A Brief History of Kang, Part 31: Citizen Kang
By John Simons
In the early 1990s, Marvel's gimmick for their summer annuals was to string four different titles together into one storyline, in order to entice their readers into buying all of the parts. Now while this might be a nice idea in theory (some of Marvel's most famous stories include multi-part epics and crossovers), the company was simply putting out too many titles at the time. There just wasn't enough good talent to go around, and a lot of the resulting output was sub-par. Which may help to explain how so mediocre an achievement as the four-part "Citizen Kang" ever made it to print.
CAPTAIN AMERICA ANNUAL #11:
Cap is in the middle of a training exercise when the Vision interrupts to tell him about an interesting discovery. While doing a self-diagnostic, Vizh has discovered a small part of his body which seems to possess a level of technology that did not exist at the time of Vision's construction. The label on the part identifies it as originating in Timely, Wisconsin, and so the synthezoid intends to travel there and investigate.
Several days later, when no one has heard from Vizh, Cap flies to Timely himself to find out what's what. What he finds is a strange town so friendly and impossibly clean-cut that even a straight arrow like Cap thinks, "there's something almost...unreal...about all this Norman Rockwellish niceness."
Cap goes to Timely Industries, from which the android-part in question originated, but he is put off by their spokesman, who says that the boss, "Mr. Johnson", is too busy to see him. Cap is immediately suspicious, because there seems to be no other employees, and all of the equipment appears to be non-operational. He sneaks in the back way to search for Mr. Johnson. He steps through the door he believes leads to Johnson's office-- and instead finds himself standing on some rocks by a large body of water.
As it turns out, the doorway was a portal leading back in time 5,000 years, and Cap finds himself faced with a battle to the finish between a young Gilgamesh, and a trio of
"Stone Men from Saturn" (as seen in JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #83) Cap helps evict the aliens from the planet, and before long he realizes where and when he is. He is ready to let Gilgamesh go on his way when he notices a strange futuristic city on the far side of the river. He decides to join Gilgamesh in crossing over and helps the Eternal battle a sea monster. Cap also encounters fellow Avenger Sersi as a small girl before heading on to the futuristic city.
Meanwhile, Dr. Druid is in his Boston home meditating when he becomes aware of the presence of Nebula. She apologizes for her past actions and requests his help, to which Druid replies, "You must have me confused with someone who's still in love with you."
And back in the futuristic city of Chronopolis, Kang the Conqueror gloats before his prisoner-- the Vision!
THOR ANNUAL #17:
When Captain America fails to return from his search for the Vision, Black Widow sends Eric Masterson, the second Thor, to investigate. Although he gets lost on the way, he eventually makes it to Timely, and gets pretty much the same runaround as Cap did. When he pushes the Timely Industries spokesman aside and enters the "office" of Mr. Johnson, he too is transported through time. He flies through several different eras before finally arriving in the year 911-- and smack-dab in the middle of a battle between some Vikings and some Franks.
Thor is suddenly felled by a powerful energy burst, and finds that he is also in the presence of Prester John, who is seated on a hover-chair and in possession of the powerful mystic artifact called the Eye of Avalon. John explains that he was wandering through the island of Avalon in the 12th century when he was approached by Kang the Conqueror. Kang offered John an alliance, because the Eye could help Kang conquer the 20th century. When John realized Kang merely wanted a servant, not a partner, a fight broke out between them. A combination of Kang's weaponry and the Eye's power sent John hurtling backwards in time, where he has allied himself with the Franks, under King "Charles the Simple".
Thor becomes mortified when he realizes that Prester John intends to rule the era through Charles-- which would seriously change the course of history. When he attempts to take John away with him, combat naturally breaks out. By merest chance,
Thor loses when his hammer accidentally taps the ground twice, turning him back to his mortal form.
Eric is tied to a stake and watches in horror while Prester John uses the Eye of Avalon to mystically transform the surrounding landscape into a land of horrors, including walls of flames, a sea of sand, and even a giant fire-breathing salamander monster. The Franks are running around screaming, conveniently leaving Eric's cane within reach of his legs. Soon he is Thor again, and a bolt from Mjolnir triggers the
Eye and sends John flying back through time (where Thor surmises he will soon become the Fantastic Four's problem). Thor also manages to get King Charles and Rollo the Northman to bury the hatchet before he too is pulled away through time!
Nebula, meanwhile, attempts to mentally dominate Dr. Druid once more, but the mentalist is more powerful than before, and easily rebuffs the attempt. Nebula implores him to help her find out what Kang's new scheme is. He agrees to go with her, but to watch her "like a hawk".
FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #25:
The Human Torch follows a "4" signal flare to its source, and finds not his teammates, but rather Dr. Druid and Nebula. Druid says they need help from the
Fantastic Four to fight Kang. Nebula tries to entice Johnny, but Druid stops her. He explains to Johnny that she is "not the space pirate who claimed kinship with Thanos", and since he cannot ascertain who she really is, he has dubbed her "Temptress".
Just then Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, and the Thing arrive, and Druid recaps the whole "Time Bubble" affair for them all. Then the six of them hop in Rosebud III, Reed's new time sled, and they head for Timely, Wisconsin.
Temptress sees through the disguises of the deceptive town and points the team to a hidden "time aperture" in the side of a supposed brick wall. They fly through and arrive in Limbo. Temptress leads them through a series of portals, which bring them closer to Chronopolis. As they approach, a tractor beam locks onto their sled and pulls them in. They have a brief encounter with a well-armed street gang who are all dressed like the Punisher.
Meanwhile, the Avengers also come to Timely in search of their teammates. Sersi also locates the aperture, and soon they too are approaching Chronopolis. When the two teams meet, Black Knight immediately notices "Nebula" standing among the FF!
Temptress convinces her allies that the Avengers are really Kang's agents in disguise.
Rather predictably, a fight breaks out between the two teams, during which Temptress is able to sneak away.
It takes six crappily-drawn pages of superhero combat before Dr. Druid can persuade them that they've been had. By that time, they have a new foe to deal with: the real agents of Kang: the Anachronauts!
AVENGERS ANNUAL #21:
The Anachronauts are the greatest warriors of the ages: Sssith the serpent man; Apocryphus the futuristic "last Eternal"; the cybernetic Deathunt 9000; the knight Sir Raston; Tyndar the Trojan gladiator; Raa the prehistoric "hill-dweller"; and the Native American Wild Run "the first Red Wolf" (whatever the hell that means). Raston explains that Kang is the only man ever to defeat them in battle, and so they all serve him. They call for the heroes to surrender. Hercules, naturally, tells them off.
The Anachronauts attack, and the Invisible Woman throws up a protective force field around the heroes. Dr. Druid and Mr. Fantastic decide that the teams should pretend to lose the battle, so that they will be taken into Kang's citadel. After four pages of crappily- drawn fake fighting, the teams surrender. As planned, Apocryphus activates a "temportal" which leads into the heart of the city.
Soon the heroes find themselves in Kang's throne room, trapped inside a "four- dimensional hypercube". Kang explains that the hypercube is "out of synchronization" with the throne room. "But let's not get bogged down on technicalities," he adds, "Let me speak of something far more fascinating-- namely me."
Kang explains that he founded the town of Timely in the year 1901, and he has been introducing technology centuries earlier than it actually should have appeared. He dismisses his past encounters with the heroes as "diversions", while he was actually laying the groundwork for his master plan to come into effect at the dawn of the 21st century.
Right in the middle of this rant, Kang suddenly remembers his prisoners Thor, Vision and Captain America, and he teleports them into the hypercube with their comrades. Then he continues his rant right where he left off.
Kang claims that his time-traveling abilities make him unstoppable, but that "conquest is uninteresting without conflict!" Therefore, he intends to give the heroes three opportunities to stop him before December 31, 2000.
Just as he wraps up his monologue, Temptress phase-shifts into the room and plunges a dagger into his heart. But then she is caught up by an unseen force. Hovering down from the ceiling comes the *true* Prime Kang. It seems the one Temptress killed was a faux-Kang of the Crosstime Corps, whom Kang used as bait to force Temptress's hand. Using his instruments, Kang removes all disguises from the woman and finally learns her true identity: Ravonna!
Ravonna angrily tells Kang why she has become his worst nightmare. After the events of AVENGERS #71, Ravonna was removed from her stasis-tube by the Grandmaster, who put a doppelganger in her place. Grandmaster then restored her to life and explained how Kang had declined to save her in favor of killing the Avengers. He agreed to help her get back at Kang for his wrongs. She subsequently infiltrated the Crosstime Kang Corps and tried to ascertain which of them was the true Kang. (Unfortunately for us continuity freaks, she makes no attempt to explain why she took on the guise, personality and thoughts of Nebula the space pirate)
When Kang realizes how much effort Ravonna has exerted to destroy him, he gets turned on. He dismisses the Ravonna of old as "too passive, too noble, too innocent for a man of my grand ambitions!" He claims that he once rescued a Ravonna from her fate at Baltag's hands, but after awhile he grew bored with her. He challenges her to a one-on-one duel. If he wins, she must join the Anachronauts and serve him. If she wins, she can kill him. Renaming herself Terminatrix, The Artist Formerly Known As Ravonna pulls out some vibra-knives and attacks.
