A Brief History of Kang, Part 37: Kang Apocrypha 1: Whatever Happened to the Scarlet Centurion?
In Avengers Annual #2, Rama-Tut became the Scarlet Centurion in a different time-line, and then convinced that Earth's Avengers to defeat all of the existing superhumans for the good of the planet. Then our Avengers came to that earth and managed to defeat them and the Centurion. But there are other worlds besides that one...
One of them is What If? Vol. 1 #29. In this reality, the Avengers of our world never entered this reality. Instead, the Centurion tells them that they must disband. After the Hulk gets furious at this idea, the Avengers subdue him so that the Centurion can capture him. They then decide that they should perhaps break up. Iron Man, Giant-Man and the Wasp reveal their secret identities and head back to civilian life, and Thor zips off to Asgard.
Thor and Tony Stark are vaguely uneasy about the whole thing. Thor is worried about earth and Tony is bored, missing his Iron Man identity. The Centurion returns to earth in a Kang-like spaceship, not to bring the paradise to earth he promised, but rather to conquer it. Stark is watching his threats on TV, and swears to fight the Centurion with a new suit of armor. An unknown blonde man walks in and tells him to carry the fight to the Centurion, and that Giant-Man and the Wasp would join him.
After a brief struggle, the Centurion defeats them all. The blonde stranger (whom we know as Dr. Don Blake) then shouts a few threats, taps his walking stick (on the Centurion, no less!) and turns into Thor. Thor is not amused at being used by the Centurion, and lays into him. The Centurion knows he can't beat Thor playing fair and so tries to run back to his ship, saying (rather stupidly) that he had much better weaponry in his vessel. Thor wisely flies in front of him, and the Centurion uses a Kang-like trick in his aura of "pure radiation". Thor absorbs the attack with Mjolnir and throws it back at him, and then knocks him out. While Iron Man suggests that the Avengers re-form, the others aren't interested and go their own ways. Iron Man thinks that they might be right in light of what they did in the name of heroism, but believes that the Avengers could have been something noble.
This 19-page story had 8 pages of old information in it, so this wasn't exactly a classic, but it was OK overall. The best feature was the cover, a Michael Golden stunner featuring the Avengers over the bodies of all their fallen foes. I actually wouldn't mind revisiting this world to see what happened when future generations of super-powered characters appeared in a world without the X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four or Dr. Doom.
On the world of the heroes known as the Squadron Supreme, one of their greatest foes was the time-travelling conqueror known as...the Scarlet Centurion!
Yup, the Centurion plays a very Kang-like role for the Squad. We first see him in issue 2 of the Squad's miniseries. The Squad is just beginning their "Utopia Program", where they decided to take over America for a year in an effort to restore it after the Overmind had nearly destroyed it. A hologram of him appears before the Squadron, telling them that he was about to invade their earth. This time, he knew he would succeed because the earth was on the brink of collapse. He was eager to add the Squad's time to his list of conquests after they had thwarted him on three separate occasions. Hyperion tells him that if he dared to attack the earth at its weakest point, he would personally hunt him down through time and kill him with his bare hands. The Centurion realizes that he's serious, and after giving them some sour grapes excuses, withdraws his threat.
Later, the Squad's scientist Tom Thumb is working on a cure for cancer to benefit the parents of Nuke. He's not having much success, so he takes a risk and uses a time machine to go the Scarlet Centurion's time. His brashness amuses the Centurion, so he allows Tom the opportunity to speak to him alone. Tom notes that the Centurion had tried to conquer 20th century earth because he had run out of challenges in his own time, and asked if he had conquered disease as well. When the Centurion affirms this, Tom asks to make a deal. He'll give him anything in exchange for the cure. The Centurion thinks for a moment, and then has a robot bring out his "Panacea Potion". He tells Tom that it cures all disease, and that he's the only person to own it for 40 centuries. In exchange for it, he tells Tom to sprinkle some Argonite (the element that is Hyperion's only weakness) into Hyperion's food, weakening him enough for the Centurion to kill him. Tom blanches at this, and the Centurion tempts him further by telling him how many billions of unborn lives he might save if he introduces the potion 20 centuries earlier. Tom refuses, and returns to his own time, where he learns that he too has contracted cancer.
