By Steve Morris
The Watcher is going to die. I’m reading the trade collection of “Original Sin” and that’s one thing I know before even turning the first page: Uatu is going to die. It’s on the cover, y’see, so everybody reading this book knows that he’s going to become an ex-Watcher, and there’s no two ways about it, pal. So for the trade edition to begin with a #0 issue called “who is the Watcher?” feels a bit like Marvel giving Uatu a backstory just so we’ll all feel bad when he dies. Are we ready for an emotional origin story for the giant bald dude who lives on the Moon? We’ll have to find out.
Operation Make People Like Uatu starts off by giving him a new friend of sorts, in the form of the current Nova, Sam Alexander. Nova’s interest in the Watcher doesn’t make a whole heap of sense beyond the idea that Sam is a young kid, naturally quite curious, and so maybe he simply saw this weird bald guy living on the moon and wondered what was going on. It’s fairly understandable from that perspective, and it’s fun to see new generations of superhero get confused by the prior generation’s rules and lore. It’s a bit like when new readers find out about Uatu and go on a hunt through Wikipedia to work out his backstory – Nova does much the same thing here.
His interest in the Watcher is basically what spurs on this issue, and gives writer Mark Waid the opportunity to do a compare and contrast on their respective daddy issues. Because, yes: daddy issues are here, shocker. The Marvel universe is littered with them, and now we get to find out that Uatu is yet another character who has been utterly shaped by his father’s decisions. So is Sam, as we find out at the start of the issue, and it quickly becomes clear that Waid wants readers to compare and contrast the two.
Nova starts the issue off by fighting something called ‘Tomazooma’, a sleeping deity (in its own words) which is awoken by people drilling in sacred lands. Nova makes fun of its name, calls it a monster repeatedly, and happily destroys it when he realises it’s a robot. Never mind that maybe he should take a look at that whole situation and approach it a little differently… Sam instead happily wades right in; decides there’s a hero and a villain, and destroys the villain as soon as he has the chance. He makes some very quick and perhaps juvenile assumptions here.
By comparison, in the backstory we find that Uatu’s father advocated for the Watchers to intervene in other worlds and give them technology to advance their own futures. They try it out on one world, and things seem to go well – but then as soon as their backs turn, the people of that world use the technology to wage war on each other and destroy their planet. Uatu’s father declares they must never again intervene, and instead can only watch the advancement of the galaxy. Uatu spends his time looking at every possibility and outcome, hoping to find some alternate universe where his father’s initial advocated dream was proven to be right.
In one corner: an old and weary non-combatant. In the other corner: a young and reckless fighter. Whilst the bad example of Sam’s father has pushed Sam to be an impulsive and glory-hunting hero; Uatu is still trying to prove that his father was right and his life hadn’t been in vain. It’s interesting, and does give Uatu a motivation – a fairly cliched, predictable one, if you read the issue, but at least it’s a motivation and backstory which fits together fairly well for him.
What’s curious is that the story doesn’t actually give us much from Uatu himself. Because this is about daddy issues, Uatu’s father is the active character here, with Uatu left standing in the background and reacting to everything. Which, you’ll note, is pretty much what he does now, too. It’s a standard choice to give a character some kind of issue with his father which affects them to this day – but doing it in this story actively stops Uatu from having a dynamic arc of his own and leaves him a side-character in his own penultimate issue.
His last act is to talk for the first time in years – his first active, dynamic move – and tells Sam that his father is still alive. Nova, in celebration, flies off immediately without saying goodbye or considering what just happened. It’s a strange and somewhat anticlimactic moment which just emphasises how this wasn’t really the best backstory in order to get readers to root for their ol’ pal Uatu.
Daddy issues are a common, multiversal issue over at Marvel – they’re also phenomenally stale by this point. Do they make us like and care about Uatu, scant moments before we’ll find his dead body?
Not… really. Sorry pal. You were a bit more interesting back when you were just a mysterious and non-interfering cloaked dude living on the Moon.
Original Sin #0
Written by Mark Waid
Pencilled by Jim Cheung and Paco Medina
Inked by Mark Morales, Guillermo Ortego, Dave Meikis, Juan Viasco and Jim Cheung
Coloured by Justin Ponsor
Lettered by Chris Eliopoulos
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.