One of my favorite Avengers stories features the time-traveling psychopath known as Kang The Conqueror. He sports a ridiculous outfit that only John Buscema and Tom Palmer could make cool.
What kind of evil plan can a person hatch in striped purple thigh-high boots? Stripping to pay his way through college? But don’t judge Kang by his fashion sense, because he rocks hard in this minor masterpiece.
I was 13 when this issue appeared on the comic book rack at the Walgreens on Manchester Road in Ballwin, Missouri. The opening sequence blew my mind, and I still get a thrill reading it years later. The complete three-issue story is one of the few mid-80s superhero yarns that still holds up for me as an adult reader, and though I no longer have the complete Stern/Buscema run, I’ve read it a bunch of times. These days, I just reserve a little space for my absolutely favorite Avengers stories, including this one.
It begins the day Colossus joins the Avengers, and opens with Storm descending from the sky like the weather goddess she is. Goddess and, as we discover, an Avenger.
I love the mood and tone of Stern’s captions on that page and generally for the entire run. Despite some typical comic-book clunkers such as expositional thought balloons, his prose always made me feel like I was reading a book for adults, not children. But back to our story.
The President of the USA escorts Colossus onto the scene to induct him into the Avengers and become an American citizen.
What’s that? You don’t remember Storm and Colossus being Avengers in the 1980s? Pay attention!
Iron Man flies onto the scene to give a gift to the POTUS on this momentous occasion. And gosh, isn’t Tony Stark such a great guy?
Just tug a little harder, sir! But suddenly…
Wait, what? The whole team just got nuked into oblivion? Is the series cancelled? What do you do after THAT?!
If you’re a super-villain, you gloat.
The nuke was just a warm-up. Now, it really starts to hit the fan. It turns out that Kang’s time-traveling adventures are creating all kinds of alternate timelines, and each has its own Kang. A mysterious council has summoned our nuke-loving Kang to their secret chamber in a limbo outside of time. When Kang questions the council’s authority to tell him what a massive screw-up he is for getting his entire planet destroyed, they reveal themselves to be a trio of alternate Kangs!
They kill him then adjourn and vanish. But one Kang comes back to snoop around the building, and who does he run into? One of the other Kangs! John Buscema gives the Jack Kirby treatment to the wonders inside the secret chambers inside the secret chamber, and Kang gives Kang a tour of his time-monitoring operations.
In fewer than ten pages, Stern gave the Avengers new members, nuked an entire planet, discovered alternate realities, hatched a nefarious plot of betrayal and murder spanning centuries and multiple universes, and plumbed the depths of grief, greed, and evil in the human soul. And the real Avengers, the stars of the series, haven’t even appeared yet!
The heroes show up soon enough, and the adventure is a solid one with plenty of twists and turns and mysteries to solve. Despite his goofy outfit, Kang is a strong villain with a plan he seems entirely capable of pulling off, and he steals the show in a way usually reserved for Dr. Doom. Fitting, I suppose, since Kang originally came from the future using Doom’s time-machine and, after becoming an Egyptian Pharaoh in the past, patterned himself after Doom. As far as alternate timeline stories go, I’d rather re-read this classic than re-watch Avengers Endgame any day.
Collector’s Guide: The full story appears in issues 267, 268, and 269 of the original Avengers series, and they cost about $3 to $6 each, depending on their grade.
A big “thank you” to this blog’s readers for making it possible to get these issues as part of my ongoing big box of free comics series.