Now that The Batman is out in theatres, all eyes are on some of the upcoming DC films, including Dwayne Johnson’s long-awaited Black Adam, which adapts characters and themes from Shazam! and the Justice Society of America for the big screen.
We still don’t have a full trailer for The Batman, Black Adam, the Flash, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, which opens on July 29, but we do have a few tantalising glimpses from a recent ‘DC – The World Needs Heroes’ promotional video featuring its 2022 DC theatrical films The Batman, Black Adam, the Flash, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.
Despite the fact that Black Adam has been a regular among DC comic book fans in recent years, he is still relatively unknown outside of the medium. However, the character has a long history dating back to 1945, when Black Adam was owned by Fawcett Comics, one of National’s main rivals, and before DC was even DC (it was then known as National Publications).
Johnson’s Black Adam film will reportedly focus on the character’s recent history since his revamp and revitalization in the late 1990s, when he was first an enemy and then a member of the Justice Society, many of whom will appear in the film, including Hawkman, Cyclone, Doctor Fate, and Atom Smasher.
Black Adam’s history and lore, like the ancient stories from which his storey draws inspiration, can be tough to piece together with so many decades under his belt across several publishers and through numerous revamps.
Fortunately, we at Newsarama are specialists in comic book archaeology, so put on your headlamps, take a torch, and join us as we journey through the halls of Black Adam’s comic book past, unpacking everything you need to know before his big screen debut.
Black Adam’s first appearance in a comic book
In 1945’s Marvel Family #1 from Fawcett Comics (the owners of Black Adam and his nemesis, the hero SHAZAM!, then known as Captain Marvel), Black Adam made his debut in the Golden Age of comics.
Black Adam, like Batman’s renowned arch-enemy the Joker, was intended to be a one-off villain who would die at the end of his initial appearance. But, like the Joker, who reappeared years later to become Batman’s arch-enemy, Black Adam’s debut adventure ended up setting the basis for a comeback that raised him to the position of his superhero foe’s principal antagonist.
When DC acquired many of Fawcett’s characters, Black Adam was resurrected as one of SHAZAMarch-enemies, !’s albeit the hero and villain only appeared seldom for decades. Despite some appearances in the 1970s and 1980s, including on the 1981 SHAZAM! animated TV series, Black Adam didn’t receive a major comic book relaunch until the early 1990s, when writer/artist Jerry Ordway reimagined him as an arch-enemy of SHAZAM!, who was still known as Captain Marvel at the time.
— Black Adam Movie (@blackadammovie) February 11, 2022
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The origins of Black Adam
The origins of Black Adam can be traced back to a time when the Wizard Shazam was looking for a successor to his power and role as the guardian of ancient Egypt. He finds the wise and just prince Teth Adam in the mythical kingdom of Kahndaq, and imbues him with his powers, which are identical to those wielded by SHAZAM!
Black Adam, unlike SHAZAM!, does not invoke Greek gods; instead, he invokes Egyptian gods (the reasons for this differ in different eras of DC continuity — more on that later). Teth Adam forges relationships with the wizard Nabu – the magical entity that lives inside the Helm of Fate, possessed by magical DC superhero Dr. Fate, who will appear as part of the JSA in the Black Adam film – and even Prince Khufu, who would later be reincarnated as Hawkman, who also appears as part of the film’s JSA – after taking up the mantle of Egypt’s protector.
Teth Adam loses control and goes on a rampage after his homeland of Kahndaq is destroyed by the immortal menace Vandal Savage and a villain named Akh-Ton using the Orb of Ra (the same alchemical artefact that empowers the shapeshifting elemental hero Metamorpho in comic book continuity), forcing the Wizard to trap him in a magical scarab buried in a tomb.
The scarab is discovered centuries later by Theo Adam, the scheming assistant of Billy Batson’s parents, archaeologists C.C. and Mary Batson. Theo becomes Black Adam’s mortal counterpart when the scarab’s enchantment is activated, just as Billy is SHAZAMalter !’s ego.
Because the Batsons’ archaeology history was omitted from Billy’s backstory in the SHAZAM! film, this storey will most likely be changed in the Black Adam film.
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The abilities of Black Adam
Theo Adam (who is eventually removed from the picture entirely when Black Adam reforms to the JSA) uses the phrase “SHAZAM!” to transform into Black Adam, evoking the power of six Egyptian gods that provide him identical abilities to Billy Batson and his family.
This is owing to the nature of Teth Adam’s religion at the time he was empowered in some versions, while in others, outside factors alter the nature of the Wizard’s gift. Black Adam is aided by the Egyptian Gods:
- Shu, who bestows to him superhuman strength and invulnerability.
