Uncle Ben is one of the best-known secondary characters in comic books, which is no small feat, given that he’s been dead since the first issue that he appeared in! The benevolent father-figure and mentor to a young Peter Parker, Uncle Ben didn’t live long enough to see his nephew become one of the biggest heroes in the Marvel-verse, but he has always inspired Peter to be the best version of himself that he can be. He has appeared in multiple comics, alternate universes, animated series, and in both live-action Spider-Man franchises to date (where he was played by Martin Sheen and Cliff Robertson).
We all know that he is Aunt May’s husband and that he played a major part in raising the boy who would become the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but did you also know that he was an army-trained carnival barker? That his first appearance wasn’t really his first appearance, or that his best-known phrase isn’t actually his, at all?
Here’s 15 Things You Never Knew About Uncle Ben.
15. He Was A Carnival Barker
Most casual fans think of Uncle Ben as a fairly generic, kindly old man, but he actually has a pretty interesting backstory. In the 1930s, Ben Parker worked as a carnival barker at the amusement park on Coney Island, which we learned from May’s memories of that time. Although she caught Ben’s eye back in high school, she was originally intending to run off with the dastardly Johnny Jerome. When Ben tried to warn her away from Johnny and his criminal activities, she brushed him off as a jealous rival – but luckily, she later discovered for herself what Johnny was up to before things went too far.
After that, May and Ben fell quickly in love, and the rest is comic book history! Ben, of course, didn’t stay as a carnie for much longer, and although he is retired by the time that we meet him in the Marvel universe, he has also worked as a textile worker, a singer, and a salesman over the years.
14. He Has Military Training
In addition to his time on Coney Island, and his later years in textiles, Uncle Ben was also a military man. In The Amazing Spider-Man #516, Peter remembers a time in high school when Ben stood up to a group of bullies who were tormenting an even weaker, geekier student than Peter himself. Here, we learn that Uncle Ben went through basic training, at least, and that even when retired, he was strong and capable enough to use what he learned there to take on four athletic teen boys. Pretty impressive, to say the least!
In The Amazing Spider-Man and Silk: The Spider(fly) Effect, we learn that Ben was in the US Military Police, which explains his army training. It seems that Uncle Ben has certainly had a varied career path! Ben’s ability to use physical force, and his choice not to (most of the time) also adds a little more depth and wisdom to this incredible mentor figure for Peter Parker.
13. He Appeared In Strange Tales First
Although the accepted first appearance of the Uncle Ben that we know and love happened in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15, a character by the same name actually first appeared in the pages of a comic a little bit earlier. Strange Tales #97 included a story titled “Goodbye To Linda Brown”, about a young girl in a wheelchair who lives by the beach and disappears one night (spoiler alert: she turns out to be a mermaid). The short story only involves three characters, Linda herself and her two caregivers: Uncle Ben and Aunt May. The two look somewhat similar to Peter Parker’s aunt and uncle, although they aren’t canonically the same people (so no adopted mer-cousin for Spider-Man, sadly!).
12. Doctor Strange Brought Him Back From The Dead
Although Ben is long-dead, he has appeared frequently in flashbacks and memories, and once, he was even returned to Peter, if only for a few moments. After helping Doctor Strange prevent the resurrection of Dormammu, the Sorcerer Supreme handed Peter a box, calling it a birthday gift. Upon opening the tiny golden chest, Peter found a note that read “You have five minutes. Spend them as you will.” Ben appeared in front of him, allowing Peter to have an emotional reunion with his beloved uncle, and to learn that Ben was proud of him for all the good that he has done.
It was never explained just how Ben reappeared – he may have been brought through time from the moments before his death, rather than being technically resurrected, but the hows and whys didn’t matter to Ben or to Peter. Spidey was simply happy to be able to spend just a little more time with his beloved uncle, however it managed to happen.
11. He’s Also Appeared In The Underworld…
Doctor Strange’s birthday gift to Peter isn’t the only time that Ben Parker has reappeared in the Marvel universe (outside of flashbacks, that is). He also made a cameo in the Underworld during the events of Dark Reign (Incredible Hercules #130). Here, he directed Amadeus Cho to find his dead parents in the fields of Elysium. It’s a tiny cameo, but one that is pleasantly reassuring – Uncle Ben is enjoying a little afterlife fishing in paradise, after all.
He appears again as a (possible) ghost in the more recent Amazing Grace storyline, although Peter has some difficulty believing that what he is seeing is actually the real Uncle Ben giving him advice. He’s too busy battling a horde of demons to really give it much thought, either, although when the Ben apparition is attacked by one of Spider-Man’s enemies, he is left baffled by what just happened. In both appearances, Uncle Ben remains the wise old man that we know and love.
