There are few more iconic figures in Comicdom than Stan Lee. Over the past few decades, the legendary comic-book writer has successfully transitioned from an often-criticized writer, widely seen as having sold out, into a beloved national treasure.
A big part of that change? His cameos in pretty much every Marvel movie, TV show and animated series over the past twenty years. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're a huge part of the cinematic world of Marvel - and completely separate to the films' plots.
Or are they?
Y'see, there's a fan theory circulating online relating to ol' Stan's cameos, and as it turns out, he might just be playing a far more integral part in the Marvel universe than any of us previously thought...
Why's that, you ask? Well, because...
Stan Lee is The Watcher
Now, as all you hard-core Marvel fans out there will know, The Watcher, also known as Uatu, is an immortal member of an alien race known as the Watchers, who have sworn a strict oath of non-interference in Galactic affairs. Stationed on Earth's moon, he has taken it as his duty to observe all that happens on the planet, without ever interfering.
Which, of course, almost never works out that way.
But, you quite reasonably ask...
What Does That Have To Do With Stan Lee?
Well, y'know all those cameos Stan-the-man is always doing? Every one of those identical elderly men exists within the world of those movies. So, for instance, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he's already been...
A Hugh Hefner-alike playboy/actually Hugh Hefner in Iron Man:
A Hulk blood-poisoned old man in The Incredible Hulk:
A U.S. General in the 1940s in Captain America:
A New Mexico-based pick-up owning dude in Thor:
A curmudgeonly New Yorker in The Avengers:
And, more recently, a beauty pageant judge in Iron Man 3, a care home patient in Thor: The Dark World, a security guard in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and an intergalactic playboy in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Which is to say nothing of his appearances in non-MCU movies, including...
A hot dog vendor in X-Men:
A security guard alongside Lou Ferrigno in Hulk:
Mailman (and real Marvel character) Willie Lumpkin in Fantastic Four:
And a librarian in The Amazing Spider-Man:
All of which suggests...what exactly?
Well, mainly that he couldn't possibly be playing the same character each time - since his appearances span continents, centuries and, most recently, the universe.
So, even if we were to write off the non-MCU appearances as potentially being different characters, since the movies don't create a coherent universe - there's still the MCU sitting there behind them, like a giant, Hulk-shaped elephant in the room.
Marvel have gone to a lot of trouble to create a consistent and unchanging universe and - Hulk and War Machine re-casting aside - they've done just that. So far, if you've been hired in a Marvel movie, you've pretty much got the gig for life (or until you ask for too much money...).
Which means Stan Lee must surely be playing the same character.
But Why The Watcher?
Well, there are two main reasons.
Firstly, Stan is able to appear in multiple eras, and on more than one planet, which means he can't just be a run-of-the-mill shapeshifter like Mystique.
And secondly, the Watcher's whole thing is, as his name suggests, watching. So, Stan's constant stream of passive, non-interfering appearances throughout the Marvel Universe - seemingly appearing wherever a superhero adventure is to be found - gives the distinct impression that he's intentionally keeping track of what they're all doing.
Just like Uatu, The Watcher.
But What About When He DOES Intervene?
Ah, good point. After all, Stan saves a girl's life back in Spider-Man 2:
Which pretty much wrecks his whole non-intervention deal, surely?
It absolutely does - since The Watcher isn't ever supposed to interfere with Earthly affairs.
The thing is, though, he does anyway.
All the time.
In fact, in the comics, his character is basically defined as 'dude who is supposed to just watch, but constantly interferes whenever he thinks it's important'
So, with Stan Lee playing a series of identical observers throughout all kinds of Marvel movies - one who occasionally jumps in to save a life when he thinks it's really important - it's not too hard to imagine that character being The Watcher, appearing in various different guises.
Either that, or Stan's going to turn into Loki during the post-credits scene in [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](movie:293035), and all of our brains are going to simultaneously explode.
What do you guys think? Is Stan Lee The Watcher?