The Countless Variants Of Kang The Conqueror In Marvel Comics
Any Marvel character worth their salt has at least a dozen variants out there in the Marvel Multiverse, but Kang variants are a different breed. Due to the time-traveling talents of Nathaniel Richards, there’s a lot more agency at play between the many different versions of Kang the Conqueror. All Kang variants got to where they are not because of the whims of the timeline, but by applying their own will to the timestream.
For other characters, variants are best described as alternate reality versions of one another. Kang variants, on the other hand, are all extensions of the same individual born into the same reality, only to then split off into dozens of iterations thanks to the contradictory nature of time travel. Of course, then there are also Kangs that actually are from other realities and timelines, just to confuse it all a little bit more. Kang’s backstory is one of many parallel histories, all happening at the same time in vastly different timelines.
That makes Kang a unique figure in the Marvel Multiverse. It also makes him a nigh-impossible threat for the Avengers and their allies to ever truly overcome. Strike one Kang down, and there will be several more waiting in the wings to take his place.
The Original Nathaniel Richards
The origin point of all Kangs is young Nathaniel Richards, who grew up in the 30th century of Earth-6311. In this reality, humanity had come out the other side of centuries of war into a peaceful, conflict-free existence, thanks in large part to the other Nathaniel Richards - Reed Richards’s time-traveling father, as well as Kang’s namesake and distant ancestor.
Peace was great for most citizens of the 30th century, but young Nathaniel found himself bored. He began to research the battle-torn centuries of the past, and his research led to him rediscovering a functional time machine.
From there, Nathaniel Richards set out to conquer as many other timelines and time periods as he could get his hands on - though the very nature of his constant time travel has led to several contradictions and paradoxes in even this simple origin tale.
Nathaniel Richards’s first dalliance with time travel had him head back to the Ancient Egypt of Earth-616. There, he used his future technology and advanced strategic intellect to quickly dominate the Egyptian people and install himself as Pharaoh. To this end, he took on a new name: Rama-Tut. He went on to rule with an iron fist for several years.
Through sheer coincidence, the Fantastic Four were sent back in time to Rama-Tut’s Egypt, where they quickly fell into conflict with the time-displaced pharaoh. The FF outsmarted and defeated Rama-Tut, causing him to flee back into the timestream - at least in this timeline.
Originally, Rama-Tut became obsessed with Earth-616 as a result of this encounter, and that inspired his eventual transformation into Kang the Conqueror. But in several other timelines that have branched off as a result of Kang’s machinations, Rama-Tut never left Egypt, and never had to reinvent himself. So, while Rama-Tut is a past identity of Nathaniel Richards, he is also a current identity several times over - and there are still plenty of Rama-Tuts lurking out there in the sands of time.
Following his defeat at the hands of the Fantastic Four in Ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh Rama-Tut found himself dumped into the present day of Earth-616. There, he met Doctor Doom, and learned that Doom may be his own ancestor. Inspired, Rama-Tut reinvented himself into a guise somewhat resembling Doom’s and redubbed himself the Scarlet Centurion.
As the Scarlet Centurion, Nathaniel Richards attacked the Avengers - who, confusingly enough, had already encountered his future self, Kang, by that point. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes overwhelmed him easily enough, however, and so Richards had to flee into the timestream again. This time, he did so determined to return one day with an arsenal capable of bringing Earth-616 to heel.
He determined to transform himself into a Conqueror.
Attempting to travel back to his native 30th century of Earth-6311, Nathaniel Richards got swept up in a time-storm and was deposited in the 40th century instead. There, he found a post-apocalyptic society warring over the ruins of technology they did not understand - but he did. Richards consolidated that tech, used it to take over the world and then the galaxy, and named himself Kang the Conqueror, donning a high-tech suit of armor that would eventually become synonymous with his image.
But Kang was not content with ruling the 40th century, especially not after the apparent demise of his lover, Ravonna Renslayer. He remained obsessed with the Earth-616 timeline, both because of his defeat at the hands of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, and because of a prophecy that named it as the birthplace of a “Celestial Madonna” that Kang wanted to impregnate. So, he headed back to the modern era to fight Earth’s Mightiest Heroes once again - though it was the first time, from their perspective.
Another series of defeats had Kang retreating back to the 40th century to lick his wounds and prepare for his next assault. But by making multiple trips to different points in the same timeline, Kang was inadvertently creating variants of himself that would begin to operate independently and often contradictorily.
As his schemes expanded, Kang dipped back into his own past as Nathaniel Richards, Rama-Tut, and the Scarlet Centurion, creating endless variants of those personalities, too. Soon enough, the Multiverse was plagued with Kangs of various shapes and sizes, all stemming from that same, bored little boy on Earth-6311.
Though there have been dozens of Kangs, Rama-Tuts, and Scarlet Centurions in existence, there has only ever been one Immortus. One particular version of Kang conquered for decades, grew bored of it all, and sought out retirement. This Nathaniel Richards tried to settle down back in Ancient Egypt, but grew restless and soon wound up back in the present day, attempting to help the Avengers defeat his past self.
Seeking true immortality, this Richards found his way to the timeless realm of Limbo and made a home there, eventually growing a long beard and renaming himself “Immortus.” As Immortus, he remained a mysterious figure from there on out, occasionally appearing as an ally to the people of Earth-616, but always with his own secretive aims in mind. In his private life, he met the Time-Keepers of the TVA at the end of time and started to work alongside them to manipulate the timestream as they all saw fit.
Soon enough, all this power went to Immortus’s head, and he began to act with just as much villainy as he displayed before. He went back in time to turn Iron Man evil, messed with the X-Men, and even tried to destroy all reality at one point, causing Kang the Conqueror to team with a group of multiversal Avengers to stop his future self. Eventually, Immortus always goes back to patiently pruning the timestream.
Though he’s perished several times, Immortus remains more-or-less locked in place at the end of time - so there are no variants of him out there to speak of, but there’s also no real getting rid of him, either.
At one point in one of his lives, Kang started to wish he’d started conquering a little earlier in life. To that end, he traveled back into his own past to meet and outfit a 16-year-old Nathaniel Richards. He even showed his teenage self a highlight reel of all his battles with the Avengers. But teen Nathaniel wasn’t impressed, he was horrified. He broke free from Kang, used his gifted set of armor to travel back in time, and made a vow to stop his future self - and to stop his current self from ever becoming his future self.
To that end, Nathaniel disguised himself as a knockoff teen hero named Iron Lad and founded the Young Avengers. He saved the world a few times, made friends, let them in on his secret, fell in love, and even appeared to have slain Kang at one point, but in the end, it was all for naught.
According to all possible timelines, Nathaniel is destined to eventually become Kang anyway, despite all his efforts to the contrary. For Iron Lad, conquering the timestream was an inescapable fate.