With the announcement that Dwayne "The Rock Johnson would play the role of Black Adam in a planned Shazam film, a common question emerged among movie fans:
Why would The Rock play the villain? Doesn't that mean a sequel wouldn't include him, as the heroic Shazam moves on to fight someone new?
Not necessarily. As comic fans will quickly point out, Black Adam is a complex character who often plays the role of anti-hero. So although Black Adam would be the villain in an initial Shazam film, the character has the potential to be a breakout character worthy of a recurring role reminiscent of Marvel's villain Loki.
In the opinion of many comic fans, Johnson — if he was truly given the chance to play either Black Adam or Shazam — chose well.
And although the Shazam property is reportedly being developed separately from the rest of the DC film franchise, we can't help thinking they could use a little Black Adam in the Justice League mix. With all its straightforward characters — from Superman's stellar reputation to the always-anti-gun stance of Batman — the DC Universe might benefit from a little gray area in the ranks.
From Bad to Good
Black Adam's evolution into a fan-favorite anti-hero came about fairly recently in the character's history. First introduced as in a one-shot appearance in 1945, Black Adam didn't become a recurring arch-nemesis for Shazam until comics of the '70s, '80s and '90s.
But in 2000, a then-obscure and unknown comic book writer named Geoff Johns (who's now DC Entertainment's chief creative officer) began co-writing the monthly comic series JSA (short for Justice Society of America) with another writer named David Goyer (now a screenwriter and producer on movies like The Dark Knight).
"One of the first things we did was bring Black Adam in," Johns told Newsarama about writing the team book. "We were always looking for new characters. Black Adam [was a character] that I really loved that I spent a lot of time developing."
In fact, after taking over JSA as a solo writer, Johns developed Black Adam so well that readers began liking the former villain even better than some of his heroic teammates — including Shazam.
By 2006, Black Adam was featured in a semi-heroic role during one of DC's biggest sales success stories of recent years, the weekly series 52. And just last year, Black Adam was among the characters featured in the mini-series Forever Evil, where he helped save the world from evil.
Black Adam is also a playable character in the popular video game Injustice: Gods Among Us (and the game's best-selling prequel comic book).
Although the screenplay for Shazam is being written by Darren Lemke (Jack the Giant Slayer), it's worth noting that the early attempts to bring the character to screen involved Johns as screenwriter. Johns was also tapped by DC to reboot the Shazam character for its younger, revamped New 52 comics universe.
And there are already indications from filmmakers that the "antihero" part of Black Adam will be part of the film. Not only has Johnson emphasized the "anti-hero" aspect of Black Adam in the past, but Toby Emmerich, president at New Line (the Warner Bros. subsidiary developing the film) said “Black Adam is a complex character … The villain in superhero movies is often, I think, what makes the movie. And I thought Dwayne’s take on the character, and the way that he saw Black Adam, was really compelling and fun.”
Why Adam's Cool
Black Adam, whose real name in the comics is Teth-Adam, was originally introduced as someone who was given the exact same powers as Shazam, but was corrupted by the power.
But under Johns' pen, Adam's sense of honor and loyalty, which had previously been twisted into weapons, were refocused for good as he protected his heroic teammates and the citizens they commonly rescued.
In particular, he is portrayed as fiercely loyal to his home country of Kahndaq, and comic stories have depicted him trying to turn over a new leaf as a benevolent ruler of the country.
However, Adam is also quick to anger, and his tendency toward violence makes him a powder keg just waiting to explode. For example, his rescue of a helpless shipwrecked crew could turn into a bloodbath if he discovered they were shipping arms to Kahndaqian rebels.
But that question of whether Black Adam is going to be good or bad gives superhero stories more of an edge, something Johns admitted in 2008 is generally more prevalent in the Marvel Universe than DC.
"I really had a lot of fun [writing the] Avengers," Johns said of his brief tenure writing Marvel characters. "I really enjoyed the characters there. It was a lot more grounded [than DC]. It felt like the characters were a little bit more heavy, a little bit more gritty. And sometimes that's fun. Like I love characters like Punisher and Ghost Rider. And I love Hulk.
"We don't have those over at DC too much," Johns said. "That's why Black Adam's such a bad-ass. We need him."
In the comics, the heroic Shazam, formerly Black Adam's arch-nemesis, has been known to forgive — and team up with — Black Adam. In some stories, they've even called themselves "family," particularly in 52, when Adam literally did have a new family who tended toward good.
But according to Johns, he'll never get his happy ending — and in fact, 52 saw him experience rage after his loved ones were killed. "It's a Black Adam story. If it was a [Shazam] story, he would have gone off into the sunset as a happy camper," Johns said. "That's just who [Shazam] is, and who his story should be about. Black Adam is unfortunately not that character. And you don't want him to be that character."
The Shazam/Adam story — with one character on whom fate smiles, and another whose destiny turns dark — is reminiscent of the part played by Marvel brothers Thor and Loki. While Thor is the blessed child of Odin, destined for the throne of Asgard, Loki is revealed to have a similar upbringing in the same family, yet with a damaged heart as an adopted "monster" who turns his anger into violence.
And Marvel has taken the popularity of Loki (after his appearance in The Avengers) and turned the villain into a bit of an anti-hero, who not only saves Thor and his girlfriend from harm in the sequel The Dark World, but Loki almost sacrifices himself to do so.
The same switch from villain to hero is stitched into the fabric of Black Adam's mythology, making him a likely recurring character in any Shazam film franchise. In fact it's not only possible that Black Adam would team up with Shazam in a second franchise film, but it's probable. In fact, most DC comics fans would lobby for Adam to play a role in future Justice League movies.
Of course, Loki's popularity is dependent on the tumblr-adored acting job by Tom Hiddleston, as well as the storytelling of everyone involved in the Thor and Avengers films. Black Adam's popularity will depend on how screenwriters approach Shazam and Black Adam — and how Johnson plays him.