Uatu, this isn’t your life—but rather, an alternate Fantastic Four’s—in Reckoning War: Trial of the Watcher #1.
Reckoning War is an event storyline currently happening in the pages of Fantastic Four, bringing them and several other key characters into an intergalactic conflict that’s been years in the making. (Seriously, writer Dan Slott has been alluding to it since this issue of She-Hulk from 2004. Long game stuff.) With the moon blown up and The Watchers in crisis, thanks to the events of the alpha issue, Uatu has been cornered by his fellow Watchers and is facing trial for breaking their vow of non-interference countless times in the past. You know what they say about good intentions, right? The road to hell is paved with them, and Uatu is that road’s bricklayer.
But you don’t really need to be aware of the overall context in order to follow along with this tie-in, because it’s mostly a stealth issue of What If? with a killer premise: What if Uatu the Watcher minded his own damn business? Or more specifically, what if Uatu the Watcher didn’t try to prevent the first coming of Galactus? As we find out here, that one transgression many, many years ago irreparably altered the trajectory of the Marvel Universe—and perhaps not in the way he intended or expected.
Trial of the Watcher works as well as it does because it uses the event tie-in as a framing device for what is, essentially, a tangential story that also informs what’s happening in the main narrative. It’s a well-trodden joke among Marvel fans that Uatu is actually pretty damn bad at his job in any universe (see: Disney+’s animated What If? series), so this issue’s focus on how his carelessness has arguably done more harm than good to Earth makes for a satisfying read. I’m always a sucker for hypothetical universes and alternate timelines, and that’s what this issue is all about. By changing one detail in a story, an entirely different outcome could have happened, and maybe it would’ve actually been better than the reality that did occur.
But as readable as Slott’s script is, what really takes Trial of the Watcher over the top is Javier Rodríguez’s killer art. I’m not saying anything new with this statement, but Rodríguez is easily one of Marvel’s top creators at the moment. I’ve more or less checked out everything he’s drawn since his Spider-Woman run, and he continues to deliver great retro-esque visuals (appropriately fitting the set time period here) with inventive layouts, vibrant colors, and a knack for classic superhero action. But he also really pays attention to little details that might go overlooked in favor of the flashier stuff, such as the first appearance of Galactus in this issue–which emphasizes his massive size by having his head protrude off the top of the page while his calves barely meet the F4 at eye level. If a solid “what if?” story isn’t enough to grab your attention, then at least give it a try for the fantastic art of this issue.