Once upon a time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was renowned for its near-perfect renditions of its comic book heroes, but it lacked precision when it came to villains. In recent years, however, Erik Killmonger from Black Panther, Hela from Thor: Ragnarok, and, of course, Avengers antagonist Thanos have helped restore the balance. And now, in Kang the Conqueror, the MCU may be about to unveil its biggest villain yet.
Played by Lovecraft Country’s Jonathan Majors, Kang is set to enter the microscopic world of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, before setting out to conquer the wider Marvel Multiverse. These efforts will presumably culminate in 2025’s superhero team Avengers: Kang Dynasty.
Majors has already appeared as the One Who Remains in Loki, but there are plenty of questions about how this (seemingly entirely different) character relates to his dangerous doppelganger.
In this explainer, we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about Kang the Conqueror, from his comic book origins to how he might fit into the larger MCU. This being Marvel, hard facts about his involvement in movies and TV shows are thin on the ground. But when you look at a character with nearly six decades of history, the clues are definitely there…
Who is Kang and why is he so important?
Kang the Conqueror may not be a household name just yet, but we can expect his familiarity to start skyrocketing very soon – just as #Thanos became a topic of conversation after his brief appearance in the credits of End of The Avengers.
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe enters Phase 5, Kang is poised to become the MCU’s greatest villain, creating plenty of multiverse headaches for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. But first, he’ll make his official big-screen debut in February 2023’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
What is Kang’s history in the Marvel comics?
Kang the Conqueror is a true Marvel Comics veteran, dating back to the glory days of the early ’60s, when the company churned out iconic superheroes and villains at an impressive rate. Like the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, and Thor, Kang was the brainchild of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s writer/artist dream team, and he debuted in 1964’s The Avengers #8.
Kang was originally Nathaniel Richards, a genius scientist born in the 30th century of Earth-6311, aka “Other-Earth”. This version of reality was further along than Earth-616 from the main MCU timeline – basically the Dark Ages never happened – but was also extremely war-prone. Nevertheless, a ceasefire was established after the arrival of another Nathaniel Richards, a time traveler from Earth-616 who happened to be the father of Fantastic Four founder Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic – and can -to also be an ancestor of his Earth- 6311 namesake.
However, Richards-6311 was not a fan of peacetime and after discovering the time travel technology invented by the Fantastic Four’s eternal antagonist, Victor von Doom (another potential ancestor), decided to make experience the story for himself. He then used his knowledge of the future and his mastery of advanced technologies to – as his name suggests – conquer many worlds.
Richards’ original destination was ancient Egypt, where he ruled as Pharaoh Rama-Tut. In fact, Marvel’s Rama-Tut first appeared in 1963’s Fantastic Four #19, before being retconned to be an earlier incarnation of Kang. (Other aliases the character has adopted during his time misadventures include Iron Lad, Scarlet Centurion, Victor Timely, and Immortus.)
Rama-Tut ultimately decided to return to his original period, but his journey back to the 30th century was interrupted by a time storm that took him to a war-ravaged 40th century Earth. With the planet’s inhabitants no longer knowing how to use the past technology that was still abundant in their world, Richards seized the opportunity to take control. Assuming the moniker Kang the Conqueror, he went on to become ruler of Earth, before making moves on the rest of the galaxy – a course of action that brought him into conflict with the Avengers on several occasions.
As befits a character with a universe-crossing history, there are several “variants” of Kang in the comics. The original “Prime Kang” even established a Council of Kangs with two of his most ruthless alternate selves, and they set about eliminating all other “lesser” Kangs in the multiverse. Prime Kang then replaced the deposed Kangs with robot duplicates so he could rule their kingdoms from a distance.
Other notable variants of Kang include Kangaroo the Conqueror from Peter Porker: The Spectacular Spider-Ham and a female Kang from Marvel’s Ultimate alternate universe.
What are Kang’s superpowers?
Like Batman or Iron Man, Kang has no superhuman attributes beyond his genius intellect. Having the ability to time travel is the true source of his power, and he navigates the space-time continuum in a time vessel capable of switching between unlimited time periods and realities.
Kang also walks around in super advanced combat armor and has access to the most powerful weapons imaginable. In other words, there’s a good chance he could even have an Infinity Stone-powered Thanos for breakfast.
Have we ever seen Kang in the MCU?
