The following will contain spoilers for the latest episode of What If… so stop reading now if you do not want to know any details.
One of the loudest and most consistent criticisms leveled at MCU Spider-Man is that there hasn’t been a mention of Peter’s Uncle Ben. Any casual Spider-Man fan knows that Uncle Ben’s death was the catalyst for Peter to learn the harsh truth that with great power comes great responsibility. The writers behind Captain America: Civil War didn’t want to include the character’s origin story again (understandably), and a line in Spider-Man: Homecoming references “everything that’s happened with her,” but no specific mention of a tragic loss.
Well, we finally have confirmation that MCU Spider-Man did lose his Uncle Ben. Only, the confirmation comes with its own touch of confusion. The line arrives in the latest episode of the animated Marvel Studios series What If… on Disney+. In this particularly bizarre episode, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) plummets down from the galaxies and lands in the Sanctum Sanctorum to warn The Avengers about the arrival of Thanos. Only, the Earth that Hulk returns to has been overrun by zombies. There was an outbreak, caused by Janet Van Dyne in the quantum realm. It’s a whole thing.
During a down moment, Peter is asked by an infected Hope Van Dyne how he stays so positive in the face of adversity. And Peter rattles off the number of people he has lost in the world, mentioning his mom, how dad, Mr. Stark… and Uncle Ben. Dead Uncle Ben, confirmed! We can all rest now, Spider-Man stans. The MCU version of Peter Parker definitely lost his Uncle Ben.
Or did he? Here’s where the confusion sets in. These What If… stories are alternate realities, and not what happens on the bit we now refer to as The Sacred Timeline. There are variations to our truth, like most of The Avengers turning into undead flesh eaters. So, the Peter Parker on THIS timeline lost his uncle. That doesn’t guarantee that the Peter Parker played by Tom Holland in movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home lost his Uncle Ben. There was that nod to Uncle Ben’s initials on the suitcase that Peter brought with him to Europe.
Then again, neither Peter (Tom Holland) nor May (Marisa Tomei) seemed all that bothered by the fact that luggage that once belonged to Ben was destroyed by Mysterio. It’s played for a laugh. Here’s what I think. I think Peter Parker on the Sacred Timeline lost his Uncle Ben. It’s too significant of a touchstone for the character for Marvel Studios to just overlook it. At the same time, because of the Sam Raimi and Marc Webb movies, they felt like they didn’t need to go over that ground anymore. The What If… line no doubt is an attempt to clarify the loss. But because of Multiverse madness, it’s still a little confusing.
Maybe everything will become crystal clear when Spider-Man: No Way Home arrives in theaters. While you wait, surf our guide to all of the upcoming Marvel Studios television shows that are coming to Disney+ in the months to come.
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Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. Sean created ReelBlend, which he proudly cohosts with Jake Hamilton and Kevin McCarthy. And he's the author of RELEASE THE SNYDER CUT, the Spider-Man history book WITH GREAT POWER, and an upcoming book about Bruce Willis.