A Brief History of Kang, Part 19: Go West, Young Man
By Michael Proteau
I will be changing my format for the chronicles for this part. It covers Avengers 141-143, but there are actually 2 separate plot threads going on in these issues. As much as I love the Roxxon/Brand/Squadron/Phantom Empire story, it's not really relevant to the Kang proceedings, so I will omit it for the most part and summarize only the Kang story.
A quick synopsis of relevant events from Avengers V.1 #136-140: Due to the death and or departure of Vision, Wanda, Mantis and Swordsman following the events of Giant Sized #4, the roster was short-handed. Moondragon joins, and other older members are sought. Most refuse due to other commitments, but Hawkeye gets a bee in his bonnet about the Black Knight and decides he will go find him in the 12th century and ask him to return to the Avengers. After a series of adventures including the initial appearance of our bouncing blue Beast in the pages of Avengers and the return of Vizh & Wanda from their honeymoon, some begin to worry because Hawkeye hasn't returned. Iron Man and Moondragon take a quinjet to Doom's castle to check the time machine for any clues to Hawk's whereabouts. They find blood on the time machine and race back to Avenger's Mansion. Setting the stage for................
Avengers #141 an Englehart/Colletta/Wolfman production featuring the pulse-pounding debut of George Perez as Avengers penciller (and the crowd goes wild!!!! ;) )
"The Phantom Empire"
Setting the stage here....Beast is attacked in the street by some costumed goons from Roxxon and is aided by Captain America, who when he hears Beast is hanging with the Avengers decides to approach them to aid him in his investigation of the Roxxon/Brand Corps. Everyone visits Hank & Jan in the hospital, and there's a funny bit with Hank's reaction to receiving flowers that lends some credence to Adam's theory about Hank. As they leave the hospital, the Avengers see a quinjet racing overhead-Iron Man and Moondragon have returned and the Avengers race to the mansion to meet them.
Shellhead and Moonie relate what they have found, suspecting that Hawkeye has been trapped in the past to lure the rest of the Avengers to their doom, and that the person responsible is none other than ole Blue Nose himself, Kang the Conqueror! Vision's reaction is priceless: "Again? This is getting monotonous! Didn't any of you suspect that this might happen?" Thor comments that they could not anticipate the level of Kang's obsession, and Moondragon jumps at this suggesting that only gods like her and Thor are suited to deal with this. They should seek out Kang and end his menace once and for all. Since Cap needs numbers to investigate the Roxxon/Brand connection, the Avengers decide to split up with Thor and Moondragon going to seek Kang and Hawkeye, while the rest of the Avengers investigate Roxxon.
(note: from here on only the Kang thread will be followed.)
Thor and Moondragon are on the roof of Avengers Mansion. Thor admonishes Moondragon saying that he only agreed to this because he had sworn vengeance on Kang, and tells Moondragon that she should not speak of his godhood among the Avengers again. Moondragon brushes off Thor's rebuke and uses her powers of the mind to contact/summon Immortus through the mists of time. Immortus arrives and they ask him to aid in their quest to stop Kang since he has aided the Avengers in the past.
Immortus agrees to transport them through time. While they are journeying, they are ambushed by Kang, who gloats that they have fallen into his trap just as he has planned. Thor hurls Mjolnir at Kang, but it deflects harmlessly off of Kang's force field. Immortus admonishes Kang, calling on him to cease this foolishness as he has already proven Kang cannot prevail. Kang shouts that Immortus has proven nothing and Immortus' prophecies will only be fulfilled when Kang ceases to try to prove them wrong. Kang swears that he will destroy the Avengers for keeping the Madonna from him even if it takes forever to do so and blasts at Thor. Thor uses Mjolnir to absorb the blast and send it back upon Kang, staggering him. Kang fades into the swirling mists from which he appeared. Thor swears that this time there will be an ending, and asks Immortus if he is correct. Immortus replies, "I do not make predictions godling! I but follow a road I have already traveled! Come...!" and takes Thor and Moondragon in pursuit of Kang. They arrive in a desert and Immortus tells them they are in the American Far West circa 1871. A strange voice tells them "It is rather 1873, demons---the last year you shall ever know!" Thor reacts with surprise that it is not Kang, and......continued next issue
Avengers #142 An Englehart/Perez/Colletta/Wolfman production
"Go West, Young Gods!"