Suddenly the hypercube de-activates and the heroes are free again. Before their capture, Sersi took on the guise of Raa, and escaped notice. Now she has freed her allies, and they engage in combat with the Anachronauts. Thor apparently suffers from a bout of elephantitis of the legs, but recovers quickly. Apocryphus figures out why Sersi seems slightly familiar to him-- she's his mother!
Meanwhile, the Kang/Terminatrix duel rages on. She mocks him for never killing the heroes before. Kang insists that the thrill of conquest is much more enjoyable than mere slaughter. "I decreed that no conquest I ever undertake be boring," he cries, "Nor shall any person who serves or opposes me be unworthy!" His arrogance only makes
Terminatrix hate him even more.
By now the Anachronauts are defeated, and the heroes turn their attention to the two duelists, who are surrounded by a force field. Thor hurls Mjolnir full-tilt at the field. Kang surprises everyone by pushing Ravonna out of the way and taking the full impact of the hammer right in his chest. Thor feels terrible, but Cap insists that Kang actually stepped in front of the weapon. Tearfully, Ravonna picks up Kang's broken form and teleports away with him.
With nothing better to do, the heroes wander about the city for a bit, looking for a way home. Dr. Druid and Mr. Fantastic find the quinjet, and they all pile in. They give up on trying to find Ravonna and Kang, and apparently have no interest in jailing the Anachronauts, confiscating Kang's technology or learning more about Apocryphus's relationship to Sersi. So they shrug their shoulders and go home.
Elsewhere, Terminatrix has placed Kang in a stasis-tube much like the one she was rescued from. She thinks that Kang sacrificed himself to pay her back for her earlier sacrifice. However she feels cheated that she couldn't slay him herself. She has come to the realization that she may have a zeal for conquest just as strong as Kang's. She will make every effort to revive Kang-- "so I can kill you as you ought to be killed."
Well, even a die-hard Nebula fan such as myself must concede that the villainess of this story is not she. Of course retcons were not a particularly new concept when these annuals were published, but the problem with this one is that absolutely no attempt is made to explain it. We have no idea how Dr. Druid knows that Temptress is not Nebula, he just does. Further, no credible reason has been given as to why Ravonna would pretend to be Nebula, to the point of even thinking Nebula thoughts (cursing Starfox and the like). Does she think Kang is telepathic? It still seems more sensible that
Ravonna would approach the Avengers as herself and trick them into helping her breach the Time Bubble. Since they helped save her kingdom before, there is no reason why they wouldn't help her again, if she made up a convincing enough lie.
Speaking of retcons, apparently nobody had the heart to tell Roy Thomas that John Byrne revealed that Vision did not have the Human Torch's body. In this story, Vision is under the impression that his body dates back to 1939!
In the final two parts of this story, Herb Trimpe makes the disastrous decision to draw in a pseudo-Liefeld style, with absolutely horrid results. While Rob Liefeld certainly has his detractors, at the very least we can grant that the man has a distinctive style that's all his own. Rob's a true original. Trimpe's art here barely holds a candle to the artist he's aping. Every character appears to run around with their mouths agape and their tongues lolling out, striking all sorts of freakish unnatural poses. Dreadful stuff.
As lame and overlong as most of this story is, I'll grant that Gruenwald's handling of
Kang's personality is a lot of fun and easily the most enjoyable aspect of the whole mess. It's just too bad the reader has to wade through 95 pages of junk before Kang takes center stage (and that's not even including all of the fill-ins and back-up stories these annuals are padded with).
If Kang really has a master plan worked out for the end of the millennium, one wonders why he doesn't just immediately time jump to Dec. 30, 2000 and see his plan come to fruition. The answer, however, is his need to achieve through conflict. He wants to give the Avengers a "sporting chance", so he mentions three opportunities the heroes will have to thwart him. Soon after, he is incapacitated, so it may be that these challenges may never materialize. Kang has encountered the Avengers twice since this tale (three times if you count AVENGERS FOREVER #2), but neither occasion seemed to have anything to do with this plot thread.
Perhaps I'm the only one, but I find the idea of Ravonna going through all this trouble to destroy Kang rather overblown. Based on the glimpses we saw of the character in
Stan Lee's original stories, Ravonna would be more likely to cry and feel melancholy for a week or two, and then get over it.
While it is not impossible that Kang is telling the truth when he says he saved a counterpart of Ravonna but grew tired of her, it must have happened shortly before this story if it did happen. As recently as AVENGERS #269, Kang was still enamoured of Ravonna and was hurt when she chose Immortus over him.
Next up, I will have a few brief words about the questionable "Memoirs of Kang" back-up in the annuals, before moving on to my last installment of the history, THE TERMINATRIX OBJECTIVE.
John, Lord of Time