Going forward to issue #9 of the same series, Tom Thumb's new colleague Ape X learns about his cancer. She urges him to go to the future to steal the Centurion's potion. When he says it would be against his moral code, she says that he could borrow it temporarily and then return it when he analyzed it. After much anguish, Tom agrees, and takes another new Squad member, the Lamprey, with him. After some trial and error, they force a 40th century man to point them in the direction of the potion. They reach it, but not without a struggle that ends up breaking all the vials of the potion except for one. After more agonizing, Tom decides to take the potion. Meanwhile, the Centurion had been watching the whole thing, amused. He had wondered how long it would take Tom to come and grab the potion. He tells his soldiers not to bother going after the potion, since he knew what would happen to Tom. When Tom returned to his lab, he discovered that the potion was useless, just a compound of penicillin and some vitamins. It was meant for more eugenically advanced breed of human: 40th century man. He then returned it to the 40th century, and died within a week.
The last appearance of this Scarlet Centurion came in the Squadron Supreme graphic novel, Death Of A Universe. It begins with a bored Centurion in the year 3979, with his guest the Overmind and he watching gladiatorial combat. He had ruled his empire for 45 years and had lost his motivation. He then received word that his technicians had pierced the veil surrounding late 20th century earth that had resisted time probes. The cause? A gigantic, hand-shaped energy field that absorbed the sun and was about to absorb the earth when the image broke up. The Centurion knew that there were no records of late 20th century earth, because as he realized now, it had been destroyed. He now wondered how his earth was related to it. He wished to observe the Squadron Supreme in the 12 hours before the world ended.
The Squadron had learned of the earth's imminent end through Professor Imam, the Wizard Supreme. Hyperion went to find Master Menace, his greatest foe, in an appeal for help. But the Centurion had found him first, packing his materials up in an effort to leave his dimension. He urged Menace to stick around in an effort to stave off the universe's destruction. He convinced him by telling him that the force would not stop with this universe. It needed to be stopped now, while still relatively small and with them at the peak of their powers.
Hyperion flies in, and Menace tells him his plan: he will modify his "dimensional aperture generator" in such a way as to trap the energy creature and send it elsewhere. To do this, he will accompany the Centurion back to his own time, take as much time as he needs to build his device, and then come back one minute after he left to set the trap.
He comes back forty-five minutes later, but his oversight is forgivable-- it had taken him fifteen years to build his device!
The Squadron and their two villainous allies fly into space to confront the energy being with their trap. With them is a disguised Arcanna and her newborn son, Benjamin. As the trap is sprung, the Centurion is excited to finally "see the veil of time rent asunder!" The trap doesn't work. Menace panics and leaves his dimension. The Centurion is told to leave by Zarda if he wasn't going to help, since he was only a hologram. The Centurion has an idea and pops back to his time. Professor Imam learns that the force is an earthman from another dimension (Marvel-prime earth, BTW), who had been transformed into a "living hole in space", destroying seven universes thus far; reasoning with it would be impossible.
The Centurion returns with the Overmind, who tries to use his mighty mind powers to force the being (known as the Nth Man) out of their dimension. For his trouble, his head explodes. The Centurion, who is now there physically and is about to leave with the Overmind's body, is stopped by Arcanna. She asks him to take her infant son with him, and he refuses. The Nth Man reaches them, all goes white for a moment--and then everything returns to normal. As it turns out, Arcanna's son was to be the new Wizard Supreme, but he convinced the Nth Man to trade places with him. Her son was now the universe-devouring being, now on his way to fix the damage that had been done, and the Nth Man (Thomas Lightner) was the new Wizard Supreme.
Back in the Centurion's time, we're given a glimpse of his future. The Centurion had become obsessed with what had happened to earth when the Nth Man reached it, and in particular, how he had lost his nerve when the moment came. The Veil had returned to that time, and he couldn't go back. He didn't take the child because its presence would have been a reminder of his "failure of nerve", not knowing that if he had taken the child, he would have doomed the universe. But this uncertainty would haunt him the rest of his life, all 211 more years of it.
Well, there's a lot to absorb here. The miniseries is of course Gru's masterpiece, where the moral and ethical ramifications of superheroes are explored extensively. The Squadron Supreme is, of course, a Marvel version of DC's JLA, who came to be used as a place to tell stories that couldn't be told in the Marvel universe, where the social order radically change as a result of superheroes and villains. It was very clever of Gru to revive the Centurion, a long-unused aspect of Kang. It was never made clear if this Centurion was the one who had fought the Avengers back in Annual #2, but he certainly had the powers and temperament of Kang.
The GN was more interesting from the Centurion's point of view than the Squadron's. The whole thing was rather downbeat, featuring lots of deaths, many of them rather pointless. This was done as a way of showing that superheroics in this universe had real repercussions, including non-heroic deaths.
I would definitely be interested in seeing this Centurion once again, although his inability to attack the Squadron's earth from that point on would make him difficult to fit into any Squadron stories.
--Clough the Conqueror