When Disney announced the 2021 debut of its animated What If...? series starring Jeffrey Wright as the voice of Uatu the Watcher, the responses mainly fell into two camps: those greatly enthused by the prospect and those wondering things like “Who is The Watcher?” and “What is the Watcher watching?”
Having made his comic book debut in April 1963’s Fantastic Four #13, Uatu the Watcher has a longer character history than most - an indicator of his ultimate cosmic importance. There are few figures in the Marvel Universe as ancient or as wise as Uatu and his fellow Watchers, which makes it frustrating that Watchers must take sacred vows of non-interference. Their role in the universe is strictly to observe - a directive Uatu has not always followed.
Uatu belongs to a race of beings known as the Watchers. Though Uatu himself is a relatively young example of their species, the Watchers have been snooping around the Marvel universe for billions of years. They’ve even been acclaimed as the most ancient beings in existence, though that title is disputable.
As far as evidence goes, there are Watchers - including an ancestor of Uatu - who claim to have witnessed the birth of Galactus the Devourer, a being who formed from the remnants of the universe that predates the current 616 universe.
The original name of the Watchers has been lost to time, but their current alias is clearly derived from their mission statement: to observe and record all life in the universe but never interfere. This policy of non-intervention is the result of a hard-learned lesson sometime in the race’s past.
Eons ago, one Watcher - Uatu’s father Ikor - convinced his fellow Watchers that they should lend a less-advanced species some of their knowledge and technology. In a classic sci-fi trope gone wrong, the recipients of Ikor’s generosity almost immediately ended themselves in a nuclear holocaust. This led Ikor to draft a new set of laws and institute a sacred vow to never again interfere with the lives of lesser beings.
The Watchers believe the purpose of their existence is to observe all life in the universe so it can be recorded and catalogued by their wondrous technology. As can be expected, Watchers are born with an array of cosmic powers that render them practically omnipotent and omniscient - though keeping tabs on all of reality is a big enough job that the Watchers still need to divvy it up.
Each Watcher is assigned a solar system to observe and occasionally report on. Their ability to see through time and space allows the Watchers to view alternate dimensions, timelines, and realities relating to their solar system - an attribute that has long been the source of Marvel Comics’ What If…? tales, which feature Uatu as their host.
Though Watchers can view the events of the entire multiverse, it appears that each respective universe has its own unique set of cosmic observers. In other words, Uatu can see each and every alternate version of Spider-Man in existence - but his job is mainly to keep an eye on the “real” one.
Uatu - son of Ikor - takes up the job of observing Earth’s solar system billions of years before humanity has even begun to evolve. Naturally, as homo sapiens - and then, homo superior - start to emerge, Uatu takes a special interest in the planet Earth.
He sets up his observation station in the “Blue Area” of the moon, a location that gives Uatu a degree of both isolation and anonymity. His moonbase contains all manner of Watcher technology, advanced far beyond the capacity of any Earth species. While most of this tech is used for viewing and recording reality, some serve far deadlier purposes.