Forget Thanos, Ultron, and Loki. In the pages of Marvel Comics, the Avengers’ biggest adversary was always Kang the Conqueror. And after years of waiting, he arrived in the MCU on Loki, played by Jonathan Majors. Marvel’s Kang the Conqueror appeared in full villain mode in the MCU’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. These appearances are all just the warm-up act. Because we know he’s going to unleash chronal hell in Avengers: The Kang Dynasty, and in all likelihood, in Avengers: Secret Wars. But who (or what) is Kang from the Marvel universe? More than any other Marvel villain, the answer here is quite complex.
When Does Kang the Conqueror First Appear in Marvel Comics?
Despite primarily being an Avengers villain, the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creation Kang first appeared in the pages of Marvel’s Fantastic Four. This detail made him a part of the Fantastic Four film rights, and therefore, it wasn’t until Disney purchased Fox that Marvel Studios could use him properly. His first appearance was in 1963’s Fantastic Four #19, as the Pharoah Rama-Tut. Kang the Conqueror wouldn’t appear in a more recognizable Marvel form until a year later, in 1964’s Avengers #8. But let’s begin at the beginning, which in this case, means ancient Egypt, by way of the 31st century.
Kang the Conqueror’s Path From Fantastic Four Villain to Avengers Adversary
Kang is complicated to explain, thanks to the many, many variants of him across multiple Marvel timelines. For the purpose of clarity, we’re going to focus on what they call “Prime Kang,” and we’re going to focus on this Kang’s chronological Marvel appearances. Nathaniel Richards, who may or may not be a descendant of the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards and Doctor Doom, was born as a human male in 31st century Earth. As a young man, he discovered his ancestor Doctor Doom’s time platform, which he used to travel to ancient Egypt.
He conquered this past era and became the Pharoah Rama-Tut. But a time-traveling Fantastic Four defeated him and sent him packing to the far-flung future. This war-ravaged 40th century Marvel Earth the soon-to-be Kang landed in, 1,000 years further from his birth era, utilized technology the population no longer understood. So Richards used his scientific knowledge to conquer this time period and became Kang the Conqueror. Kang had no superpowers to speak of, but he had a genius intellect and access to all time periods. This allowed him to access almost godlike technologies.
But the 40th century was not enough for him, and Marvel’s Kang decided to conquer other eras as well, with the goal of eventually ruling over all of history. This is when he came into conflict with the Avengers. As a young man, Kang the Conqueror was obsessed with Earth’s “Heroic Age,” and saw them as the only ones who could stop him. So Kang traveled to the past to destroy the Avengers. This marked the first of literally dozens of times combatting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Kang was more of a master strategist than Thanos, but despite incredible power, he wasn’t on the level of the Celestials—despite trying to steal their technology once.
The Many Identities and Variants of Kang in the Marvel Universe
Eventually, Kang time-traveled so much in Marvel Comics that multiple variants of himself spread across spacetime. If one Kang died, another always existed in an alternate timeline to cause trouble. One version of Kang went by the name the Scarlet Centurion, an identity he adopted after his time in ancient Egypt, but before becoming the Kang we know—even though the Kang identity appeared in Marvel Comics first.
Those are all just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Kang variants. In one story, he traveled back to the early 1900s and took the name “Victor Timely,” and built a small town in Wisconsin from which he could alter the flow of time. In the year 2099, he was the owner of a large company known as “Kang the Conglomerator.” In the 21st century, another CEO-style variant of Kang went by Mr. Gryphon. He even melded once with Ms. Marvel and became “Kamala Kang.”
On Earth-18854, Kang took the power of Galactus himself and became “Kang the Time Eater.” Because of his control of time, he may even be more powerful than the Celestials themselves. Not all of Marvel’s Kangs were totally cold and power-hungry, however. One fell in love with one of his subjects, a woman named Princess Ravonna. In one timeline, they even had a son together named Marcus. He would assume a former alias of his father’s, the Scarlet Centurion.
Immortus, the Most Dangerous Kang Variant
But the version of Kang the Avengers tangled with the most was Immortus. This was a much older version of Kang. After having conquered timeline after timeline, Kang grew weary of battle. The alien race called the Time-Keepers approached him. They were time travelers from the end of the universe and the last living creatures known to exist. Kang became their agent and began preserving Marvel’s timelines instead of conquering them. He did all of this for the Time-Keepers, in exchange for immortality (hence the new name). The former Kang accepted and reinvented himself again, this time as Immortus, the lord of the other-dimensional realm of Limbo.
