With Black Adam finally making his big-screen debut later this year, it should come as no surprise that DC is putting the character front and center in its comic book lineup. That includes a brand new series centered around this powerful, morally ambiguous character.
The new Black Adam series is written by Christopher Priest, who previously revamped Deathstroke as part of the DC Rebirth initiative and penned a hugely influential Black Panther run at Marvel. Joining Priest is artist Rafa Sandoval, whose previous DC work includes The Flash and Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. This series will push Teth-Adam in unexpected new directions, as he experiences a brush with mortality and finds himself sharing his powers with another native of Kahndaq. Read on to learn more about how Priest and Sandoval are rewriting Black Adam’s place in the DCU.
The Challenge of Writing Black Adam
Priest has made no secret of the fact that he tends to be very choosy with his projects, particularly when it comes to ongoing series like Black Adam. He admits to being reluctant to take on the assignment at first, though editor Paul Kaminski eventually won him over.
“Paul and I have had a few near-misses looking for a project to work on together,” Priest says. “I was initially reluctant with this one because of the upcoming movie, and the tendency to garner more scrutiny. I am a little shocked, frankly, that Paul and I haven’t been fired (yet). We are building a somewhat radically different if not outright subversive take on this character and, thus far, DC has been enormously supportive.”
Priest adds, “If I had to point to something specific about the character that I found challenging, it’s this notion of his being a flavor of Superman unbound by the traditional ethics, restraints, and values attendant to that genre of superhuman character. Black Adam is a head of state, with all the usual arrogance that suggests. He is Black Panther with superpowers, minus Panther’s nobility.”
“We are building a somewhat radically different if not outright subversive take on this character and, thus far, DC has been enormously supportive.”
Priest tells IGN he finally settled on telling a story about an immortal man finally confronting his need to build a legacy that outweighs the many sins of his past.
“Black Adam is a man who has lived far too long, haunted by his original sin of murder–the means by which he gained his powers in the first place–and desperate for redemption. Burdened by mistakes from our past, we all turn out attention toward legacy as we age. Paul’s challenge to me was to redefine that idea for this age old character.”
Black Adam’s Brush With Death
In a nutshell, the new series begins with Black Adam facing the prospect of dying after 5000 years of magically prolonged life. Building on a plot point from the New 52 Shazam series, which revealed that Theo Teth-Adam secretly murdered his nephew Aman to acquire the full power of Shazam, the series shows Adam desperately seeking a successor to carry on his legacy.
The good news is that Black Adam won’t be dying in the first issue. He quickly recovers from the mystical plague that threatens his life, but only after having chosen another mortal to share his power. The new series explores what happens when Black Adam inadvertently creates an heir/sidekick for himself.
“He chooses a successor the way most of us choose to pray: we believe we are dying,” Priest says. “Once the doctor gives us the all-clear, we’ve forgotten whatever promises we’ve made [laughs]. This is not a considered decision, Adam sifting through thousands of possible candidates. This is more like me hurling a brick out of my window and leaving all my earthly goods to whomever it hits.”
Priest clarified that this won’t be a Billy Batson/Shazam-type dynamic, with a mortal boy sharing bodies with an immortal super-being. Black and Adam and his new heir will coexist together, creating an uneasy alliance at best.
“Our new guy is not Adam’s alter ego. He is more like his unwilling sidekick and the dynamic is much more Quantum & Woody than Batman and Robin. At the end of the day, they will have a great deal to teach each other and learn from each other, the question being will our new sidekick inspire Adam, or will Adam’s darkness eclipse his light?”
“The question being will our new sidekick inspire Adam, or will Adam’s darkness eclipse his light?”
With Black Adam recently making waves across the DCU by joining the Justice League, readers might be wondering how this new series connects to other current DC titles. What about the upcoming Dark Crisis crossover? Priest tells IGN the series is designed to be a completely standalone story, not unlike his previous Deathstroke run.
“Our new Black Adam series is its own animal. It exists completely independent of existing continuity while not contradicting or denying any of it. New readers do not need to ‘prep’ by reading anything else, do not need to research anything. Much like my Deathstroke series, it begins with “Once upon a time, there was this guy from Kahndaq…” and off we go. Even if you’ve never even read a comic book before, you will be able to dive in and understand everything.
Reinventing Kahndaq for 2022
Like Black Panther, Black Adam is a character who’s less a superhero or villain than he is a monarch, and Priest promises Adam’s reign over Kahndaq will be a major focus of his run. In the process, Priest hopes to reinvent this fictional North African nation in a 21st Century context, while also exploring the struggle between embracing modernity and honoring the past.
“Rafa and I have our own unique vision for Kahndaq which will mirror Adam’s struggle between his past and his future. An ancient, tiny city-state reflective of Afro-Egyptian culture, but the landscape is dotted with all of these huge construction cranes. Black Adam wants to modernize a secular Kahndaq into his own Wakanda of sorts, but he’s running afoul of both traditionalists desiring more religious influence, and a growing democracy movement Adam has no intention of indulging.”
Priest continues, “Meanwhile, Adam is not reluctant to stick his thumb in the eye of what he views as an America gone off the rails and having wandered much too far afield of the principles and promise upon which our nation was founded. He hates political hypocrisy as much as he hates Invading Giant Alien Space Monsters, and he does not hesitate to make political enemies in the U.S., choices which are bound to come back and bite him later.”
Even Black Adam’s physical appearance is being overhauled. While his costume design is remaining more or less the same, Priest noted a desire to more realistically depict Black Adam and his human alter ego as Egyptians, as opposed to the ethnically ambiguous character Adam is often depicted as.
“DC has permitted me to drill down a bit on the character’s heritage and maybe dial his ethnicity in a bit more,” Priest says. “Egypt, after all, is in Africa. Approaching Black Adam or Egyptian culture in a culturally neutral way limits the horizons of some great storytelling possibilities, and I am working with DC to modify our approach to more realistically reflect cultural accretions relative to the character.”
Priest adds, “For example, I’ve never been a fan of Black Adam having the traditional blue-black hair (I would imagine his hair more accurately should be dark brown and textured, not straight). Further, when moving through the world in his mortal (non-costumed) form, I would imagine Theo Teth-Adam would experience the same kinds of scrutiny and bias so many people of color experience every day. While it is not our goal to be darkly cynical, I believe there’s a great deal of storytelling potential left on the table when we narrow our focus to just the superhero punching stuff.”
Black Adam #1 will be released in comic shops and on digital storefronts in July 2022.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.
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