The Hidden Depths of Dwayne Johnson's Next Leading Man, Black Adam

How The Rock's superpowered alter-ego went from villain to an almost heroic tragic figure.
Courtesy of Alex Ross/DC Entertainment

So, now Dwayne Johnson's Black Adam is going to get his own DC Entertainment movie. To those unfamiliar with the wider Shazam! mythology, this might seem like a strange move — after all, not even Marvel, with its more established superhero universe, has gone for a supervillain solo movie yet. But, in many ways, this is the culmination of a path the character has been on for some time.

Black Adam debuted as a one-off character during the original heyday of Captain Marvel, the 1940s superhero who would, in more recent years, be renamed "Shazam" to avoid confusion with Marvel Entertainment's identically named hero. In 1945's first issue of The Marvel Family, Ancient Egyptian hero Teth-Adam is introduced as a cautionary tale — a good man corrupted by the powers that Captain Marvel possesses, who ultimately ends up fighting Captain Marvel and his sidekicks before succumbing to old age and dying.

He would reappear, resurrected by another of Captain Marvel's enemies, in 1977's Shazam! No. 28, and would quickly become one of the most popular recurring villains from that point on. The appeal was obvious; not only was Black Adam a classic example of the "Same Powers As The Hero, But Evil" trope, but his origin suggested something more than simple wrong-doing as a motivation. Sure, he wanted to take over the world now, but there was once something noble about him. There was depth to be uncovered.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, the time apparently had come for something akin to a redemption. In a number of appearances across different comic book series, most written or co-written by now-DC Films head honcho Geoff Johns, Adam went from outright villain to something far more complicated. In JSA, 52 and, ultimately, his own series (2007's Black Adam: The Dark Age), Adam renounced dreams of world domination and settled for leading his own nation — the fictional Middle Eastern country Kahndaq — as a beloved, if violent, dictator.

Such a path was hardly an easy one. Not only did Adam's rule of Kahndaq bring him into opposition with American superheroes concerned about unrest in the Middle East, but a grand love affair was brought to an early, brutal end when outside forces caused the death of Isis, Black Adam's wife, causing him to declare war on all of humanity. Although he ultimately was defeated and stripped of his powers, his story had forever been changed: Now, he was as much a tragic figure as he was an antihero — he would side with the good guys in two subsequent stories, Final Crisis and Forever Evil — or even a villain. His flaw was no longer that he had been corrupted by power, but that he was driven by rage and loss.

Whether or not it's this Black Adam that will appear onscreen is unknown. Certainly, he's dark enough to fit into the world of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but how that fits into Dwayne Johnson's teasing hope, optimism and fun in future movies is unclear. Nonetheless, there's a lot for Johnson to dig into in the character, should he want the challenge … and more than enough material to fill up a solo movie as well, now that that's available to him.

Of course, if Black Adam is going to get a movie to himself, that raises an all-new question: Will Shazam show up in this other movie, or will Adam finally get a chance to leave the shadow of his less-evil, more-colorful better half?

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