Loki has officially unveiled our Phase 4 Big Bad–and no, it’s not Mephisto. The third MCU TV show on Disney+ wrapped its six episode first season on a high note that will have major repercussions for the rest of the MCU for plenty of reasons. But the question remains: Just who is this new threat and why does he represent a bigger, scarier problem for Marvel’s heroes than Thanos or the Infinity Gauntlet?
Spoilers for Loki Season 1 to follow.
We’ve known about the existence of Kang within the MCU for some time now–around a year ago, Jonathan Majors’ casting was announced specifically for the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. However, with a character like Kang, a simple casting announcement didn’t tell us much. In the comics, the name Kang is almost an umbrella term that can be used to refer to an infinite number of alternate versions of the same person–a phenomenon the MCU has adopted and streamlined into “variants.”
Kang’s original origin story was actually relatively simple–he was a genius scientist in the 31st century on Earth named Nathaniel Richards (distant relative of Mr. Fantastic) who uncovered the ability to time travel and sent himself back to Ancient Egypt where he became a Pharaoh with plans to interfere with some mutant-centric history. Eventually he tried to return to the 31st century but traveled too far and found himself in a war-torn future, where he adopted another new identity (Kang The Conqueror this time) and set about ending the war and doing a little conquest to live up to the name.
Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, Kang’s situation was pretty standard for a sci-fi flavored villain. He could travel through time at will, frequently caused problems for the Avengers, and usually had vaguely creepy motivations revolving around obsessive love of women who wanted nothing to do with him. One such woman was Revonna Renslayer who, in the comics, was a 31st century princess in one of Kang’s conquered kingdoms. It’s unclear whether or not the MCU will be borrowing any of this for Revonna’s story in live-action, but it’s certainly obvious that Revonna’s connection to Kang is more complicated than we’ve been shown. She apparently has no memory or knowledge of him, but it’s no accident she wound up a high powered judge in the TVA–he also seems to have some sort of interest in her, judging by the way he sent Miss Minutes to give her a set of mysterious files that, for whatever reason, he wanted her to have.
He later had a similar obsessive (and ultimately fruitless) attempted romance with Mantis, who we know from the Guardians of the Galaxy in the MCU, but again it’s not clear whether any of this will crop up later.
What will certainly come into play down the line is the alternate versions of Kang that exist throughout time and space. If you’re a fan of sci-fi or superheroes, you don’t need me to tell you that time traveling is never as simple as just hopping from one point in time to another without causing major existential problems. For Kang, these problems manifested in the form of alternate versions of himself existing at different points in time and in splintered timelines. In the beginning, there were only two major alternate Kangs to worry about — the Pharaoh Rama-Tut from the past and a far-future version called Immortus.
This was just the tip of the iceberg for alternate Kangs, however. By the mid ’80s, there were so many alternate Kangs that they actually organized into something known as the Council of Kangs which was populated by–you guessed it–just a bunch of Kangs from throughout the multiverse.
It would seem that this is where the MCU is really borrowing heavily for their version, given the exposition in Loki’s final episode. He Who Remains, a version of Kang in this story, relates that he and his variant selves worked together for some time before conflict and war broke out and now, with the timeline shattered and the multiverse revived, the variant Kangs are free to dominate any reality they can get their hands on.
Now, concepts like branching timelines and multiversal realities are extremely esoteric and beholden really only to the logic of whatever story they exist in, so this could mean a lot of things for the MCU and Phase 4 moving forward. For one, given that there are now an infinite number of branching realities splitting from the sacred timeline, there are also an infinite number of Kangs–this is where the real threat comes into play. Any version of Kang is now fair game, and while every version is technically the same person, no two Kangs are actually alike. Think of the big Loki variant fight in Loki Episode 5 as a good primer for this sort of chaos–yes, they’re all Loki but no, they’re not all after the same thing and they’re not all equally motivated to get it.
This means that every Phase 4 project moving forward could technically incorporate a version of Kang for any desired effect–from terrifying villain to reluctant hero or anti-hero. He can represent a small scale threat in one reality, a massive one in another, and hope in a different one all together. And, more importantly–Kangs are a functionally endless resource. There will be one in any reality and, by virtue of their beyond genius level intellect and technological prowess, it’s safe to say they’ll be hopscotching through those realities as well, meaning multiple Kangs can be in the same place at the same time.
Of course, this also means that there are infinite versions of every other person in the MCU as well, which may come in handy at some point in the future–but they’ll all be working at an extreme disadvantage against someone like Kang. And it’s important to remember that while Jonathan Majors has been the face of Kang thus far, and will be reprising the role in Quantumania, we could also experience any form of Kang played by any actor in any future project.
We’ll just have to wait and see.