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Black Adam Vs. Shazam: What Only Huge Fans Know About Their Comics Rivalry

On film, audiences are hoping Black Adam and Shazam are building to a super-powered smackdown. In the pages of comics, however, the pair have more history together than almost any other comic book pairing. 

The two first met back in the 1940s, and at the time neither of them were members of the DC Comics roster. Shazam, who in those days was known as Captain Marvel, outsold Superman in the '40s and had his own live-action show well before superheroes would become a staple of TV and movies. For his part, Black Adam might have been a one-off character if DC hadn't bought the rights to both characters some 30 years after his first appearance.

Over the years, the two have battled innumerable times. These showdowns have raged across the globe, taking them back and forth through time. Like any long-gestating rivalry, the two have had their moments of peace, and there have even been times when they might have considered each other friends. Their relationship is complicated, the stuff of comic book legend, and explored below in a breakdown of the ins and outs of their epic rivalry.

Before DC...

Shazam and Black Adam have faced off against each other for longer than most comic book fans have been alive, almost always there as a counterpoint for one another. They first met all the way back in 1945 in the first issue of a series called "Marvel Family," which at the time was owned by Fawcett Publications. Back then, Shazam went by the name Captain Marvel and worked closely with the members of the Marvel Family and the ghost of the wizard Shazam, who gave him his powers.

In the issue, Captain Marvel learns that Black Adam was once a man named Teth-Adam who Shazam chose as his champion thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, Black Adam began using his powers to dominate the world, so Shazam banished him to the farthest star in the universe. Adam, unwilling to surrender Earth, has since spent thousands of years flying back to his home world, and the Marvel Family is only able to defeat him by tricking him into saying the magic word "Shazam." When he does, Black Adam returns to his human form and ages thousands of years in an instant. It's impressive how much of that folklore from 1945 was retained for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's 2022 "Black Adam" film.

All those years ago, that could have been the end of the rivalry. Fawcett Publications never included Black Adam in another comic book, and fans of the series didn't see him again until that first story was reprinted in 1973's "Shazam!" #8. By that point, DC had licensed the rights for the characters from Fawcett, after having sued the company for Captain Marvel's similarities to Superman. The greatest rivalry in comics was reignited.

Stepping into the Bronze Age

It took over 30 years for Black Adam to officially appear in a second original comic book story. During that lengthy break from the scene, not only did DC acquire the rights to publish more stories with Captain Marvel and his adversaries, but it also lost the right to call its series "Captain Marvel," due to litigation from Marvel Comics. Because of that, DC named its new series "Shazam!" even if it wouldn't change the character's name for another few decades.

After reprinting Black Adam's debut story in "Shazam!" #8, DC brought the character back for a new tale, and a new battle, in the 28th issue of the series. 

Black Adam's return was all thanks to Sivanas, using his reincarnation machine to revive Teth-Adam in the hopes that he'd destroy Captain Marvel once and for all. Needless to say, nothing goes according to plan. The battle between Captain Marvel and Black Adam ends up sending the two of them back and forth through time thanks to the magic of super speed. Eventually, Black Adam gets tricked into saying "Shazam" once again, but since his human form has been recently reincarnated, Captain Marvel steps in and smacks Teth-Adam with an amnesia punch to stop his destructive rampage. Black Adam is defeated once again — this time, however, he won't have to wait thirty years for their next confrontation.

Earth's strongest metahumans

It took just over a year for Black Adam to be pulled back into the fray of superhero battles. Teth-Adam could have lived out a peaceful life amongst the regular mortals of the 1970s if it hadn't been for the one-off DC villain Karmang the Evil. Armed with powerful magical abilities and fueled by a desire to destroy both Superman and Captain Marvel, Karmang took control of Black Adam, sending him into battle against some of Earth's most indestructible superheroes.

Karmang sets these plans into motion in the 1978 comic "All-New Collectors' Edition C-58." The issue includes one of the best fights between Superman and Black Adam in DC history, as they come face-to-face for the first time. Following Karmang's commands, Black Adam disguises himself as Captain Marvel and attacks Superman to set up a fight between the two heroes. After Black Adam makes his escape, Superman goes in search of the real Captain Marvel, and the two come to blows. Eventually Mary Marvel and Supergirl uncover the entire plot and put an end to the fight. The day is saved, but the darkest moment in the relationship between Black Adam and Captain Marvel is right around the corner.

