I was watching Black Adam a few weeks back, and I knew about a few of the more obscure heroes in it because of the research for this podcast, so sometimes we'll take a break from the ridiculous villains to talk about one that's actually pretty powerful.
The Bad Old Days
Have you ever thought...life is too good? Too peaceful? Too easy? I love history, and there are times when I look back at the Middle Ages, and I'm like, wow, it would have been cool to live back then. Like it's some kind of Lord of the Rings LARPing or something. Really, though, I have no skills other than this. I probably eat way too much and frighten easily, so I would be dead in a week from an infected scrape. Nathaniel Richards, though, looked back from his cushy apartment in the year 3000 and thought, man, the violence of the past...ruled. It was just the bee's knees. All those people fighting and killing each other for pointless reasons just looked so fun.
So, he did what any of us would do. Found his great-great-great-great-great grandpa's time machine and went back to Ancient Egypt.
This was actually his debut, doing some pretty hefty cultural appropriation, dressed up like an ancient Pharaoh and fixing his time machine. The Fantastic Four dropped into the past using that same time machine but in the past. Well, the past to Nathaniel's future which was the future to their current present. Hope that helps to clear things up.
Anyway, long story short, The Fantastic Four were looking for a herb that cured blindness, got captured and de-powered using Nathaniel (AKA Kang's) magic tech ray, were forced to work to help him rebuild his machine (or in Sue Storm's case be his queen), and barely escaped. Knowing that a threat lurked in the past, biding his time until he was able to wreak havoc across the timeline, The Fantastic Four...put it on the back burner. They would get around to it.
Also, real quickly, despite being named Nathaniel Richards, the same name as Reed Richard's, AKA Mr. Fantastic's dad, he is not Mr. Fantastic's dad, but was instead named in honor of the man who brought peace to his time. It's a whole thing, but Reed Richards's dad left him when he was a little kid to go travel through time. He did a bunch of stuff we're not going to talk about today, and that stuff also included bringing peace to the 31st century as well as VHS tapes of people being violent, which would inspire young Kang to jump back to do some intense cosplaying.
And he did. He repaired his machine in Ancient Egypt, went to the 41st century when society had collapse and people were violent again because time is a flat circle, conquered it, but then got conqueror's remorse because he only ruled a dead world. So, he went back to a time of heroes - the 20th century - to when the Avengers were at the peak of their power.
Back to the Future that's actually in the Past
Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain American, Iron Man, and Thor went to investigate a UFO in Virginia that leveled a square mile of forest. And...they were pretty viciously owned by the guy now calling himself Kang the Conqueror. With the Avengers captive, he went pretty classic for his threats: surrender the earth to him, or he'll blow up the moon. Kang's a true professional villain. That's chef's kiss for simplicity, ridiculousness, and effectiveness. You'd have stuff falling all over the earth, the seasons would be all messed up, and the tides gone. Kang is a true professional.
The countries of the 20th century put aside their differences to unite against Kang, but, in a move that wasn't just pandering to it's core demographics, the comics depict a team of teen boys sneaking aboard Kang's ship and the Avengers defeating Kang. The conqueror escaped back into time.
Now, he did go home, and he did conquer his own peaceful time but, for me, I'll say, I get it. You can have reams and reams of positive reviews but that bad one...that one just sticks in your mind. It was the same way with Kang. He was humanity's future ruler, but the 20th century was the one that got away.
So, he tried again. This time, he abducted the on-duty Avengers, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Hawkeye, and Cap, to take them to the 30th century, so he would have home-court advantage.
A Fairy Tale Love Story in the Truest Sense of the Word
Because there's no such thing as too much plot, Kang was also in love with the princess of a land he conquered in his own time. Conquering a future kingdom for love sounds nice...but that's not what it was. Ravonna, the princess, didn't want to marry the purple-headed genocidal monster, so he threatened her with razing her city to the ground unless he married her. He did raze her city to the ground, but he found a problem. His army of cyberpunk cosplayers followed his rules too closely. The rule was all conquered leaders were to be slain immediately, not married. They turned on Kang for his weakness, and the conqueror found himself allying with the Avengers: get him and Ravonna out of there, and he would send them back to their own time. Cap accepted.
Despite it being 100% a problem of his own making, Kang turned everything back to normal. With the Avengers he defeated the revolting troops, freed Ravonna, and gave the princess her kingdom and freedom. As the Avengers slow-warped back home, Ravonna said she saw how much he cared for her, and felt something herself. That something was love. It was also a laser blast to the back because she ran to Kang's arms during an assassination attempt from one last holdout. Ravonna died in Kang's arms.
This has been a lot, and we haven't even gotten to the multiverse. There's a good bit where Kang gets up to what I can only describe as hi-jinks? Like, he needs a super-weapon, but he doesn't want to wait for it to grow and mature, so he buries it somewhere in the Middle Ages, giving it like 1500 years. Well, people found it in the 20th century, and he had to come back and collect his weapon, explaining the situation to Thor.
Anyway, Kang grew older in his own time, and he wept, for there were no worlds left to conquer. Also, because he was bored. And sad.
Having a midlife crisis but on a, like, cosmic scale, he jumped in his time machine and went back to the time when things were simpler. Where it all started. He went back to Ancient Egypt, mere moments after he left the first time and trashed his time machine. He stayed there to live out his life in a quieter age...but also as a megalomaniacal tyrant.
