Timeless #1 Review: A Look Forward and Back With Kang the Conqueror

The end of the year is always an interesting time for stories. With the final weeks of the calendar typically full of real-life events and celebrations that, for many, tend to take precedence over works of fiction, it's a time ripe for a bit of reflection as well as a bit of setup to prepare for what's to come in the new year. With 2021 coming to a close, Marvel Comics is doing that in Timeless #1, a one-shot centering around Kang the Conqueror, but in a way that positions him less as a villain and more as just a character in a much larger story set to unfold in the new year. It's an interesting approach to not only the character but to a new year of stories, and it's one that is both of the moment and that has a great deal of momentum.

Timeless #1 is largely told by Anatoly Petrov, a writer and lecturer on superhuman studies at Lomonosov Moscow State University who winds up Kang's companion for a week in "present" time, but it's a week that ends up having some major implications for everything that's to come. Dr. Petrov captures Kang's attention because of a book that he is writing in which he makes a bold claim about Doctor Doom. Determined to prove Dr. Petrov's assessment of things wrong, Kang takes Dr. Petrov with him to essentially show off how he is the pinnacle of human achievement. It's during this adventure that Kang becomes aware of an attack of sorts on the timeline—an anomaly. That anomaly is what has to be stopped and leads to not only the revelation of events that could be on the horizon but also to a confrontation between Kang and a surprising antagonist.

If that summary sounds complex, that's for good reason. Timeless #1 is complex in that while the issue is pretty directly a "something has gone wrong with the timeline" adventure that will give fans of the MCU's Disney+ series Loki some similar vibes, writer Jed MacKay has woven a pretty intricate story. Not only are the aforementioned revelation of various events—obvious hints of possible stories to come in Marvel Comics—but he's also created an interesting character study of Kang himself. Filtered through the observations of Dr. Petrov, Kang and his narcissism is explored in a way that makes the character feel somewhat relatable all without every fully abandoning the idea that this is a dangerous figure. MacKay somehow manages to keep Kang as problematic of a foe as he's always been while giving him dimension and weaknesses.

Adding to that, the art of the book from Mark Bagley, Greg Land, and Kev Walker with inks by Andrew Hennessey and Jay Leisten, and colors by Marte Gracia is very well-done. You get a genuine sense of travel through space and place through the art while the script works on a more inward path in terms of Kang himself. The result is an expansive-feeling book that is also very intimate. It bubbles with energy in the best way and, for lack of a better description, has a distinctively Marvel feel.

Overall, Timeless #1 is a very solid one-shot. While the idea of the book being the setup and groundwork for what's next in Marvel Comics for 2022 feels a little like false advertising in that there are really only teases in this book, where Timeless #1 excels is as a character study. It's a fascinating portrait of Kang as observed by someone perhaps a bit more outside the situation than we would ordinarily get the perspective of. It's a story that is engaging less for what it teases and more for how it challenges the reader to consider Kang a bit differently and prompts intriguing questions about the nature of antagonists, observers, and the Marvel Universe itself.

Published by Marvel Comics

On December 29, 2021

Written by Jed MacKay

Art by Mark Bagley, Greg Land, Kev Walker, Andrew Hennessey, and Jay Leisten

Colors by Marte Gracia

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Letters by Ariana Maher

Cover by Kael Ngu