10. …But He Will Never Truly Be Resurrected
Death doesn’t mean much in the wonderful world of comics. A huge number of characters have been killed off, and then rebooted, resurrected, or generally returned to continuity in a whole range of different ways. Uncle Ben, however, remains stubbornly dead – and most comic book fans want to see him stay that way.
It used to be said that “No one in comics stays dead except for Uncle Ben, Jason Todd, and Bucky Barnes”. This assertion has since gone out the window, of course, as both Jason Todd (as Red Hood) and Bucky Barnes (as the Winter Soldier) were revived in recent years, leaving Uncle Ben as the most famously, permanently dead character in comics. Much like Thomas and Martha Wayne’s deaths, Uncle Ben’s demise is a vital part of Spider-Man’s origin story and his motivation as a superhero. Many believe that he should remain dead, and stay the beloved mentor that he has always been for Peter Parker – although we have to wonder if Peter is at all frustrated by how frequently other heroes and villains return, while Ben remains in the ground!
9. Or Will He?
Although Uncle Ben has stayed (mostly) dead so far, it looks like that might be changing with the current Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy event. Here, Spider-Man suspects that there is something fishy about the new miracle cures being offered by New U. It turns out that the project is actually being run by his old nemesis, The Jackal, and that Jackal has been creating clones of Peter’s loved ones. It’s a complex, multi-universe story line, and it isn’t over yet.
The latest twists have included the revelation that this Jackal is not Miles Warren, but Peter Parker’s (presumed dead) clone, Ben Reilly, and that Ben wants to bring the original Uncle Ben back to life. We will have to wait and see what happens as the renewed Clone Saga continues, but it’s possible that this could mean the return of Ben Parker, and the confirmation that absolutely no one stays dead in comic books.
8. He’s Still Alive In Alternate Realities
Whether or not Uncle Ben makes an eventual return in the mainstream universe, there are already one or two alternate universes in which he is still around. Ben Parker is very much alive in the alternate House Of M reality, where Peter Parker is initially assumed to be a mutant (and enjoys all the status that comes with that). He’s also appeared in several What If? stories, including one where it was Aunt May who was shot instead of Uncle Ben.
Despite these few living Ben Parkers, even in alternate universes, most Ben Parkers meet a sorry fate. In the pages of Marvel Noir, Uncle Ben is a war veteran and activist murdered by Norman Osborne’s enforcers. In Ultimate Marvel, he is a former hippie who meets his usual end at the hands of a burglar. In Bullet Points, he is a military policeman killed while working as security for Doctor Erskine. Even in alternate realities, it’s rare for Uncle Ben to catch a break!
7. He Didn’t Originally Say “With Great Power…”
One of the most famous (and most often quoted) lines from a Spider-Man comic is the classic “with great power, comes great responsibility”. The line is attributed to Uncle Ben, and in the recent live-action adaptations, we have seen those very words come from Ben Parker’s mouth. However, in the original comic, the iconic line wasn’t actually said at all. Instead, the words appeared in one of the yellow text boxes that provides exposition and narration for the reader.
The full text reads “And a lean, silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come – great responsibility!”. Later stories and flashbacks have since shown Uncle Ben teaching this lesson to Peter Parker, and even quoting it directly at times. Thanks to this, the line is now officially confirmed to have been said to the future web-slinger by Uncle Ben, even if it didn’t start out that way.
6. He Took His Catchphrase From Winston Churchill
Although the classic “With great power…” may now be attributed to Ben Parker within the Marvel universe, it actually can be found in the speeches of great men long before the first appearance of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler. Possibly the earliest similar quote can be found in the Bible, in Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
This sentiment has later been expressed by a range of philosophers and politicians, including a statement from the French National Convention in 1793 (“They must consider that great responsibility follows inseparably from great power”), William Lamb in 1817 (“that the possession of great power necessarily implies great responsibility”), the Reverend John Cumming in 1854 (“wherever there is great power, lofty position, there is great responsibility”) and many others. One of the
5. Spider-Girl Also Has An Uncle Ben
Peter Parker isn’t the only character in the Spider-verse who has an Uncle Ben, although the second Uncle Ben is a little less connected to his niece than Ben Parker was to Peter. Two women have been Spider-Girl in the Marvel universe; Anya Sofia Corazon, who is the Spider-Girl in the mainstream Marvel universe, and May Parker, who is Spider-Girl in the alternate, MC2 universe.
