This week I’m here with an especially rare new guide CK’s Plegeonaut Patrons on Patreon – a guide to a Marvel villain! I find villain guides to be some of the most-challenging to organize, and this villain might be the most-challenging of all because he exists in multiple time periods and has had multiple identities – sometimes all at once! After a lot of puzzling and a lot of reading, I’m proud to present my Guide to Kang the Conqueror!
Kang is one of those characters that my 30+ years of comic reading has suggested is incredibly complicated, but I’m here to tell you that his centuries-spanning history really isn’t as complex as the comics (and some fans) make it out to be.
First things first: Kang is from the future of the Marvel Universe, but not the future of Earth-616! He is from an alternate 30th Century future Earth that was visited by Reed Richards’ time-traveling father, Nathaniel Richards. He inspired young Kang, so he took on his name. Thus, Kang is often also known as Nathaniel Richards (Earth-6311).
How did Nathaniel Richards of Earth-6311 wind up in our present day comics? And what do Iron Lad, Rama-Tut, and Immortus have to do with it? It’s a lot simpler than you might think.
An inspired young Nathaniel Richards originally had intentions of returning to Earth-616’s age of heroes to join them in their adventures (and maybe prevent the time-crimes of his future self, of which he was already aware). This choice lead to the debut of Iron Lad in the pages of Young Avengers (2005). Iron Lad has noble, altruistic goals, but his willingness to bend the rules of the timestream to achieve them show glimmers of his future as a Conqueror of Time.
Iron Lad has relatively limited appearances, and creators have wisely implied that he might be on the verge of going “Full Kang” every time they shuffle him off the page for a few year.
At some point, Iron Lad returns to live in the future, and then travels back to ancient Egypt in a space ship in the shape of a Sphinx. There, he rules as Rama-Tut – who the Fantastic Four discovered to be a time traveller way back in Fantastic Four (1961) #19. Marvel has since inserted several other Rama-Tut stories, including the origin of the X-Men’s Apocalypse.
Thwarted by the Fantastic Four (and having encountered and been inspired by Doctor Doom), Rama-Tut briefly takes on the role of the Scarlet Centurion for a single skirmish with The Avengers, and then goes back to being Rama-Tut for a while longer before returning to the future to become a conqueror. Only then does he make his comics debut in Avengers (1963) #8 as Kang. This initial Kang is ultra-powerful and uber-confident, and the Avengers are always hard-pressed to defeat him – whether that’s in the present day or in the future.
(Part of what is so wild about Kang’s history is that all of this is laid out in full by Stan Lee way back in Kang’s first issue in Avengers #8! Time-travel shenanigans have been a part of the Marvel Universe from the start.)
After a decade of recurring villainous plots comes the first crisis for Kang. In 1975, an ambitious Avengers storyarc in issues #128-135 & Giant-Size Avengers #2-4 advanced Kang’s plot, but also complicated it for the next 15 years. It not only confirmed Immortus as a future version of Kang, but suggested Kang would once again become Rama-Tut!
Despite these revelations, Kang keeps on being Kang through 1993, although in that time he seems to die on multiple occasions. This reaches a climax in a pair of stories that’d call the second Kang Crisis: Citizen Kang in a 1992 Annuals crossover and Avengers: The Terminatrix Objective. These seem to take him off the table for the rest of the 1990s. Ultimately, they are used retroactively to explain the second instance of Kang being Rama-Tut.
Kang returns in a book that finally straightens out his many iterations, thanks to the continuity-delving script of Kurt Busiek. That comic is Avengers Forever (2018), a twelve-part maxi-series that delivers an iconic Kang story that resolves all of his many identities and definitively branches Immortus away from him as a distinct character. This is the third and final Kang Crisis (for now), ironing out all of his iterations and the overall shape of his timeline.
From there forward, reading Kang is straight-forward. While some of his present-day appearances might involve a version of him from slightly earlier or slightly later in the timeline, they are all appearances from after Avengers Forever. That includes an iconic story of Kang winning the first for present-day Earth in Avengers (1998), his battle with his younger self in Young Avengers, his tangle with the Uncanny Avengers and Marvel Now, and his various plots in recent comics.
I’m especially a fan of Kang the Conqueror (2021), a mini-series that revisits this entire character history while adding a whole new layer of time paradox into the mix! It is one of my favorite comics of the past few years.
This Guide to Kang was a challenge that I spent several 5k jogs turning over in my head before I finally got it worked out on the page. I think I found the right way to explain it, including an abbreviated list of Greatest Hits as well as a summary of every single issue of Kang, EVER!
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