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 entertainment assets, all of the characters associated with the Fantastic Four and the X-Men are back home with Marvel Studios – and the first major character who used to be under Fox’s control looks to have been cast in the MCU.
According to Deadline, Lovecraft Country star Jonathan Majors has been signed to portray Kang the Conqueror in Ant-Man 3. That’s huge news, because Kang has the potential to be the MCU’s next big bad. Of course, that’s assuming Ant-Man 3 doesn’t make Kang into a mere comic relief character. But given Kang’s connections to time travel, the multiverse, and very likely the Quantum Realm — so far, the key to time travel in the MCU — the odds are pretty high that Kang could be a major player going forward in movies like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and even unannounced but inevitable MCU offerings like Fantastic Four and X-Men.
Indeed, some were also 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 misconception mentioned on social media quite a bit, it should be noted that Kang is not Reed’s father in the comics – although Marvel didn’t exactly make it simple to keep track of when they revealed that Kang’s real name is Nathaniel Richards, which is the same name as Reed’s dad.
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 final 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.
By introducing Kang into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he could conceivably provide a huge link to the Fantastic Four, especially if his given name is used in Ant-Man 3. We’ve all been very anxious to see the FF in the MCU, and this one character may be the beginning of even bigger things to come. And not just because of who Kang is genetically related to but because Kang is connected to so much of Marvel’s history and 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 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 eventually 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. Rama-Tut also had full knowledge of who the Fantastic Four were, much to their surprise, and even attempted to make 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 enough 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 — who have yet to be seen in the MCU — and Apocalypse himself. Kang, in his Rama-Tut identity, could be the key to establishing just how far back the history of mutants extends as we begin to finally establish the MCU version of the X-Men.
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 get 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 nearly 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 choice to succeed the likes of Loki and Thanos as the primary bad guy in the MCU. The potential for large 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 eventually be revealed as one and the same by others who would follow in their footsteps with these characters. 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 #2-3, writer Steve Englehart and artist Dave Cockrum firmly established the link between Rama-Tut, Kang, and Immortus with the huge reveal 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 seize its destiny in space. That’s one of the reasons that Kang considered his fated transformation into Immortus as a fate 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 remain himself while Immortus filled his role in history.
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 get 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 abandoned 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.
And while we’re doubting the movies would want to go there — at least not yet — with the Doctor Strange sequel’s very title touting the introduction of a Multiverse into the MCU, perhaps the Squadron Supreme, and their arch-enemy, Scarlet Centurion, could make 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. In 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.
Given recent events in the MCU, the introduction of the Young Avengers team in live-action appears to be a strong possibility. Avengers: Endgame notably aged the cinematic version of Cassie into a teenager, while Kate Bishop has been confirmed to be introduced in the Hawkeye series on Disney+. Meanwhile, the Super Bowl teaser ad for the upcoming MCU Disney+ series dropped hints that Scarlet Witch and Vision’s sons, who eventually become Young Avengers team members Wiccan and Speed, may be introduced in WandaVision. If Patriot and Hulkling are introduced as well, that’s the full roster of the original Young Avengers. And Kang and his younger self, Iron Lad, could once again be the key to bringing them together as a team.
Oh, and believe it or not, there’s at least one more incarnation of Kang who could eventually 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.
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. Now, instead, it’s possible that Kang’s introduction could instead lead the FF into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but there are so many possibilities for how Kang could be used to connect to other big characters and storylines. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.