A Brief History of Kang, Part 20: The Phantom Limbo Menace

By Michael Proteau

Now hang tight as our Kangtastic journey takes us once again outside the pages of Avengers and to a time when disco was king and ads for giant sized posters of the McNichols were considered a good thing........

Thor 281 A Gruenwald, Macchio, Gillis, Catron/Pollard/Marcos/Thomas and Shooter production:
"This Hammer Lost!"

Thor flies through the air after battling Hyperion and ponders his recent encounters with the Celestials and the potential repercussions of the Fourth Hosts presence on earth. Wishing he had more information on the Celestials and their handiwork, Thor decides to use Mjolnir to transport him through time so he can learn more. The Mjolnir-produced vortex consumes Thor and whisks him away, but his journey is interrupted before he can reach his destination. The vortex slows and Mjolnir vanishes.

Thor sounding like he's on the edge of despair wails about the fact that he cannot seek his lost hammer if he cannot see beyond his hands due to the mists which surround him. Thor wonders who could be behind this, speculating if the Celestials have the power to overcome Odin's enchantments on the hammer. He then sees the hammer hurtle by and himself grasping the thong. A voice rings out, "Welcome to Limbo, Avenger...the crossroads of Eternity!" and the Space Phantom emerges from the mists.

Thor questions how the Phantom was able to find Thor, and the Phantom explains that it is Thor's mind, which assigns intervals between events. In Limbo, they do not exist. Thor postures and threatens the Phantom who brushes him off and tells Thor to come with him if he wishes to see his hammer again. Thor and the Phantom walk off as the Phantom launches into a flashback monologue explaining that even though his deeds of the past have painted him as a villain his current motivations are different.

He tells of his first meeting with the Avengers (from V.1#2) and his ill-fated alliance with the Grim Reaper (v.1#108). Phantom then reveals that he is from the planet Phantus and from a species that had mastered many of the intricacies of time travel long before they had attempted space travel. They used time travel to war upon one another travelling in time to launch or avoid attacks. However, travelling time did not mean mastering time, and these travels were ravaging the temporal balance of the planet creating diverging possibilities. Being a survivor, the Space Phantom fled in a chronal capsule, but it was damaged and he was stranded in Limbo. Here he encountered the ruler of the realm and true master of time, Immortus, with whom he struck a bargain. Phantom would bring him subjects to study and Immortus would give Phantom the powers of physical displacement. Phantom tells how he despised Immortus, but obeyed him, infiltrating earth and the Avengers, but he also used that opportunity to study earth himself to see if it were ripe for conquest by his people when their planet died of time-induced entropy.

Thor stops his prattling and asks how it concerns him. Phantom tells him only that they have arrived and to prepare himself. They behold the planet Phantus stuck between Limbo and the normal chronal universe. Phantom tells Thor his hammer must have been drawn by the vortex at the planet's core, which leads towards real time. Thor ponders that perhaps in Limbo, Odin's decree is as meaningless as natural law. Phantom says he must save his people even if they are fools, and Thor asks how he can help without Mjolnir. Phantom tells him they will travel to the core and retrieve it.

Thor and Phantom journey through the strife torn part of Phantus stuck in Limbo. Thor withstands and returns several forms of attacks, at one point fashioning a hammer from the metal of a tank he has crumpled. Thor withstands conventional bombs, scatter bombs, mines, energy draining goo, and graviton bombs seemingly without batting an eye. Phantom points them into a building and Thor makes short work of a group of soldiers guarding the interior. They enter into a laboratory as Phantom tells Thor that within lies the means of retrieving his hammer and saving Phantus. Within the lab is a terminal which will take Thor straight to Phantus' core. Thor leaps into the terminal and seems to drop for an eternity when all at once, the very fiber of his being is shredded all at once by unknown forces.

Phantom gloats that Thor is a fool and has fallen into his trap, baited with lies about Mjolnir's whereabouts. Phantom rants that Thor's immortal body will serve as a timeless plug for the hole which Phantus was sliding through, which will save the planet by pushing it back into the real time-space continuum and out of Limbo.

For his part, Thor is no longer concerned about Mjolnir as he is caught in the juncture between Limbo and real time. The half of him in Limbo remains as Thor, but for the half in real time, sixty seconds have passed since he has grasped Mjolnir, and has reverted to the form of Dr. Donald Blake. This form cannot survive the forces unleashed within the vortex.
To be continued in.........