Black Adam killed Shazam's parents

The story of Captain Marvel and his greatest adversary has been retold and re-contextualized multiple times, perhaps most prominently in the 1994 graphic novel "The Power of Shazam!" from writer/artist Jerry Ordway. His version of the story explored Black Adam's dark history while upping the ante on the villain's rivalry with Captain Marvel.

In the story, Teth-Adam is reimagined as Theo Adam, a modern day archaeologist who works alongside Billy Batson's parents. Theo and the Batsons are working on an important Egyptian dig site when they uncover a mystical scarab talisman that seemingly infects Theo's mind. Before long, Theo kills the Batsons so he can steal the talisman, and he discovers that it allows him to become Black Adam, the reincarnation of Shazam's age-old champion. Eventually Billy himself gets powers and comes to defeat Black Adam and avenge his parents.

Ordway's graphic novel kicked off an entire "The Power of Shazam!" series that ran for well over a decade. When DC kicked off The New 52 in 2011, it rewrote the continuity for most of its major characters. This dark era for Black Adam and Captain Marvel may not currently be canon, but it's still one of the most compelling storylines for the two characters.

Black Adam isn't always a villain

All throughout "The Power of Shazam!" Theo Adam's murder of Billy Batson's parents fuels the fighting between Captain Marvel and Black Adam, but near the end of the comic's run, things took a turn. 

In a story entitled "Absolute Power" taking place in issue #46, Black Adam stands trial for murdering the Batsons and walks away after being declared innocent. He argues that Theo Adam is an entirely separate identity from Black Adam, and the courts back him up. Captain Marvel decides to take justice into his own hands, but then Superman gets in the way and defends Black Adam.

Not long after that, Adam truly begins to reform his ways, even helping the Justice Society of America. In "JSA" #21 Black Adam makes a formal request to join the team, becoming a regular member. Captain Marvel doesn't trust Black Adam's intentions, and the two continue to keep an uneasy watch over each other throughout the rest of the series. At one point in the run, Captain Marvel is sent back to ancient Egypt and witnesses the original Teth-Adam becoming imbued with the powers of Shazam. The experience helps Captain Marvel see Black Adam in a new light, and for a brief period of time the rivalry between the two becomes a bit more friendly.

Both of them had super-families

Movie fans are plenty familiar with the Marvel Family, because they're one of the best things in "Shazam!." Thanks to Billy's long history in comic book lore, the Marvel Family has a huge roster of members who have rotated in and out over the years, but the mainstays were all represented in the 2019 film.

It turns out that Billy Batson isn't the only person with a super-powered family backing him up. In the comic series "52" Black Adam begins gathering his own friends and loved ones into a group that becomes known as the Black Marvel Family.

Including himself, Black Adam's family has four main members, and each of them has their own unique origin story and a complicated history that led to them becoming a member of the group. Sobek is a talking crocodile who later turns on the group and reveals he's actually one of the Horsemen of Apokolips. Adrianna Tomaz, better known as Isis, becomes an integral member of the family when she and Black Adam fall in love. Amon is Adrianna's brother, and he can borrow Black Adam's power to become the superbeing Osiris.

Shazam was at Black Adam's wedding

The mid-2000s were a great time for Black Adam's and Shazam's relationship. Leaving the Theo Adam identity behind, Black Adam reformed and became a hero. By getting to understand Black Adam as his own individual, Shazam (who was still called Captain Marvel at the time) came to see him as something close to a friend.

The relationship between the two characters was so strong that Captain Marvel even participated in Black Adam's wedding. The comic series "52" carried the DCU out of the "Infinite Crisis" event and explored the personal lives of some of DC's minor characters. In issue 16, Black Adam proposes to Isis, and the Marvel Family steps up to help out with the wedding. Isis chooses Mary Marvel to be her maid of honor, and the two reflect on how much Black Adam has changed in recent years. Meanwhile, Captain Marvel helps Adam get ready for the big day, even officiating the ceremony. This is probably the happiest moment the two characters have ever shared together — but such brotherhood would be short-lived.

World War III

The peace that briefly existed between Black Adam and Captain Marvel would be shattered in a DCU event called "World War III." 

Not long after Black Adam's joyous wedding, things take a dark turn when the Science Squad launches an attack on the Black Marvel Family. In the ensuing fight, Isis and Osiris are both killed — and in her dying breath, Isis tells Black Adam that she realizes his old, brutal use of force was a better match for the world than his newfound heroic attitude.

