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Who is Black Adam? The origin story of Shazam’s villain

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Like several DC characters created in the 1940s, the history of Black Adam is a complicated one. His origin story has been told multiple times and changes have been made throughout the years.

Soon played by Dwayne Johnson on the big screen, Black Adam was created by Otto Binder, Bill Parker, and C.C. Beck. He made his first appearance in The Marvel Family #1 (1945) published by Fawcett Comics where he served as a powerful one-time enemy of the superhero Shazam (see reading order) and the Shazam Family. 

However, Black Adam was resurrected nearly 30 years later as a recurring character following DC’s acquisition of the Fawcett characters. The character was redefined with time by writers Jerry Ordway, Geoff Johns, and David S. Goyer and the character has evolved from outright villain to sometimes anti-hero.

Black Adam From Earth-S: From Fawcett Comics to DC

This is the Black Adam from Earth-S. His origin story is told by the wizard’s ghost who informed us that Black Adam is his former pupil.

Four or five thousand years ago in Egypt, the old wizard Shazam choose a man named Teth-Adam as his champion and made him the first World’s Mightiest Mortal named Mighty Adam. Unfortunately, the power corrupted Adam who soon overthrew the pharaoh and dreamed of global domination. If Shazam couldn’t take back the powers he gave Adam, he gave him a new name, “Black Adam”, and exiled him to the farthest distant star in the universe.

It took five hundred years, give or take, for Black Adam to come back to his homeworld. When he arrived, it was 1945 and Shazam has found new champions to take his place: Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel Jr. Black Adam fought them, but as everybody was invulnerable, the confrontation was going nowhere. Until Uncle Marvel tricked Black Adam into saying “Shazam”, forcing him to revert back to Teth-Adam. Then, time catches up with him, transforming him into a skeleton. This was the one and only appearance of Black Adam in Fawcett Comics.

Though left for dead, it was not the last seen of him. Black Adam was resurrected almost thirty years later in Philadelphia by Doctor Sivana’s Reincarnation Machine in Shazam! #28, now as part of the DC family. It is then revealed that Black Adam got his powers from Egyptian Gods: Shu (stamina), Hershef (strength), Amon (power), Zehuti (Thoth) (wisdom), Anpu (speed), and Menthu (courage). He was also defeated the same way as the first time, but instead of dying, he received a punch making him forget about his dual identity.

It obviously didn’t last, as Black Adam fought Captain Marvel several times after that, joined Mister Mind’s Monster Society of Evil, and attacked Earth-Four during the famous Crisis on Infinite Earths. To stop him, Teen Titan Kole turned him into solid crystal and it was the end of Black Adam as we knew it… as the world of DC was rewritten…

The Power of Shazam #10

The Power of Shazam!: The Post-Crisis origin of Black Adam

Though a version of Black Adam reappeared first Post-Crisis in Shazam!: The New Beginning, this part is considered out-of-continuity. Black Adam is fully reintroduced in the DC Universe in 1994 where his story was retconned by Jerry Ordway in The Power of Shazam! graphic novel.

This comic introduces us to two Black Adams. The first one is named Teth-Adam in Ancient Egypt, son of a Pharaoh, who actually grew into a decent and rightful man and was entrusted by his father with dominion over the province of Kahndaq. The old wizard Shazam chose him as a champion, unaware his daughter the demon Lady Blaze made a deal with the god Set. So instead of gaining the wizard’s powers during the ritual, Teth-Adam was imbued with the power of six Egyptian gods.

Lady Blaze seduced and corrupted Black Adam, enticing him into his plans for world domination. So The Wizard decided to strip Teth-Adam of his power, leading to his death by old age, and store all his powers in a magical scarab.

Our second Black Adam is his descendant Theo Adam. He was working as an archaeologist alongside C.C. and Marylin Batson, as they were excavating Rameses II’s tomb. This was where Theo discovered the scarab and killed the couple in order to obtain the power of Black Adam. Shazam fought this reincarnated Black Adam throughout the Power of Shazam! ongoing series until Teth-Adam made his return and revealed that Black Adam and Theo Adam were two distinct personalities. It led the character toward a redemption path… in the JSA.

Black Adam in the JSA

Following the revelation that Black Adam and Theo Adam are two different individuals, Black Adam is tried again for the murders of the Batsons, and acquitted as his fingerprints do not match those of Theo Adam. Though still susceptible to finding himself under Theo Adam’s murderous influence, Black Adam reformed and joined the JSA.

During their time on JSA, writers Geoff Johns and David S. Goyer altered Black Adam’s history and personality. The influence of red-skinned demoness Lady Blaze was completely removed and instead, Black Adam’s corruption emerged from the action of an evil priest named Akh-Ton. Akh-Ton worked alongside Vandal Savage in an effort to conquer Egypt and Kahndaq, killing Black Adam’s first wife and child. Filled with vengeance, Black Adam killed Ahk-Ton and decided from now on to never show any weakness, using brutal and uncompromising terms to lead and create peace. It took over Kahndaq by any means necessary, leading, as always The Wizard to rob him of his powers and killed him.

Black Adam is often depicted as an aggressive and arrogant man. It’s no surprise that after a short stint on the JSA, he defects with the goal to take over the control of Kahndaq to rule his people once again. Though his methods are extreme, Black Adam will do anything to protect his nation.

In the 52 event, Black Adam found love again with Adrianna Tomaz, an Egyptian freedom fighter in possession of the Amulet of Isis that gives her power over the forces of nature. Her influence on Black Adam helped for a time to make him a more sympathetic figure. So when Adrianna is killed, Black Adam embraces his worst side and declares war on the world-and almost won.

Black Adam: The Dark Age

New 52 Black Adam

A more dark and grittier era started in the DC Universe with New 52, and Black Adam’s origin was once again revised. Still written by Geoff Johns, this version of Black Adam was not chosen by the Wizard. Instead, it was Adam’s nephew Aman who was deemed pure and chosen as a champion. Judging Aman wasn’t ready to do what was necessary to save their people, Adam sacrificed his nephew to gain the power of Shazam. Black Adam freed the slaves and killed the tyrant who ruled over Kandhaq before being imprisoned by The Wizard.

In modern times, Black Adam’s tomb was unsealed by Doctor Thaddeus Sivana and it comes to Billy Batson and his family to stop him. Once again, Black Adam was tricked, this time by Billy, to change back to Teth-Adam, where he quickly ages and turns to dust.

Shazam scattered Adam’s ashes in the deserts of Kahndaq which were later gathered by a rebel group. They wanted to resurrect Adam to make him their new champion and free their country from an oppressive ruler. With a spell recited by Adrianna Tomaz, Adam was blessed with the power of Egyptian gods. Following his return, he overthrew the leader and ruled once more as his Kahndaq’s protector.

Captain Marvel Shazam Reading Order Logo

In DC, the past is always undergoing reexamination and changes, and some cosmic events lead to the Rebirth period followed by the ongoing Infinite Frontier era. Black Adam’s history was mostly restored to what it was prior to New 52. He joined Brian Michael Bendis’s Justice League where he was surrounded by superheroes like Superman and acted as a hero before tragedy hit. He is now headlining his own title, Black Adam, by Christopher Priest and Rafa Sandoval.

Last Updated on April 20, 2023.


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