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Black Adam: The Dark Story We Have Yet To See Between Shazam's Mary & The Antihero

Even though the futures of the bizarrely disparate "Black Adam" and "Shazam!" franchises remain unclear at best in the wake of middling box office returns and harsh critical receptions, that doesn't mean we've seen the last of the characters that debuted in these films — especially Grace Caroline's Mary Bromfield. In fact, if James Gunn and Peter Safran's DC Films renaissance wanted to dabble in The Wizard's magic without jumping head first into (Dwayne) the Rock (Johnson) of Eternity, focusing on a popular supporting character like Mary in a more isolated capacity could grant them the benefits of both familiarity and creative distance, while still leaving the door open to revisit past continuities.

Caroline's character — also known as Mary Marvel — actually has a surprising amount of comic-book lore to draw from, full of stand-alone stories, unique crossovers, and universe-shaping events. However, one particularly bleak arc involving Shazam!'s greatest foe, Teth-Adam, is so bafflingly pessimistic, dark, and creepy, it's almost hard to imagine it working on film. 

That said, if Gunn wants to draw inspiration from the weirder corners of the DC Universe, this is about as weird as it gets.

Mary Marvel broke bad in DC's Countdown to Final Crisis

Back in 2008, before DC Comics overhauled its continuity with relaunches like "DC Rebirth" and "The New 52," they ran a limited crossover series called "Countdown." Written primarily by Paul Dini, the series followed various different characters throughout the DC Multiverse during the time period directly leading up to Grant Morrison's climactic "Final Crisis" event. One of "Countdown's" central characters is Mary Marvel, who, at the time, had recently lost her magic powers, fallen several thousand feet from the sky, and gone into a coma.

When Mary wakes up at the start of "Countdown," she is completely alone. Billy Batson is nowhere to be found, and Freddy Freeman has embarked on a journey to restore the family's powers, in spite of The Wizard's recent death. Lost in every sense of the word, she curiously seeks out Black Adam — who choke-slams her into a wall almost immediately.

And yet, their conversation continues, and — in what is both the narrative and magical equivalent of a shrug — Black Adam just gives Mary his powers... for reasons. She's understandably confused, and, seemingly, so is the newly mortal Teth-Adam. The two then part ways with all the gravitas of a teacher brushing shoulders with a student at the grocery store.

Black Adam's power drives Mary crazy

Now imbued with the god-like powers of the Egyptian pantheon (as well as a black and yellow costume, complete with finger-length sleeves), Mary flies into the Fawcett City sky, where she happens upon a group of cultists casually summoning a demon right out in the open air on an apartment rooftop. Even though they surely got the gathering cleared with their co-op board, Mary crashes the party and beats the absolute kryptonite out of them.

This was just a violent pit-stop for her, however, as her real destination is the Rock of Eternity. Once she gets there, she's surprised to find that Billy now wields The Wizard's power, as well as a pageboy haircut (think classic He-Man, but white and somehow more unseemly). Billy senses that Mary is somehow more brutal than before, but she proves him wrong by going on a maniacal rant and blasting a hole through the cave wall. Hopefully, you weren't too attached to Billy's new role in this story, because it never comes up again.

She nearly kills two Batman villains

So, what's a girl looking to exercise some harsh extrajudicial justice to do? Why, go to Gotham, of course, where brutal vigilantism is a celebrated pastime! She barely sets foot on the street before finding The Riddler at the scene of a robbery, so she grabs him by the neck and prepares to execute him by dropping him from a skyscraper. Having fun yet?

Fortunately for him, Riddler had just recently turned over a new leaf as a private investigator working on the right side of the law. The two form a flimsy alliance to track down the true culprit, Clayface, whom Mary launches into space without thinking about whether or not he could actually survive such a trip. Thankfully, for the remaining citizens of Gotham, Riddler recommends that she find some kind of magical mentor to teach her restraint before she kills someone. Mary takes his advice and decides to do just that.

Zatanna bans her from Shadowcrest

Mary wisely seeks out Zatanna Zatara, a powerful stage magician who happens to be performing on a cruise ship nearby (apparently, being a member of the Justice League and having literal magical abilities isn't enough to land you a show at Bally's).

Zatanna takes Mary under her wing for all of two seconds, before the latter goes on a power-mad rampage in Shadowcrest — Zatanna's mystical ancestral home. For some reason, the power of the Egyptian gods turns people into crazed, power-hungry murders, as opposed to that of the Greek gods (which doesn't make a ton of sense if you take even a cursory glance at the litany of disturbing stories from Olympian mythology — even in the DC Universe, Ares is one of the most ruthless villains around).

She then makes her way to yet another mystical arena in China (in an issue tastefully titled "Girls Gone Wild!"), where she finds Klarion the Witch Boy. He immediately tries to steal her powers, immediately fails, and she moves on her Mary way. At last, she finally meets a fellow target of the 2000s era-DC's headache-inducing character assassinations, Jean Loring — now possessed by the spirit of Eclipso. And this is precisely where Mary's dark journey goes from unfocused to downright unhinged.

