A Comics Guide to Kang the Conquerer: What to Read After Ant-Man and the Wasp: QuantumaniaPhoto: Marvel Studios Books Features Comics
A master of time and technology, Kang, the Conqueror has been unveiled as the new big bad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But who is this mysterious threat? Seemingly infinite, Kang is just one of the many names taken by a future adventurer named Nathaniel Richards. Frustrated with life in a utopian universe in the year 3,000, Nathaniel Richards was still a teenager when he first learned about the long-past age of superheroes. Inspired by the heroic exploits of the Avengers and Fantastic Four, Richards set off to find adventure but after finding an ancient lair of Dr. Doom and plans for a time machine, he began an everlasting fall through time. Bouncing back and forth between the ancient past, modern times and future, Richards branches off new versions of himself with each jump.
As Kang the Conqueror, Richards has played a defining role in the Marvel Universe, facing off against almost every iteration of the Avengers, from the early days (Avengers #8 in 1964) up through modern times (Timeless #1 in 2021). As the usurper pharaoh, Rama Tut, he traveled back to ancient Egypt so he could rule with his knowledge of advanced technology but he was eventually stopped by the Fantastic Four (Fantastic Four #19). Essentially immortal, another version of Richards branched off to become Immortus, a mostly-peaceful keeper of time at the end of the universe. Kang has also traveled across time to recruit future and past heroes and villains to fight the Avengers, the first time masquerading as the Scarlet Centurion in Avengers Annual #2.
In addition to all of the other versions of Nathaniel Richards, countless versions of Kang have sprouted diverging timelines. In the past, Kang has assumed disguises like Iron Lad (Young Avengers #1), Mr. Gryphon, and Victor Timely and in Avengers #267, we even find out that there are so many Kangs running around the time stream, they’ve actually created a council to deal with the growing problem. Varying Marvel heroes have also taken on the Kang mantle over differing timelines, including Sue Storm (Ultimate Comics: Wolverine #4) and Kamala Khan (Infinity Wars #4) as well as Kang’s longtime love, Ravonna Renslayer.
In the comics, Kang has ruled from his home in Limbo, perched atop a city named the Chronopolis. There, he oversees time with an army of elite warriors and futuristic technology. While he could easily erase his opponents like the Avengers or Fantastic Four from existence, he prefers the thrill of battle and joys of conquest. With Kang as the primary villain of the MCU multiverse going forward, Paste decided to shine a spotlight on his many faces and highlight a few of our favorite arcs to dig into for those of you who may have become curious about the character after his appearance in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in the early years of Marvel Comics, much of Nathaniel Richards’ story and evolution was spread across a variety of different comic books. In the pages of Fantastic Four #19, Lee and Kirby introduced Richards as the time-traveling villain Rama-Tut. It’s only after the Fantastic Four are captured with the pretend pharaoh’s advanced technology that he reveals he’s actually from the future.
Later, in the Fantastic Four Annual #2, both Rama-Tut and Dr. Doom meet after they have been defeated by the superheroes. It’s here that Richards’ makes the fateful decision not to follow after his heroic ancestors, but to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Doom. When he tries to return to the year 3000 though, his ship is damaged and throws him into the far future.
You can find both of these stories in the Fantastic Four: Masterplan of Doctor Doom
Kang, the Conqueror
Lee and Kirby re-introduced Richards as the mysterious warlord Kang, the Conqueror in 1963. In one of his many villainous monologues in Avengers #8, Richards reveals that after his encounter with Doom he ended up crash-landing in the year 4,000 with little more than his wits to save him. Though he’s stranded in a war-torn land inhabited by barbarians welding technology beyond their comprehension, Kang explains it takes him merely weeks to conquer the future and carve out an empire for himself. Aiming to test himself against the best of the superheroes, he transports back to the present to battle the Avengers. Just a few issues later (Avengers #11), Kang returns to challenge the team by building a cyborg copy of Spider-Man to assassinate the Avengers.
The Jackson Lanzing and Mike Kelly miniseries Kang, the Conqueror offers a compelling and all encompassing Kang story that runs down all of the time jumps and was conveniently released a couple of years ago. The story adds to Kang’s legacy while incorporating his complicated and time-twisted history very nicely.
You can check out early Kang stories in Essential Avengers Vol. 1.
