A Brief History of Kang, Part 32: The Memoirs of Kang
By John Simons
Before moving on to my final installment of the Kang History, I would like to abuse my position as Kang chronicler to dissect the problematic "Memoirs of Kang", which appeared as a back-up feature in the "Citizen Kang" annuals of 1992. For a few years in the early 90's, Marvel had the swell idea of creating little summary stories in the back of their annuals, to help explain the voluminous backstory associated with some of the characters and events appearing in said annual's main features.
In the case of Kang's memoirs, however, Peter Sanderson may be guilty of trying to wrap things up a little too neatly. Some of the retcons he works into the backstory are nice, but others are just unnecessary and detract from some good stories of the past. Sometimes Sanderson's explanations don't clarify anything-- they are just as confusing as the event he is attempting to simplify!
In my summary of this back-up, I will mostly gloss over the parts where published stories are reiterated without significant change, and only comment when the memoirs present, for good or ill, a change to what we already know:
Kang is seated on a throne in his citadel, dictating into a microphone. Because he is about to defeat the Avengers ("the only beings in all the ages who could rival my greatness"), he has decided to record his history for posterity:
He begins by explaining that he hails from the 30th century, and that "...I had a great ancestor, a warlord and scientific genius. Some say his name is Richards. Others say it was von Doom." This is an odd statement. Firstly, he has just said that "my original name is unimportant" but this is disingenuous. His name is Nathaniel Richards, which would seem to be a hint that perhaps his famous ancestor was a Richards! Secondly, who are these "others" that have said his ancestor might be Doom? Kang himself has thrown out such a suggestion before, but it seems little more than idle speculation.
Perhaps this is meant to suggest that Kang is uncomfortable with the thought that he is descended from a line of do-gooders. He would prefer to be of Doom's line, so he tries to promote confusion about his ancestry.
Kang explains that he was bored in his own time, which was an age of peace. Then he explains, as Rama-Tut did during the "Lost in Space-Time" story, that he amused himself by watching records of 20th century heroes and villains. For these memoirs, he mentions, "my ancestor has compiled a library of records of his own time and place..." This is a nice explanation for a seeming contradiction, namely: if Kang's timeline developed so much faster than the mainstream Earth, and Nathaniel Richards (the original, that is) created a new age of prosperity, it is unlikely the Fantastic Four, the Avengers or Dr. Doom even came to exist there! This new explanation reconciles this problem: Nathaniel the first created records of his home timeline.
Kang next tells how he traveled "to my predecessor's citadel, preserved for a millennium as a shrine" to learn more about him. I guess he would have us believe that someone would build a shrine to a great historical figure, and then forget to mention whether the guy's name was Richards or Doom! There he stumbled across the plans for a time machine, and set in motion plans to create one of his own.
Disguising his time sphere inside a giant Sphinx, he set off to loot the wealth of the ages, but instead crash-landed in ancient Egypt. Cowing the natives, he was healed and became their ruler, Pharaoh Rama-Tut. No mention is made of the Sandstormers or
Apocalypse (not surprising, since the RISE OF APOCALYPSE series hadn't been published yet when this comic was written). He ruled for several years until "Khonshu, taker of vengeance, reached out through time itself to bring about my downfall."
He goes on to explain how Khonshu did more than aid the WCA as seen in "Lost in Space-Time", he also may have subtly influenced the actions of Dr. Strange and the FF. This would certainly help suspend our disbelief that all of these heroes would wind up at the same place at the same time. But how on Earth did Kang ever learn all of this?
He has proven deft at gathering information, but it seems that spying on an Egyptian
God would be beyond even his abilities!
He then mentions his first encounter with Dr. Doom, and continues to cling to his ludicrous belief that he and Doom could somehow be the same person. He then took up the identity of Scarlet Centurion, setting two teams of Avengers against each other. He dismisses the Scarlet Centurion of SQUADRON SUPREME fame as a counterpart.
Next he arrived in war-torn 4000 AD, where he took on the persona of Kang, and within a few weeks carved out an empire. Soon, seeking a new challenge, he attacked the 20th century for the first time and encountered the Avengers. Thus began a long adversarial relationship.
"I could easily destroy them at their weakest moments," he records, "...but such victories would be hollow-- unworthy of a true warlord. No, I must win by my own code of honor, or not at all!"
He further conquered the 41st century galaxy, and monitored the actions of his foes as well. He attempted to defeat the Avengers with a Spider-Man robot, to conquer King
Arthur's Camelot, and to attack the wedding of Reed and Sue Richards.
Kang then explains how he fell in love with Princess Ravonna, and allied with the Avengers to save her realm from rebel leaders under Baltag. The traitorous Baltag was slain, but not before shooting down Ravonna, whom Kang put in stasis.
Kang and Grandmaster played a game, and when the Conqueror was victorious, he could choose between life for Ravonna or death for the Avengers. In the heat of the moment, he chose the latter. One of the best additions to the mythos presented in this memoir is Kang's admission that he immediately felt remorse at the heat-of-the-moment decision. "But I could no longer blame Baltag...No, I have condemned my beloved to this living death..." he says. It always seemed a bit odd that Kang was willing to join forces with the Avengers to save Ravonna, and the next time he would choose to let Ravonna rot rather than spare the Avengers. In these memoirs, Kang admits that he made a terrible mistake.
Kang explains how he tried to send the Hulk back in time to kill his own grandfather.
At least in these memoirs he reveals that he understands this would only create an alternate reality. The original story seemed to suggest he thought he could stop the Avengers from ever existing!
