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Prepare for Kang the Conqueror's Ant-Man villainy with these essential Marvel comic arcs

By Dana Forsythe
Young Avengers #3 ( Writer Allan Heinberg, Penciler Jim Cheung) [Credit: Marvel Comics]

Essentially immortal and infinite, Kang the Conqueror — the recently announced villain of the next Ant-Man movie — began life in Marvel Comics as Nathaniel Richards in the year 3,000 in an alternate timeline (Earth-6311). A self-described man of adventure, Richards yearns to escape this peaceful existence. After watching historical films of the age of superheroes, specifically the Avengers and Fantastic Four, Richards is inspired to seek out adventure and danger. While combing the ruins of his ancestor, rumored to be Dr. Doom, Richards finds plans for the very time machine Von Doom uses against the Fantastic Four during their first encounter in Fantastic Four #5.

After constructing the machine, Richards traveled to ancient Egypt, where he could rule with his knowledge of advanced technology. 

After a battle with the Fantastic Four in Issue #19, Richards, aka Rama Tut, tries to get back to his own time, only to be displaced by a "time storm." Because of the disturbance, he is first diverted back into the 21st century, where he finds a dying Dr. Doom floating in space. Defeated after the events of Fantastic Four #23, Dr. Doom is rescued by his supposed ancestor and brought aboard Tut’s ship. The two villains soon deduce that any further interaction could erase them both from the time stream, so Doom is quickly jettisoned back to earth.

Diverted in the time stream again, Richards lands in the year 4,000, in which men are at war all the time. It’s here he becomes Kang. Richards, inspired by his encounter with Doom, fashions new, advanced armor. And armed with the knowledge to control this future tech, he quickly amasses an army and subjugates the world. But Kang grows bored quickly, and in Avengers #8 he returns to the age of superheroes to face down Iron Man, Wasp, Thor, and Captain America. Eventually the Avengers defeat him with the help of Mjolnir, but he manages to escape in his spaceship.

Since Kang is a man in and out of time, there are almost countless versions of him. In Avengers Annual #2, he returns to Earth as the Scarlet Centurion as he pits future Avengers against the current team. In Avengers #10, a version of Richards called Immortus is revealed to be an older, wiser time traveler who ends up siding with the Avengers. Versions of Kang have also assumed the mantle Iron Lad (Young Avengers) and Kid Immortus (Fantastic Four Vol. 2). There’s also a female Kang, called Kang Nebula. In Avengers #267, we find out that there are so many Kangs running around the time stream, they form a council to deal with the growing problem.

With access to any future technology or knowledge, Kang is essentially unbeatable. At home in both Limbo and his home of Chronopolis, he rules with an army of elite warriors. And, while he could easily erase his opponents like the Avengers or Fantastic Four from existence, he prefers the thrill of battle and joys of conquest. Here are a few of our favorite Kang-centric stories to dig into ahead of his appearance in the next Ant-Man movie.

Fantastic Four #19 ( Writer Stan Lee, Penciler Jack Kirby) [Credit: Marvel Comics]

01. Fantastic Four #19/Fantastic Four Annual #2

By Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

The fact that Kang was created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in the early days of Marvel Comics means you can revisit these two Rama Tut origin stories with ease in trade or online. Both issues also showcase the kind of magic Lee and Kirby cooked up during those first years together, tweaking ancient tales and myths to reveal a hidden history complete with superhero flair. If the sight of Kang slamming his Sphinx-shape spacecraft into ancient Egypt isn’t enough to sell you on the story, I don’t know what else to say. 

Fantastic Annual #2, which tells the origin of Dr. Doom, is particularly fun to revisit as it features a full-page run down of some of the Fantastic Four’s worst villains, Kang included. In “The Final Victory of Dr. Doom,” fans are given a peek at what happens to Doom after he’s jettisoned into space in the pages of Fantastic Four #23. After they commiserate about their defeat at the hands of the newly created super-team, Doom and Rama Tut wonder if they could be the same man.

Avengers #1 Vol.4 (Writer Brian Michael Bendis, Penciler John Romita Jr.) [Credit: Marvel Comics]

02. Heroic Age - Avengers Vol. 4

By Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr. 

After the events of Dark Reign and Siege, the Avengers reunite under the guidance of Steve Rogers. Within mere minutes of uniting, the Avengers' celebration is interrupted by Kang, the Conqueror, who arrives in a panic, warning that the next generation of Avengers threatens the future.

