This is an updated version of an article first published September 17, 2020.
Thanos may have seemed like the ultimate foe, but the Mad Titan was just scratching the surface of Marvel’s deep bench of formidable supervillains. Now, thanks to Disney’s multi-billion dollar acquisition of 20th Century Fox’s consolation assets in recent years, all of the characters associated with the Fantastic Four and the X-Men are back home with Marvel Studios – and the first major villain who used to be under Fox’s control looks to have a big role in the future (and past?) of the MCU.
Lovecraft Country star Jonathan Majors will portray Kang the Conqueror in February’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. That’s huge, because Kang looks to be the MCU’s next big bad. Given Kang’s connections to time travel, the multiverse, and the Quantum Realm — so far, the key to time travel in the MCU — it feels like Kang will be a major player going forward, and that’s even setting upside the future movie with his name in the title, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty.
Conceivably, Kang could appear in Fantastic Four and an eventual new X-Men film, as well as other unannounced projects. And of course, he also seems likely to have a vast role in Avengers: Secret Wars, which will follow The Kang Dynasty.
Many Marvel comic book fans were excited to hear about Majors’ casting because they assumed it included a direct connection to Reed Richards, AKA Mr. Fantastic. That is a strong possibility, but to clear up a common misconception, it should be noted that Kang is not Reed’s father in the comics. Instead, there are two Nathaniel Richards: Reed’s dad, and his dad’s infamous descendant who shares the same name.
Confused yet? Don’t worry, we’re gonna untangle the complicated history of Kang…
The Richards Family Tree
As noted above, Kang is named Nathaniel Richards, but he’s not the same Nathaniel Richards who fathered Reed Richards. 1984’s Fantastic Four #271–#273 revealed that Reed’s dad traveled to an alternate Earth, where he remained for over a decade. In that time, Nathaniel devoted himself to using his mastery of technology to bring about a new age in the alternate world. He also fell in love with a woman named Cassandra, and had another son. That would be Reed’s half-brother, one world removed.
After achieving his goals, Nathaniel dedicated himself to his new family and stepped aside from his position of power. Cassandra subsequently usurped Nathaniel’s role and became the Warlord of this Earth. When the Fantastic Four defeated Cassandra, Nathaniel expressed his gratitude and remorse. He also resolved to stay behind and raise his son. In a twist, the last page of FF #273 revealed that a man who is seemingly Nathaniel’s direct descendant was none other than Kang himself. This man lived a thousand years after the first Nathaniel’s lifetime, though he shared the same name as him. So in the comics, while Kang is a descendant of Reed Richards’ father, he’s not directly descended from Reed himself… though they are related.
The MCU’s Fantastic Four movie will arrive on February 15, 2025, almost ten years after 20th Century Fox’s ill-fated 2015 FF film. For the moment, we don’t know if Kang will be a part of this new story. However, Majors has already made his MCU debut as He Who Remains in the Loki Season 1 finale. But He Who Remains is only a variant of Kang. The real Kang is sowever set to create his first MCU appearance soon in Quantumania. And Kang’s importance to The Multiverse Saga goes far beyond his family tree and connects to numerous different corners of Marvel history by connecting him to other important characters.
Rule Like An Egyptian
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby co-created Kang the Conqueror in 1964’s Avengers #8 as a villain for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. But thanks to later reveals by other creators, not even Lee and Kirby realized that they had actually already introduced Kang a year before! 1963’s Fantastic Four #19 involved a character named Rama-Tut, who would finally be revealed as one of the earliest incarnations of the man known as Kang.
In FF #19, the Fantastic Four used Doctor Doom’s time machine to travel back in time to ancient Egypt. Unfortunately for them, they found Rama-Tut, a man from the year 3000 who had traveled back in time himself to usurp control and now used his advanced technology to enslave the FF. Coming from an era far after their own, Rama-Tut also had full knowledge of who the Fantastic Four were, much to their surprise, and even attempted to create Susan Storm into his bride.