Adam becomes consumed by a thirst for revenge, and with all his power, there's bound to be serious collateral damage. He kills millions of innocent people while trying to discover who attacked his family, which inspires most of DC's Earth-bound heroes to come out to stop him. The JLA, the JSA, and Captain Marvel himself team up to put an end to Black Adam's global destruction. Captain Marvel pleads with the Egyptian gods to revoke Black Adam's powers, but they refuse. Ultimately, he finds a way to change the magic word that Black Adam speaks to become empowered and the heroes use Shazam's lightning to return Black Adam to his mortal form. Without knowing the new word he needs to speak, Black Adam is powerless.

Black Adam corrupted Shazam's family

One of the worst things Black Adam ever did to Shazam/Captain Marvel was send his sister spiraling out into the dark side. The story "The Trials of Shazam!" kicked off in issue 1 of "Brave New World" and would see Mary Marvel losing her powers. After that, her future in the DCU became unclear until Black Adam, still reeling from the loss of his family, decided to grant her all his power in "Countdown" #47.

There's a reason the phrase "absolute power corrupts absolutely" is so well-known. Fueled by the strength of Black Adam's abilities, Mary Marvel starts taking an entirely different approach to justice than she did while working alongside the Marvel Family. By "Countdown" #28 she is using her newfound strength to torment anyone that she believes to be evil.

Unfortunately, Mary can't clearly see the path she's walking down, and it doesn't end in a good place. In a shocking twist, she would become a servant of Darkseid in "Countdown" #25, making her arguably more evil than even Black Adam at his worst. The sudden shift in her character has led this arc to be called "Mary Marvel's most hated story," but it was an important moment in the mythos of Black Adam and Captain Marvel — that is, until DC went ahead and undid everything.

The New 52

In 2011, DC committed to the high-profile launch of the New 52, rebooting its entire universe. Along with the reboot came major revisions to the origin stories of most of the company's characters. Suddenly, everything that had happened between Black Adam and Captain Marvel (who became officially known as Shazam when he was reintroduced) disappeared. 

2019's "Shazam!" movie closely mirrors the "Justice League" storyline that transforms Billy into Shazam and sets off his new journey in the DCU. 

An adult Dr. Sivana is looking into the story of the wizard Shazam and in "Justice League" #10, he awakens Black Adam by speaking the magic word. Dr. Sivana and Black Adam work side by side unlocking dark magical powers. In "Justice League" #14, the pair begin tracking down the Seven Deadly Sins in an attempt to gather as much power as they can. Meanwhile in "Justice League" #0 Billy comes face-to-face with the wizard and receives powers of his own. As Billy gets adjusted to his new powers, Black Adam gets ready to unleash his evil strength. Their confrontation plays out much like the finale of the "Shazam!" film. 

In "Justice League" #21, Shazam and Black Adam fight, but Shazam is clearly outmatched. In order to save the day, Billy shares his powers with his siblings, and the Marvel Family strikes down the Sins while Billy tricks Black Adam into reverting to his mortal form, significantly aging him — just like the confrontation that played out all the way back in "Marvel Family" #1.

They've saved each other's lives

Just five years after rebooting its universe with the New 52, DC went for another soft reboot with a universe-spanning plan called Rebirth. Shazam's first arc in the new continuity, however, wouldn't kick off until his solo series debuted in 2019. The first storyline, titled "The Seven Magiclands" ambitiously introduced Billy Batson, the entire Marvel Family, and many of their main adversaries including Dr. Sivana, Mister Mind, and Black Adam.

"The Seven Magiclands" arc briefly reunites Billy with his biological father C.C. Batson. As Billy battles against the Seven Deadly Sins, he offers the powers of Shazam to his father, so the two of them can fight alongside one another. Billy eventually realizes that Mister Mind has been controlling his father, and in the process of putting an end to Mister Mind's plan, he frees the evil, highly destructive Superboy-Prime.

Shazam alone is no match for Superboy-Prime, who manages to easily defeat the rest of the Marvel Family on his own. Black Adam steps in to fight alongside Shazam, and the two combine the power of their magic lightning to stop Superboy-Prime. The battle concludes in "Shazam!" #14, but Black Adam is left on the verge of death. Shazam reclaims some of his power from C.C. Batson and uses it to restore Black Adam —  resulting in a particularly complicated battle, and the only time the two of them have saved each other's lives in more than half a century of comic book history.