What If...? just named a key Spider-Man character in the MCU for the first time

A promotional image for Marvel's What If...? on Disney Plus
(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Spoilers follow for What If...? episode 5.

What If...? episode 5, the latest entry in Marvel's animated Disney Plus show, has done something that other MCU productions have failed to do.

More specifically, the fifth instalment in What If...? mentioned a key Spider-Man character five years after the webslinger's introduction to the MCU (thanks, GamesRadar).

About halfway through episode 5 – a story that introduces the Marvel Zombies comic series to the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse (MCM) – Peter Parker finally makes reference to a particular loved one. You can probably guess who it is but, if you don't want the surprise spoiled for you, turn back now as we're heading into major spoiler territory.

As the remaining Avengers travel to a city where a zombie cure has reportedly been found, Spider-Man mentions Uncle Ben as he gives a speech to Hope Van Dyne.

Asked by Van Dyne how he stays so positive, Peter replies: "Practice, I guess. My mom, dad, Uncle Ben, Mr. Stark… I’ve lost a lot. But my Aunt May says 'If we don’t keep smiling when they can’t, then we might as well be gone too.'"

Unsurprisingly, Marvel fans have taken to social media to express their relief that Uncle Ben has belatedly been mentioned in the MCU. It's about time, really.

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Analysis: Uncle Ben's appearance in What If...? is significant for the MCU

Tom Holland as Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming

(Image credit: Marvel Studios/Sony)

Spider-Man's mention of Uncle Ben is the first time that the character has been discussed in the MCU. So while his name is only part of the list that Peter rattles off, it's still a momentous occasion for Marvel fans.

The only other MCU reference to Uncle Ben came in Spider-Man: Far From Home. In his second Marvel solo movie, Peter (Tom Holland) uses Uncle Ben's old suitcase during his European trip but, until now, the character hasn't been mentioned by name.

That has left some Marvel fans aggrieved. Sure, we didn't get (or even need) Spidey's origin story to be told, for the third time in 20 years, as part of his MCU arc. Audiences know what happens to Uncle Ben before Peter Parker truly becomes Spider-Man, so we didn't have to retread old ground.

Even so, it would have been fitting to hear the character mentioned before now. Uncle Ben has had a far more prominent role in live-action Spider-Man projects than his comic book counterpart, but a name drop here or there wouldn't have gone amiss.

That's what makes his appearance in What If...? so important. The series' showrunners have confirmed (per IGN) that events in the show are canon in the MCU, even though they occur in alternate universes to the main timeline. So that offers confirmation (if you even needed it) that Uncle Ben existed in the MCU before Spider-Man's introduction in Captain America: Civil War. 

Now he's been mentioned in Marvel's animated series, there's every chance that Holland's iteration of the wallcrawler may discuss him in some capacity in No Way Home. Given that Spider-Man's third solo movie could be his most emotional yet, it would be the perfect opportunity to finally mention Uncle Ben in a live-action MCU production – especially if other Spider-Men are part of the mix, as is rumored.

Senior Entertainment Reporter

As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot.

Away from work, Tom can be found checking out the latest video games, immersing himself in his favorite sporting pastime of football, reading the many unread books on his shelf, staying fit at the gym, and petting every dog he comes across.

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