If you’ve been reading Marvel’s latest summer event series Original Sin, you know that (spoiler alert) the Watcher is dead.
Uatu will no doubt return someday. Until then, I wonder how many Marvel writers are furious. I would be. The Watcher is the perfect cliffhanger. Spider-man: “Hey Shocker, this is just a run-of-the-mill bank heist, right? Wait, is that Uatu in the shimmering haze above the city? Uh oh.”
The Watcher was created by Lee and Kirby for the April 1963 Fantastic Four #13. In the story, the FF essentially win the space race by traveling to the mysterious Blue Area of the moon.
But they are not alone. Hot on their trail are the Soviets in the form of the Red Ghost and a bunch of test subject apes who (when exposed to cosmic radiation) become Super-apes.
On the moon, all parties meet Uatu, who reveals his passive, but commanding presence. He is, as Mark Alexander notes, Kirby’s “first space god.” We were trying to get up there for some reason, right? A lot of weird sixties political stuff happens after that (spoiler: we win), so track down the story. It is also the first FF issue inked by Steve Ditko.
The moon is the real main attraction here. These were big years for the space race, with John Glenn achieving Earth orbit in 1962, thus narrowing the gap with the Russians. In this first appearance, the Watcher is just a symbolic plot device to mediate the Cold War. He is also kind of a spy, providing a big, white moral presence in space. This idea of learning secrets from the air also might hint at the Cuban Missile Crisis of the previous year. Our aerial reconnaissance of Cuba was called Operation Blue Moon.
The Watcher would become a much bigger part of classic FF stories to come.
But the Watcher himself? He’s so Marvel now, but he may have started at DC. A story in the Julie Schwartz-edited Strange Adventures #8 from May 1951 called “Evolution Plus” has some interesting similarities. Written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Bob Oksner, the story featured a scientist named “Ralph Gain” who creates an evolution machine that uses cosmic rays to evolve animals into all sorts of interesting forms.
But Ralph has a jealous friend named Johnny Farrel who accidentally kills his pal Ralph and uses the machine on himself. Ralph doesn’t know what he is doing (it’s science), so he gets transformed into a variety of weird creatures, including this one:
Johnny eventually overloads the machine and turns into a giant amoeba. By the end, he is trapped in one body forever: a gorilla’s.
Now a super-ape, Ralph walks through the city in a fedora and oversized trenchcoat. The first image is from Strange Adventures, the second from FF #1:
Johnny the Gorilla-Man ends up in a zoo, a victim of his own greed. He can still write, albeit poorly.
Strange Adventures #18 is also important to collectors because it is the first gorilla cover, inciting the Ape Craze of the fifties.
Maybe it launched more than that.
Until next time, so long Uatu. We have plenty of memories.
Brad Ricca is the author of Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster – The Creators of Superman, now available in paperback. He also writes the column “Luminous Beings Are We” for StarWars.com. Visit www.super-boys.com and follow @BradJRicca.
NOTE: In case you missed our last, two-part mega-installment about the Dark Knight that ran during the maelstrom of Comic-Con, be sure to catch up on Batman Country here.