Poor, poor Jean Loring

If the name Jean Loring sounds familiar, it's probably because she was a main-supporting character in the infamous DC storyline "Identity Crisis," in which the publisher boldly attempted to alienate their entire female-identifying audience as quickly as possible. "Identity Crisis" ultimately reveals that Jean was so in love with her ex-husband, Ray Palmer (aka The Atom), that she attempted to use his suit to shrink into the brain of another superhero's love interest, Sue Dibny (wife of the Elongated Man, Ralph Dibny), to give her a stroke so that every other superhero — Ray included — would panic and rush to the nearest person with a pulse. Deep breaths, everyone.

Jean slightly miscalculates how hard to push Sue's brain and accidentally kills her dead. An honest mistake, but Jean panics and lights the corpse on fire, before enacting a complex conspiracy to frame Captain Boomerang of all people, that just winds up killing Robin's dad instead.

On the bright side, this incredibly roundabout and almost convolutedly sexist plan briefly works somehow, and Ray returns to Jean — only for her scheme to be uncovered, and for Ray to unceremoniously ship her off to Arkham Asylum (because DC only has one mental healthcare facility, and it's cartoonishly draconian). But alas, 2000s DC hated Jean Loring almost as much as they loved "Identity Crisis," so they transformed her from a tragic murderer into a literal demon and made her the villain of a story that already has no heroes.

Darkseid is... very creepy in this series

Eclipso (née Jean) and Mary hit it off almost immediately, with the latter going from wanting to control her powers to wanting to kill anyone that looks at her funny. She kills soldiers, drowns a few villagers, and murders some prisoners before Eclipso decides she's finally ready to meet her master — Darkseid. It turns out, Eclipso had been grooming Mary as a gift to Darkseid, hoping to curry favor with the Lord of Apokalips by offering up Mary as his personal concubine. Yay, comics!

This is obviously gross for a bajillion reasons and Mary is understandably upset. As a result, she does what she does so often in this series and just sort of flies away. Eclipso tries to ease her feelings of betrayal by reassuring Mary that she isn't actually selling her into sex slavery — she is just giving Mary the opportunity to seduce Darkseid and usurp his throne. To make matters worse, the book presents this as a tempting offer, rather than as the cringiest development of a disastrous storyline. Mary rejects, the two have a protracted fight in space, and Mary finally defeats her by sacrificing her powers.

No. The story is still not over.

Mary jumps the shark -- Jean gets eaten by it

If you thought DC hated Jean in "Identity Crisis," they really outdo themselves in "Countdown." Not only does Jean get electrocuted by a truly biblical amount of lightning on this earth — across the multiverse on another earth, a Monitor (a being that exists outside time and space to guard the multiverse) uses his cosmic power to set a variant of her on fire at the exact same time. Talk about coordination.

We're not even done yet, because while both women fall into the ocean together, Mary blissfully washes up on the shores of the island paradise Themyscira. Jean, on the other hand, gets eaten by a shark.

For curious minds, Jean is later reanimated as a zombified Black Lantern, who is personally responsible for bringing Nekron to full power — because DC really, really hates Jean Loring. She's eventually vaporized by her husband and never heard from again until after the entire universe gets rebooted — twice.

The Amazons lead a fight against Apokolips, and Mary goes evil... again

Back on Themyscira, Mary's story starts to blend with some of "Countdown's" other equally confusing (and equally misguided) plot threads. Without the help of her powers, Mary joins the Amazons and a small group of superheroes in an assault on Apokalips. As a result, the Greek pantheon rewards Mary with a crumb of her old Shazam! powers. As a treat.

But being released from the thrall of evil is good enough for her, and Mary returns home victorious — only to find Darkseid chilling on her couch. He offers her the chance to regain her full strength once more and, with barely a second thought, she accepts, throwing us narratively back to square one.

A lot of punching ensues, as Mary loses all semblance of sanity and attacks the Hall of Justice in order to capture Jimmy Olson for Darkseid. If we even attempt to get into that storyline, this article will double in length, though it's worth mentioning that during the battle, Mary grabs Green Lantern Kyle Rayner by the leg and uses him like a club to beat Donna Troy into the pavement. That, dear readers, is the true meaning of "Countdown."

Oh. We're still not done.

Just keep flying away Mary....

In classic Mary Marvel fashion, she just flies away from the battle once the story has no need for her. She returns to Black Adam who, at some point, regained his powers (possibly when she relinquished them). She tries to start a new Black Marvel Family with him, but he calls her a child and just flies away (registered trademark of DC Comics c. 2008).

During "Final Crisis," Mary's actions are explained away by the revelation that she had been possessed by Darkseid's henchman, Desaad, the whole time. Freddy Freeman, now The Wizard's sole champion, gives up his own powers to free her mind. And thus, Mary was mortal once more.

Mary turns evil yet again sometime later, however, when Black Adam recruits her to join his new Black Marvel Family (apparently, he just needed some time to mull things over). He very quickly regrets his decision and revives The Wizard — who, in turn, strips Mary of her abilities for good. With no powers and no family, Mary Bromfield is left homeless and alone. And that's pretty much how she remains until the universe gets rebooted in "Flashpoint." 

Yay, comics?