If you caught Black Adam in theaters this weekend, then you already know how the story begins. Thousands of years ago, the wizard Shazam granted a man named Teth-Adam from the ancient nation of Kahndaq incredible power to protect humanity from its darkest evils. Instead, the power corrupted him and he was banished from his duties and imprisoned. In the modern age of heroes, Black Adam returns and uses his might and popularity to regain control of his homeland of Kahndaq even among the super-powered beings who would oppose him.
Black Adam’s origin has more or less been his story since 1945, when he debuted in Marvel Family #1. Adam’s reclamation of Kahndaq went down in 2004. (The JSA was there, too.) But if you wanted to check in with Black Adam now, what’s he been up to since? We’re here to fill you in.
Before the continuity-resetting events of Flashpoint, Black Adam was the victim of a great tragedy that robbed him of a family he had found peace with in the modern day. Ultimately, this would catalyze a series of events that made him into one of the most dangerous and terrifying beings on the planet. You can read about this both in 52 and Black Adam: The Dark Age. But since 2011, we’ve had a change in direction.
Most significant is the nature of Black Adam’s origin. Rather than getting his powers directly from the Wizard Shazam, the man once known as Teth-Adam was now originally the sickly uncle of the Wizard’s true chosen one, a purehearted boy named Aman. But after Aman shared his power with his uncle in an effort to save his life, Teth-Adam took it all for himself and became the despot we know as Black Adam. Unable to truly destroy him, the Wizard sealed Black Adam away for all time…or, as we would learn in 2019’s “Endless Winter,” until about 1,000 years ago, when he was briefly unsealed to aid Queen Hippolyta, the Viking Prince and that generation’s Swamp Thing to defeat a villain known as the Frost King.
After that encounter, Adam would be sealed away for another millennium until he was freed in the modern age by a power-hungry Doctor Sivana in 2011’s Justice League series. Liberated from his entombment, Adam sought out the Wizard’s current champion, Billy Batson, and sought to take the power of Shazam’s new chosen one to augment his own. Instead, Billy duped Adam into speaking the word “Shazam” aloud to forfeit his own power for a fair fight, instantly aging him into ashes.
Rise to Power
Perhaps that should have been the end of Shazam’s fallen champion. But as the Wizard knew, you can’t keep Black Adam down that easily. In Forever Evil, we find a Kahndaq that isn’t too much better off than it was when Black Adam ruled it. Over the generations, the nation has merely traded its future in crueler, more modern masters with no morals but their own enrichment. While Black Adam’s judgment was severe, he at least believed in a moral code and abided by a sense of personal justice. It was with that in mind that a Kahndaqi sect enacted a ritual to resurrect Black Adam from the ashes and take control of a chaotic Kahndaq. Black Adam is reborn for scarcely a day by the time he is restored to Kahndaq’s throne, but he is given little time to settle in. Kahndaq’s chosen ruler is awoken just in time to witness the global takeover of Earth-3’s Crime Syndicate of America. To save Kahndaq from their regime, he would have to help Lex Luthor save the world. In so doing, Black Adam makes an unlikely friend with the Yellow Lantern Corps founder Thaal Sinestro, finding their ideals of rule and order through strength and fear in alignment.
Since his part in saving the planet, Black Adam’s rule over Kahndaq has remained largely unchallenged. In Doomsday Clock, he opens his nation’s borders to metahumans across the world seeking refuge, regardless of prior crimes. He joins forces with Sinestro in protecting the world against the emotion-killing sentinels of the Pale Bishop. A story in New Year’s Evil even shows us Black Adam challenging Santa Claus for failing to share his bounty of toys with Kahndaq’s children. All in all, as far as totalitarian despots go who refuse to allow their rule of law challenged, life in Kahndaq has certainly seemed to have improved since he’s taken over.
A Chance at Redemption?
Black Adam has only fought with Shazam once since his resurrection, manipulated briefly by Mister Mind into joining his Monster Society of Evil. And apart from that understandable incident, he’s remained on precarious but stable terms with the rest of the world powers. Perhaps it’s for this reason that in Infinite Frontier #0, Superman reaches out to the Kahndaqi ruler. Regardless, beyond his granite exterior, the Man of Steel can see within Black Adam the heart of a man who believes in right and wrong and who will do anything to protect that which he cares for.
To his credit, Black Adam gives it a shot. For about a year and a half in publication time, he sticks it out. Black Adam participates as a full-fledged member of the Justice League alongside fellow new inductees Naomi McDuffie and his old onetime teammate Queen Hippolyta in Justice League #59-75.
What brings Adam’s time with the League to an end is not his own actions, but a massacre at the edge of the universe. When the Justice League rides to battle Pariah’s Dark Army at the edge of the universe, everyone except Black Adam is apparently killed. As the Dark Crisis begins, Adam realizes his truth: he was never meant to be a hero.
In the new solo Black Adam series, he realizes another truth as well. He may not have died in the Justice League’s final battle, but the world’s mightiest mortal is in fact finally succumbing to his own mortality. But perhaps, before he goes, he can make one thing right. He can pass on his power to someone who truly deserves it.
Enter Malik White, medical student in the Bronx…and distant descendant of Black Adam. (Just don’t call him “White Adam.”) Malik is hand chosen by Adam to be his successor, as he puts his final affairs in Kahndaq in order. But will securing a future without Black Adam in it be enough for him to restore his legacy? Could he be truly, at heart, the champion of mankind he always believed he deserved to be?
Black Adam’s comic writer, the mononymous Priest, would say you shouldn’t hold your breath. It’s too late for Black Adam. His ends have never justified his means. But perhaps it isn’t too late for the future. To find out where the story goes next, pick up the latest issues of Black Adam on your way out of the theater and into your local comics shop—or with a subscription to DC UNIVERSE INFINITE ULTRA.
Black Adam, starring Dwayne Johnson and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, is now playing in a theater near you. To buy tickets and catch up on all the latest news, features and trailers from the film, visit our official Black Adam hub.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.