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When We First Met – When Did Uncle Ben First Say “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility?”

by  in Comic News Comment
When We First Met – When Did Uncle Ben First Say “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility?”

In this feature we spotlight the various characters, phrases, objects or events that eventually became notable parts of comic lore, like the first time someone said, “Avengers Assemble!” or the first appearance of Batman’s giant penny or the first appearance of Alfred Pennyworth or the first time Spider-Man’s face was shown half-Spidey/half-Peter. Stuff like that. Here is an archive of all the When We First Met features so far! Check ’em out!

Today we look at the first time that Uncle Ben was given credit for telling Peter Parker that “with great power comes great responsibility.”

As I wrote in a Comic Book Legends Revealed many moons ago (so long ago the column was still called Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed), Peter Parker’s famous lesson from the death of his Uncle Ben (who was murdered by a burglar that Peter had earlier gotten past him because he felt it wasn’t his duty to help capture him) was that with great power comes great responsibility, but it was a lesson left in a CAPTION, not from anyone specifically telling him that.

Really, in the early days of Spider-Man, it was more a matter of him being driven by the guilt of what happened to Uncle Ben more than a specific sense of responsibility.

From the first Amazing Spider-Man Annual (by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee)…

From the famous Amazing Spider-Man #33 (by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee)….

Even when Ditko left, here, from Amazing Spider-Man #50 (by Stan Lee, John Romita and Mike Esposito)…

Amazingly enough, by the time Stan Lee’s initial run on Amazing Spider-Man ended, Lee had even moved Peter’s central moral figure more or less to Captain George Stacy. Check out Peter’s dream in Amazing Spider-Man #100…

However, in 1972, we got the first actual mention of Uncle Ben telling Peter that famous phrase and it was in, of all places, a Spider-Man “RockComic” album from producer Ron Dante (the mind behind the Archies). Check it out…

Peter Parker is played by the great Rene Auberjonois! How awesome is that? Thanks to commenter Scott H. for the heads up about the RockComic!

But even after that album, it didn’t really work its way into the comics. In Amazing Spider-Man #181, Marv Wolfman wrote a flashback issue and doesn’t have Spidey learn the lesson from Uncle Ben.

In Amazing Spider-Man #200, once again Wolfman looks back at Spidey’s past, but once again the lesson is learned in a caption…

Here’s where it gets tricky. We’re so far into Spidey’s history now that I can’t say for an absolute certainty that it didn’t slip into a conversation somewhere. I didn’t literally read EVERY Spider-Man comic for this ya know? There is this hallucination in Amazing Spider-Man #274 (by Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz and Joe Rubinstein)…

but even there it is not explicit that it was a saying that Uncle Ben used. He could easily be saying that his death was the lesson, not that he actually told Peter that phrase.

Reader Ian suggested what, as far as I can tell, is the earliest direct reference to Uncle Ben being the one who told Peter the phrase, 1987’s Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1 by Jim Owsley, M.D. Bright and Al Williamson, as Peter (stuck in Germany without a costume) debates what he should do after coming across a murdered Ned Leeds…

So the RockComic is the first appearance of it, but I’d love to know if someone can know of a comic book appearance before Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1 in 1987!

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