holocaust, appears to have a great deal of difficulty upholding when it comes to those indigenous to Earth. Perhaps he's simply become weary of watching us stumbling about on our own for so long and still making a mess of things? Even Emnu would find it hard to dispute that.


Colin Jones said...

"...while the Milky Way itself was still a' borning"...

...a' borning?? Stan Lee loved using absurdly pompous dialogue to indicate supposed nobility :D

And I love how the Watchers can't land on Prosilicus for many months due to the deadly radiation caused by the nuclear holocaust but when they finally do land they immediately encounter a Prosilican who conveniently crawls from the ruins of his civilization to chastise them for their meddling. How did he survive all those months? I assume the unfortunate wretch immediately expired after delivering his message.

Rick said...

Lee's typical overwrought writing. But Colan brought some real majesty to his version of the Watcher.

Comicsfan said...

And I think that rubble was still sizzling, too, Colin! Hardy species, those Prosilicans.

n8brooklyn said...

Upon a recent re-reading of Silver Surfer V1 #1, I couldn't help but notice the parallels between the Zenn-Lavians and the Watchers. Zenn-La has "achieved the perfection that all others dream of." The Watchers "possessed knowledge beyond measure, treasures beyond description." The key difference is that one bald alien race was content with what they had achieved and had no desire to search for more and the other bald alien race "lacked the blessing of contentment."

Right after introducing us to the people of Zenn-La, Lee shows us a parallel version of the same planet. Only on this planet, the Norrin Radds are the majority. Be careful what you wish for, maybe?

Only recently found this blog and just have to compliment you on your scholarly approach to writing these articles. It's amazing how much thought (and life!) you've put into these old super-hero yarns. Keep up the good work. I've got a lot of catching up to do!

Comicsfan said...

n8brooklyn, my heartfelt thanks. The PPC is quite a lot of fun to write, and I'm glad it shows. :D

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