When Jonathan Majors made his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in Loki, he was merely “He Who Remains,” an enigmatic being who claimed to be policing the timeline to prevent other incarnations of himself from wreaking havoc. Once he was murdered (by Loki variant Sylvie’s hand), however, those other incarnations were allowed to wreak havoc, altering the timeline to take control of the Time Variance Authority—and likely much more, as we’ll see in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. But who is Kang the Conqueror?
It’s an excellent question that has no easy answer. Kang is not only a character who’s been retconned in many, many ways since he made his debut fighting the Fantastic Four in 1963, but also, as a time-traveling warlord with access to the multiverse, there are thousands upon thousands of Kangs, all willing and able to alter timelines and their own past. Here’s a spoiler-free guide to the ones you should possibly know before embarking on this newest phase of the MCU.
Underneath his various masks, armors, and noms de guerre, Kang is in fact a human named Nathaniel Richards, a descendant of the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards, born in the 31st century. He found a time-traveling device created by Doctor Doom, and that’s when all the trouble began.
In the character’s very first appearance, the Fantastic Four encountered him only as a 31st-century criminal who had traveled back to ancient Egypt (in a spaceship shaped like a sphinx, no less) and took control of the ancient kingdom, styling himself as the pharaoh Rama-Tut. The Fantastic Four happened upon him in the past while searching for a special herb that could potentially solve the Thing’s girlfriend’s blindness and sent him packing, forcing Rama-Tut to flee back into the future.
Kang the Conqueror
Unfortunately for Nathaniel/Rama-Tut, he missed his home time period by a full millennium, arriving in a war-torn world that had essentially fallen into a new Dark Age. With his superior knowledge and technology, Nathaniel was rather easily able to take over the ruined world, and restyled himself as Kang the Conqueror as a result. Unfortunately for pretty much everybody, the world he ruled was so desiccated he decided to conquer the 20th century instead, only to be thwarted by the Avengers, who became his prime antagonists. Honestly, since then he’s spent at least as much of his time trying to destroy the superhero team as he has trying to conquer the world, including heading further back in the past to prevent the Avengers from ever forming in the first place.
If this seems clear-cut so far, well, here’s where that stops. In a branching timeline (or, to put it another way, another section of the multiverse), Nathaniel-as-Rama Tut continued fleeing through time instead of conquering his future world and becoming Kang. As he got old, he began searching for immortality, discovering the realm of Limbo—which, like the Quantum Realm in the MCU, is a place outside the multiverse which has access to the entirety of time. This Rama-Tut was hired/commanded by the Time Variance Authority with maintaining the timeline, which meant he fought his alternate self as Kang on several occasions. Immortus is certainly less evil than Kang, and has helped the Avengers or enlisted their help on several occasions, but he’s also fought and deceived the heroes many times as well. That said, he apparently officiated the Vision and Scarlet Witch’s wedding…?
Yet another timeline’s Rama-Tut met the modern-day Doctor Doom during his travels through time. Inspired by Doom’s rad armor, this Kang made a truly silly outfit for himself and took the name Scarlet Centurion. He traveled to another universe’s Earth and convinced its Avengers he was a hero with a dire warning about the future: all superheroes and villains needed to be locked up to save the world. The result was a group of increasingly fascist Avengers, who the Centurion eventually pitted against the regular Marvel universe’s Avengers. (Also, in one timeline, Kang has a son named Marcus who also took the moniker Scarlet Centurion, but let’s not even worry about that.)
Frustrated with his various defeats, Kang—the Kang, a Kang, it hardly matters—went to visit his 16-year-old self in hopes of inspiring him to get started on his conquering career early. He even gifted himself a version of his techno-armor to help. But the plan backfired when young Nathaniel grew horrified of the villain he was going to become, and instead used the armor to travel to the 21st century and become the hero Iron Lad. He helped form the Young Avengers and fell in love with Cassie Lang—yep, the daughter of Scott Lang—but eventually was forced to return to the future and follow his destiny to protect the timeline.
When a version of Kang got stuck in the 21st century, he became a high-powered CEO of a major corporation, amassing wealth to hassle the Avengers. Eventually he was discovered and knocked into the timestream. Also he was Asian American for… reasons?
This Kang appeared in the 19th century in an attempt to get an even earlier start on conquering the world. He founded the town of Timely, Wisconsin, and the Timely Foundation, a company that advanced technology so ahead of schedule the entire world was depending on it by the time the Fantastic Four was formed. Because Kang spends so much time out of the timestream, he ages incredibly slowly, but he skirted around that issue by creating robot versions of himself who aged, which allowed him to continue running things behind-the-scenes for generations
This Kang, from yet another part of the multiverse, worked for the Time Variance Authority, abused his power, and also masqueraded as Rama-Tut. Alas, he got busted by his bosses and the Fantastic Four and was stuck in a timeloop for his transgressions.
The Council of Kangs
Thanks to the countless timelines (many of which he created by messing with the past and/or himself) of the multiverse, there are equally countless Kangs running around. Disgusted with certain “lesser” versions of himself, the “prime” Kang enlisted two of his most cunning variants to help him wipe out the others. As it turns out, this was all secretly engineered by Immortus, who was trying to destroy all versions of Kang that didn’t end up as his future, marginally more benign self.
He Who Remains
Weirdly, He Who Remains is not a Kang, at least in the Marvel comics, but I’ve included him here because he’s clearly some sort of Kang outshoot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (since he was played by Jonathan Majors). Like his counterpart in the Loki TV series, the comics version of He Who Remains is the founder and leader of the Time Variance Authority, and thus Immortus’ boss. Besides keeping the timeline clean and neat (or attempting to, at least), He Who Remains is the final being alive at the end of the universe, and determined to use his Time-Keepers to tell the next multiverse about the errors of its predecessor’s ways. Since we know Loki’s He Who Remains was also trying to keep variants of himself from hijacking the multiverse, like Immortus, he seems to be a combination of both characters smushed together.
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