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Black Adam: who is the DC character and why should you be excited?


It’s been another marvellous year for superhero films at the box office in 2019. Avengers: Endgame slayed all before it to become the biggest film of all time; Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Far From Home both grossed over $1 billion; and Joker has recently joined them, as did Aquaman at the turn of the year.

Much has been written about the so-called "theme park" films (thanks to comments from Martin Scorsese), but the appetite for them is as big as ever, with even the 'smaller' heroes and villains now in huge demand.

Another success this year was Shazam!, and the successful tonal 'recalibration' of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) from dark tone to upbeat has (finally) led to Black Adam getting the green light.

The movie will star Dwayne Johnson as Shazam's greatest foe, and is set for release in 2021. But if you’re asking "Who the hell is Black Adam?!", we've got you covered – here’s a brief history of him and why you should start getting excited...

Who is Black Adam?

Black Adam’s beginnings were actually part of the Marvel comic-book lore (yes, we were surprised too!). He made his debut in the first issue of The Marvel Family, published by Fawcett Comics in December 1945.

As per his origin story, he was an ancient pharaoh, and also the first incumbent of wizard Shazam’s powers. He was soon known as Teth-Adam before being exiled. The Marvel Family series of comics was a big success during the 1940s – however, by the mid-1950s the comics had stopped being published.

This was due to legal issues with National (DC) Comics – the characters were alleged to have striking similarities with a certain DC character known as Superman, and it became one of the biggest comic-book legal battles ever.

Dwayne Johnson confirms DC Black Adam movie for 2021

How did Black Adam enter DC Comics?

After the legal battles had ended, the Marvel Family series was eventually bought out by DC Comics in the 1970s, who set about revamping the series under the title 'Shazam!'.

After being banished, Black Adam was given a reboot of sorts too, being reincarnated by – get this – a reincarnation machine. This all took place under the watchful eye of Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, a bad guy from Captain Marvel lore.

After a bit of a tussle, Adam makes Sivana his slave as he sets his eyes on reacquiring the super-strength of Shazam, but is subsequently banished by Captain Marvel back to the 'netherworlds' again. That is, until his rebirth in 1994…

How was Black Adam rebooted by DC?

The DC Universe revised the Shazam-Black Adam rivalry in the 1990s. Adam's rebooted origins were similar to what had come before in the Marvel Family series: he was born Teth-Adam, son of a pharaoh prince in 1279 BC, and Shazam later bestows superpowers oh him. However, the initially good Adam eventually goes to the dark side.

Years later highly-regarded writers-turned-producers Geoff Johns (Justice League) David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy), along with artist Marcos Martins, began Adam’s journey as an anti-hero: dark, broody and more complex.

He became a member of the Justice Society of America, the 'Earth-Two' version of the Justice League that formed part of the DC Multiverse. Could we see this on the big screen as a future DCEU movie? 

What are the origins of the Black Adam movie?

Finally, after years of back and forth, Black Adam will get his standalone film in 2021 with Johnson and director Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop) teaming up to bring this iconic if slightly under the radar character to life.

But which version will we be getting? Well, judging by the success of Shazam!'s narrative choices, we imagine it'll stick closely to the early-nineties incarnation of the character, in which Adam is given his powers by the wizard Shazam (played in Shazam! by Djimon Hounsou).

It would make sense to have the origins of Black Adam act as a prequel to Shazam!, and this could potentially lead into Shazam 2. But will Adam act as an anti-hero or the 'big bad'? The likelihood is he will be both – and with Johnson’s casting, he is ideal to embody both the light and the dark aspects of the character.

What else do we know about the Black Adam movie?

So the question remains: do we need a Black Adam film? And if so, should we start getting excited? Well, the short answer is yes – and the long answer is YES.

The success of Shazam! ($400 million worldwide), Aquaman ($1.148 billion) and Wonder Woman ($821.8 million) indicates a revived level of interest in the DC Extended Universe. After the critically mauled earlier movies that dwelled on gloom and misery, going relatively light and frothy has clearly proven successful.

But it’s perhaps the success of last year’s Venom ($856 million) and 2019's Joker ($1 billion and counting) that may have got Black Adam over the proverbial “line” with the studio. The reason: while both are very different stylistically and narratively, they proved that audiences love a bad guy/anti-hero.

Can the tonal shifts of the Black Adam movie be orchestrated in such a way that allows Johnson to bring his own boisterous personality to proceedings? If so, Warner Bros and DC could be on the way to another big hit.

Are you excited about the Black Adam movie? If so, let us know @Cineworld. It's due for release on the 24th of December 2021.

Scott J. Davis is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.