Thor, Moondragon, and Immortus are faced by a band of cowboys, who have guns drawn and tell them to put their hands up. Moondragon expresses shock that these men do not recognize their divinity, to which Thor responds, "What is a god--to a cowboy?" Immortus identifies the band as the Rawhide Kid, Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt, Night Rider and the Ringo Kid. Thor summons a thundershower and lightning strikes a warning shot near the cowboys. The cowboys realize that this isn't any ordinary group of people that suddenly appears out of nowhere in the middle of the desert, and in their surprise they compare this assortment of gods to that odd Hawkeye fella. Thor disperses the storm, and Moondragon questions them about Hawkeye's whereabouts. Thor tells the cowboys to take them to Hawkeye, and after an hour's ride to Tombstone in which the cowboys are shocked by Thor flying, they arrive on the outskirts of town. They try to sneak (???? ;) ) into the law offices of Matthew Hawk (AKA the Two-Gun Kid) where Hawk draws on them in surprise and relaxes once he recognizes them.
Hawk tells the tale of how he traveled to Doom's castle to use the time machine to go to the 12th century and how Kang ambushed him en route. Hawk is able to take down Kang using some arrows he designed especially for Kang last time around. However, when he "tags" Kang it sends them both off kilter and hurtling towards a glowing hole in the timestream. Hawk winds up alone in a desert and sets off looking for civilization. What he finds is an old west village side by side with Kang's technological castle. He is attacked by a group of frightened renegades and flees. Hawk ditches his distinctive purple mask and tunic so he won't be as easily recognized, and strolls into Tombstone looking for a man whom history books said would be there (Matt Hawk, Attorney-at-law, and the Two-Gun Kid. (Funny, most of the history textbooks I have used while teaching seem to have left that chapter out ;) ). Two-Gun is surprised to find out that his secret ID is such common knowledge. The cowboys tell how Kang has taken over most of the people in Tombstone, and made them his slaves. Also, Kang claims that he can kill any of these people with the mere push of a button. They tell the Avengers if they are here to oppose Kang, they are welcome. Moondragon wonders what Kang wants in this period and Immortus responds saying he will answer since the knowledge will change nothing. Kang new plan is to master the 20th century by conquering the 19th. Hawk exclaims that that was what he figured, and that if Kang succeeds all the Avengers will cease to be, but he's got a plan.....
The Pecos Train carries uranium, and Hawk is sure that Kang will attempt to acquire the radioactive element. Kang won't expect the train to be guarded but it will. Thor spouts off in grand fashion until Hawk points out that Moondragon and Thor will stand out and tip Kang off. Hawk and the cowboys will blend in but......
The five cowboys and Hawk wait separately and watch the train on horseback. Thor and Moondragon, garbed in the clothing of the wealthy elite of the 19th century, ride aboard the train. Kang's gang of owlhoots rides to attack the train. Hawkeye spots them and fires a flare arrow to signal the others. Two-Gun muses how he is responsible for the whole tradition of secret identities that the Avengers would follow, and marvels at the fact that he has met gods. The bandits overtake the train only to be surprised and opposed by the band of cowboys. A good ole fashioned shoot 'em up train robbery fight takes place with Hawk demonstrating his marksmanship and Two-Gun going to great lengths to prove his heroism. As the bandits are rounded up in defeat, Hawk fires another signal arrow and Thor hurls himself into the air carrying Moondragon, much to the surprise of the passengers on the train. Hawk tells the bandits that one of them will talk, and give them the info they need to begin their ...Assault on Castle Kang!!!! To be continued..............
And now the end is near.............
Avengers #143 an Englehart/Perez/Grainger/Wolfman production
"Right Between the Eons!"
Kid Colt draws his pistol and tells the bandit leader he has 10 seconds to talk or he'll blow him away. He starts to talk and Colt eggs him on by first shooting off his hat and then his belt, causing the bandit's pants to fall down. This treatment angers Thor, and Hawk tells him to lighten up and that Hawk and the cowboys were doing fine running the show before Thor and Moonie arrived. Thor responds that nevertheless they work together now, and this means that they shall work with honor. Two-Gun defuses the situation reminding everyone there are lives at stake and a town to be saved. Or a world, Hawk adds, and that's why the battle will continue with Avengers only.
Four riders approach Tombstone, all dressed in long riding coats and cowboy hats. Two-Gun tells Hawk he appreciates his concern for his well being, but Tombstone is his town and that means the Two-Gun Kid will ride this to the finish. Moondragon turns to him and tells him she understands but he must never forget whom it is that they face. The fourth, a thin, bearded blonde stranger sits quietly, saying nothing. They ride through Tombstone and approach Castle Kang.
Kang monitors the progress of these four riders on a view screen.
scene switch: The riders dismount and approach the castle on foot, climbing a staircase. Moondragon senses that Kang is aware of their presence. A door opens before them, surprising them all and cutting off Two-Gun in mid sentence. Hawk notes that the "Dragonlady called it right" and that it's do or die time as the four go through the doorway, to be greeted by Kang's image on a viewscreen, welcoming them.
