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Everything you need to know: Black Adam and Shazam!

01.25.2017

As we reported earlier, it seems Warner Bros. is going to split the previously announced SHAZAM! adaptation into two films, one focusing on the titular Shazam, the other on his arch-nemesis Black Adam. That decision makes a lot more sense when you realize that Black Adam is going to played by none other than "Mr. Franchise Viagra" himself, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (so important is he, that he gets two nicknames in quotation marks). 

But who exactly are these characters? While DC fanboys like myself are aware of them, there are many people who are just getting acquainted, or haven't bothered to care until now. Well, that's where I come in! I'm going to tell you all you need to know about these guys, in preperation for their films!

SHAZAM

ORIGINS:

First off, he wasn't always called "Shazam". In fact, his name used to be Captain Marvel (yes, like the Marvel character, which did cause legal problems down the line. It wasn't his first). And when it comes to Captain Marvel/Shazam's origin, while some of the finer details have changed over the years, it has remained relatively the same since his comic-book debut in 1940. Basically a young child named Billy Batson meets a wizard named Shazam (yes, originally only the wizard had that name), who grants Billy the ability to transform into an adult superhero - complete with bulging muscles, tight red spandex suit, and basically all of Superman's powers of flight, superstrength, super-senses, etc.

Now, to get his powers Batson has to yell out "Shazam!", summoning a giant thunderbolt that transforms him into the aforementioned superhero (comics are weird). But "Shazam!" wasn't just the wizard's name, or a random magic phrase like "Abra-Kadabra" or "Patronus" or some shit, it was actually an acronym that stood for powers of the Greek dieties (and Solomon, for some reason): 

S The wisdom of Solomon;
H The strength of Hercules;
A The stamina of Atlas;
Z The power of Zeus;
A The courage of Achilles;
M The speed of Mercury.

Before Shazam (at this point still going by Captain Marvel) was a part of the DC universe, he was part of a (now defunct) comic-book company called "Fawcett Comics". He was even more popular than Superman throughout the '40s. This led to a copyright infringement suit from DC, that was eventually settled out of court.   

Speaking of Superman, DC eventually bought the rights to the Shazam character in 1973, and after that, he and  Superman fought all the time. Superheroes apparently like punching each other. Maybe they secretly get off on it.

IN OTHER MEDIA:

Captain Marvel (who we'll call Shazam for the rest of the article for simplicity's sake) was the star of the first ever superhero movie in the B-movie serial CAPTAIN MARVEL in 1941.

Shazam also starred in a popular live-action Saturday Morning TV show called THE SHAZAM!/ISIS HOUR, which ran from 1974-1977. 

SOME EXTRA TIDBITS:

Batson's superhero alter-ego was actually changed from Captain Marvel to Shazam fairly recently in 2012, after DC rebooted to its New 52 universe. 

Shazam also has a "Marvel Family" of other superheroes with similar powers. This includes Mary Marvel, Billy's long-lost twin sister Mary Batson; Captain Marvel, Jr., who was Billy's best friend Freddy Freeman; Uncle Marvel, who was just a doughy guy with no powers; and, many, many others (like Happy the Marvel Bunny). 

His other known alias is the nickname "The Big Red Cheese".

BLACK ADAM

ORIGIN:

Black Adam made his debut in 1945 during Shazam (as Captain Marvel)'s run at Fawcett comics as a one-off villain. In fact, after his defeat in his debut issue, he never returned. He didn't become a recurring advesary until DC bought up the character's rights in 1973.

Black Adam's origin is that of a previous deciple given the powers of Shazam during the time of Ancient Egypt, who then went mad and evil with power. There have been alterations to this basic origin over the years, such as him being betrayed by Shazam's evil daughter to betray her father, or him being from the fictional nation of Kahndaq rather than Egypt, etc. But the basic idea of him being a former disciple turned rogue in the ancient past is always intact.

