A Brief History of Kang, Part 24: The Council of Kangs

By John Simons

As anyone who has read an issue of WHAT IF? knows, the Marvel multiverse is made up of a myriad of alternate realities, where history differs from the so-called "Mainstream' Marvel Universe. Sometimes the differences are subtle; other times they are quite drastic. Because of this multiplicity of realities, there are probably countless counterparts of every character. In most cases, it would be very extraordinary for a person to cross paths with another version of himself. For a person who travels the timestream as frequently as Kang, however, it seems almost inevitable that he would encounter another version of himself. How he reacts to such a paradox is the premise of Roger Stern's take on the infamous Conqueror.

AVENGERS 267 opens on the front lawn of Avengers mansion, where President Reagan is on hand to help the team welcome their newest member-- Colossus! Another member of the team is Storm; it becomes clear that these aren't our Avengers. Iron Man arrives a bit late to the festivities, and gives the president a mysterious case from his boss, Tony Stark. However, as the president is struggling to open the case, Tony Stark himself tries to rush the crowd, shouting a warning. In the next moment, the case opens-- and Manhattan Island dies in a thermonuclear explosion!

As the dust clears, the only survivor is "Iron Man", who is safe inside a protective force field. As he cackles his triumph, his outer armor peels away to expose his true identity-- Kang the Conqueror! But Kang barely has time to bask in his victory before he is mysteriously teleported away.

He arrives in a strange meeting room, where three shadowy figures at podiums stand in judgment of him. The middle figure mockingly informs Kang that his victory is hollow, because the destruction of New York sparked off a nuclear war between the superpowers which wiped life off the Earth. They also show him another reality where Kang's "counterpart" failed and was killed. Kang seems confused by this talk of counterparts, which the shadowy man says are created in every instance in which Kang reaches a critical juncture in time. To underscore their point, the shadowy figures turn up the lights-- and all three of them are Kangs as well!

Then they disintegrate the Kang they just mocked.

These three Kangs (whom, for the sake of clarity, I will refer to as Prime Kang, Kang-Two, and Kang-Three in this summary) grouse about how inferior some of their counterparts have proven to be, and express relief that they have banded together in a "null-time zone" in order to exterminate them all. Having vented their spleens, the Council of Kangs disbands until their next meeting.

Almost immediately, however, Kang-Three returns to the chamber. He is intrigued by the strange room, which was created by Prime Kang, and has secretly returned to investigate. To his surprise, Prime Kang has anticipated his return. But rather than be angry, Prime agrees to show him around.

Prime Kang is somewhat long-winded, and brags that "unlike yourself and our other council-brother, I am not presently ruling a single reality. I have established my base of operations in this region which is beyond time and space." He shows off his robotics plant, his armament fabricators, and his viewing chamber, which he has used to track down the counterparts. The two Kangs look in on a typical day in the life of Kang-Two, who spends hours reviewing his troops, and just as much time mourning at the tomb of Ravonna.

When Kang-Three becomes annoyed at Prime Kang's mockery (for he, too, mourns his own Ravonna), Prime Kang confesses that he has no need to mourn. On cue, Princess Ravonna walks through the doorway. Kang-Three's distraction at seeing a counterpart of his true love, alive and well, is all the opening Prime Kang needs to have a secret floor gun spring up and kill his guest. Ravonna is greatly disturbed by the death, but Prime Kang assures her there is but one last Kang counterpart to deal with.

The next leg of Prime Kang's diabolical plan is to bring the Avengers (you knew they were going to come into this eventually!) to Limbo. One minute, Hercules, Wasp, and Black Knight are working on a new transport tunnel to connect Avengers mansion to Hydrobase. The next minute, they are wandering the mists of the dimension beyond time. They are surprised to stumble across the incredible Hulk, who soon disappears and is replaced by Giant-Man! Wasp peels back the mask of the comatose giant and, sure enough, it is Hank Pym. Soon he also disappears, replaced by a golden-armored Iron Man. Jan realizes these are all the heroes who were replaced and sent to Limbo by the Space Phantom (waaaayyyy back in AVENGERS #2) Prime Kang then arrives to mock them, but when Hercules smashes him, they realize it was just a Kang robot.

