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The Dark History Of Black Adam

A superhero's ultimate nemesis is inevitably a dark reflection of that hero. Superman's ability to inspire humanity is often overshadowed by Lex Luthor's need to subjugate others. Joker's insanity forces Batman to exercise greater self-control. And the Reverse-Flash has evolved to become the literal antithesis of his enemy, the Flash.

But few superheroes have an arch-villain as frightening as Black Adam, the long-time enemy of Shazam (aka Captain Marvel). Where Billy Batson uses his magic to protect others as "The World's Mightiest Marvel," Teth-Adam uses the same magic to become a self-styled god who looks at humanity with disdain. Indeed, while both characters were chosen to protect people, Black Adam's history is littered with so many dark deeds one wonders what the Wizard Shazam was thinking when he selected such a corrupt soul as his champion.

With Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson set to bring Black Adam to life on the big screen, now's a good time to take a closer look at the history of Black Adam and decide whether the events of his life make him one of DC's most complex anti-heroes ... or the universe's worst villain.

He was originally an enslaved man

Superhero origin stories experience frequent retcons and retellings, and this is certainly true of Black Adam, who first appeared in 1945's "The Marvel Family" #1. In his original Fawcett Comic origin, Teth-Adam was a mighty ancient Egyptian man with a soul the Wizard Shazam mistakenly thought was "good and pure." Shazam imbues Teth-Adam with his magic, making him "Mighty Adam," but when he becomes corrupted by power, Shazam renames him "Black Adam."

A later retelling of this story in "The Power of Shazam" reveals Teth-Adam is the son of the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II, making him a member of Egyptian royalty. Once again, the Wizard grants him great powers (drawn from Egyptian deities) and he serves as Egypt's champion for centuries — but is later corrupted and becomes Black Adam (or "Khem-Adam").

However, during DC Comics' "The New 52" 2011 reboot, Black Adam's origin is revised once again, giving him a humbler and darker backstory. Now, Adam starts out as an enslaved Egyptian man whose family was subjugated to abuse and mistreatment for years. Whereas before he was renowned in his early life for acts of goodness, the new Adam spends his days scavenging and living beneath the boot of his oppressors.

He stole his powers by killing his nephew Aman

Black Adam's story became even darker in "The New 52" reboot when readers learned that Teth-Adam was never supposed to be the main champion of the Power of Shazam. That honor fell to his nephew, a good-hearted boy named Aman, whom the Wizard Shazam felt would be a great hero. Aman certainly showed he was both charitable and kind when he chose to immediately share his power with his uncle in order to heal his wounds.

But where Aman wanted to use the Power of Shazam to help everyone (including his former enslavers), Adam was too full of resentment toward the warlord who killed his family to go with this plan. In "Justice League" #20, believing he needed to make some major sacrifices to take his vengeance on his oppressors, Adam seemingly killed Aman as they called the lightning down on them, granting him the full Power of Shazam. Although readers never see Adam deliver the killing blow, it's clear that this Black Adam went to some horrifying lengths to acquire the powers of the gods.

He seized power by killing an Egyptian pharaoh

Long before "Game of Thrones," Black Adam made his own bid for power in Ancient Egypt — and thanks to his god-like powers, his victory was both swift and horrifying. In his very first appearance in "The Marvel Family" #1, Black Adam marches into the Egyptian pharaoh's throne room (literally one panel after Shazam gives him his powers) and demands the ruler give him his throne.

When the pharaoh calls for his guards to protect him, Adam sneers, "for resisting me, you get a broken neck!" and snaps the pharaoh's neck in full view of the reader. Fortunately, Adam's rule proves short as the Wizard Shazam quickly banishes him "to the farthest star in this universe," forcing Adam to spend the next 5000 years flying home.

It's thought that early comic books contained less graphic violence than what comics readers today expect. But in Black Adam's case, the villain's homicidal tendencies were fully on display from the start, making him one of the most vicious enemies Captain Marvel (later called Shazam) would ever face. Then again, DCEU's Superman pulled the same move in "Man of Steel" (2013), so ... maybe it doesn't have the same level of stigma anymore?

He was corrupted by the daughter of Shazam

Later retellings of Black Adam's origin attempt to show him in a more favorable light, acknowledging that he was a heroic champion for centuries before becoming corrupt. However, one story shows that Adam was corrupted by none other than the daughter of the wizard who empowered him.