- Heru, who bestows on him unrivalled superhuman speed.
- Amon, who bestows on him incredible physical strength.
- Zehuti, who bestows enormous wisdom and understanding upon him.
- Aton’s gift is frequently referred to as “power,” yet it can also refer to his lightning abilities.
- Finally, Menthu, who bestows unwavering courage upon Black Adam.
Black Adam’s power levels have frequently been shown as far greater than SHAZAM !’s, especially as he has rarely shared his power with others like Billy Batson does with Mary Batson and Freddie Freeman, let alone with five other heroes as in the SHAZAM! family’s big-screen iteration. When angered, he’s shown to be capable of taking on the whole Justice League, Justice Society, and most of the other DC Universe heroes.
Despite initially fighting the JSA as a member of the Injustice Society when the JSA was relaunched in the late 1990s, Black Adam eventually turned sides, betraying the Injustice Society and joining the JSA.
In his human form, Theo Adam, Black Adam revealed to the squad that he had been suffering from the affects of a brain tumour that had been removed by the interdimensional villain Johnny Sorrow as a bribe into his new Justice Society.
When Black Adam saw that Johnny Sorrow’s ambitions to destroy the Rock of Eternity would affect not only himself but many more innocent people throughout reality, he turned on Sorrow and recommitted himself to heroism.
During his tenure with the JSA, Black Adam developed a unique bond with Atom Smasher, the team’s size-shifting powerhouse, who was grieving the loss of his sister in an attack by the villainous Kobra. Atom Smasher’s rage was channelled by Black Adam, who pushed him toward a more harsh, violent type of so-called justice, which Atom Smasher began to indulge in more and more.
In the narrative ‘Black Reign,’ when Black Adam decides to leave the Justice Society and become the new ruler of his ancestral land of Kahndaq, he enlists the help of Atom Smasher and a number of other heroes and villains as enforcers. Atom Smasher crosses a line by assassinating the Kahndaqi dictator, paving the path for Adam’s authority.
Adam’s gang goes across the world murdering criminals, including Kobra’s leaders, attracting the JSA’s attention and turning them into worldwide villains. The JSA arrives in Kahndaq, triggering a battle between the dictator’s forces and the Kahndaq people, with the JSA siding with the tyrant and the people siding with Black Adam.
The JSA eventually leaves, understanding the situation they’ve put themselves in, but not before persuading Black Adam not to try to impose his rules on the rest of the world, opting instead to stay in Kahndaq. Atom Smasher reverts to more out-and-out heroism as part of his recovery.
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The Family of Black Adam
There are several exceptions to Black Adam’s dictum about sharing power, particularly during his reign as ruler of Kahndaq, when he decides to form his own super-powered royal dynasty.
Black Adam saves an enslaved woman named Arianna Tomez from InterGang (a fictional organised crime ring with a sci-fi twist, who debuted in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World storey), prompting him to also liberate her brother Amon.
Black Adam bestows a portion of his power on Arianna and Amon, renaming them Isis and Osiris and bringing them to Kahndaq as his new royal family. (The name Isis comes from a 1970s TV show spin-off of the live-action SHAZAM! franchise.) Now, the term “television show” has a completely new meaning.
Billy Batson and his allies recruit a sentient anthropomorphic crocodile named Sobek, a counterpart to Billy’s super stuffed tiger/anthropomorphic ally Talky Tawny, as part of the so-called Black Marvel family (a play on the Marvel Family, the moniker used by Billy Batson and his allies before DC started using the name SHAZAM! full-time).
Though Adam, Isis, and Osiris rule Kahndaq successfully at first, Amanda Waller sends the Suicide Squad to assassinate Black Adam and his family near the conclusion of 52, prompting Osiris to murder the Squad’s Persuader in the heat of battle – and that’s when everything goes wrong.
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Third World War
As a result of his shame, Osiris tries to abandon Black Adam’s power. But as Sobek reverts to human form, he betrays Osiris, devouring him and exposes himself to be Famine, one of Darkseid’s earthbound allies InterGang’s Horsemen of Apokolips, all of whom had been hired in retaliation for Black Adam’s rescue of Arianna.
Pestilence, War, and Death, the other three Horsemen, attack, with Pestilence murdering Arianna in the subsequent battle. Black Adam, distraught by the loss of his family, goes on another rampage, confronting the whole DC Universe (remember how he battled the Justice League, JSA, and more?).
When Black Adam is defeated, he loses his power and reverts to his human form, Teth Adam. But, before he can face prosecution for his crimes – which include destroying the imaginary nation of Biyalia – Atom Smasher of the JSA assists him in escaping, relying on their old relationship.