At the conclusion of the Hulk encounter he "became entrapped within the time storm!
And there floats the mindless body of Kang for eternity. Kang's body, but not Kang himself." This is the first mention of Sanderson's addition that Kang somehow has the ability to escape dying bodies. It is certainly unnecessary in this case; villains have returned from much worse seeming fates than floating through the timestream.
Kang had a conflict with Zarrko the Tomorrow man before returning to the 20th century in search of the Celestial Madonna. His explanation of the entire Englehart-era follows rather closely what was shown in the comics, until the ending of #143 where, of his discorporation into the timestream, he says, "The pain was agonizing...I barely escaped that body in time!" Again the suggestion that he can somehow send his spirit to occupy new bodies, something that has never been shown in a story.
"Eventually, I returned to Limbo for a showdown with Immortus, but I found his castle deserted save for his rotting skeleton!" What follows is a very altered version of events in AVENGERS #269. His memoirs are at odds with previous claims that Kang Prime traveled to Limbo immediately after the events of THOR #141. In his zeal to reconcile all of Kangs appearances as the same person, rather than counterparts, Sanderson steps all over a perfectly good Roger Stern story to no good effect, dismissing significant chunks of it as lies Kang told to the Avengers to fool them.
"I formed a Council of Kangs that eliminated those Kangs who had proved incompetent to rule their realities in my name." Actually, the original story claims that he killed all of his counterparts; if there were survivors he must have found out about them later.
In his memoir, Kang adds, "But this I know... he [Immortus] has taken Ravonna from me." Talk about a sore loser! In "Citizen Kang" he just finished admitting that he no longer cared about Ravonna!
Ravonna wounds Kang before he can continue. When she later accesses the memoirs, Terminatrix questions the robot Brideshead on some of the questions that have been bothering her.
One thing she asks about is the Council of Kangs/Crosstime Corps. "The true Kang organized his surviving counterparts and these slayers of the others into a council to govern all the realities in his empire," says the robot servant. I suppose a poor explanation is better than none at all, but it makes little sense that Kang would go through the trouble of killing off his incompetent counterparts just to replace them with incompetent imposters in Kang armor! His original plan to populate the conquered eras with Kang robots under his thrall would seem to make more sense. This explanation also doesn't explain why Kang was at odds with the Corps in FF #323-325.
"It [the founding of Timely and Chronopolis] was just after he first battled the Avengers." Why didn't Kang mention this at the appropriate junction in his memoirs? Was he trying to keep Chronopolis a secret, even to future historians? To what end? And if he founded Chronopolis so early in his career, why doesn't he ever appear to be based there in any of his numerous pre-1990's appearances?
It is also explained how Kang introduced future technology to the 20th century through Timely Industries. But how he was able to affect the mainstream MU, rather than simply creating an alternate timeline, is not explained.
Brideshead expresses some doubt about the "Timequake" saga, without revealing the basis for his skepticism. He seems to be buying into his master's propaganda that
Kang might be descended from Dr. Doom. Anyone who has read WHAT IF (Vol.2)
#35-39 will know that the story is accurate. Kang doesn't even mention the episode in his memoirs; perhaps more evidence of his anti-Richards bias.
Terminatrix and Brideshead view a last bit of Kang's memoir, where he mentions his encounter with Dr. Doom during the Infinity War. "When last we had met," Kang says,
"Doom had me killed, yet it did not surprise him to find me alive." Hmm... do you think that could have anything to do with the fact that Doom himself resurrected you in SECRET WARS #11!? I remain convinced that this is simply one instance where Sanderson missed the boat.
The memoirs close with Immortus and Princess Ravonna observing Terminatrix and Brideshead. Exactly when in Immortus's timeline this happens is unclear, but most probably it is prior to his battle with the Avengers West in AWC #60-62. After all, in that story Ravonna is nowhere to be found, and Immortus is frozen in place by the end!
Not surprisingly, there is no mention of Alioch in Kang's memoirs, which IMHO only casts more doubt on Kang's spurious claim that Alioch has always been his true foe, and the Avengers only an amusing distraction.
I've made no secret of the fact that I dislike the theory of Kang's escapes from death immensely. It cheapens the character considerably, since there is absolutely no risk in any goal he tries to achieve. Further, there is absolutely no basis for this ability in the stories themselves; Sanderson basically made it up out of whole cloth. Finally, it is simply unnecessary. Why must every Kang ever shown all have to have been the same man?
Now the question must be asked, why would Kang's own memoirs be in error? There are at least two explanations that I can think of:
1) KANG IS LYING. He is trying to bolster his own image by trying to claim responsibility for every action committed by every divergent Kang everywhere. He made up the resurrection bit as a means to try to explain how he can seemingly be everywhere at once.
2) KANG IS CONFUSED. At the end of AVENGERS #269, Kang grabs Immortus' psyche-globe and absorbs the essences of all former Kang counterparts. He is driven temporarily insane, and runs off into Limbo. When next we saw Kang, he seemed to again be in control of his facilities. But has he really been able to assimilate all those different memories? Can he completely, 100% differentiate between his own life, and what other Kangs have done? Perhaps the "resurrection" claim is simply his own mind coping with the fact that he believes himself to have done things that resulted in the deaths of the Kangs who actually did them!
Whoa, pretty deep, eh? ;)
My sincere hope is that future Kang writers don't rely heavily on these memoirs, as they are ultimately too flawed to be extremely useful. Of course, seeing as Kurt Busiek as wiped out the Anachronauts and Terminatrix in a single page of AVENGERS FOREVER #3, perhaps I don't need to worry!
John, Lord of Time