Know Thyself. And Also Stop Thyself from being Gross and Weird.
You soften with age, though, and so did Kang. Then, his sixtieth birthday rolled around, and he looked at his reflection and remembered. There was one thing he had left to do.
He needed to go stop himself.
He didn't have a time machine anymore, though, so he worked with the ancient Egyptians to place himself in suspended animation for around 5,000 years, so he could wake up in the 20th century.
There's...some ridiculousness where Mantis, Scarlet Witch, or Agatha Harkness were going to give birth to a child who would rule the galaxy, and Kang wanted to father that child. Gross. Young Kang once again subdued the Avengers...but found himself facing an unfamiliar enemy. Himself.
The older, wiser Kang, who knew what a life of conquest brought, arrived in time to defeat the younger Kang, just as he had been defeated by himself in his youth. Both Kangs disappeared into the time stream.
But, this wasn't the end of Kang the Conqueror.
Yeah, because, as it turns out, in a life full of time travel and constantly changing the past, you'll make a few friends and a lot of enemies. And they'll all be you.
Your Own Worst Enemy
He managed to go back in time and save Ravonna, which spawned another universe. He managed to level New York one time which launched WWIII during the Cold War...then another version of him came back to stop that version because with the world as a radioactive wasteland it's not as much fun to rule. This happened over and over again, with new timelines forking from old and Kangs running parallel to each other.
Eventually, a version of Kang found this area he called Limbo - an area that appeared to exist outside of time - where he could see all of time happening at once. The person who lived there, Immortus, was apparently dead, so a Kang took over, recruited a few other Kangs, and together they started culling Kangs.
Long story short, Immortus - the guy who was apparently the inspiration for the Kang variant in the phenomenal Loki series - was another version of Kang. He was the future version of the older Kang who became lost in the time stream. He drifted for a while and discovered a place beyond time. Anyway, he saw the havoc that Kangs were wreaking, with various branching timelines, and set Limbo up as a guess a Kang honeypot. He lured in some Kangs to do his dirty work, inevitably betray each other because that's what Kangs do, and then he gave the final remaining Kang a gift - all the Kangs.
In a life full of time travel and constantly changing the past, you'll make a few friends and a lot of enemies. And they'll all be you.
Immortus Kang had pulled the memories from the time stream as the Kangs lay dying, and the younger Kang seized it, taking all the Kang memories into his own mind. I, personally, can barely handle one of me bouncing around up there, and Kang was the same. Listless and mumbling incoherently, he wandered off, deeper into Limbo, defeated.
A lot more stuff happened, but the Kang who got the memories recovered from his stupor and became Kang Prime, and the thing about an infinite multiverse? It's infinite. While Kang existed and time travel existed, there would always be more Kangs. Kang Prime linked up with the, quote, "Council of Cross-time Kangs," the silliest name for a society composed entirely of genius super-murderers.
Immortus Kang became a servant of the Time Keepers and the Time Variance Authority - an organization beyond the scope of this profile, but then both he and Kang Prime saw how circular their paths were.
The Circular Summary of Kang(s)
You see, the circular story of Kang is this:
Nathaniel Richards of the 31st century looked on the past and wanted to treat himself to a genocide or two, so he went back in time, and was defeated by The Fantastic Four. Kang then went forward, conquered the forty-first century, became Kang the Conqueror, and then went back in time to get weird and try to father the ruler of space and time. Kang was defeated by an older version of himself, spiraled through the timestream where he saw the multiverse and the countless other versions of himself. He found Immortus's office beyond time, recruited Kangs, betrayed Kangs, and got all the Kang memories from Immortus, the future version of himself.
He got better, gave up the conquering life, went through the midlife crisis, and went back in time to Ancient Egypt again. Remembering that he still needed to defeat himself, Kang went forward in time, defeated himself, saw that there were still Kangs in the timestream, and then went through the Immortus nonsense from the other side and tricked himself into culling the Kangs before giving himself the memories of all the dead Kangs.
The older Kang was then subjugated by the Time Keepers and the TVA before being killed after rebelling against them in a futile act of defiance.
Kang Prime, though, realized the cycle in which he was trapped, saw the death of the older Immortus Kang, and knew that the Time Keepers were just waiting for him to go through the steps so that he could be next. He wasn't having any of it. He was going to break the cycle. Kang allied with the Avengers to help him defeat the Time Keepers to stop him from being railroaded into a future he didn't want.
Yep, the Avengers sided with...arguably the lesser of two evils, and completely took the fetters off a trans-dimensional conqueror.
That feels like a good stopping point for an episode that's ballooned to almost three times its normal length. Kang, of course, will be the next big bad in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and while it already, thankfully, is not following the comics, you can see the bits of inspiration they take from the larger story.
The comics really did a good job of taking a two-dimensional villain and fleshing him out with some compelling motivations. There's the whole Ravonna thing, yes, but there's also old Kang wanting to teach his younger self. Like, maybe I'm an outlier here, but I would love to go back to talk to young me about what's important and what's not. Unfortunately, an infinite number of Kangs is capable of doing this infinitely, and they aren't super patient so...they usually just end up fighting, creating more Kangs creating more mistakes, and the cycle keeps on going.
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