In a reimagined Black Adam story from DC's "The Power of Shazam" comic book series, Teth-Adam serves Egypt faithfully as its champion for hundreds of years, but is later bewitched by Blaze, the evil daughter of Shazam. This story reveals that Blaze was the one who seduced and convinced Adam that they should rule Egypt, leading Black Adam to kill the pharaoh.

Upon discovering this, the Wizard Shazam strips Black Adam of his powers and causes him to age so rapidly that he crumbles into a shriveled cadaver in seconds. Which is why you should never sleep with the boss' daughter.

He killed Billy Batson's parents

In the film "Shazam!" (2019), Billy Batson learns he was abandoned by his mother. In DC's current comic book timeline, Billy discovers that his birth father C.C. Batson also gave him up. But in an earlier continuity, Billy's parents were both decent and good people who gave their son a great life, until they met up with Black Adam.

In Jerry Ordway's "The Power of Shazam!" graphic novel and comic book series, Black Adam is reimagined as "Theo Adam," an aide to archeologists C.C. and Marilyn Batson, the parents of Billy Batson. However, during an archeological dig of Khem-Adam's tomb, Theo sees Khem-Adam's scarab, becomes obsessed with it, and kills the Batsons to get it. The scarab enables Theo to become Black Adam and realize that he is the reincarnation of Khem-Adam, the original "Mighty Adam."

Although a newly-empowered Billy Batson is able to use the Power of Shazam to beat Black Adam (and the Wizard Shazam takes away his memory and voice to prevent him from regaining his powers), Black Adam soon returns when Shazam's daughter Blaze gives him back his lost memory and voice.

He manipulated superheroes into invading a country

The scariest villains aren't always the ones who can lift the most weight or fly the fastest; sometimes, truly scary villains are the ones who manipulate decent people into committing heinous acts. That certainly applies to Black Adam, who once got members of the Justice Society of America to invade the country of Kahndaq and help establish Adam as the new ruler.

During one of Black Adam's numerous attempts to reform and become a hero (or at least, an anti-hero), he managed to gain the trust of several superheroes and join the Justice Society of America. While some heroes (particularly Shazam/Captain Marvel) were wary about Adam's true intentions, Black Adam was able to get into many of their good graces.

Unfortunately, as his goodwill among the world's hero set began rising, Black Adam took advantage of the heroes' trust by manipulating several members of the JSA to help perform a hostile takeover of his homeland Kahndaq in "JSA: Black Reign." In the process, Black Adam and his followers executed the Kahndaqi dictator, killed the military, and helped establish Adam as the new ruler (although he insisted on being seen as a "protector").

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has used the phrase "Kneel at his feet or get crushed by his boot" to describe the hero/anti-hero he'll soon be playing, and that storyline perfectly illustrates how true this statement is about Black Adam, the man who often sees himself as a god.

He helped turn the love of his life into a zombie

While Black Adam has been depicted as a villain for most of his comic book history, there was a time when he seemed to have genuinely reformed thanks to a special woman ... who ended up suffering more than practically anyone in DC Comics' history.

During DC's "52" comic book series, Adam fell in love with Adrianna Tomaz, a refugee enslaved woman whom he frees. Tomaz convinces Adam to be a benevolent ruler for Kahndaq and, upon gaining a magical amulet, receives the powers of the goddess Isis. Now on more equal footing, Black Adam and Isis travel the Middle East, freeing enslaved people, and getting married in a wedding ceremony officiated by Captain Marvel (aka Shazam).

Unfortunately, Isis later gets infected by the Horseman Pestilence and dies. Distraught, Adam tries resurrecting Isis' remains using a magical Lazarus Pit, but her new body starts rotting away and he has to mercy-kill her again. Black Adam then retrieves the pieces of Isis' magical amulet, hoping the villain Felix Faust can revive her. Instead, Faust fools Adam into thinking Isis' spirit hates him and secretly revives her to serve as his puppet, possibly even sexually assaulting her in "Black Adam: The Dark Age" #6.

Adam manages to free Isis, but by this point she's no longer interested in being merciful and castrates Faust. Later, the Wizard Shazam turns both Adam and Isis into statues for their transgressions.

His friend was one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

It has been said that people can be judged by the company they keep — and if that's true, Black Adam has some pretty messed-up friends. 

One was Sobek, a seemingly harmless crocodile who befriended Osiris, the brother of Adam's wife Adrianna Tomaz/Isis. Black Adam invited Osiris to join his "Black Marvel Family" and even shared some of his power to make Osiris (who had been crippled by the criminal organization Intergang) into a superhumanly powerful being.