Back at his base, Prime Kang gloats to Ravonna. Soon he will use the Avengers against Kang-Two, and then send a robot proxy to replace the other Kang in his timeline. Prime has already done this in the timelines of many other dead Kangs-- creating a vast time empire for him to rule.

In AVENGERS 268, Prime Kang explains that he wants to frustrate and anger the Avengers, to make them play right into his hands. The Wasp attempts to interrogate Space Phantom, but Kang has him fried before he can speak (the implication seems to be that Phantom is dead, but this is impossible since Space Phantom has appeared several times since AVENGERS #2). The three heroes wander endlessly through the mists of Limbo and next run into a wave of frantic Dire Wraiths, who were previously banished there by the Spaceknight Rom. The vile aliens fight to the death, because Kang has promised to torture them if they fail. Surprisingly enough, Hercules and Dane appear to slay several dozen of the slimies.

Hercules is able to "persuade" one Wraith in directing them to Prime Kang's lair. Soon after they enter, they come across Kang-Three's corpse. Just then, Kang-Two teleports in, and quickly jumps to the conclusion that the Avengers have killed his counterpart. He unleashes a Growing Man, which engages in a knockdown drag-out with Herc.

In the meantime, back on Earth, Captain America, Captain Marvel 2 and Sub-Mariner have run some tests, determining that their teammates have been spirited away by a "chronal displacement wave". Cap immediately suspects Kang. Using the Leader's time platform, they transport to the coordinates they have calculated, and begin to wander Limbo looking for their friends. They get a big clue when a defeated Growing Man comes crashing down out of the sky!

Kang-Two has his three opponents on the run when C.M. flies in and fries his armor. Namor and Cap arrive moments later-- just in time for them to be immobilized with the others in the constricting paralysis beams of the victorious Prime Kang!

Of course, the only proper thing for a bad guy to do when the heroes are on the ropes is to relate his entire personal history and master plan, and in issue 269 Prime Kang obliges. He tells the captured heroes that his Earth's timeline diverged from the Avengers' centuries ago. They became technologically advanced while "our" earth was still in the dark ages, but this technology led to devastating wars. In the aftermath, a stranger came to the world, a scientist whose knowledge led to the redemption of the planet. Kang would eventually learn that this stranger was from the Avengers' timeline-- and he was Kang's ancestor.

(The stranger referred to here is Nathaniel Richards, father of the FF's Reed Richards. As revealed in FANTASTIC FOUR #271-273, Richards traveled to an alternate earth and became its savior, and also sired a son from whom the man-who-would-be-Kang is descended)

Prime Kang then reiterates a lot of history we have already seen in various comics-- how he found his ancestor's plans for a time machine and constructed one, how he became Rama-Tut and ruled in ancient Egypt, how he encountered Doom, then traveled to the future and took on the identity of Kang. After conquering the Earth of 4000 A.D., he turned to the 20th century for a challenge, and began encountering the Avengers.

The life of Prime Kang finally diverged from that of the Kangs we have seen after the events of THOR #140. The vortex created by Thor's hammer at the end of that tale transported this version of Kang to Limbo, where he stumbled upon the sprawling fortress of Immortus-- and the skeletal remains of that old opponent! Seeing that Immortus's viewscreens could look in on different timelines, Prime Kang located the moment just before Baltag blasted Ravonna and teleported her away, saving her life. He was shaken to discover that, by doing this, he had condemned the Kang of that timeline to die by Baltag's hand.

Soon Prime Kang became incensed by the ineptitude of all the counterpart Kangs he discovered. He conspired to murder them all "before the name of Kang becomes synonymous with 'fool'!" Thus he created the Council of Kangs as a pretext to eliminate them all and become the one true Kang.

During all this ranting, Prime Kang is oblivious to the fact that Hercules has become so angry that he is close to draining the paralysis beams of their power. Because he is so successful, Captain Marvel is able to knock the beams out with an especially powerful energy burst from her body. Soon the Avengers are in a fight to the finish with Prime Kang.

