Love him or hate him, the antihero Black Adam is likely to be part of the DC cinematic universe for at least the foreseeable future. It stems from the box office success of Black Adam, but it doesn’t hurt that it features action hero and self-proclaimed herald of the new direction of the DC comics movie franchise, Dwayne Johnson. To comic book newbies, it may seem unlikely that in an IP that includes the likes of Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash, a relatively obscure supervillain with his roots in an entirely different company has come to such prominence. However, the champion of Kahndaq’s rise has been slow in coming and has spanned over three quarters of a century.
Black Adam debuted in Fawcett Comics’ The Marvel Family #1 in 1945. He was essentially an ancient Egyptian version of Captain Marvel (aka Shazam) called the Mighty Adam who, like Captain Marvel, gained the powers of the gods by speaking the word “Shazam.” However, Adam grew corrupted by his powers and was banished to the farthest stars. Five thousand years later, after flying all the way back under his own power, Black Adam returned to Earth to challenge Captain Marvel, who tricks Adam into saying “Shazam” after which he turns into a skeleton after aging 5,000 years at once.
In the 1970s, DC Comics acquired the rights to the Fawcett Comics characters, including the Marvel Family and all of their many villains, most notably Adam. Unlike his Fawcett incarnation, this Adam would go on to become one of Captain Marvel’s regular nemeses until he and the rest of the Fawcett properties were placed on the shelf by DC’s company-wide, universe-shifting event Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985.
The Power of Shazam
Nearly a decade later, Black Adam would be reintroduced by writer Jerry Ordway in 1994’s The Power of Shazam. Adam again faced off against Captain Marvel and also gained a slightly more polished origin story that leaned into the original Fawcett Comic’s version, setting up Adam as a former protegé of the Wizard Shazam. This version of Adam was corrupted by a demon and eventually defeated but was brought back to life by an amoral adventurer named Theo Adam who was assisting Billy Batson’s (who would later become Captain Marvel) parents on an archeological dig.
In this revised origin, Theo Adam would become the new host of Black Adam’s powers and would go on to kill Batson’s parents, not only orphaning Billy but setting himself up as Captain Marvel’s greatest and most hated adversary.
JSA: Savage Times
Savage Times collects issues #39 to #45 of Geoff Johns’ acclaimed run on the rebooted Justice Society of America title. In it, the JSA face off against immortal villain Vandal Savage and several members, including Captain Marvel, Hawkgirl, and Mr. Terrific. They are sent back in time where they meet up with past versions of the wizard Nabu, who forged the helmet of Dr. Fate, as well as Hawkman, and the Mighty Adam—Adam’s heroic self before he became corrupted by his power.
JSA: Black Reign
Few comics set up the Black Adam film like Black Reign. After a brief, conflict-filled stint as a member of the Justice Society, Adam breaks off from the group and returns to his native Kahndaq. Using murderous force, he liberates the entire nation from the heel of the ruthless dictator that has ruled the country since Adam’s return to Earth. Adam is joined by fellow former JSA members Atom Smasher, Alex Montez (Eclipso), Nemesis, Northwind, and Brainwave, each of them supporting his extreme use of force for their own personal reasons. Adam eventually stands victorious but at the cost of the rest of the world fearing him.
The weekly comic book, 52, written by Geoff Johns to chronicle the entire year following the universe-wide “Infinite Crisis” event, prominently featured Adam’s rule of Kahndaq following his victory in Black Reign. Adam forms a coalition of countries to stand in opposition to the United States and its many countries. He also becomes romantically involved with Adrianna Tomaz. Adam endows her and her brother, Amon, with his own power, and they take the identities of Isis and Osiris. Adam’s happiness is not long-lasting as both Osiris and Isis are destroyed by his enemies, driving him to madness.
World War III
The aftermath of Adam’s rage following the death of his family is told in the four-issue miniseries, World War III. Adam slaughters the entire population of Bialya, home of the enemies that killed Isis and Osiris. His out-of-control actions soon pit him against nearly every superhero in the world as they gather to try and stop his rampage. More than any other series, World War III shows Adam at the height of his powers and at the worst of his hatred.
Black Adam: The Dark Age
At the end of World War III, Adam is crushed and broken, stripped of his powers, and unable to find the word that will bring them back to him. The Dark Age finds Adam on a quest not only to find the word that will return the power of the gods to him, but also a way to resurrect his deceased wife Isis—perhaps the only being who was ever capable of cooling his rage.
DC anticipated the release of Black Adam with this new solo series which has already drawn critical acclaim. The premise at its heart is that the character is incapable of redemption. Afflicted with an incurable disease, Adam must find a worthy successor to his legacy, one who is capable of achieving the heights of heroism that Adam will forever be denied.