The MCU Avengers can't catch a break.
With Avengers: Kang Dynasty (the fifth film in the franchise) announced at Comic-Con International: San Diego, the team will face one of its biggest and most dire challenges ever - yes, counting Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet.
Hot on the heels of barely winning the fight against Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, whatever the newest incarnation of Earth's Mightiest Heroes will be are about to face Kang the Conqueror, the master of time itself - and possibly in the MCU, the Multiverse.
And if the title of the film is any indication, it's not going to go super great for the Avengers.
See, in the comic book story Kang Dynasty, Kang wins. The Avengers lose, and Kang conquers the Earth as its unquestioned ruler.
It's right there in his name - Kang the Conqueror - after all.
Of course, the Avengers eventually strike back ... and in epic fashion (we're talking a 100-foot-tall Captain America sword fighting an equally gigantic Kang in outer space). But not before another of the Marvel Universe's worst-case scenarios comes to pass under the Avengers' watch.
The comic book story Avengers: Kang Dynasty ran from Avengers (Vol.3) #41-55 (2000-2001), and marked writer Kurt Busiek's swansong from the title after relaunching it alongside the late, legendary artist George Pérez as part of the 'Heroes Return' era.
The entire run marked a return to classic form for the Avengers, and as such, Kang Dynasty, which is illustrated by a team of artists including Alan Davis, Kieron Dwyer, Ivan Reis, and Manuel Garcia, includes the culmination of numerous, years-long plot threads from throughout Busiek's tenure as writer.
Coupled with its length, all of that weight means it's tough to get into every single detail of the story (which is also worth reading on its own, of course). But we're gonna boil down the 'Kang' of it all right now.
What happens in Avengers: Kang Dynasty?
In the comic book version of Avengers: Kang Dynasty, Kang becomes the first Marvel Comics villain to actually, physically conquer and rule the Earth in the modern era - albeit not for particularly long.
But along the way, he devastates the Marvel Universe, allies himself with a host of villains, and defeats the entire Avengers - as well as telling the definitive Kang story of all time.
Kang's conquest of Earth begins when he and his son/clone Marcus, using Kang's old identity of the Scarlet Centurion, attack the United Nations, using Kang's ultra-futuristic sword-shaped space station Damocles Base to destroy the building, while capturing its inhabitants unharmed.
Kang issues an edict that any and all of Earth's villains who wish to join him will be allotted their own territories to rule under his command when he has taken over, and numerous villains from the Eternals' foes the Deviants, to the armies of Atlantis (which was then ruled by Namor's old enemy Attuma), and many more join Kang in taking over parts of the Earth.
While Kang himself launches attacks from the future, keeping himself safe from the Avengers outside their timeline, his son Marcus/the Scarlet Centurion leads the physical assault on the modern-day Marvel Universe.
After a series of attacks on Europe and around the world, Kang focuses on the Avengers in the United States, where the US government has been planning a counterattack using reprogrammed Sentinels - as in the giant robots that hunt mutants - which will be led into space by a faction of the Avengers to find and attack Kang's Damocles Base in the present.
However, thanks to Kang's future knowledge, the attack fails. The Avengers who undertook the mission are stranded, and the Sentinels are captured by Kang and subsequently used as his own weapons.
On Earth, Kang launches a devastating attack on Washington DC, killing millions and forcing the remaining Avengers and the world's nations to surrender to his dictatorship.
How does Avengers: Kang Dynasty affect the Marvel Universe?
Following Kang's conquest of the Earth, many of the remaining Avengers and other heroes are rounded up and imprisoned, with their powers dampened, along with the world's leaders and numerous others.
But back in space, the Avengers who led the failed attack on Damocles Base are rescued by a giant ship shaped like a floating pyramid. Sound familiar? You may be thinking of the Eternals' ship from their recent MCU film - but that's not who's coming to the Avengers' rescue.
Instead, it's a cult known as the Triune Understanding who are dedicated to defeating the evil represented by Kang's arrival, which they interpret as the fulfillment of their prophecies. The Triune Understanding plotline connected to the newer Avengers recruit Triathlon, and stretched back to the early issues of that volume of the Avengers title - but that's the TL:DR.
(And frankly, if the MCU adapts the Avengers' fated space battle, they've already got the aforementioned Eternals pyramid ship to pull in rather than establishing another subplot - but you never know).
All of that said, the power of the space Pyramid allows the rescued Avengers to mount a surprise attack on Damocles Base, in which the Avengers return to Earth and free many of the people from the camps, including their re-empowered allies. They make a new base of operations out of Kang's reach and plan to launch a full counterattack both on Earth and in space.
With Wasp (founding comic book Avenger Janet Van Dyne) managing to rally Kang's own allies, the Atlanteans and Deviants, against him on Earth, Captain America leads a team in space on the mission against Damocles base using the pyramid ship.
Kang lashes out against the Avengers using the full power of Damocles Base - in which he is projected into space as a 100-foot-tall energy construct, wielding the sword-shaped Damocles Base itself as a weapon. In turn, Captain America uses the power of the Pyramid to project his own energy construct - complete with a shield - to take on the Conqueror.
Cap finally beats Kang in space, taking the fight from their energy constructs to a face-to-face showdown on Earth - where Captain America ultimately wins, ending Kang's conquest, and taking him into custody in a specially designed prison.
However, Kang's son/genetic clone Marcus uses a rebuilt version of Damocles Base to rescue Kang with the power of time travel.
And it's in this moment that Kang's true character and ethical code are revealed,
Kang has traditionally had a kind of warrior's code in which he won't use his time travel abilities to defeat his enemies by going back in time and fighting them before they have their powers (though in later stories, he eventually breaks this code).
In Kang Dynasty, the vaunted Conqueror finds himself defeated down to one-on-one singular combat by Captain America and decides to submit to the consequences of his loss, whatever they may be.
But when Marcus rescues him, he expresses disappointment with his son for not taking the chance to take the reins of Kang's empire, instead falling back on rescuing Kang himself.
Kang dispatches Marcus, killing his own son, and animating another clone to raise to take over his empire - vowing to try and defeat the Avengers once again.
And again… and again… and again…
How will Avengers: Kang Dynasty come to the MCU?
It's safe to say there will likely be some changes from the minutiae of Avengers: Kang Dynasty from comic books (for one thing, it'll likely begin the wrap up of some long running MCU plotlines rather than comic book ones). But the broad strokes spell out an Avengers story that is, to say the least, cinematic.
From Kang's surprise assault, to his enlisting other villains to his army, to the Avengers' failed space attack and imprisonment, to their eventual rallying and defeat of the Conqueror, there's plenty to pull from for a film.
And there's even room for characters such as Namor, the Eternals, and even Doctor Doom to be slotted in for some of the side elements of the MCU adaptation.
That said, Avengers: Kang Dynasty will move on to a sixth Avengers film just six months later - Avengers: Secret Wars - which wraps up the current so-called 'Multiverse Saga' of the MCU, itself an adaptation of the 2015 comic event Secret Wars.
And that means that just about anything can happen to set up the story of the possible destruction and rebirth of the Multiverse. Avengers: Kang Dynasty will almost certainly connect to Secret Wars directly, possibly setting up a two-part one-two punch in which Kang wins the conflict a la the surprise defeat ending of Avengers: Infinity War. That would then tee up an Endgame-like comeback for the Avengers to set things right and perhaps close the MCU door on the Multiverse for good in Secret Wars.
Avengers: The Kang Dynasty is one of the best Avengers stories of all time.