No, not Kang of ‘Kang and Kodus’ Simpsons fame, and no, not the great Klingon warrior brought to life by the late Michael Ansara. The other Kang. Let’s take a moment to mark the fifth decade of one of the great villains in the Marvel Universe pantheon.
It is now fifty years since Kang the Conqueror made his first appearance on the printed page; way back in Avengers #8 in September 1964. Yes, while America was still reeling from the assassination of John F. Kennedy, racial segregation was being abolished in the United States, Nelson Mandela was experiencing his first days in prison on Robben Island, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were enjoying their first wedding and NASA launched the Mariner 4 space probe, the epoch-spanning, blue-faced dude with the time complex was being introduced into the world.
Some comic-book aficionados, I know, will mock any claim that Kang – the man known as Nathaniel Richards – is one of the great villainous creations of the Marvel Universe; but I maintain that the blue-faced temporal meddler once worshiped as the Pharaoh Rama-Tut is one of the greats and should be celebrated as such. A scholar from the 30th century who became obsessed with history (who wouldn’t be fascinated with history?) and thus became our greatest time-travelling villain.
Ah, Kang the Conqueror; that perpetually dissatisfied schemer who permanently laughs in the face of the timeline. That poor, poor soul who never gets his way and has to bear the indignity of permanently having his best master-plans foiled by meddlesome superheroes, whether it’s the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Strange or even pesky mutants like Sunfire and Havok or just about anyone else who wants to rain on his parade.
I mean, cut the guy some slack; who among us wouldn’t devise vast schemes to alter history if we found ourselves having access to Doctor Doom’s time-travel technology? Who among us wouldn’t travel back to 2950 BC, become a Pharaoh and rule Ancient Egypt, hoping to claim En Sabah Nur as our heir? It’d be on all our bucket lists, right? Being a Pharaoh? Adopting a baby Apocalypse? Making Susie Storm your queen and making that cocky, annoying little firefly the Human Torch your court jester? We’d all give that a go.
Kang is just a slightly more ambitious Marty McFly. But no, when Michael J. Fox does it, it’s all quaint and endearing, yet when Nathaniel Richards gives it a go we label him a ‘super villain’. Hypocrisy. Double standards.
I mean what’s not to love about our old friend Kang (or Rama-Tut, Victor Timely, Scarlet Centurion, Immortus, and whatever else he’ll be calling himself by next week)? Sphinx-shaped time-ships, ruling Ancient Egypt, falling in love with princesses, enslaving the Fantastic Four, grappling with Captain America, Iron Man and the Avengers, making Spiderman robots, taking over King Arthur’s court, trying to mate with Mantis, trying to steal Infinity Gems; it’s all in a life’s work for Kang the Conqueror. I am seriously looking forward to reading that dude’s memoirs some day.
One of the great things about Kang is that he has no super power; he is simply a man of extraordinary genius, a scientist and intellectual, a great historian and master time-travel expert. It’s the ones with the intellect that always tend to be the best villains, of course; that’s what endures about the likes of Victor von Doom, the Red Skull, Baron Zemo, Mr Sinister, Arnim Zola among others. And Kang is one of the best of them. He is very much comparable to Victor von Doom (to whom he has always been linked); and I might be willing to go out on a limb and hail those two – Kang and Doom – as Marvel’s coolest ever villains (excluding Magneto, who has been going back and forth between villain and anti-hero and is therefore difficult to categorically call a ‘villain’).
While the great Kang has never been lauded as one of the great or popular super-villains, and while he is somewhat considered a rather quaint fixture of an older age in comics, he remains a permanent and larger-than-life presence in the background tapestry of the Marvel comic-book world, even if his appearances are increasingly rare.
One wonders if today’s writers and decision-makers are embarassed of old-school creations like Kang and thus tend to shy away from him or whether perhaps the great time-lord will some day find some prominence again in the contemporary landscape.
I, for one, would welcome that. As I said, he’s up there with Doctor Doom in my estimation as one of the best. It happens, of course; although many characters do disappear off the radar entirely, comic-book vogue is cyclical. Carol Danvers/Ms Marvel is an example of that – that woman spend some serious years in the wilderness, in comic-book limbo (partly due to the rape fiasco), before being brought back to a prominent position in the scheme of things. Since then she’s gone from strength to strength, enjoying her own ongoing titles and becoming one of the company’s most popular 21st century characters; and now with a cinematic feature-film all to herself, no less.
Kang the Conqueror will probably never attain Carol Danvers levels of popularity or prominence (though with both Avengers and Fantastic Four movies being developed, a big-screen incarnation would seem a reasonable possibility), but he will have his day again and he will be causing all manner of trouble. It’s only a matter of “time”.
Happy fiftieth, Kang.