Kang welcomes them to their doom, telling how he sent the time machine back to lure all the Avengers to this time to be destroyed in revenge for their role in the Celestial Madonna affair. He's disappointed the entire assemblage isn't there, but he will have vengeance on who is there. Hawk's response is classic "You blue nosed baboon! I've heard of fixations before, but you take the cake!" Hawk asks why he just doesn't accept that he will give up the life of conquest, causing Kang to rant that he will never give up conquest, never become Immortus, that he will hold onto his identity until the end of his days. An angry Hawkeye rips off his overcoat to prepare for battle yelling "AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!!!!" Moonie and Two Gun follow suit but strangely the bearded blonde stranger stands idly by.
Kang's hand reaches for a button on a control panel and depresses it.
The four figures are launched into the timestream falling helplessly through it as Kang's visage and voice looms over them in a monologue which just defines what makes Kang (and the Avengers) so cool- it's long but worth hearing, to wit: "Heed me well, Avengers! Of all foes you have faced, none compare with Kang the Conqueror! I know all the subtle secrets of time, from the dawn of antiquity to the twilight of eternity! I have ruled--not nations--but whole continents of men! I have ground billions beneath my boots--but you have always defied me! No matter who raised your banner, the Avengers have forever thwarted my will! No longer! You have held the Celestial Madonna from me, and this time you shall know Kang's vengeance! Nothing shall keep me from destroying each and every Avenger who ever lived--from you hapless fools to Iron Man, the Vision, even Thor! Your allies shall know no peace from me save the peace of the grave! I shall blot you from the face of the earth--and then this century, your century, and all of time to come shall march to the sound of one drummer pounding out the rhythm of my name --KANG!"
The Avengers land in a room constructed of a strange glowing substance. Kang appears before them on a viewscreen and tells them they will face the marvels wrought by a science undreamt of to them, and then sics a coyote mutated by 41st century technology on them. Moondragon is quickly felled by the creature's tail, and Two-Gun fires his pistols at it ineffectually. Hawk fires a pair of blast arrows, which also have no effect, and is also taken out by the thingie's tail. Kang gloats maniacally on the viewscreen over his triumph but doesn't notice the bearded blonde stranger standing behind him (huh???!!!!).
scene switch(to Kang's chamber):
Kang is summarizing the combat to himself and questions the whereabouts of the bearded blonde stranger as we see the stranger remove his hat and beard. Kang notices a gaping wall in the combat room on the viewscreen as we see the stranger pull a walking stick from under his coat. Kang remarks that the hole could only be made by someone of extraordinary strength. The light dawns on Kang and he exclaims, "No, it cannot be!" as he turns to see Don Blake. "Yes Kang--", says Blake as he taps his stick on the ground, "--'Twas the Mighty Thor!" finishes the thunder god. Thor strikes at Kang, but the blow is absorbed harmlessly by Kang's forcefield. Kang compliments Thor on his cleverness in changing his stature to conceal his presence, but it is to no avail because of his forcefield. Thor responds that he has not forgotten about the force field and strikes it with Mjolnir with all of his might. Kang is flung through the walls of his castle and into the center of town by the staggering blow. Kang lands in a clump, and curses the fact that Thor can oust him from his citadel. Thor lands near him and hears Kang's invective. Thor strides forward, putting Mjolnir in his belt, "Now, 'neath the open skies--thou and I, hand to hand--shall settle thy fate once and for all!" Thor exclaims....
The coyote thingie grabs Two-Gun and he blasts away at it (I guess he must have one of those movie cowboy guns that never runs out of bullets ;) ). Just as the monster is about to crush him and he's at the verge of panic, Moondragon recovers and incapacitates the thingie with a mind blast, as she remarks that this is why battling Kang is the province of gods, not mortals. A recovered Hawkeye remarks that there is no end to the wonders Kang can come up with, and asks Two-Gun if he's alright. Two Gun says yes, and Hawk asks if he's sure, getting an angry response from Two-Gun, who is more shaken than he lets on.
Thor slams Kang. Kang flies through a storefront smashing it. Thor continues to pound on Kang unmercifully though Kang's forcefield remains in place. The strain shows on Kang's face though, he marvels at Thor's power and reassures himself that his protection will hold, but muses that defense is not the way of Kang, KANG THE CONQUEROR! So he must strike back and he does, leveling Thor with his dissolution beam.
Kang rants-"Feel the force of my dissolution beam, godling! Feel the force of conquest!"
To which Thor replies, "I feel it--! ---And I continue to stand!"
As Thor rises to stand before Kang: Kang-" Then I'll raise the power level even higher! I'll obliterate this whole hamlet if I must! I'll give you more! More!"