Thor 282 a Gruenwald, Macchio/Pollard/Marcos/Thomas, Shooter production
"Rites of Passage"

Thor is trapped in the vortex between Limbo and real time part Thor, part Don Blake, as the Space Phantom gloats over his apparent victory. However, Phantom notices that no changes to Phantus' status are occurring, and realizes something is causing Thor to lose his godly attributes. He communicates with Thor and asks him what is happening and Thor tells him of Odin's decree and his mortal form. Phantom mentally rants that he did not know this and Thor tells him that he does not know why the Phantom has deceived him, but that if he wishes Thor's aid, the Phantom must rescue him first. The Phantom, realizing he has no choice if he is to save Phantus, recalls Thor from the vortex.

Thor returns but is p.o.'d beyond belief and demands Phantom tell him where Mjolnir is. Phantom, cowed by Thor's anger, tells him he does not have the hammer, but thinks he knows where it is. Thor threatens him if this is another deceit, and Phantom swears it is not, telling Thor he will help him to find Mjolnir, if, IF Thor promises to help Phantus' plight. Thor asks Phantom why he tried to deceive him earlier instead of asking for Thor's aid and Phantom replies that it's a cultural thing and that there is no honor in negotiation. Thor muses that the ethics of it are beyond him, but that he cannot let any planet perish if it is within his power to save it, and so agrees to the Phantom's bargain.

Phantom leads them once again through war-torn Phantus and back into Limbo's vast wasteland. Thor demands to know their destination, and Phantom responds that he is taking them to Immortus, master of this realm from whom nothing escapes notice. Thor is incredulous telling how he witnessed Immortus undoing upon the death of Kang. Phantom can only laugh at the concept of Immortus "death" asking how someone who is beyond time not be beyond death. Thor is angered by Phantom's insulting tone, but Phantom begs forgiveness saying he did not know that Immortus enjoyed deception as much as he did. Phantom tells Thor that Immortus shall be alive as long as time itself endures, and if anyone can help recover Mjolnir, it is he.

With that, Phantom points to Immortus' castle in Limbo (picture a cross between a tesseract and a gothic castle tripping on magic mushrooms). Phantom advises caution as they are entering uninvited, and tells Thor to follow him, as he is familiar with the walkways of the castle. A bewildered looking Thor queries Phantom asking him if he is so familiar how does he explain the figure materializing before them.

The giant figure calls out to them telling them none may trespass here uninvited, so says Tempus keeper of the castle. Thor notes that he has the look of a frost giant as he launches himself at the creature. Phantom shouts a warning that Immortus has vested time-spawned powers within Tempus, as Tempus swats the leaping Thor aside with his club. Thor rises and starts hurling parts of the castle's masonry at Tempus, which the giant casually swats aside, again with his club. Tempus then fires eyebeams at Thor, bearing the force to which all must succumb, the "rampant ravages of aging!" but Thor's immortal nature leaves him unaffected. Tempus is surprised and comments that Thor too then does not know the luxury of natural death, but that he may still be vanquished by the force of Tempus' timestorm. Thor cuts his way through the gale force and notes that Tempus' club controls the very elements of Limbo much as Mjolnir controls the elements of the weather. Thor makes his way to Tempus and fells him. Tempus loses his club but strikes Thor. Thor recovers and grabs Tempus' club and uses it to smite Tempus into unconsciousness. Thor then makes his way into the castle with the Phantom as a sort of guide, and in the process sees himself battling Frankenstein's monster (circa v.1#132), which he comments occurred over a year ago (again time passage is questionable reference due to the nature of Marvel time). Phantom comments that this is due to the nature of Limbo's timelessness.

Thor and Phantom make their way to the throne room where Immortus sits upon the throne with Mjolnir at his side. Thor reacts with surprise both at Phantom's truthfulness and at Immortus status of being very much alive. Thor asks if Immortus is Kang's later self and Kang is dead how can Immortus be alive? Immortus responds that his life is not a circle as he earlier described to the Avengers, but more like a tree-where even though one branch be pruned, the tree still stands. Immortus then lifts Mjolnir and offers it to Thor in trade for the remnants of Tempus' club. Thor comments that Immortus tosses Mjolnir as if Odin's enchantments were absent, to which Immortus responds that the only enchantments in Limbo are his own.

Thor says he is glad he did not have to battle Immortus to recover Mjolnir, but wonders why Immortus stole it in the first place. Immortus responds he did not steal it but borrowed it, telling Thor that his many recent passages through Limbo had reminded Immortus that he had intended to investigate the time travel properties invested in the hammer and that he took this opportunity to do so. Immortus then tells Thor that in return for satisfying his curiosity he will satisfy Thor's curiosity of him, and proceeds to tell Thor the story of Immortus.