But conquering timelines and pruning them are also aggressive acts—just not in the same way the younger Kang was prone to. All of this constantly brought Immortus into conflict with the Avengers. Although this Kang variant did officiate at the wedding of Vision and Scarlet Witch. Speaking of Wanda Maximoff, Immortus was later revealed to be the one behind the Scarlet Witch’s dark side turn in Marvel’s comics. Kang’s manipulations caused all the tragic events in her life. He didn’t only Wanda; Immortus’ hand lead to a teenage Tony Stark’s death in the ‘90s as well. (Don’t worry, he got better.)
In the comics, we even saw a “Council of Cross-Time Kangs,” made up of hundreds of Kang variants from across the multiverse. But Marvel later revealed this Kang Council to be a trap of sorts, one made by Immortus to slowly eliminate all variants of himself to ensure that only he remained at the literal end of time. Confused yet? We know, it’s a lot. And that’s without getting into how Kang once manipulated time to fight the X-Men and the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Yes, that is an event that happened back in the ’90s.
That Time Kang Was an Avenger
The most intriguing version of Kang first appeared in 2005, and readers didn’t even know it was Kang at first. After the Avengers broke up (in the pages of Avengers: Disassembled), a young hero named Iron Lad appeared. He wore an advanced version of Tony Stark’s armor, one that was neuro-kinetic in nature. When teen Kang discovered what his dark destiny had in store for him, he fled back in time to seek the Avengers for protection. He landed at a point in time when the team had split up, so this Kang used his know-how to assemble Marvel’s Young Avengers team. Eventually, he realized he must return to his own time and fulfill his destiny and become a villain, or he’d damage the timestream even more.
The MCU’s Version of Kang, a.k.a. the Time Tyrant in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Phase 6
Loki‘s Kang and Ant-Man’s Kang in the MCU
Loki introduced us to “He Who Remains,” played by Jonathan Majors, as the last version of Kang who ruled from his Citadel at the End of Time. He explained how his variants all went to war with each other, leading to a huge multiversal conflict. He warned Loki and his variant Sylvie that if they killed him, it would ignite another multiversal war. When Sylvie ended him, the multiverse ripped open again.
Loki had another nod to the comic book Kang’s Marvel history, which we may see explored in the MCU. This one had to do with one of the TVA agents, Ravonna Renslayer. She was based on Kang’s great love from the comics. Another way “He Who Remains” echoed Marvel’s comics was with his elimination of other Kangs and their timelines. This was very Immortus-like. But now that Loki‘s Kang is dead, we’ll likely see his much more destructive MCU variants spread chaos throughout Marvel’s Multiverse.
Lord of the Quantum Realm
In Ant-Man and the Wasp Quantumania, we learned that the Kang we met in the Quantum Realm was exiled there by his other variants, essentially for being worse than the rest of them. There, he met the also-lost Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer). At first, they were seemingly friends, and she tried to help fix his time chair to get home. But when she learned that he had conquered countless timelines and destroyed them, she turned on him. Janet tried everything she could to stop him from ever getting out. She even aided in the rebellion against him when he conquered the Quantum Realm. After she returned to the Quantum Realm, along with her husband, daughter, and Scott and Cassie Lang, they stopped Kang from escaping again. They also toppled his microverse empire.
Kang’s MCU Future
It looked like Scott and Hope killed Kang in the finale of Quantumania, but he possibly disappeared into another time period. The end-credits revealed the Council of Kangs, and introduced Immortus, Rama-Tut, and a version of Scarlet Centurion, all infamous variants of Kang—not to mention hundreds of others we saw in the Council. Will the Kang of Avengers: The Kang Dynasty be one of these? Or will the Kang we met from the Quantum Realm be the “Big Bad?”
All of Quantamania‘s adventures will, of course, lead to The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars. All in all, Kang the Conqueror’s MCU future looks to be very exciting. Or should we say, one of his futures? When it comes to Kang, there are an infinite number to choose from.
Originally published on August 1, 2022.