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Who is Black Adam and what are his powers?

(Image credit: DC)

Black Adam is about to strike the DC Extended Universe like lightning. A DC FanDome panel hosted by Black Adam star Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson himself revealed that the film, in which he plays the classic DC villain/antihero, will introduce the Justice Society of America (JSA) – and potentially even set up a confrontation with the Justice League.

In the wake of that reveal, Newsarama laid out the story details of Black Adam's involvement with the JSA and with Al Rothstein/Atom Smasher in particular, played by Noah Centineo in the film. Now it's time to delve deeper into the history of Black Adam – including his origins, his powers, and his history in the DC Universe.

Black Adam's first comic-book appearance

(Image credit: DC)

Black Adam originally debuted in the Golden Age of comics, in 1945's Marvel Family #1 from Fawcett Comics (the owners of Black Adam and his rival, the hero SHAZAM!/Captain Marvel at the time). 

Like Batman's iconic arch-enemy the Joker, Black Adam was originally intended as a one-off villain, though this story laid the groundwork for his later appearances. Unlike the Joker, however, Black Adam didn't play a major role in the DC Universe until decades later.

Despite some appearances in the 70s and 80s, including on the 1981 SHAZAM! animated TV series, Black Adam didn't get a big comic book revival until the early 90s, when writer/artist Jerry Ordway revamped him as an arch-enemy to SHAZAM! (then still going by Captain Marvel, in his hero guise).

Black Adam's origin has remained largely the same since his original 40's appearance, at least in broad strokes. In fact, fans of 2019's SHAZAM! movie saw a portion of it in that movie's intro.

Black Adam's origins

(Image credit: DC)

So what are Black Adam's origins? Eons ago, the Wizard Shazam sought a successor to his power and to his role as the protector of ancient Egypt. In the fictional nation of Kahndaq, he found the wise and just prince Teth Adam, who he imbued with his powers, similar to those wielded by SHAZAM!. 

Unlike SHAZAM!, though, Black Adam doesn't call upon the Greek gods – he calls upon the gods of Egyptian myth (the reasons for this change in different eras of DC continuity – more on that in a bit).

Taking up the mantle of Egypt's protector, 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 movie – and even Prince Khufu, who would later be reincarnated as Hawkman, who also appears as part of the film's JSA.

When 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 artifact that, in comic book continuity, empowers the shapeshifting elemental hero Metamorpho), Teth Adam loses control and goes on a rampage, forcing the Wizard to trap him in a magical scarab buried in a tomb. Centuries later, the scarab is uncovered by Theo Adam, the treacherous assistant of archaeologists C.C. and Mary Batson – Billy Batson's parents. Theo becomes Black Adam's mortal counterpart the same way Billy is SHAZAM!'s alter ego. 

This story will likely be altered in the Black Adam movie, given the SHAZAM! movie removed the Batson's archeology background from Billy's backstory.

Black Adam's powers

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Like Billy Batson, Theo Adam (who is later taken out of the picture completely, when Black Adam reforms to the JSA) speaks the word "SHAZAM!" to transform into Black Adam, invoking the power of six Egyptian gods that grant him similar abilities to those possessed by Billy Batson and his family. 

In some versions, this is simply due to the nature of Teth Adam's religion at the time he was empowered, and in others outside forces change the nature of the Wizard's gift. The Egyptian Gods that empower Black Adam are:

  • Shu, who grants him incredible stamina and invulnerability.
  • Heru, who grants him unmatchable super speed.
  • Amon, who grants him tremendous physical strength.
  • Zehuti, who grants him great wisdom and knowledge.
  • Aton, whose gift is often nebulously called "power," though this sometimes relates to his lightning powers.
  • And finally, Menthu, who grants Black Adam unshakeable courage.

Black Adam's power levels have often been depicted as much stronger even than SHAZAM!'s, especially since he has rarely shared his power with others the way Billy Batson does with Mary Batson and Freddie Freeman, among others. He's been shown as strong enough to take on the entire Justice League, Justice Society, and most of the other heroes of the DC Universe when enraged.

The Black Adam Family

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There are exceptions to Black Adam's rule about sharing his power. In the limited, yearlong weekly limited series 52, Black Adam rescues an enslaved woman named Arianna Tomez from InterGang (you might remember them from Jack Kirby's Fourth World saga, which will form the basis of its own DCEU movie in New Gods), leading him to also rescue her brother, imbuing them with a portion of his power as Isis and Osiris. (Isis's name, a holdover from the 70's TV show spin-off of the live-action SHAZAM!, holds a much different connotation now).

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) also recruit a sentient anthropomorphic crocodile named Sobek, a counterpart to Billy's super stuffed tiger/anthropomorphic ally Talky Tawny.

Toward the end of 52, Amanda Waller sends the Suicide Squad to kill Black Adam and his family, leading Osiris to murder Pursuader of the Squad in the heat of battle – and that's when everything goes wrong.

World War III

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Overcome with subsequent guilt, Osiris attempts to relinquish Black Adam's power.

But when he returns to his human form, Sobek betrays Osiris, devouring him and revealing he's actually Famine, one of the Horsemen of Apokolips – as in the planet ruled by Darkseid (who will be seen in Justice League: The Snyder Cut) – who have been recruited by Darkseid's earthbound allies InterGang in revenge for Black Adam's rescue of Arianna.

The other three Horsemen – Pestilence, War, and Death – attack, with Pestilence killing Arianna in the ensuing fight. Distraught at the loss of his family, Black Adam goes on another rampage, challenging the entire DC Universe (remember we mentioned he took on the Justice League, JSA, and more?).

In his defeat, Black Adam is depowered and returns to his human form as Teth Adam. But, before he can face justice for his crimes – including destroying the entire fictional nation of Biyalia – Atom Smasher of the JSA helps him escape, drawing on their old friendship.

Whew!

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The Eye of the Storm

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Given all that comic book history, Black Adam makes perfect sense as the villain/anti-hero to unite the DCEU into a more concise and cohesive picture – and to potentially challenge the entire Justice League in a sequel down the road.

Black Adam's tragic history has connections to just about the entire DC slate – from the JSA who will debut in his movie, to SHAZAM!, to the New Gods, the Suicide Squad, and even characters who haven't been introduced in the DCEU like Metamorpho.

Who better to form the spine of a new era of the DCEU than a tragic hero who fell from grace, with enough power to rival everyone who even might challenge him, played by none other than the unrivalled king of the current box office blockbuster, The Rock?

That sounds like lightning striking.

Newsarama staff writer who learned to read from comic books and hasn’t shut up about them since.