But as he rants, a flicker of doubt, of uncertainty, yea even fear runs through Kang's consciousness. Perhaps it is the weakness he swore he'd never know, but he knows it now, however briefly. Kang reaches for more power than he ever has before. Thor warns him he reaches too far. The power builds up and tears Kang apart from the inside out, dissolving his essence and being. Thor remarks that he has destroyed himself and if he's learned nothing else in his immortal life, that this is the way of the warrior. Kang's citadel and all his handiwork in the 19th century disappears and Hawk, Moonie, and Two-Gun are reunited with Thor. Moonie points to the sky as Immortus' visage appears. Immortus tells them that fate has run its course and that Kang is gone, his atoms split and spread throughout all time never to be rejoined. Moondragon asks if Kang is destroyed then how can he ever become Immortus, and Immortus replies that Rama after his adventures with the Avengers suffered much torment as he realized that despite good intentions his quest to undo Kang's wrongs had only strengthened Kang. Rama had erred and so devoted himself to the further understanding of time; finally becoming its master and assuming the guise of Immortus. Since that point, Immortus had worked to bring about an end to the menace of Kang. But now that Kang no longer exists and Rama shall not come into being neither too shall Immortus have been. The circle is broken, and we are free says Immortus as he fades into oblivion. Moondragon weeps, as in Tombstone, Arizona, 1873, today, and forever, there is one less god.
phew!!!!! OK, it's taken me much longer to get this done than anticipated or desired, but we have come to the end of the Englehart era in our Kang history. Looking back, this is the stuff that epics are made of, but it took the stainless one 16 issues plus 3 giant sized ones to tell the tale (not to mention all the previous build up of the Mantis stuff). Not all of it was directly related to Kang, but he was the driving force behind it. All this without gatefolds to update and inform old and new readers alike ;)
It's really interesting to look at George's early work here. I can see all the classic Perez touches in their nascent form, much less developed than they are today though. George was head and shoulders above many of his peers then, but he has developed and grown so much as an artist since then it really amazes me and reminds me just how blessed we are to see him strut his stuff on a monthly basis these days. One thing that has always remained constant though is George's knack for storytelling. This 3- parter seemed to flow so much better than the Tuska or Heck drawn stories prior to it. Having two separate plot threads running in the same book could be jarring if not done properly, but it seemed seamless with George's layouts.
It seems that Steve meant this to be an end to Kang/Immortus/Rama, but as we well know, nothing in comics, despite any writer's intentions, is permanent, but this was a powerful conclusion. Englehart left a lot understated and unstated but implicit in his work regarding divinity, humanity and it's potential within. The whole thing is really a study of the potential of humanity for good or ill, a giant cosmic morality play if you will. What is humanity's potential and how will it react to tapping that potential. Mantis the ultimate perfect human becomes Celestial Madonna while Moondragon is prevented from doing so by her very human trait of arrogance. Moonie who nears godhood is juxtaposed with Thor. Arrogance and overweening pride is juxtaposed with nobility and confidence. Kang masters technology and time yet is juxtaposed with his other selves, Rama and Immortus. Thor's nobility vs. Kang's ambition is another contrast Englehart sets up. And Hawk and Two-Gun serve as the everymen, our in to all of this. Hawk as the experienced wise man who has become used to all of this and Two Gun who is the neophyte experiencing it all for the first time (a role that Patsy Walker would play in the other plot thread going on at the same time). All speak to what humanity can achieve for good or ill and lays it on the table for all to see and draw their own conclusions.
It's also a damn good comic, but not perfect. Of all the Englehart arcs, this is the best pure Kang story. The Madonna saga blew me away, but it wasn't a pure Kang story. This was. It had all the elements you could ask for in a good Kang story. An epic scheme that spans time and space, a diverse group of Avengers, some classic Kang rants and monologues, a Thor-Kang throwdown, a real sense of danger and excitement. However there were some weaknesses in Englehart's story. Particularly the cowboys, with the exception of Two-Gun. None of the others stood out or were even distinguishable from the others. I am not overly familiar with Marvel's western heroes, and except for Night Rider whom I recognized the costume of from WCA, I couldn't tell who was who. Two Gun emerged as a major character but there was nothing to distinguish the others in terms of personality. They were window dressing and that's all. Now I don't know if this was an intentional commentary on western comics and the cowboy genre by Englehart, but it just seems a real weakness in the script. Granted the story was crowded, there were 2 stories going on and only 17 pages a month to work with, but these characters didn't need to be there outside of Two-Gun, so why not just use some locals from Tombstone that know and aid Two-Gun and Hawk instead of bringing in known characters you cannot do justice to.
As for the Kang specific stuff: Englehart really set the stage which all later writers have had to play on, but I don't think that was his intention. The curtain had come down as far as Englehart was concerned. The Kang-Rama-Immortus circle was story specific and broken. Like Mantis, I think this was a toy the Stainless one didn't want others to play with when he was done, but the curtain would rise again a few years later in the pages of Thor.