He tells how in the twilight of his earthly years he decided to thwart death's impending embrace and sequestered himself in Limbo for eternity, where he would further his studies of time. He tells how he built the castle using the stones and laborers from the broken dreams of a former life. Donning his final regalia, he took 2 subjects: Tempus, whom he fashioned from the very ether of Limbo to guard his domain, and the Space Phantom, who destiny delivered to him. He calls both disappointments, telling how the Phantom is a nuisance and Tempus tries to commit suicide whenever he is not under supervision.

Immortus tells how he then began his studies focusing interest on his own era, and how he used the Masters of Evil to learn what effect Kang had had upon the development of the Avengers (v.1#10). Thor is unaware of this meeting, as it became a divergent timeline. He tells that sometime after this he was first visited by a trinity of beings spawned at this time cycle's end, who claimed to have culled him from the ranks of time travelers to be tutored in the secrets of time so that Immortus might help them in their custodianship of the timestream. As their apprentice, Immortus was assigned to oversee the 7 millennia in which he had lived. His task was to monitor all time travel therein and to untangle the multiplicities he had created in former lives. Immortus tells Thor that the Celestial Madonna affair was but one of many campaigns launched by Immortus to curtail his renegade counterparts throughout the multiverse. He tells Thor that with Kang's discorporation, he sought to reassure the Avengers that the immediate threat was over, and thus gave them a false explanation of his own demise. If truth be known, Immortus relates, the death of one counterpart does not affect the lives of the rest of his legion of temporal counterparts. The tree of Immortus' existence is ever growing and once having been always is.

Thor comments that Immortus' tale mystifies as much as it enlightens. Thor then asks Immortus leave to continue his journey to the Celestials' past, and Immortus tells him to go but not to expect to find anything which will alter what is to be. Phantom asks Thor if he has forgotten his promise to help save Phantus. Thor responds that he has given his word, so he will help. Immortus tells them he can open a portal to their destination, but that to accomplish the rescue of the planet will drain Mjolnir of all its time energies. Thor asks if that means he will neither be able to seek the Celestial nor to return to his own time if he does this, and Immortus tells him that he will return Thor to his own time but will do nothing further.

So be it, says Thor and he uses Mjolnir blast Phantus out of Limbo and into the regular time/space continuum. Immortus sends Thor back to his own time and tells him that when next they meet it will be at Immortus' will. As Thor takes to the skies he muses that he has a gnawing suspicion that this was all a contrivance to remove the time travel properties from Mjolnir, but no matter; the matter of the Celestials must still be dealt with.

The End

OK, now the can of worms is opened. For such a bad story it has so many serious repercussions for the whole Kang and Immortus she-bang. It was essentially a 2 part fill in story to give Roy Thomas a breather on Thor so he could catch up on his Conan projects, but it became a crucial turning point in Kang/Immortus history.

Why was it a bad story? Well for most of the first part I felt like I was reading a Superman story where Supes had long blonde hair and talked funny. The let's display Thor the "invulnerable" prowess in page after page of padded fight scenes versus the military of Phantus was just plain gratuitous and boring. It was like reading an old DC where the characters were flat and interchangeable and the costume was the only difference between them. The second part was marginally better, but when the Space Phantom is the most sympathetic character in the lot, well...... I mean Thor comes off as a bit of a doofus and the super Boy Scout role just doesn't suit him. He's a savvy warrior who deals with Loki often enough to have a healthy dose of suspicion. He's taken in by the Phantom just way too easily. Besides, Thor isn't one to let old slights go, and well, Phantom had shown his colors to the Avengers before, so it's unlikely Thor would just go okey dokey I'll just follow you and jump in this big pit.

However, the Immortus revelations are significant. Englehart had spent a lot of time and effort turning Immortus from a villain (in v.1 #10) into an altruistic godlike force in the MU and then having the story come to fruition. This story really throws Immortus' altruism into doubt. Immortus serves his own agenda or that of the mysterious triumvirate, regardless of how that impacts the well being of others. And now we have our Kang tree, the logical repercussion of which is that we can have Kang's growing on trees, which of course, we did. Of course, we now know that Immortus is a master of misinformation as well as time, and this means we cannot trust any of what he says as being the true story, so who knows if this mysterious triumvirate actually exists, or whether this was just another case of Immortus throwing out a red herring. So much of the Kang confusion (Kangfusion? ;) ) which develops has its roots right in these two issues. Good luck to John sorting it all out.