With his recent ascension to likely MCU big bad, one might expect a bit more Kang presence on the new release shelves of late. The truth is, aside from annual issues of Timeless, he hasn’t exactly been active in Marvel’s current stories—with the Avengers tied up in a Mephisto/Multiversal Masters of Evil war and the Fantastic Four just beginning a reboot, his usual haunts have been too busy for a quick Kang pop-in.
Kang: The Saga of the Once and Future Conqueror, out this week only a month before Quantumania releases and drives crossover fans to the racks, attempts to fill a bit of that void. It’s an imperfect stopgap, however, because Kang has never exactly been the type of villain to have a major ongoing presence in the Marvel Universe. His appearances, by nature of consistent time-jumping, are usually fractured and piecemeal. A Kang War might arise, but even in its few-issue passage, Kang is generally relegated to the back row of a commander, manipulating pieces against his foes rather than engaging directly himself.
This means that Once and Future cannot present us with one massive story arc to fill its almost ludicrous 500-page bulk. Rather, the book presents a sort of dizzying flurry of disparate tales spanning the 58 years of publication between 1961 and 2021. Because of this, Kang reads not as the Big Bad-worthy mastermind villain the MCU needs him to be but, instead, as a sort of nuisance, an occasional irritant to our heroes.
The inclusions to the book aren’t lackluster, though they are baffling. His first two appearances (as Immortus and as Kang) in the ’60s are included before the book skips whole decades (i.e. the entire Bronze Age) to thrust the reader in to the 2010s. The All-New, All-Different/Marvel NOW! Initiatives present the longest—and most cogent—inclusion in the book, wherein Avengers throughout time are gathered to face a collection of Kangs.
Other inclusions seem arbitrary, while significant—and more appropriate—exclusions are glaring. The complete Symbiote Spider-Man: King in Black miniseries is included, for example, but the recent Kang: Only Myself Left to Conquer is not. The former, a flashback story jamming together the action figures of symbiote-suited Spider-Man, Rocket Raccoon, Monica Rambeau, and Kang himself, barely concerns itself with time travel, the character’s primary novelty.
One might point to Myself’s very recent collection in its own volume—that volume came out last February—but Symbiote was only released several months before that. The decision making behind the contents of the book seem all the more haphazard when one considers Myself’s resemblance to the second-to-last issue in this book, Fantastic Four (2018) #35. Those two stories focus on Kang’s various iterations; taken together, there might have been a nice narrative roundness, a sort of harmonic juxtaposition. With the idea of Variants so relevant to the MCU, it seems even more of a wasted opportunity.
These are incredible stories, regardless of their confusing union here. Each story is crafted with care by incredible talent, and nothing here feels unfinished or in any way neglectful. Kang: The Saga of the Once and Future Conqueror is a collection of bangers. It just isn’t exactly a Greatest Hits.
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