This arc has it all, from the Maestro, the apparent death of Immortus, a guest appearance from Apocalypse and hideous future versions of his Four Horsemen, and even a whole new set of "Next Avengers." It’s a fun ride and a great example of the devastating power of time travel when used by the wrong hands. And spoiler alert, the run also features a now-iconic comic book moment in which Iron Man wields the Infinity Gauntlet. 

Young Avengers #3 ( Writer Allan Heinberg, Penciler Jim Cheung) [Credit: Marvel Comics]

03. Young Avengers #1-6

By Jim Cheung and Alan Heinberg

In this miniseries by Jim Cheung and Alan Heingburg, the world not only gets a new batch of heroes in the Young Avengers, but we’re also introduced to a new, more caring Kang. Although he presents himself as the new hero Iron Lad, the rest of the Avengers find out that he’s actually yet another version of Nathaniel Richards, aka Kang, the Conqueror.

In the 30th century, almost 10 years before Richards is supposed to find Dr. Doom’s time machine, he’s attacked by a group of schoolyard bullies and almost dies. It’s here that the elder Kang intervenes, but instead of convincing his younger self to kill the bullies, the young Richards uses Kang’s futuristic armor to travel back to the 20th century, seeking the Avengers for help. 

Unfortunately for him, it’s just after the "Disassembled" era, and the Avengers are functionally disbanded. So, Iron Lad recruits a new team including Patriot, Hulkling, Wiccan, and Kate Bishop to deal with the inevitable threat his future self presents. 

Avengers #142 (Writer Steve Englehart,Penciler George Perez) [Credit: Marvel Comics]

04. Avengers #142-143

Hawkeye is missing and it’s up to Thor, Moondragon, and Immortus (a future peaceful version of Nathaniel Richards) to find him. Clint being Clint, he manages to send himself back in time while slinking around Dr. Doom’s castle. Midway through the time stream, he faces off against Kang who sends him into the 1800s. Finally, the Avengers reunite in 1874 with the help of a few greenhorn cowboys and Kid Colt. Eventually, the heroes learn Kang intends to conquer their present by ruling over the 19th century. Of course, it’s up to the Avengers to stop him. 

Uncanny Avengers #18 (Writer Rick Remender, Art by Daniel Acuna) [Credit: Marvel Comics]

05. Uncanny Avengers 

By Rick Remender and John Cassaday

The Marvel Universe was a bit of a mess in 2012. Professor X had been killed and the Red Skull had stolen his brain to become a new version of Onslaught. It was in the shadow of these unfortunate events that Rick Remender took a new team of mutants and heroes into a myriad of alternate timelines. Kicking off in Uncanny Avengers #5, Remender picks up a thread from his Uncanny X-Force run, in which the Horseman of Pestilence Ichisumi became pregnant with Archangel's heirs. Sensing their power, Kang abducts the children right after they’re born, travels into the far future to radicalize them, and then manipulates them all in a bid to become something akin to a god. 

This run has a ton of twists and turns and is loaded with time-traveling goodness — including a trip to Planet X, where Kang recruits a team of Stryfe, Earth-X Venom, Doom 2099, Iron Man 2020, Ahab, Magistrate Braddock, and Abomination Deathlok to take on the Avengers. 

Avengers: Forever #1 (Writer Kurt Busiek, Penciler Carlos Pacheco) [Credit: Marvel Comics]

06. Avengers Forever 

By Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco

An epic tale that spans multiple eras and timelines from the Avengers adventures, Avengers Forever essentially centers around Kang’s fight with his future self, Immortus. Revisiting key timelines — including several on this list — Avengers Forever follows several heroes plucked from various times traveling to the past and future at the behest of Immortus. It’s revealed throughout their adventures how pivotal Kang and Immortus’ intervention has been in Avengers history. Essentially, Kang has been tipping dominoes in everything from the Kree/Shi’ar War to the Scarlet Witch’s relationship with Vision. In the end, it’s Avengers versus Avengers for the stake of the world and time itself. 

For more killer Kang stories, check out Giant-Size Avengers #2, the Council of Kangs from Avengers #267, and Avengers Annual #21, Thor Annual #17, Fantastic Four Annual #22, and Captain America Annual #21