May, the daughter of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, lives in a universe where Peter is no longer Spider-Man, having given up his heroics when he lost a leg battling Green Goblin. When May grows up and develops similar spider powers, she decides to don a similar suit and reclaim her father’s legacy as Spider-Girl. The first costume that she wore originally belonged to Ben Reilly – a clone of Peter Parker, who was Spider-Man himself for a time. As a clone, Ben is sometimes considered as a ‘brother’ to Peter, which makes him an uncle to May – her very own Uncle Ben.
4. Both Uncle Ben Actors Played JFK
Uncle Ben has appeared in both Sony Spider-Man franchises; he was brought to life by Cliff Robertson in the original Sam Raimi trilogy (starring Tobey Maguire) and by Martin Sheen in The Amazing Spider-Man films (starring Andrew Garfield). Both versions of Uncle Ben were quite similar, closely following the comic book character and the classic Peter Parker origin story. Uncle Ben isn’t the only character that both men have portrayed, either. Robertson and Sheen have also taken on the part of John F Kennedy in biographical dramas. Robertson played JFK during his time as a soldier in World War II, in the 1963 feature film
Robertson and Sheen have also taken on the part of John F. Kennedy in biographical dramas. Robertson played JFK during his time as a soldier in World War II in the 1963 feature film PT 109. Sheen, meanwhile, played the icon at a very different time in his life. He starred in the 1983 TV miniseries Kennedy, which takes place from 1961 to 1963, the years when Kennedy was President of the United States. Kennedy is often considered one of the best portrayals of the iconic president, and the series won two BAFTA awards (including one for Sheen as Best Actor) and was also nominated for three Golden Globes.
3. Cliff Robertson Has Appeared In Both Marvel And DC Projects
Despite the longstanding rivalry between these two comic giants (and more often, their fans), there are quite a few actors who have played characters in both Marvel and DC live-action projects. Ben Affleck (Daredevil and Batman V Superman), Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern and Deadpool), Tao Okamoto (The Wolverine and Batman V Superman), Tommy Lee Jones (Batman Forever and Captain America: The First Avenger)…the list goes on. Cliff Robertson is yet another actor who has appeared in both Marvel and DC roles, although he is much better known for his time as Uncle Ben.
Long before he took up the part of Peter Parker’s uncle, however, he played the villainous Shame in the Batman TV series of the ‘60s. Also known as the Conniving Cowboy of Crime, Shame was a stereotypical Western bad guy with a six-shooter and a Stetson who took on Batman in four episodes of the series (and appeared, uncredited, in a fifth).
2. He Won’t Be Appearing In Spider-Man: Homecoming
We’ve already met the latest incarnation of Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), who appeared briefly in Captain America: Civil War last year. We most likely won’t be seeing a new take on Uncle Ben, though — as interesting as it might be to see a younger man to match Tomei’s May. We know that Spider-Man: Homecoming takes place after the events of Civil War, which means that Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has now been the friendly neighborhood hero for several months. Therefore, Uncle Ben has already (presumably) died in the MCU.
It has been confirmed that we’ll be (thankfully) skipping the origin story for this Spider-Man reboot, so it’s not likely that we’ll be revisiting Peter’s recent past. We may, however, see Uncle Ben at some point in a flashback or perhaps in a photo at the Parker home. It’s also highly likely that he will be mentioned by the other characters, just not necessarily seen by the audience.
1. Steve Buscemi Was (Falsely?) Rumored To Be Up For The Part
Spider-Man: Homecoming has certainly spawned its fair share of rumors, but this one has to be one of our favorites (fair warning: it’s also one of the least credible).
For a brief moment of time, a rumor spread that none other than Steve Buscemi was up for the role of Uncle Ben in the MCU, thanks to a tongue-in-cheek tweet being taken a little too seriously. In July of 2015, Jason Clark (associate editor of TV Guide Magazine) tweeted “Also looking forward to Steve Buscemi as Uncle Ben. #spidermeh #makeitstop”. The tweet is a clear joke, and a response to the casting of Marisa Tomei as Aunt May.
However, more than one fan took Clark’s tweet seriously, leading to a mention in multiple comment sections and blogs, with the rumor even making it on to the IMDB trivia page for the upcoming movie. As hilarious as this would be to see (especially with Tomei as Aunt May), we’re pretty confident that this won’t be happening anytime soon.
What else should Spidey fans know about the dearly departed Uncle Ben? Let us know in the comments.