Scarlet Centurion Yet another moniker taken on by Kang, the Scarlet Centurion is actually the first divergent copy of the villain. While Kang prime was jettisoned into the far future after his encounter with Dr. Doom, this copy was lost in time for five years only to appear in 1968’s King-Size Avengers #2. While he’s the least popular version of Kang on the list, he’s ultimately responsible for the now Kang-esque tradition of transporting different Avengers and villains through time to fight his battles for him.
In the mid-90s, writer Kurt Busiek took another stab at the Scarlet Centurion in the ‘Kang Dynasty’ arc. This time, Kang’s son Marcus takes up the role of the Scarlet Centurion as he follows his father into battle against the Avengers. Always obsessed with his legacy and place in time, Kang’s cunning and cutthroat tendencies are on full display here as he takes on the Avengers and wins.
You can check out the Kang Dynasty trade paperback and pick up the Avengers Masterworks Vol. 6 to read up on the origins of the Scarlet Centurion.
Immortus The older, wiser and more even-tempered version of Kang, Immortus was created by Stan and Jack in the early days of the Avengers in 1964 (Avengers #10). In that issue, Immortus reveals that he’s the man at the end of time, watching over the limbo of the Marvel Universe.
It’s not until a decade later, in the Kang War arc by Steve Engleheart that it’s revealed that Immortus is yet another version of Kang, weary from centuries of war and conquest. The saga also touches on Kang’s search for a new bride, a woman he calls the Celestial Madonna.
Kang War set the stage for many other Kang vs. Kang struggles, including the excellent Avengers Forever written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Stuart Immonen. The story centers around Kang’s fight with his future self, Immortus.
Revisiting key timelines in the Avengers vast history, it’s revealed throughout their adventures how pivotal Kang and Immortus’ intervention has been in Avengers history. Kang has been tipping dominoes in everything from the Kree/Shi’ar War to the Scarlet Witch’s relationship with Vision. In the end, it’s Avengers versus Avengers for the stake of the world and time itself.
What if Kang was just a misguided hero in disguise all along? In 2010, artist Jim Cheng and writer Allan Heinberg gave Kang another shot at greatness as they pitted a younger version of him (alongside the Young Avengers) against an older version. This time, disguised as a young Iron Man, Kang took on the name Iron Lad as he rallied around Hulkling, Wiccan, Eli Bradley aka Patriot and Kate Bishop. Later in the series, Cassie Lang (who appears in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania also joins the team as the giantess Stature.
In introducing a new, younger Kang, Young Avengers sheds some light on Richards’ time in the year 3,000, before he became a time-traveling despot and the civilization he fled from. In the follow up, 2011’s Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, Iron Lad continues his heroics as Wiccan tries to fix his powers and reunite with his mother, the Scarlet Witch. Eventually, though, Iron Lad takes a turn for the worse when he teams up with a teenage Annihilus and Dr. Doom in order to ‘fix’ the timeline.
Young Avengers and Avengers: The Children’s Crusade can be found in collected versions and you can find the full run of both Matt Fraction’s Fantastic Four and its sister series FF in trade, which covers young Kang’s descent into villainy.
All New, All Different Avengers: Kang shows up as the mysterious Mr. Gryphon, owner of Qeng Enterprises, as he plots to take on a new and younger version of the Avengers.
Marvel Now! Avengers: Tired of Kang’s schemes, Vision travels into the future to steal Kang as a baby. The resulting turbulence sets off a new batch of Kangs who plan to destroy the Avengers.
Avengers: The Heroic Age: After the events of Dark Reign and Siege, the Avengers reunite under the guidance of Steve Rogers. Within mere minutes of uniting, the Avengers’ celebration is interrupted by Kang, the Conqueror, who arrives in a panic, warning that the next generation of Avengers threatens the future.
Avengers: The Once and Future Kan: There are so many Kangs running around, Kang Prime decides to start thinning the herd by killing off his duplicates.
Citizen Kang and Terminatrix Objective: Although it features the Avengers on a quest through time, this story is about the struggle between Kang and Ravonaa Renslayer and their doomed-to-fail relationship. Both series present a look inside Chronopolis and the vast empire Kang commands inside the quantum realm.
Uncanny Avengers: Kicking off in Uncanny Avengers #5, writer Rick Remender picks up a thread from his Uncanny X-Force run, in which the Horseman of Pestilence Ichisumi became pregnant with Archangel’s kids. Sensing their power, Kang abducts the children right after they’re born, travels into the far future to radicalize them, and then manipulates them in a bid to rule.
Dana Forsythe is based in Boston and is a longtime reporter covering art, comic books and culture.