Friday, September 7, 2012

If At First You Don't Conquer...

Meet one of the most overused villains of all time:

Kang the Conqueror
("...of all time"--get it? Ha ha!)

Of all the Marvel characters for me to pick to profile for you, sheesh, I had to choose this one. I don't think my sleeves can roll up that far. We simply don't have enough time (so to speak) to cover all the bases of his convoluted history. I don't think I could even remember some of it.  This man has hatched more schemes to conquer 20th century Earth than I can count--enough for a lifetime. Unfortunately, he has all the lifetimes he needs at his disposal in order to keep trying.

And that's part of the problem. If you could travel through time as easily as flipping a switch on your time ship, and you faced a setback in a battle against Earth's superheroes, what would you do after you'd escaped their pursuit? Would you (a) throw up your hands and resign yourself to defeat, or (b) study your defeat, analyze what went wrong, and go back to the same point in time and try it again, with your enemies still completely in the dark about you? Exactly. Or how about this: go back to just before the moment when your enemies turn the tables on you, and turn the tables on them because you now know how you were defeated and have compensated for it? Yet for Kang, it's like neither of these options ever occurred to him. What kind of time traveller--what kind of conqueror--fails to make use of his most powerful weapon?

And let's say that you could even monitor your enemies, from the safety of your own time period--what contingency could you not plan and be ready for? Your first attack on them should succeed hands down, at least on paper. But Kang apparently relies on confidence, rather than a mapped out dossier of his enemies' weaknesses. Initially, he treated his attempt to conquer present-day Earth as if it were a foregone conclusion. I mean, look at his posture as the Avengers--the freaking Avengers--bear down on him at their first meeting:

(Please don't ask me why Rick Jones is charging into battle with them. That's something else I can't explain. Well, I can, actually--he's there because he ends up rescuing the Avengers--but that's editorial plotting, not battle strategy.)

Yet Kang gives no indication that he even knows about the Avengers, much less planned for their interference. According to his origin, he's simply a time traveller who overshot his own time in the year 3000 and landed a thousand years in the future, where he used his scientific knowledge to usurp its weaponry and conquer its rag-tag warlike population--then grew bored, and decided to set his sights on conquering the Earth of the 20th century, using the weapons he discovered in 4000 A.D. Had he done a little research, that weaponry might well have won the day for him, too. But the best laid plans, in this instance--well, weren't.

We've seen how good a planner Kang actually is, because in almost every instance he has his enemies on the ropes. For one man, that's pretty darn good. His goals are well thought out, he's ruthless, and he has an inexhaustible supply of futuristic weaponry. But he seems to be always raging about being caught by surprise when his foes gain the upper hand. How the hell is someone who can find out your entire history, and be forewarned about your abilities and strategies before you even meet, caught by surprise? Shouldn't Kang be the one surprising his foes, before they even leap to the attack?

There were a couple of instances where Kang actually showed some foresight, as well as his ability to wage war. One was where he actually nuked the Avengers (Avengers #267) by disguising himself as Iron Man and delivering a bomb into their midst. Unfortunately, this victory was achieved by an alternate-Earth Kang, and not our own maniacal bumbler. But our Kang did engage in a more involved war with both Earth and the Avengers (Avengers #s 42-54), this time bringing his son (the new Scarlet Centurion) along for the ride--with Washington, D.C. being nuked as a result. (The real Washington, D.C.--I was frankly amazed.) Yet the Avengers rebounded and Kang was once again sent packing. Ah, well.

Even after all this time (sorry, couldn't resist one last pun), and as overused and overplayed as he's been, I'm afraid we haven't seen the last of Kang. Nor is that helped when he shows up in the form of other identities, like Immortus, Rama Tut, the Scarlet Centurion--even Dr. Doom has been proposed as another manifestation of Kang. He seems to be the perfect disposable villain--good for instigating epic conflicts with major players (well, try to forget about the time when he sicced a Spider-Man robot on the Avengers), yet can be foiled and escape his enemies' grasp to return another day. You never know when he'll return--but you don't have to be a time traveller to know that he eventually will.

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