This article contains Loki spoilers.
The Loki season finale felt like the payoff that MCU fans have been waiting for: it was a massive expansion of the MCU while also rewarding those of us most steeped in the lore of the Marvel Universe. And in that, it was a triumph in more than one way: He Who Remains, the dramatically revealed big power pulling all the strings throughout the entire series, was retconned from his comics origins into an even deeper, wilder character family: the Kangs.
Kang the Conqueror
He Who Remains, played beautifully by upcoming Ant Man & Wasp: Quantumania villain Jonathan Majors, did an admirable job of explaining Kang the Conqueror’s backstory in the episode. Kang has one of the most convoluted, complicated backstories in all of comics, a feat when you consider he shares page space with the alien rebel leader who’s his own grandpa or Magneto’s daughter/not daughter/adopted daughter who has two imaginary kids who are totally real now. Nevertheless, it’s worth briefly recapping.
Kang was born Nathaniel Richards in the 31st century. Comics Kang fell into time paradoxes almost immediately, meeting his future self as a teen and becoming the Iron Lad of the first Young Avengers team, before eventually growing into Kang the Conqueror; ancient Egyptian pharaoh Rama Tut; pulling a Back to the Future III in Wisconsin; getting old and sad and kind of pathetic and becoming Immortus; and doing battle with the Avengers and Fantastic Four in the present day as the Scarlet Centurion. He would eventually meet up with his own alternate universe counterparts twice; first as the Council of Kangs, and later as the Council of Cross-Time Kangs. Both times ended in bloodshed.
There are two big differences between the story in the comics and the story as told by Jonathan Majors. The first is that none of the Kang Wars ever resulted in the collapse of the multiverse. That was borrowed more from Secret Wars, the huge universe-restarting Marvel crossover from 2015. The second difference: He Who Remains is an entirely separate person in the comics.
He Who Remains
The Marvel Comics version of He Who Remains is exactly the person Majors was in Loki. He was the last person alive in the last reality of the multiverse at the end of all time, who created the Time Keepers and the Time Variance Authority to police the timeline. He was introduced in Thor #245 in the 1970s, years before the TVA was introduced in later Thor comics. It was only later on that he was retconned as the founder of the TVA and even the creator of the Time-Keepers themselves! One of those notable appearances: Avengers Forever #9, where he’s seen coming into direct conflict with none other than…Kang the Conqueror.
Aside from that run in, they’ve had very little contact despite having overlapping portfolios. He Who Remains is a separate being, and has never, until Loki, been linked to Kang’s history.
But it really works.
He Who Remains has very little backstory aside from his creation of the TVA. We know very little about his life leading to that point – how he got there, who he loved, how he lived before he started the TVA. But because of that portfolio overlap, he makes perfect sense as another Kang: older, exhausted, lonely, bored Kang, ready to see what might happen.
In fact, this tracks perfectly with who Kang was himself during their one big run in. Avengers Forever #9 is one of the biggest, most densely packed retcons in the history of Marvel Comics. In it, Kang narrates his life story, from his start as a bored teenager (except for the Iron Lad parts – that retcon came about a decade later) all the way through his war with Immortus to save Rick Jones.
In this story, Kang eventually gets tired of conquering and settles in as an administrator of his vast empire. He eventually got so bored by that role that he returned to Limbo determined to resume conquering, and destroyed the machine that allowed him to transfer his consciousness between bodies whenever he was killed. He was willing to destroy everything simply because he was bored.
Which is exactly what He Who Remains did. He walked away from the TVA when he let Sophie kill him, and in doing so, he put countless lives at risk by allowing his more violent, conquer-y self to take over. It remains to be seen how much damage that will do, but if he’s anything like the Kang of the comics, it’s going to be a TON.