The Watchers are a highly advanced, multi-billion year old race of bobble-heads who show up at major events throughout Marvel’s comic universe. These events often hold dire circumstances on a grand scale, like the destruction of a planet or termination of an entire species. If you see one floating up in the sky, it’s probably a sign to flee–much the same as being visited by the Silver Surfer when he was Galactus’s herald.
To reference a Marvel property with a D.C. themed question: Who watches The Watchers? The other day this thought popped into my head. If The Watchers position themeselves at advantageous positions around the galaxy with the intention of quietly documenting all major events, what is their true, deep-down purpose? Do they exist in a void, all of their hard work for literal naught, or does their information do something? Are these the ultimate voyeurs, hooked on their favourite reality show, or is there an unseen purpose behind such bingeing behaviours? It’s worth noting that they don’t collect everything. Unlike Santa, they aren’t watching whether you’re sleeping or awake. You can rest easy while sitting on the toilet.
One outcome of collecting valuable information would be to intervene when necessary, like with Britain’s Bletchley Park during World War II. The Brits had cracked Germany’s enigma code, but acting on that information in every instance would cause the Germans to realize that their code had been compromised, forcing them to switch to a new system. So that the information stream remained open, British Intelligence understood that they could only share and act on certain things. They would have to sacrifice lives in order to reach bigger scores. In some instances they could reposition a naval group, or beef up defenses of a port before an attack, but they couldn’t blindside the Germans in a way that would make someone wonder if their playbook was being actively read.
The Watchers, prophetically arriving at each event before they happen, have in a way already done this. Their very presence, if seen, can change parts of an outcome. But they do have a strict policy against direct intervention. Only two Watchers made a habit of getting involved throughout their history: Aron the Renegade Watcher, who was intent on destroying the universe, and Uatu, who was eventually ejected from The Watchers for helping the Fantastic Four–warning them about Aron. Despite his good intentions, Uatu broke the non-intervention pact over 400 times. In only one noted instance in their history did the entire Watchers organization insert themselves to halt an event. When Omegex was approaching the Milky Way (intent on obliterating planets), the group took combative action. This seems like a double standard, especially in light of how they treated Uatu when he tried to save the universe, but without reading the issues themselves we’d have a hard time determining why.
Could their reason for watching be purely motivated by the need to document, and not for the benefit of learning, knowledge, or strategic intervention? Think of the Watchers organization from the TV series Highlander, whose mission statement is to scribe the lives of immortals so that their stories aren’t lost to the annals of time. They don’t share said information, for fear of the mayhem it would cause if humanity learned the truth. In Marvel’s case, The Watchers could be working under a similar pretense: record everything simply so that it isn’t lost–the whole “if a tree falls in the forest” shtick. If no one saw it and recorded that memory in some form, it never happened. This type of operation would make sense when it comes to a visit by Galactus. If Galactus consumed your planet, especially as a planet with a race that couldn’t leave its surface and spread throughout the galaxy, there would be no evidence that your world or people ever existed.
A third reason for documenting all major events gets a little weird. There is a bar in the afterlife which hosts Eternals, and its bartender is a cosmic entity named Jack, also known as The Fulcrum. The Fulcrum is the most powerful individual in the Marvel universe, aside from the aptly named: The One Above All. In this case, The Fulcrum heads up many of the oldest organizations, including The Watchers, and so it could be that their compiling services form his leisurely reading materials. Perhaps, through The Watchers, The Fulcrum remains up-to-date on all the happenings of the universe, thus not having to leave his favourite past time. As an all-powerful entity, it wouldn’t be beyond the scope of his powers to be in a multitude of places at once–which brings us to a big question: Who would choose to do all that heavy lifting when you can employ others? The Fulcrum strikes me as a retired spy who still likes to read the happenings of his old line of work. It would be interesting if the watching and transcribing process was an incredibly serious commitment for The Watchers, while on the other end Jack sits in his bar and casually flips through their reports like the latter pages of a newspaper, between filling drinks and lighting cigarettes for Celestials.
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