IN OTHER MEDIA:

Black Adam has been seen in a lot of DC properties outside of comics, but so far mostly in cartoons. He has never, as of yet, been adapted into live-action (that is, until he is played by The Rock). These appearances include THE KID SUPER POWER HOUR WITH SHAZAM!, BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD, and the straight-to-DVD feature SUPERMAN/SHAZAM: RETURN OF BLACK ADAM.  

However, he was kind of mentioned in a SMALLVILLE episode where museum has a name plate that reads "Dagger of Teth-Adam", though the character himself doesn't make an appearance.

He is also a playable character (as is Shazam) in INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US.

SOME EXTRA TIDBITS:

While Black Adam also says "Shazam!" to get his powers, his powers usually come from Egyptian dieties rather than Greek ones, such as: Shu (stamina), Hershef (strength), Amon (power), Thoth (wisdom), Anpu (speed), and Menthu (courage).

In most recent comics, he is the sworn protector of the fictitious African nation Kahndaq, which sees him either as allies or at odds with the DC superheroes, depending on the situation. He is known for killing supervillains and murdering anyone who threatens the country.

HOW THEY COULD BE ADAPTED:

Now, it's hard to tell how their big-screen debut will turn out, as it's currently going to be part of the much grittier DCEU. However, this is one way they could go:

First and foremost, we are going in with the assumption that JUSTICE LEAGUE is indeed the tonal course-correction we've all been promised. While there have been a (very vocal) minority of fans that enjoyed the dark, nihilistic, and grim-'n'-gritty DCEU, there has been a much more vocal outcry against it (for better or worse, depending on your outlook). So there is hope for a more, well, hopeful cinematic universe in the future.

Now while I admit I've never been a fan of Shazam before (like DC's lawyers back in the '50s, I thought he was just a lame rip-off of Superman), I have to also admit that there is a wish-fulfillment aspect to the character that's extremely powerful. Essentially we've all felt like Billy Batson at one point - like we're just a normal, average, and unimpressive kid (well, not me, because I've always been awesome, but you know what I mean) - so that when Batson is given the power by the wizard, it's similar to the appeal of HARRY POTTER or SPIDER-MAN finding out they were now special. Superman, in contrast, works better as a symbol that's better than us, inspires us, and is someone for us to aspire to, while - conversely - Shazam is simply us.

So for a SHAZAM! movie to succeed, I feel it'd have to tap into the child-like wonder. What would it be like for a kid to actually be a superhero? What kind of fun shenanigans could he get into? What will he try to get away with? Basically, what would it be like if we were superheroes? And then, of course, we'll eventually see the boy grow into a man as he actually faces the responsibility of the power he's been given. It could be fun in a "gee-whiz" sort of way, while making the stakes and consequences real.

As for Black Adam, there is some interesting stuff about him having a more "authoritarian" look at justice and morality. His character could work as a deconstruction of the "sworn protector" narrative of superhero fiction, since he's (in the most recent incarnation) the protector of the nation of Kahndaq, and is willing to kill and challenge other heroes to protect its sovereignty. There could definitely be some interesting political parallels in that story, if done right. And that's the operative phrase: "if done right". My fear, however, is the glorification of fascistic tendencies shown in things Batman (and to a certain extent) even Superman did in the current DCEU. Because, if you are to do this kind of story right, it'd have to be Black Adam learning the error of his ways, not being justified in utilizing them. Also, The Rock has had a good track record of fun, charismatic performances - but his track record of putting those good performances in good movies is much, much, much more spotty.  

So there you have it, some info on The Big Cheese and his nemesis, as well as what their film may entail, and where they'll stand in comparison to the rest of DCEU.

So are you Schmoes excited for more Shazam stories? Sound off below!

Extra Tidbit: Shazam is at the center of the tragic climax in Alex Ross's seminal graphic novel KINGDOM COME.
Source: JoBlo.com

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