When the FF inevitably broke free, Rama-Tut fled into the timestream. In Fantastic Four Annual #2, Rama-Tut encountered Doctor Doom shortly after this retreat. Sensing kindred spirits in each other, Doom and Rama-Tut speculated that they could be related, or even the same man at different points in time. However, there is little evidence to support either theory – although the ending of Fantastic Four #273 leaves a tiny bit of wiggle room to allow for at least the possibility that Kang was actually descended from a reality-hoping Doom, not Reed Richards’s father, if they ever wanted to go that route. Still, it seems unlikely.
And while Kang hasn’t dealt with the X-Men themselves much, 1996’s Rise of Apocalypse miniseries also revealed that as Rama-Tut, he had a noteworthy history with the first recorded mutant, En Sabah Nur. Because of his knowledge of the future, Rama-Tut was fully aware that En Sabah Nur was destined to become the X-Men foe known as Apocalypse. Rama-Tut inadvertently set Apocalypse’s destiny into motion with a misguided attempt to turn En Sabah Nur into his heir.
If any of that history remains intact for Kang in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it could serve as a notable connection to both mutants in general and Apocalypse himself. Between Ms. Marvel and Namor, mutants have already begun to emerge in the MCU in the build up to the inevitable X-Men reboot. Through his Rama-Tut identity, Kang could be the key to establishing that the history of mutants extends even further back than Namor. And if Kang’s ties to Apocalypse are preserved, it may also be a key link to one of the X-Men’s deadliest foes.
It’s also worth noting that in the comics, later in his life, Nathaniel Richards resumed his Rama-Tut identity after he was Kang and returned to the past with more benevolent intentions. He even sided with the Avengers during the “Celestial Madonna” storyline, but we’ll obtain back to that…
The Man From the Future
Following his encounter with Doctor Doom, Rama-Tut was initially unable to return to his native timeline. Instead, he found himself even further in the future than when he started, in the 40th century, where the world’s scientific knowledge had once again been lost. That was when Nathaniel Richards reinvented himself once more as Kang the Conqueror. He lived up to his new name by taking over the world and restoring its former glory. He then extended his empire by annexing neighboring galactic empires until Kang had truly conquered the universe.
By this point, it was all too easy for Kang. He wanted a real challenge, and that’s why he went back in time to battle the Avengers for the first time. Kang weaponized time travel against the team and very almost defeated them but the heroes found a way to beat Kang and forced him to retreat. Kang’s inability to overcome the Avengers led him to try different strategies against them, including an attempt to trick the Hulk into killing his own ancestor. Kang even tried to take over eras in the past so that the present day of the Avengers would never come to pass.
Kang was one of the first enduring villains introduced in The Avengers comics and he’s easily a top contender as their most dangerous foe. Kang is always a legitimate threat on a worldwide scale, and he seems like a perfect selection to succeed the likes of Loki and Thanos as the primary bad guy in the MCU. The potential for vast scale stories is limitless for Kang, whose time traveling and universe-traversing ways has led to wild elements like the Council of Kangs (and then the Council of Cross-Time Kangs), made up of multiple versions of the Conqueror from across the multiverse.
But that’s not all by a long shot. Throughout his travels in time, there was one man that Kang hated above all others: Immortus, an elder scholar of the timelines and a master of manipulation. Kang despised Immortus because he was destined to become Immortus later in his own life, a thought which sickened him.
Yes, if you’re paying attention, Kang sure does have a tendency to radically reinvent himself. It seems like Nathaniel Richards must really enjoy changing identities!
The Other Man From the Future
Stan Lee and artist Don Heck created Immortus in Avengers #10, a mere two issues after Kang’s debut, with the creators once more unaware how these separate characters would finally be revealed as one and the same by others who would follow in their footsteps. In his first appearance, Immortus immediately sided with Baron Zemo‘s Masters of Evil, and summoned famous figures from history and legend — though they could have actually been his pawns, the Space Phantoms — to take down the Avengers.
Immortus wasn’t seen for several years after his initial introduction but then in 1974’s Giant-Size Avengers #2 and #3, writer Steve Englehart and artist Dave Cockrum firmly established the link between Rama-Tut, Kang, and Immortus with the big disclose that all three were in fact the same man from different points in his life. In the course of this storyline, the older, regretful incarnation of Rama-Tut and the even older Immortus actually came to the aid of the Avengers. Kang believed that if he took the fabled Celestial Madonna, AKA Mantis — yes, as in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie character — as his wife, then their child would conquer the universe in his name. That was an outcome that Kang’s future selves managed to prevent, with the help of the Avengers.
