It’s been a somewhat bruising post–Comic Con PR cycle for Warner Bros.’s various DC Comics properties. First, there was the Dawn of Justice panel in Hall H featuring Ben Affleck looking uncomfortable with the venue’s nerd-kabuki customs and a grim, rain-soaked trailer that didn’t have Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in it for some reason. Then, at the end of August, HitFix’s Drew McWeeny reported that Warner Bros. has apparently passed down a zero-merriment edict in regard to their stable of upcoming DC movies, perhaps in response to the epic space-flop that was Green Lantern.
It’s a tough spot, really. Nolan’s Bat-trilogy set the tone for Warner’s DC universe, and those movies made several bank vaults’ worth of cash, as did Man of Steel. A sudden burst of mirth like, say, a scene in which Aquaman gives Batman shit in the Justice League HQ over Batman detonating a nuclear bomb over the ocean, thus murdering literally millions of fish, at the end of The Dark Knight Rises (call me, David Goyer), and the haters will say that DC is copying Marvel. Keep to the no-jokes mandate and it’s just a grim summer cavalcade of sullen heroes screaming “NOOOOOOOOO” in the pouring rain over the rubble of yet another destroyed city. It’s a no-win situation.
What I’m saying is: Warner Bros. needed some positive DC universe buzz, and they got it with the announcement that the Rock — who is perfect for this role — has been cast as Black Adam in the upcoming Shazam movie. On the surface, though, it seems a bit strange that the Rock would be cast as a villain in one of Warner’s DC tentpoles. Surely, the studio would have preferred to have a star as charismatic and super-ripped as the Rock stick around over the course of several movies as the hero Shazam rather than get his movie-butt kicked by him. But I think there’s a good chance that the Rock will stick around, and it has to do with one of Superman’s less-famous weaknesses.
But, first, who is Black Adam?
The character has undergone several retcons over his 70-some years of fictional history, but here’s the gist: Adam is originally from ancient Egypt, circa the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II. Ramses’ high priest was a powerful wizard named Shazam who, it just so happened, was looking for a successor, and cast his withered eye on Adam, then known as Teth Adam (Mighty Adam). Henceforth, whenever Adam said the word “Shazam” (warning: There are about to be a lot of Shazams involved in this story), he was transformed into a superpowered demigod, clad in a mystical black spandex costume, complete with cape and a lightning bolt symbol on the chest.
The powers granted to Adam are derived from six Egyptian gods: Shu, Heru, Amon, Zehuti, Aton, and Mehen. And, HOLY COW, the first letter of the names of those gods form the acronym SHAZAM! What a coincidence! Shu provides Adam’s stamina, imbuing the Egyptian with the nigh invulnerability that is a superhero prerequisite. Heru provides Adam with speed, allowing him to fly at faster-than-light speeds. Amon gives Adam his strength, putting him among the top tier of DC characters in terms of raw muscle power, right alongside that dude Clark Kent. Zehuti bequeaths Adam with knowledge; basically, Adam just knows a bunch of stuff that he needs to know in whatever situation arises, a pretty clutch power for your local pub trivia night. Aton is the source of the lightning that Adam uses to transform when he speaks the word “Shazam.” And Mehen guards Adam against psychic attack and girds his willpower and inner strength.
If you think all of that makes Adam seem a bit overpowered, you’re right. Shazam (the wizard) and Adam eventually fell out after Adam became corrupted by his powers, causing Shazam (again, the wizard) to give Adam the sobriquet “Black Adam.” And the name stuck.
Later on — like a few thousand years later — Shazam (the wizard; stay with me) selected a 12-year-old boy by the name of Billy Batson to be his new champion. Subsequently, whenever Billy said “Shazam,” he was transformed into … Shazam (the superhero), also known as Captain Marvel (not to be confused with Marvel Comics and their several characters also named Captain Marvel), who derives his powers from the Greek gods Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury. Thus, a rivalry was born. Which is understandable. Shazam (the superhero) and Black Adam have the same catchphrase, got their powers from the same dude, and wear different-colored versions of the same costume.
OK, so why do I think Black Adam is going to stick around for a while? Two reasons: (1) He’s not a straight-up bad guy. He’s been a member of the Justice Society of America. (Basically a reimagining of the first superhero team-up team from the 1940s written by Dark Knight and Man of Steel writer David Goyer, not to be confused with the Justice League of America or the JLA. Yes, this is overly complicated. This is why I prefer Marvel Comics.) In DC’s weekly 52 series, which debuted in 2006, Black Adam was depicted as something like a principled heavy, dutifully shouldering the responsibility to protect his people while also capable of snapping and mass-murdering entire countries. Essentially, he’s Marvel Comics’s Prince Namor, personality-wise — haughty, quick to anger, at times generous. It’s just that when you have numerous godlike powers, losing your temper can mean global catastrophe. And (2) One of Superman’s lesser-known, but important, vulnerabilities is to magic, and that’s where Black Adam’s powers come from. In recent comics, magic has taken on the role of something like the new Kryptonite, a way to add some narrative tension to stories involving the otherwise unstoppable, unkillable, invulnerable red-and-blue Boy Scout. For example, here’s Superman versus a bunch of magic teeth:
Considering that Black Adam already has strength, speed, and invulnerability to rival Superman’s — plus thousands of years of experience — once you factor in the magical aspect of Black Adam’s arsenal, you come away with the perfect heavy for the Justice League and Superman sequels. And, oh yeah, it’s a great way to keep the Rock around for a few movies (or 10). You heard it here first.