A Brief History of Kang, part 18: Time Flies
By Robert Clough
We will now take a short detour before Michael launches into the Old West and take a look at a story that doesn't feature Kang, but does feature the first appearance of a character who would play a significant role in the lives of Kang and Immortus. This story takes place just before the Celestial Madonna saga.
Giant-Size Fantastic Four #2, 1974
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artist: John Buscema
Inker: Chic Stone
The FF (with Medusa temporarily replacing Sue Richards) are returning to earth after a space adventure. But upon landing, they notice that all evidence of civilization has been wiped out. Not destroyed, but looking like it had never even existed. What humans exist are a bunch of savages armed with clubs, who promptly attack the FF and promptly get beaten.
The Watcher appears out of nowhere, as is his custom, to tell the team that "time itself has been transformed, changed...twisted". The team is unaffected because they were off-planet. What caused this? The Watcher showed them an image of someone stumbling onto their time machine and accidentally activating it. Somehow, he changed history so much that earth was now just run by a bunch of damn dirty apes. Uatu offers the team a chance to fix this (so much for watching) and sends them back into time.
Johnny and Reed go back to the American Revolution, where they learn General George Washington has been captured by the British. After finding and rescuing him, George tells the duo that he was riding along a bridge when a man appeared out of nowhere in a blinding flash. His horse got scared and threw him, and he got knocked silly. After that, he was captured by the Brits. But he was now safe to lead the colonies to victory, and one aspect of history was restored.
Meanwhile, Ben and Medusa were sent off to the Roaring 20's in the US, where they were to find the time traveler who was now bouncing forward in time. Ben finds himself turning human upon his arrival, ascribing it for some reason to the Watcher's time machine. The pair then busts into a closed clothes store and "borrow" some merchandise. (Note: Big John sure could draw a gorgeous Medusa, especially in civilian clothes!) They then ask a random passerby to lead them to a speak-easy, wherein they find the object of their search: Willie Lumpkin, the FF's mailman! Willie had been giving some gangsters stock market tips, and they didn't appreciate Ben busting and demanding that he come back with them. After a fight and car chase, Ben crashes the car and turns back into the Thing.
The whole team plus Willie suddenly appears in a weird dimension, filled with melting clocks ala Dali. Medusa, who seems pretty much all-knowing throughout the issue, says: "We're in a kind of chronal-continuum! A world existing outside the time-line we know--but obviously paralleling our own!"
Suddenly, they see the master of this world: a giant named Tempus! He explains that "since the beginning of eternity have I remained here...enduring without life, enduring without growth...existing without change and time, and thus without meaning. At last, I have had enough. Time itself has come to bore me. And thus...time itself...must end."
He then explains that he lured Willie Lumpkin into their time machine in order to create time paradoxes that would have destroyed the universe. He would have "uprooted the tree of time". But after the FF thwarted that plan, he would have to do it himself.
The Thing then took this opportunity to charge him, but Tempus fired a ray at him that caused him to age rapidly. The ray also hits Johnny and he starts aging as well. Reed attacks him, with Tempus going on and on about not wanting things to happen this way. Reed and Medusa get zapped, but Johnny and Ben are suddenly fine. They realize that Tempus can only affect two people at a time. After pounding on him a bit, Reed tells them to stop hitting him, because "he'll use your energy against you--feeding it back like an electrical circuit!"
Tempus then starts to ramble on again after the Torch thinks that they've got him mad. "Anger is for mortals, you fool. Tempus feels no anger--only boredom." The FF then uses the old "Reed-the-rubber-band" trick and launches him into the side of a mountain, where the statue-like giant breaks into rubble. When he went, his world suddenly started to collapse as well, and the team starts traveling back to their own time period.
Getting back, they find the Watcher waiting for them, congratulating them on saving reality. He then wipes the memory of the whole adventure from Willie Lumpkin's mind, fearing he might go postal one day if he doesn't.
Of course, Tempus didn't really die here. He pops up again as a servant of Immortus in a whole bunch of places, including Avengers Forever #1, where he once again is broken into pieces.
Tempus was actually a fairly interesting character in this otherwise mediocre story. I wouldn't have minded seeing him better fleshed out. He never does quite explain why he suddenly got bored of a timeless existence in this issue. The other problem was that instead of a better explanation being given for this villain's motivations and origin, including exactly how the time paradoxes would only affect earth and not affect the FF in space from existing, we get some bland, cliched time-travel stuff. Thankfully, this character later got a far more interesting backstory, but that is for others to tell.
--Clough the Conqueror