But Immortus’ intentions were in fact far from pure. He served as the guardian of time under the thumb of the Time-Keepers, an immortal race from the end of time that was afraid of humanity’s potential to conquer the universe. At the Time-Keepers’ behest, Immortus destroyed several alternate timelines in which the Avengers ultimately led humanity to grab its destiny in space. That’s one of the reasons that Kang believed his fated transformation into Immortus as a destiny worse than death. He could never stand the idea of answering to anyone, much less the Time-Keepers.
In the 1998 Avengers Forever miniseries, Kang was finally able to escape his destiny almost from sheer will power alone. The Time-Keepers attempted to force Kang’s transformation into Immortus, but instead, they created two distinct beings. That allowed Kang to continue himself while Immortus filled his role in history.
Within Marvel’s comic book universe, it was long-speculated that the being known as He Who Remains was yet another incarnation of Immortus and Kang. Majors’ appearance in Loki may have confirmed that fan theory, and his costume even appeared to be inspired by Immortus’ comic book counterpart. So much so that some fans assumed that He Who Remains was simply the MCU version of Immortus. With so numerous Kang variants, it can be tricky to keep course of them all.
All of which is to say that Jonathan Majors could be very, very busy in the next few years, should the MCU wish to follow the comics’ path when it comes to introducing all of these different versions of Kang from different eras and at different ages. And with Mantis already in the MCU — albeit as a dramatically different character in the films vs. the comics — there’s always the potential for the Celestial Madonna storyline to come into play as well.
Oh, and obtain this… Ramu-Tut, Kang, and Immortus aren’t even the only alter egos Nathaniel Richards has!
A Different Shade of Kang
As it turned out, Nathaniel Richards had briefly assumed yet another identity in-between Rama-Tut and Kang, as seen in Avengers Annual #2. Inspired by his encounter with Doctor Doom, Nathaniel crafted a new armored costume for himself and became the Scarlet Centurion. He also created a divergent timeline — a frequent byproduct of Kang’s actions — when he manipulated the Avengers into targeting Earth’s superhuman population in order to prevent armageddon.
Subsequently, the Scarlet Centurion was able to trick the Avengers of this alternate world into fighting their counterparts from the Prime universe. Naturally, the real Avengers managed to turn the tables against Scarlet Centurion and returned to their own world. Disgusted by his failure, Nathaniel Richards deserted his new Scarlet Centurion identity, moving instead towards embracing the Kang persona.
However, in another branch of the multiverse, a different incarnation of Nathaniel not only retained the Scarlet Centurion name that Nathaniel had quickly discarded after this adventure but became one of the greatest enemies of the Squadron Supreme, a team of superheroes from another universe’s Earth who are amusingly similar to DC Comics’ Justice League.
Thus far, Marvel hasn’t strayed too far outside of the prime timeline in terms of worlds with completely different individuals occupying Earth. Even Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness didn’t offer any hints of a world where the Squadron Supreme is out there. Regardless, the possibilities of the multiverse are without limits and unconfirmed rumors have circulated that the Squadron’s leader, Hyperion (their Superman counterpart) may be coming to the MCU soon in Thunderbolts. Regardless if that happens or not, it certainly remains possible the Squadron Supreme, and their arch-enemy, Scarlet Centurion, could create their way into the films (or a Disney+ series) one day.
Heart of Iron
The name Iron Lad may purposely evoke Tony Stark, but it in fact belongs to the youngest costumed incarnation of Kang we’ve met so far. In the comic Young Avengers, Kang attempted to reshape his own personal timeline by visiting his younger and more idealistic teenage self before revealing his destiny to become one of history’s greatest villains.
