Stan Lee is a living legend, and the creator of some of the greatest superheroes the world has ever seen. Fittingly, there's a tradition of ensuring that he cameos in as many Marvel movies as he can, and Stan Lee's clearly loving his newfound movie career.
This year, though, everything changed for Stan Lee. #GuardiansOfTheGalaxy2 revealed that he's actually playing a single character in the #MCU — a mysterious being known as the Watcher's Informant. This figure seems to transcend time and space, having witnessed key events from various Earths in the Marvel cinematic multiverse. Fans have struggled in vain to work out if the Informant could actually be based on a comic book character, with the most popular theory suggesting that he is the One Above All.
Purely in the interests of fun, I've taken a look through the Informant's cameos across history — from The Trial of the Incredible Hulk to the present day. Let's see what we can work out about this character!
Why The Watchers Need Informants
In the comics, the Watchers are a cosmic race who are sworn observers; they take an oath of non-interference, although some Watchers treat that oath a little more liberally than others. The Earth's Watcher is a being known as Uatu, and (until his death in 2014's 'Original Sin' event) he became something of a joke. Superheroes would look up to see a giant bald alien suddenly watching them, and would realize straightaway that whatever was going on was important. After all, the Watcher had turned up! Far from not interfering, the Watcher's very presence ensured heroes understood the stakes.
In contrast, it seems that the film version of the Watchers happily use informants — agents who they scatter across time and space. By using a human (or, perhaps, a humanoid), the Watchers avoid the problem of tampering with events with their very presence. They receive first-hand accounts from their informants, and the worlds go on turning, without the Watchers' interference.
Having established why the Watchers use informants, what can we deduce about Stan Lee's character?
1. The Informant Is Not Bound By Time
James Gunn was a little embarrassed by the Stan Lee cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, admitting he made a slight mistake; the film is set in 2014, but the Watcher's Informant refers to Captain America: Civil War. Out-of-universe, it was a mistake. In-universe, though, it's just the latest hint that this mysterious Informant transcends time and space.
Stan Lee has been making movie cameos since 1989's The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, appearing in pretty much any #Marvel movie franchise going. He's cropped up in the X-Men films, the Spider-Man movies, and even (if we choose to include animations) Big Hero 6. Even Captain America: The First Avenger — set during the First World War — featured a Stan Lee cameo, suggesting that he either exists outside of time or doesn't age in the normal way. James Gunn's continuity error is easily explained from an in-universe perspective.
2. The Informant Actually Appears To Be Human
While the Watcher's Informant transcends time and space, he actually appears to be human. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Stan Lee's character needs to wear a spacesuit, and he's dependent on the Watchers giving him a lift back to (we presume) Earth.
More interesting, though, is the cameo in The Incredible Hulk. Here, early on in the film, the Watcher's Informant unwittingly drinks Gamma-irradiated juice, and has a pretty strong reaction. We know he wound up hospitalized, and reports of the Gamma poisoning reached General Thunderbolt Ross. So we can presume that the Informant wound up undergoing some pretty exhaustive medical tests and treatments, and yet wasn't pegged as a non-human.
3. The Informant Embeds Himself In Different Realities
While most of the cameos have suggested the Informant has just been a bystander, a few of his appearances have also hinted at a life on earth beyond doing the Watchers' bidding. This is most notable in Fantastic Four, where the Informant has taken up the role of Willie Lumpkin — the Fantastic Four's postman. In Big Hero 6, he'd settled down with a family and in X-Men: Apocalypse, we saw him with his wife (in a beautiful touch, that part was played by Stan Lee's wife, Joan).
4. The Informant Likes The Ladies
Watch the cameos carefully, and you can't help realizing that the Informant has something of an eye for the ladies. It's even caused comment on occasion, with Rocket spotting him chatting up a Xandarian woman. Over in Deadpool, of course, the Informant wound up working in a strip club!
5. For A Watcher's Informant, He Can Be Pretty Unobservant!
The Watcher's Informant seems drawn near to the action without quite knowing what's going on, and as a result, he's often taken by surprise. Sometimes, he even misses it completely!
Take, for example, Doctor Strange. The Informant is happily settled reading a book while sorcerers battle around him in another dimension. Or, most entertainingly, check out The Amazing Spider-Man — where he's listening to music while Spider-Man and the Lizard duke it out in the background! I can just picture his report: "And when I went back into the classroom, the place was trashed!"
6. The Informant's Not Bound By Laws Of Non-Interference
The Watchers don't seem to mind that their Informant actually gets stuck in. After all, in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, Stan Lee's character was actually a jury member (hardly a role that's ideal for non-interference). More recently, it was the Informant's Gamma-poisoning that tipped General Ross off to Bruce Banner's location in The Incredible Hulk. The Informant's presence literally kicked off that whole sequence of events!
7. The Informant's Protective (Especially Of Peter Parker)
The Informant may be there to observe, but every now and then, he meddles in a pretty sweet way. That's most visible in the Spider-Man films; take Spider-Man 2, where he quietly intervenes to save a bystander.
Stan Lee's character seems pretty fond of Peter Parker, no matter what reality the webhead is in. In both Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, he's on-hand for key moments, and delivers quick moral lessons.
8. The Informant Has A Sense Of Humor
Given the character's role as an Informant, we can assume some of these cameos are deliberate expressions of his wit. Take The Avengers, where he quips about the absurd idea of superheroes in New York. Or, of course, Captain America: Civil War, where he delivers a parcel for "Tony Stank!"
9. The Informant Actually Does Use The Name 'Stan Lee'
And here's the last surreal, entertaining fact; the Informant got turned away from the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm in Fantastic Four 2! There, he had a wedding invite in the name of "Stan Lee." It's actually a reproduction of a classic tongue-in-cheek scene over in the comics, giving that scene an added layer of humor that many fans didn't spot.
That's all we can know so far about this mysterious Watcher's Informant. Naturally, the scene was actually meant as a bit of fun for the fans, and this post has been written in the same vein of humor. Personally, I admit that I love the idea of the vast Marvel multiverse being bound together by the Stan Lee cameos, so I can't praise James Gunn enough for pushing this idea!