Just as things were looking up for Black Adam, however, Sobek revealed he was actually Famine, of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — and had been created to destroy Black Adam. To show his true colors, he kills (and partly eats) Osiris. Later, the other horsemen rampage through Adam's home and another, Pestilence, infects Isis with a terrible disease that kills her. Adam ends up killing Sobek by splitting his crocodile jaws apart, but by that point the damage to his family is done, and Black Adam is once again headed down a dark path.

He started World War III

The Joker commits acts of terrorism. Lex Luthor once tried to put half of California under water in "Superman" (1978). Then there's Black Adam, who started World War III — and brutally beat several superheroes who got in his way.

This happened shortly after Black Adam's wife Isis died after being infected by the Horseman Pestilence. Using her last breath to tell Adam she was wrong to try and make him a more benevolent person, she asked him to avenge her death. In response, Black Adam instigated a World War — by murdering two million people in the nation of Bialya just because he was so grief-stricken. The heroes and nations of Earth unite against Black Adam, only to find that taking down an enraged super villain with the power of the gods is easier said than done.

Black Adam embarks on a devastating rampage around the world, destroying many major landmarks. He also ends up defeating several superheroes, including the Doom Patrol, Martian Manhunter, and the Teen Titans. One of the heroes who gets the worst of his rage is the fan-favorite Titan Terra, who dies after Black Adam literally punches a hole through her chest. Even for a man who has lost as much as Black Adam, it's hard to justify such horrors.

He turned DC's most wholesome heroine into a bad girl

Mary Marvel is one of DC Comics' most wholesome superheroines. First appearing in 1942's "Captain Marvel Adventures" #18, Mary Bromfield was originally depicted as Billy Batson's twin sister who received her own version of the Power of Shazam. For decades, she served as an inspirational figure for young girls — until Black Adam got his hands on her.

During DC's "The Trials of Shazam" limited series, Mary loses her powers after the Wizard Shazam dies and later runs into Black Adam in the subsequent "Countdown" storyline. Embittered by the loss of his wife Isis, Adam gives Mary his powers, transforming her into an angry superhuman in a form-fitting black latex outfit with a micro-skirt. "Black Mary" embraces her dark side, brutally beats up super villains, and gets offered to the demigod Darkseid as a concubine.

Mary receives a chance to give up her new powers and regain a weaker version of her original abilities, but finds she's become addicted to dark magic. She later gets possessed by the New God Desaad, and becomes a punk-themed supervillain who gets her powers from a "dirty magic word." Thankfully, this embarrassing chapter of Mary's life was erased when the DC Universe was rebooted during the New 52. Once again, Mary is depicted as a wholesome superheroine — though, it would probably be best for her to stay clear of Black Adam from now on.

He loses his powers in the harshest ways

Like Billy Batson and the rest of the Shazam family, Black Adam receives his powers by shouting "Shazam!" — which makes the Shazam family vulnerable to anyone who can keep them from saying the word. Normally, most villains just gag Billy Batson and his family when they want to keep them quiet. However, in Black Adam's case, certain enemies have resorted to more ... brutal methods.

While the Wizard Shazam once neutralized Black Adam by stripping him of his memory and voice, when Black Adam faced down the super villain Ultraman (an evil version of Superman from a parallel universe), Ultraman managed to wrap his hand around Black Adam's mouth and squeeze — crushing the god-like being's jaw and causing him to literally spit out teeth and blood. Few people can take down Adam so definitively, but this Superman doppelganger did so relatively easily, stating, "No more words from you."

Still, even this graphic smackdown wasn't the harshest way Black Adam has been defeated. In his early appearances, an accidental shouting of "Shazam!" would cause Adam to lose his powers and revert to his mortal form — which quickly disintegrated into dust, since his mortal body had been alive for thousands of years.

He's even more brutal without his powers

Black Adam has been known to commit some pretty shocking acts with the Power of Shazam — but he can be even more brutal when he's forced to rely on his regular strength and speed.

During "Black Adam: The Dark Age," Adam is stripped of his powers (but is allowed to retain his usual physical age). While on a quest to recover the pieces of a magical amulet and restore his wife Isis to life, he runs into a yeti in the Himalayas. Although this beast is vastly more powerful than the now-mortal man, the ex-Black Adam stabs the yeti with a sharp knife and then rips out his intestines — so he can use them to rappel down the mountain.

Later, when he discovers that without the Stamina of Atlas he can grow pretty hungry, Adam decides to resort to cannibalism and eat one of the men in his group. He may spend time as a mortal, but there's nothing ordinary about this man — especially when he's pushed to his limits.