But instead of impressing young Nathaniel Richards, Kang horrified him. That’s why young Nathaniel rebelled against his future, stole a highly advanced suit of armor, and returned to the Avengers’ timeline for protection. Unfortunately for him, the team had disbanded at that point, so to protect himself from Kang, Nathaniel gathered new heroes like Patriot, Hulkling, and Wiccan together as the Young Avengers. Kate Bishop (AKA Hawkeye) and Ant-Man’s daughter, Cassie Lang (AKA Stature), soon joined the team as well.
While Marvel has yet to announce formal plans to collect the Young Avengers in the MCU, it sure seems like it’s going in that direction. WandaVision and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness featured Billy and Tommy Maximoff, the twin sons of Wanda Maximoff and Vision who grew up to become Wiccan and Speed. Similarly, Disney+’s Hawkeye series introduced Hailee Steinfeld as the MCU’s Kate Bishop, while The Falcon and the Winter Soldier featured Elijah Richardson in a minor role as Eli Bradley, the alter ego of Patriot.
However, it’s unclear who might play Billy and Tommy as older teens. It’s not even a sure thing that Richardson will obtain the possibility to wear Patriot’s costume. As demonstrated by Kathryn Newton taking over the role of Cassie Lang in Quantumania, anybody can be recast, given Emma Fuhrmann briefly played the teenage Cassie in Avengers: Endgame. The fact that Cassie is wearing a superhero costume in Quantumania suggests that she will have a larger role going forward.
This brings us back to Kang, whose younger self, Iron Lad, developed romantic feelings for Cassie during their time in the Young Avengers. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Cassie will be among the first heroes of the MCU to confront Kang in Quantumania.
Oh, and believe it or not, there’s at least one more incarnation of Kang who could finally come into play in live-action! In FF Vol 2 #8–#16, young Nathaniel Richards tried to subvert his destiny by creating a persona somewhere between Kang and Immortus known as Kid Immortus.
That’s So Ravonna
We’d be remiss if we didn’t take the possibility to talk about Princess Ravonna Lexus Renslayer. And if you think that Kang’s history is convoluted, then wait until you see her backstory! It would take an entire separate feature to unravel her comic book origins. Suffice to say, Ravonna is the love of Kang’s life, and occasionally his greatest enemy… sometimes on the same day!
Ravonna made her comic book debut in 1965 within the pages of Avengers #23 as the daughter of King Carelius, in one of the few kingdoms not ruled by Kang in the 40th century. Something about Ravonna made Kang instantly fall for her, and he spared her life rather than executing her as he had done with the rulers of other kingdoms that defied him. For showing mercy, Kang’s army turned against him and he was forced to fight alongside the Avengers to put down the rebellion.
Ravonna came to return Kang’s affection, and she sacrificed herself to save his life from an assassination attempt. But that wasn’t the end. From there, Kang and Ravonna had a very unconventional love story over the decades. She even learned to despise him after her revival from supposed death, only to finally fall back in love with him. Curiously, Kid Immortus appeared with a younger Ravonna from years before her near-death experience during her initial story. But exactly how that fits into Ravonna’s timeline has never been revealed.
Within the MCU, Gugu Mbatha-Raw portrays Ravonna Renslayer as one of the top judges for the TVA in Loki. She even appeared before Majors’ He Who Remains, although it’s unclear if she has a romance with him or Kang in this incarnation. Like everyone else in the TVA, Ravonna is a variant of someone from the prime timeline. In Ravonna’s case, she was Rebecca Tourminet, a high school Vice Principal, and not a princess from the far future. She had been steadfastly loyal to the TVA, and it was implied that she knew far more about He Who Remains than the rest of her colleagues. With Ravonna going off on her own search for “free will” (per her words), this is something that will likely be explored in Loki Season 2, and perhaps in The Kang Dynasty as well should Ravonna appear there.
Making the transition to the live-action MCU is the natural evolution of Kang’s status as a major player in the Marvel Universe. Despite holding the movie rights to the character, Fox neglected to put Kang in any of the Fantastic Four films. But with the new Fantastic Four reboot positioned to be one of the first movies in Phase Six, it could mean that Kang’s presence will be felt in that movie before The Kang Dynasty and Secret Wars. Time will tell. And since Kang is the master of time himself, it tends to be on his side.