Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Once And Future Kang!

There was a time when I mentioned with a reasonable amount of presumption that the history of Kang the Conqueror was so convoluted that there weren't likely that many people who would want to take a crack at charting it, or words to that effect. But in a mid-1986 Avengers story, writer Roger Stern makes a respectable attempt to do so, at least up to a point. For the purposes of this three-part tale, his retrospect on Kang suffices--and for those readers who aren't up on Kang's early history, they'll find Stern's information to be concise and easy to follow, if incomplete. As part of an explanation that takes us into the climax of the story, he really only needs to take us up to a certain crucial development that helps to explain the motivation of the narrator (Kang) and his reasons for setting his plans in motion; yet in addition, Stern adds a twist to the original events that aligns the character's beginnings with revisions to Marvel's handling of time travel which have taken place in later stories down the road.

But Stern also brings a joker into this deck--and, clearly, Kang is not amused.

We've previously learned that Immortus, the so-called Master of Limbo, is another manifestation of Kang himself, so he obviously has a stake in all this--but what don't we know about him that we haven't already learned? As we'll discover, we could easily ask the same of Kang.

In this latest scheme, which will obviously involve the Avengers in some capacity, it's important to reveal parts of Stern's plot which have already taken place prior to Kang making his play. Those revelations involve Kang directly--a number of Kangs, actually, who have proliferated across the time stream due to their failed attempts at conquest and consequently creating points of divergence that have spawned even more manifestations of the conqueror. To stem the tide and gain control over the situation, an older version of Kang (who's provided a cape to help distinguish him from the others) has convened a kouncil... er, council of Kangs who have taken it upon themselves to seek out and eliminate these divergent Kangs, with extreme prejudice.

You've likely deduced the problem that this council will eventually be forced to confront: i.e., themselves.  At some point, they'll be the only Kangs left--so which one of them will live on, and which two will be slain? They've either already agreed to co-exist when the dust settles, or they haven't thought that far ahead (a strange thing to presume about time travelers!)--we don't know which. But we see an early indication of how things will likely play out when the youngest member of the council suspects there's more going on here than meets the eye and "doubles back" after adjournment to investigate their meeting chamber, only to discover an entire base where the elder Kang remains rather than returning to rule his own separate reality. But he also learns that this Kang spies on the other two--and in providing a demonstration to his young counterpart, the caped Kang reveals an even more astonishing surprise that he hadn't divulged to the council.

Obviously, Kang has already mapped out a plan to deal with those Kangs in the council once they've rid the time stream of their counterparts. What he's also hidden from them is the fact that all the divergent Kangs have already been eliminated--and with one of the council now dealt with, that leaves only the oldest and most experienced of them for our caped conspirator to plot against.

To that end, he brings several of the Avengers to Limbo and taunts them with a bargain: defeat him, or remain in Limbo forever. But the Avengers remain in the dark as to Kang's master plan.

As a plot for conquest, Kang's plan couldn't be more all-encompassing--eliminating his counterparts across alternate realities while replacing them with robot copies, allowing him to take control of worlds already ruled by himself.  He's literally covered all the bases--and the icing on the cake will be the elimination of the duped Avengers by his counterpart.

But now let's jump ahead to when much of Kang's plan has succeeded. While the Avengers yet live, thanks to their other members joining them in Limbo and adding to their combined strength and resourcefulness, Kang has them as well as his counterpart at his mercy--and he begins to recount the span of events that has brought him to this point.

Originally, the tales of both Kang and Rama-Tut involved only time travel in its most basic sense, in the days when the concepts of alternate realities and divergence had yet to be introduced (which would occur in the 1970s). Here, Stern is drawing on a prior Fantastic Four story by John Byrne that reveals the mysterious scientist who launched the era of peace to be the father of our Earth's Reed Richards, who travelled to this parallel Earth and constructed the citadel which the man who would eventually become Kang journeys to--subsequently discovering the schematics for the time machine that would take him to the past.

