Kang the Conqueror

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From The Avengers vol. 1 #8 © 1964 Marvel Comics. ART BY JACK KIRBY AND DICK AYERS.

Kang the Conqueror

(pop culture)
Like many who are discontent with their lot in life, Kang always felt that he had been born in the wrong era. But unlike most people, he had the means to do something about it. The creation of Marvel Comics' prime creative movers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (Avengers vol. 1 #8, 1964), Kang has evolved through an incredibly complex history, owing to his endless peregrinations through the timestream. A possible descendant of both Nathaniel Richards (the father of Mr. Fantastic) and Victor von Doom (whose all-concealing Dr. Doom armor may have inspired Kang's own blue-masked costume) from Earth's thirty-first century, Kang happens upon a functioning time machine and uses it to abandon his own peaceful, prosperous era in favor of an adventurous past that he had always romanticized. After raiding other eras for weapons and high technology, Kang entered the fortieth century—a time suffering from an evident dearth of superhuman protectors—and subjugated the human race there (as revealed in the “Citizen Kang” saga, serialized in Marvel's 1992 annuals). Still restless, Kang became the ruler of Egypt in 2950 BC, dubbing himself Rama-Tut. Rama-Tut's subsequent defeats at the hands of the Fantastic Four led to a fixation on the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, which he invaded and attempted to rule as “Kang the First,” only to be stopped by the Avengers, whom he subsequently tried—and failed—to erase from history by using the Hulk to alter the events circa World War I. Kang's machinations, which mostly centered around seizing power in the present era—as well as restoring life to his beloved, the mortally wounded thirty-first-century Princess Ravonna (aka Terminatrix), and stealing the vast energies of the cosmic being known as the Celestial Madonna— were foiled not only by various configurations of the Avengers, but also, at least in part, by Spider-Man, the Human Torch, and the Inhumans. During a later bid for revenge against the Avengers, and in the grand melodramatic tradition of comic-book archnemeses, Kang died—but only apparently—in Avengers vol. 1 #142–#143 (1975–1976). Throughout the 1970s Kang's existence was marked by a confusing yet compelling succession of multiple identities, the seeds of which were sown early on by writer Roy Thomas, who revealed that the supervillain known as the Scarlet Centurion— who briefly brought to fruition Kang's plans to seize control of Earth—was actually an early version of Kang (Avengers Annual vol. 1 #2, 1968). Kang experienced a further renaissance of convolution and complexity under the creative guidance of writer Steve Englehart, who conceived the notion that Kang and Rama-Tut (heretofore separate Lee- Kirby villains) were, in fact, one and the same; Englehart added even greater depth to Kang/Rama-Tut during this period by revealing that Kang will become the evil Immortus (created by Lee and Kirby and debuted in Avengers vol. 1 #10, 1964) in his dotage, by which time he will live as an isolated hermit, à la Shakespeare's Prospero, ruling the extradimensional realm known as Limbo, “where things never change.” Like Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s novel Slaughterhouse- Five (1969), Kang seems to experience his days in almost random order. By the mid-1980s Kang had reappeared as part of a spandex-clad cast of dozens in the topselling Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars twelveissue miniseries (1984–1985); though this project resulted in Kang's immortalization as a Mattel action figure, little of real consequence happened to Kang—until he fell into the hands of writer/artist John Byrne the following year. Byrne explored the inevitable science-fictional consequences of Kang's time-tripping, chronicling the temporal tyrant's interactions with multiple versions of himself in a manner reminiscent of David Gerrold's classic 1973 pretzel-tangled time-travel novel The Man Who Folded Himself. Kang's time jaunts not only set into motion countless alternate realities, they also created thousands of Kang doppelgängers, who gathered as a group and ultimately engaged in internecine/suicidal warfare thanks to the manipulations of a mysterious woman known as Nebula; this so-called “Council of Kangs” was eventually winnowed down to a single individual. Kang achieved marginal TV stardom with guest appearances on the Fantastic Four animated series (1967–1970; 1978–1979), as well as on the Avengers animated series on FOX Kids in 1999; though this last series, too, failed to make Kang a household name, it brought him into the third dimension a second time with a purple-clad, 6-inch action figure in Toy Biz's The Avengers: United They Stand collection. Writer Mark Gruenwald brought the mighty temporal warlord to his humblest point, allowing him to lose his dominion over time to his former girlfriend Ravonna, who literally stabbed him in the back in a 1993 miniseries. But Kang reappeared alive and well, his destiny shaped by influential Marvels writer Kurt Busiek (the Avengers Forever twelve-issue miniseries, 1998–2000), and even finally managed to conquer present-day Earth before being defeated yet again; although Kang was prepared to suffer trial, life imprisonment, and even execution at the hands of his greatest adversaries, the Avengers, his son Marcus robbed him of even this small satisfaction by rescuing him. Dishonored by his son's actions, Kang murdered Marcus, leaving himself with neither hope nor a future—but with more time on his hands than any man could ever want.