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Join us as we explore the in-universe and real-world origins of Captain Marvel’s archenemy, Black Adam.
Thanks to the 2019 movie, Shazam!, most people are aware of Captain Marvel, the character often mistakenly called Shazam. See, Shazam is the name of the wizard who gives Captain Marvel his powers. That’s right, the wizard is the one whose name initializes the powers coming from six Greek Immortals: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury.
But did you ever wonder why, in the film, Shazam (who, again, is the wizard) is just sitting in a cave casually waiting to make someone his champion? That’s because the wizard had already done that before – he’d already given the powers of Immortals to someone else, thousands of years ago.
He didn’t really like the outcome, so he waited 5000 years for the perfect champion. That’s what the tests of being true of heart and all that malarky was about in Shazam! – viewers have already felt the effects of Black Adam before he even appeared onscreen.
If you haven’t guessed yet: Black Adam was the original Captain Marvel.
In the comics, I mean. Not in real life. But hey – speaking of the real-world origins of Black Adam…
The real-world origins of Black Adam
Long before DC comics existed, way back in 1919, a company named Fawcett Publications was formed. They rebranded to Fawcett Comics in the early 1940s, and one of their characters, Captain Thunder, was renamed Captain Marvel. This is why his outfit (and presumably Black Adam’s as well) has a lightning bolt.
The company who’d eventually become Marvel Comics did exist at that time, but they were then named Timely Comics, so they didn’t care that a competitor used the name Captain Marvel. This would change eventually, of course, but that doesn’t have anything to do with Black Adam’s origins.
Captain Marvel comics were doing so well that they were regularly outselling Superman comics, so the Captain Marvel powers were given to a bunch of different people who became known as ‘The Marvel Family’.
Black Adam was first introduced of Issue #1 of Marvel Family, and it was the only time he appeared in the Fawcett Comics run – he wouldn’t reappear until DC comics licensed the Fawcett comic characters. These characters would eventually be bought outright by DC Comics, which brings us to the modern day.
Black Adam, in his original appearance, had the exact same power source as Captain Marvel: Greek Immortals.
This was changed by DC so that he gained his Shazam powers from Egyptian Immortals instead: Shu, Heru, Amon, Zehuit, Aton, and Mehu.
According to the comics, Black Adam’s actual name, Teth Adam, is Ancient Egyptian for ‘Mighty Human’. In reality, it’s actually Hebraic and can be translated as ‘Good Man’. It’s possible that this is a coincidence.
In-universe origins of Black Adam
Please note: Comics are very weird and they keep getting rebooted all the time. These ‘facts’ could be changed by the time you’re reading this. For instance, Tim Drake, the third Batman-sidekick named Robin, wasn’t actually ever a Robin according to the canon of the DC Comics New52 reboot. Except, wait, now he was Robin because they changed their minds in a few random issues or whatever. Cool.
Further, Black Adam’s origins may also be different in the DC Movie Universe – we won’t know until the movie releases.
5000 years ago, in the (fictional and vaguely Egyptian) country of Kahndaq, there lived a prince named Teth-Adam. Due to his overall wholesomeness, he was gifted with magic powers by a wizard named Shazam.
Unfortunately for Prince Teth-Adam and Shazam, Shazam’s daughter was an evil sorcerer and she redirected the energy source from the intended Greek Immortals to Egyptian Immortals. She did this so that her father would have no control over Teth-Adam’s powers.
Prince Teth-Adam served Khandaq without fail for many years, and he was eventually forced by circumstance to travel abroad to help out other nations.
While Prince Teth-Adam was away, a mad priest attacked Kahndaq and killed the princes wife and children. With the help of some time-travellers (one of whom was Captain Marvel), he managed to capture the mad priest. The normally-reasonable Teth-Adam, blind with rage, gave in to the darkness inside him and killed the priest.
Black Adam returns
He then returned to Khandaq, and appointed himself ruler, as was his birthright.
However, Shazam (who, one last time, is still the wizard and not Captain Marvel) heard of Teth-Adam’s action and disapproved. Shazam, now worried that his daughter’s mischief had corrupted the formerly-wholesome Teth-Adam, tried to take his powers from him – to no avail.
What happens next depends on who’s telling the story, and which specific timeline it happens in. We’ll be going with the simpler one, because it’s not important how it happened as much as it’s important what the end result was. Also, I’m certain this is going to be the story the film uses.
Shazam, thinking that Teth-Adam had turned evil and knowing that he couldn’t remove his powers due to his daughter’s interference, magically transported Teth-Adam to the other side of the universe – but not before renaming Teth-Adam as Khem-Adam (which means ‘Black Adam’).
5000 years later, Black Adam finds his way back to Earth and does his best to interfere with Captain Marvel’s plans because he blames Captain Marvel for everything that happened to him after he killed the mad priest.
Just for fun, here’s the original way that Black Adam returned, before all the timelines were screwed up: All the same things happened as before, but instead of being sent away for 5000 years, Shazam hid certain artifacts and turned Black Adam’s body into a shriveled corpse.
Eventually, the Marvel Family would come across his corpse and the artifacts, while traveling with one of Black Adam’s descendants named Theo. After seeing Billy Batson say ‘Shazam!’ and turn into Captain Marvel, Theo did the same and became Black Adam.
And that’s the history of Black Adam – how a force of good was driven to excessive violence by a familial loss.
Black Adam: Villain or anti-hero?
I don’t know about you, but I’m glad it’s not so simple as all that.
The character is complex enough to be interesting, and relatable enough to be entertaining.
Watching Dwayne Johnson play him will be fantastic – The Rock is a great actor when he’s got the right material – and I think the upcoming Black Adam movie will be the right material indeed.