Well, everyone’s theories about Mephisto being the secret “Big Bad” in WandaVision might have been totally off. But if you guessed that Kang was the main baddie pulling the strings in Loki, then ding ding ding! You get the big… no prize, sorry. Of course, we’re talking about Jonathan Majors‘ reveal as He Who Remains. Even though he’s never officially name-dropped as Kang. But given that he’s confirmed to play Kang in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, we know exactly who he is. Or do we? When it comes to Kang, it’s always complicated.
As He Who Remains says to Loki and Sylvie in the season finale, many iterations of himself exist across the Multiverse. And most of them are not as “nice” as he is. So if the Kang we met in Loki is the manipulative (but less evil) version, does that mean we might have just seen another hint of yet another member of the Young Avengers? Because our prevailing theory at the moment is that the Kang we met at the end of Loki is none other than the adult version of the Young Avenger known as Iron Lad.
He Who Remains = Immortus?
In the pages of Marvel Comics, there are many, many iterations of Kang. There is Rama-Tut, a version of Kang who traveled back in time to ancient Egypt to rule. Then there’s Mister Gryphon, a time duplicate stuck in the 21st century. Yet another alias is the Scarlet Centurion. But Kang’s most famous secondary incarnation is as the regal Immortus. That version of Kang is older and wears a long robe instead of a Doctor Doom-like mask. Tired of conquering timelines, he is far more interested in preserving them. And controlling them. Sounds like Loki’s Kang to us.
But whether He Who Remains is Immortus or not, he once had a youth. And the big tip that the Kang we meet at the end of Loki is a future version of Iron Lad is simply his insistence that he is far less bad than all the other variants of himself. Iron Lad was a hero, at least as a teenager. And he was a founding member of the Young Avengers and a catalyst for their formation.
The Comic Book History of Iron Lad
Like just about all other Kang variants, the version that became Iron Lad in the 21st century was born as Nathaniel Richards in the 31st century. Already a genius as a teenager, Nathaniel was still the target of bullies who envied him. While still a young teenager, a particularly nasty kid named Morgan bullied him. Morgan nearly cut his throat. But on the day of his brush with death, Kang the Conqueror arrived from the future and stopped the fight. He informed his younger, less powerful self of his glorious future destiny.
Kang then equipped his younger self in a special neurokinetic armor, all while showing young Nathaniel glimpses of his future as a despot who controls time, and as an eternal enemy of the Avengers. Kang hoped that his younger self would start on his road to multiversal domination at a younger age with this revelation. But the opposite happened. The young Nathanial felt completely horrified by what his future self would become. He vowed never to become that version of Kang. He used his newly acquired time-travel capabilities, installed in his armor, and fled thousands of years into the past—into the era of the Avengers.
Founding the Young Avengers
However, teenage Nathaniel’s calculations were slightly off. When he arrived in the past, the Avengers were no more. They had just disbanded, due to an attack by a mentally unstable Scarlet Witch in a storyline called Avengers Disassembled. Arriving at their ruined headquarters, he found the remains of the android Vision (left destroyed by his former wife, Wanda Maximoff). Using the tech inside of him, he activated a protocol in his programming meant to seek out a new generation of Avengers, should the old generation fall. It is here where Nathanial took on the name of Iron Lad, as a sort of teenage tribute to Tony Stark. He gathered the teen heroes who become the Young Avengers.
Eventually, after many adventures with his new friends the Young Avengers, Iron Lad revealed his true identity. He told his friends he never wants to become Kang as an adult and is doing good in the past to make up for the future Kang’s misdeeds. But the longer the young Nathaniel stayed in the 21st century, the more the timeline unraveled. Eventually, he discovered he must return to his time and fulfill his destiny and become Kang. No matter how much he doesn’t want to. Certain other tragedies in his future seemingly ensure his ultimately becoming the despotic time-conqueror. Although he promised to be “a better version.”
Why Loki’s Kang May Be an Older Iron Lad
For starters, we know the Young Avengers are coming. Most of the main characters have been introduced now or have been officially revealed as coming. WandaVision introduced Wiccan and Speed. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier introduced Eli Bradley, a.k.a. Patriot. The Ant-Man films have introduced Cassie Lang, the future Stature. Hawkeye will introduce the second bearer of that name, Kate Bishop. And Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is introducing Miss America Chavez. Hulkling remains a no-show, but Secret Invasion could introduce him. So Marvel is setting up the teen team for sure in the MCU.
Since the version of Kang we meet in Loki describes himself as far less bad than his variants, this suggests he was once a far more idealistic young man. It seems his creation of the TVA was a last resort to bring order to chaos. So it tracks that his young self would be even more idealistic and try for a future where he never becomes the relentless Kang the Conqueror (or even Immortus) at all. A scenario exists where the teenage version of this Kang sets out into the past in the hopes of changing his destiny.
Imagine a scenario where a young Nathaniel Richards arrives in the 21st century. But he lands in the timeline post-Endgame, when the Avengers have disbanded. He could follow his comic book counterparts’ history almost verbatim from this point on. He would access the Vision’s protocols, during the time when S.W.O.R.D. kept his body. And he could gather the rest of the Young Avengers, just as in the comics.
Of course, the events of Loki ensure that he ultimately goes down the road of trying to conquer time. But the version we saw tried to do it in as bloodless a way as possible. Something, we will learn, the other Kangs won’t do. Only time will tell (no pun intended) if the man we met at the end of Loki season one is a hint of Iron Lad’s arrival. But we have a feeling this is indeed the timeline where it’s meant to happen.