Ravonna, meanwhile, has Kang-Two under guard. He swears he loves her, but he cannot promise her that he will not harm the other Kang. Exasperated, she lets him run off to his death, and is comforted by a mysterious figure in the shadows...

As Prime Kang is fighting off the Avengers (rather successfully, I might add), Kang-Two tries to shoot him from behind. He gets his just desserts for being a back-shooter-- his gun, which has been booby-trapped by Prime Kang (man, that guy thinks of everything!) backfires, ripping him to shreds. Reveling in the destruction of his last counterpart, Kang proclaims himself "the sole master of time!"

"Not so, brother. You will never be master, as long as I yet live!" says the figure from the shadows: Immortus!

Immortus reveals that he kept his own divergence from Kang hidden while he allowed the other counterparts to be destroyed. He also takes credit for creating the "time disturbances" which brought Rama-Tut to the 20th and 40th centuries, for leading Kang to Immortus' "remains", and for mentally manipulating Kang into rescuing Ravonna.

Ravonna admits that she has helped Immortus in his plans, because he "is all that was ever good in Kang", while all the counterparts were so full of hate.

Immortus adds that he has gathered the memories of all of the slain Kangs into a "psyche-globe", which he holds aloft, making him the supreme master of Limbo. Predictably enough, Kang pushes Immortus aside and makes a grab for the globe. Suddenly, instantly, the memories of the globe are all transferred into him. The sheer mental trauma sends him running away screaming into Limbo, a gibbering idiot.

When Wasp accuses Immortus of letting Kang grab the globe, he insists he gave Kang the opportunity to redeem himself-- which was spurned. When C.M. presses him on his motivations, Immortus explains that his obligation to straighten out the timestream is a distasteful one, and basically he decided to let Kang do some of his dirty work for him. The Avengers are, of course, appalled, so with a wave of his hand Immortus sends them back home.

Ravonna worries that now the Avengers will never trust him in the future, to which he replies: "I could never hope to win their trust, Ravonna-- nor would I want it. Heroes must always be wary of beings as powerful as I. Far better I be thought a villain, than a world lose the effectiveness of the mighty Avengers!"

The story further deepens the mystery of Immortus. Why does he do all the kooky things he does? If indeed he created the time disturbances he mentioned (thereby guiding his younger self into becoming Kang), then WHY? Why did he want Kang to absorb the memories of the slain counterparts? And where is the Kang who eventually becomes him? Possibly (I hope) AVENGERS FOREVER may attempt to answer some of these questions...

This is the last appearance of Kang in which the name is strictly a personal pronoun; in our next story "Kang" also becomes a noun, denoting any member of the Crosstime Kang Corps (I'll explain later). In order to differentiate, I would like to refer to the true Kang by his birth name. Unfortunately, the "Timequake" epic in WHAT IF #35-39 reveals that Kang's original name is Nathaniel Richards, the same as his famous ancestor, Mr. Fantastic's dad. So to call him that would clarify nothing! In order to be clear, I will heretofore refer to the "real", original, time-traveling Kang, and any counterparts thereof, as RD (or Richards-Descended) Kangs.

By the conclusion of this three-parter, it appears that nearly all the divergent RD Kangs in the multiverse have been killed. Aside from Prime Kang, only one or two are known to survive. One is "Fred Kang" who, as issue 291 reveals, successfully hid from the Council in the corridors of time. Immortus' comments imply that at least one other counterpart survived, the one who will eventually take the Immortus guise. One must also wonder which Kang will become the elder Rama-Tut, as seen in Englehart's run. Possibly Prime Kang himself will eventually see the light and become this more benevolent incarnation!

(It is my sincere hope that these are the only counterparts still extant; IMHO the more counterparts who survive this story, the more incompetent it makes Kang look!)

One final note:
although future writers sometimes use the terms interchangeably, the Council of Kangs and the Crosstime Kang Corps are two different organizations. The Council's only appearance is here, and it ceases to exist with the death of Kang-Two. The Kang Corps is quite a different story-one which we will explore in our next installment!

John, Lord of Time