What neither Stern nor Byrne, nor Steve Englehart and Stan Lee before them, account for is the transition this time traveler (who would become Rama-Tut) makes from that future, parallel Earth to our own. If we're to follow the progression of events here, the traveler's arrival on our Earth would translate to the first divergence of this person, while the original presumably arrives in the past of his own Earth. Stern, however, makes it clear that the first divergence didn't occur until after Kang's first battle with the Avengers (which is perhaps technically accurate if we're talking about the man now known as Kang, rather than his civilian identity).

At any rate, Kang's narration proceeds to give an accurate retelling of events consistent with what we're familiar with, but with one interesting revision.

We can assume the "misinformation" that Rama-Tut refers to is the notion that he and Doom might be one and the same, a revision which effectively nullifies that portion of the original tale. It's no great loss in terms of consistency, though Stern has now established from Byrne's jumping-off point that Kang's ancestor is none other than Nathaniel Richards, the man who designed the time machine that Kang used to travel to the ancient Egypt of our Earth. And Nathaniel Richards has way too much baggage for us to digress here.

Kang continues, picking up from where the Avengers have their second encounter with him--this time in his own century, where we learn the tragic fate of Ravonna. But when he finds himself sent to Limbo after a skirmish with Thor, he gains access to equipment that allows him to finally restore to health the woman he loves.

It turns out that this development is what spurred Kang's investigation into his divergent selves, and spawned what was perhaps his most ambitious scheme to date.

Throwing a wrench into Kang's plan is, as you might expect, the escape of the Avengers from his paralysis beams. Sent flying from the chamber by the combined attack of Hercules and the Sub-Mariner, Kang becomes the focus of the Avengers' pursuit. Strangely enough, it's Ravonna who stood by and failed to warn Kang of the Avengers' imminent freedom from their confinement; but if the older Kang, also free, is counting on Ravonna to switch her loyalties to him, he's very much mistaken.

It seems we have another player yet to enter this drama. But it turns out to be a figure we're familiar with, one who has orchestrated this entire affair and who now is prepared to end it--as soon as the older Kang, taking advantage of his counterpart's preoccupation with the Avengers, commits an act that will at last bring the number of Kangs down to one. (Or two, considering who it is who's joining the party here.)

However Immortus seeks to assert himself here, Kang isn't the type to simply lie down when he's on the cusp of his greatest victory. But he falls victim to one last deceit, one meant to offer him a chance to either condemn or redeem himself--and just as it did in an earlier encounter with the Avengers where it was Ravonna's life on the line, his true nature seals his fate.

Immortus's methods earn him no accolades from the Avengers, who seem to be prepared to pursue the matter further with him; but with a wave of his hand, he pre-empts any action on their part and returns them to Earth.

This story would receive a follow-up two years later with the appearance of the Council of Cross-Time Kangs, which is due to make its appearance at the PPC any *ahem* time now. But first, we have a footnote from this story that bears further looking into.


The Avengers #s 267-269

Script: Roger Stern
Breakdowns: John Buscema
Finisher: Tom Palmer
Letterer: Jim Novak


Jared said...

There is no Marvel like 80s Marvel, and this is a great one.

I think if you try to tell someone about this story, you can't help but make it sound more confusing than it is. Any summary of it is going to make it sound like you need two decades of pre reading before trying this out. Stern, as always, is able to respect history while making it totally accessible for everyone. Someone who doesn't know anything about Kang, Immortus, or Rama Tut can jump into this and enjoy the story.

This arc is a good example of how Stern was able to make use of an eclectic cast of Avengers. Due to alot of the big guns being in the West Coast Avengers and Marvel wanting the sole focus of Thor to be on his own book at the time, Stern's Avengers were usually Cap and some assorted cast (though Namor being an Avenger for this short arc was cool).

I think this arc tends to be forgotten simply because the next story was Under Siege, which is considered by many to be the greatest Avengers story ever. Kind of like how no one remembers how great the X-Men's Proteus saga was because Dark Phoenix and Days of Future Past came right after it.

Comicsfan said...

I agree, Jared, that, for a Kang "primer," this story might serve the reader well while being an interesting and fun tale to read in its own right. Aside from its unofficial epilog coming up, it's probably the furthest I'll go with charting Kang's history, though there are certainly other Kang tales that have been and will be featured here.