Yes and no. Jonathan Majors, the Lovecraft Country/The Harder They Fall actor who has long been signed up to play Kang in the MCU, did appear in Loki’s season finale, but he was playing an entirely different character – more or less.
In Loki, Majors appeared as the One Who Remains, the founder of the Time Variance Authority (TVA), the bureaucratic organization tasked with keeping the space-time continuum on track. He resides in the so-called Citadel at the end of time, and it is here that Loki and Sylvia (the alternate timeline’s variant trickster god) confront him with the TVA’s ongoing efforts to suppress free will.
In a long and very gossipy exposition scene, He Who Remains reveals that a variant of himself was once a scientist on Earth in the 31st century. He discovered that there were multiple parallel universes “stacked” on top of his own, just as other variants in other realities stumbled across the same earth-shattering revelation from Earth 616. They then made contact with each other. others and shared knowledge that would improve their respective worlds, but the peace did not last long. Soon, a multiversal war erupted as each variant fought to preserve its own universe.
Whoever Remains ended the conflict by using Alioth (a massive creature that consumes time and space) to isolate a single “sacred timeline”. He then created the TVA to manage the flow of time and ensure he didn’t deviate from a predetermined playbook.
After all those lifetimes of living alone at the end of time, however, He Who Remains is tired and looking for someone to fill his shoes in the Citadel. He sees Loki and Sylvie as ideal candidates, but they dislike the gig – so much so that Sylvie kills the One Left Behind and throws the timeline(s) into chaos.
He Who Remains had warned that his death would leave the Sacred Timeline exposed and allow countless other variants of himself to return – most of which he believes are far more dangerous than himself. This prediction is seemingly confirmed at the end of Loki’s finale, when Loki lands in a subtly altered version of the TVA that features a massive statue of the One Who Remains as its centerpiece.
Whether this new direction at TVA is Kang or some other variant is unconfirmed, but it seems likely that Kang went on a rampage when Sylvie killed The One Who Remains.
When are we going to see the real Kang?
Kang has long been confirmed as an antagonist in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the first film released in the MCU’s Phase 5 (due in theaters February 17, 2023). Appearing onstage at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Majors teased that “there will be conquest,” while director Peyton Reed told thousands in attendance that the film “will explore the Quantum Realm, which is not always what you think it is”. Images projected at the SDCC (although not yet made public) also strongly hinted that this sub-microscopic world – which made the journey possible in time in Avengers: Endgame – will be where Ant-Man, the Wasp and co will cross paths with Kang.
The first poster released for the film revealed that Majors’ Kang’s look will be heavily influenced by his comic book counterpart:
1ST look at ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA! Poster I illustrated for @MarvelStudios @Comic_Con Honored to work again with @MrPeytonReed #PaulRudd @EvangelineLilly & 1st time Cassie @kathrynnewton & KANG #JonathanMajors #antmanandthewaspquantumania #Quantumania #antmanwasp #kang pic.twitter.com/Mf8tL3wg6wJuly 23, 2022
However, Kang’s involvement in the MCU won’t be limited to one-off villain duties in Quantumania. Given that a statue in his likeness featured heavily in the first-season finale, there’s a good chance Kang (or another He Who Remains variant) will appear in Loki season 2 – especially more than former TVA boss Ravonna Renslayer (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was romantically linked to Kang in the comics.
Meanwhile, the fact that Kang’s name was ticked into the title of the fifth Avengers film, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty (due in 2025, directed by Shang-Chi and Destin Daniel Cretton from Legend of the Ten Rings), implies very strongly that he’s going to be Phase 6’s menacing multiverse response to Thanos – indeed, the use of the word ‘dynasty’ implies that multiple Kangs could be involved. We also expect Kang’s malign influence to carry over to Avengers: Secret Wars, the conclusion of the current MCU storytelling cycle.
And don’t be surprised if the villain makes an appearance in the MCU’s new take on the Fantastic Four (slated for November 2024) – after all, his original comic book incarnation, Nathaniel Richards, is distantly related to Reed Richards of the FF. Could Marvel’s First Family set up Kang’s bid for multiversal dominance?
Of course, now that Loki, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness have opened the doors to the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse beyond the well-established Earth-616, there’s potentially no limit to the locations (and times) Kang, He Who Remains and their variants may appear.