The degree of difficulty on a Kang the Conqueror origin story is sky high. He is not only one of the more confusing and mysterious characters in the Marvel Universe, but — perhaps not coincidentally — one of its most engaging. Kang stories always tend to be memorable, even if it’s not clear where in space or time he is emerging from or planning to return.
That may explain why even decades after his 1964 debut, Kang has never received his own ongoing comic. Marvel rectified that this week with the release of the first issue in a five-part series detailing Kang’s origin. Co-written by Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing with art by Carlos Magno, the issue pairs young Nathaniel Richards with Kang, one of his grizzled alternate selves, on a journey through the character’s epic history.
Their odyssey through space and time reads like a crazy, cosmic version of A Christmas Carol. Kang is a willing mentor and someone Nathaniel recognizes quickly as the final form of his desire to conquer the multiverse. But as fans of the character (and viewers of Loki know), Kang’s story is also imbued with deep sadness. One of the more moving sequences in this issue involves Kang’s lost love Ravonnna. Her absence testifies to Kang’s grief and signals to Nathaniel the cost of a life spent pursuing power to no end.
A Kang book requires excellent, borderless art and Magno (with colors by Espen Grundetjern) ably refracts the energy of those old Jack Kirby stories into Nathaniel’s modern-day quest. This comic is packed with double-page spreads and beautiful vistas, including detailed glimpses into Nathaniel’s 31st-century home. The entire visual presentation is in sync with Kang’s branding and self-concept, from letterer Joe Caramagna’s clean narrative captions, which portray Kang’s voice against a purple background and green border, to legendary artist Mike Del Mundo’s spectacular cover, which shows Kang tilting an hourglass that has Nathaniel trapped inside.
Kelly and Lanzing, who make their Marvel debut with this book, know their way around a space opera. Their credits include Star Trek: Year Five for IDW, which aims to complete the story of The Original Series. They capture Kang’s limitless abilities (and equally boundless ego) well, but in true Marvel fashion, focus on the character’s emotional core in a way that humanizes him. (Sometimes, Kang likes to get drunk and cry like the rest of us!)
It is no secret why a book like this needed to get made. The character is now a looming threat in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (where he is played by Jonathan Majors), and most major news outlets find themselves with the unenviable task of deciphering Kang’s knotty continuity. He was due for a streamlined origin — which Kelly and Lanzing reveal only pages into this issue — and is set for a revival in the comics. In addition to this series, he is also headlining the next arc of Dan Slott’s Fantastic Four.
Kang’s star has never been higher in popular culture. Lucky for us comics readers, the result of that corporate synergy is one of the best Kang stories in years—a comic that condenses his complicated, often contradictory, backstory into a heartfelt, emotional tale that should keep the character as relevant (and frightening) as ever.
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