Monday, January 23, 2017

Real Name: Teth-Adam
First Appearance: Marvel Family #1 (December, 1945)
Fight Club Ranking: #19

Featured Fights:
- vs MARY MARVEL: Power of Shazam #11 (Jan 1996)
- vs KOBRA: JSA #51 (Oct 2003)
- vs CAPTAIN MARVEL: Hawkman #24 (Mar 2004)
- vs FREEDOM FIGHTERS: Infinite Crisis #1 (Dec 2005)
- vs PSYCHO-PIRATE: Infinite Crisis #6 (May 2006)
- vs SUPERBOY-PRIME: Infinite Crisis #6 (May 2006)
- vs MONSTER SOCIETY: 52 #44 (May 2007)
- vs AZRAEUZ: 52 #45 (May 2007)
- vs MARY MARVEL: Final Crisis #6 (Jan 2009)

It's been a slow start to 2017, but Warner Brothers finally made a significant move last week, negotiating a Black Adam feature film to star long-cast box office draw Dwayne Johnson.

It's a decision that redirects expectations away from the squinty-eyed heroics of an announced SHAZAM movie, honing in on the popular turmoil of Captain Marvel's corrupt counterpart, instead.

On the surface, it could be perceived as putting the cart before the horse. Just another example of WB fumbling toward a grim and miserable DC cinematic universe - whether anybody wants it or not.

On the other hand, this may prove to be a very shrewd decision. Exactly what's needed to earn back some much needed goodwill from a large, but souring audience.

Johnson doesn't just bring the advantage of proven "Franchise Viagra" to the DC Universe -- he's a widely embraced choice to play the fan-favourite character! That alone won't guarantee a good movie, but it does reverse a trend of negativity, and gives a film a strong pillar to build around.

While it may be conventional to expect an antagonist to appear subservient to the hero's journey; Black Adam predates Captain Marvel by thousands of years within the fiction itself. This offers interesting narrative potential in telling this story chronologically, so Black Adam's fall from grace is witnessed first-hand, rather than told to the audience when he appears in the modern era. If he later appears as a forsaken antagonist in a later Shazam movie, it could create the kind of uniquely nuanced villain these movies so often lack!

There's also the small matter of casting Captain Marvel.

A challenge posted by the big red cheese's iconic depiction as a barrel chested, square jawed titan, eyes asquint with innocence, and good nature. Hollywood used to have Captain Marvel types in abundance. Cary Grant's a popular reference, and it's said CC Beck modeled the original character on Fred MacMurray. Strong male leads that aren't so easy to find in today's Hollywood system. There's also the always difficult obstacle of finding a young actor to play Billy Batson without stinking up the screen.

By focusing their attention on a Black Adam film, casting has more time to consider the right choice for their Captain Marvel, who in turn will hopefully benefit from Johnson's established presence. Assuming, of course, Shazam goes ahead, and follows all the familiar plots. There's really no telling what will and won't happen after Justice League. I'd certainly vote for a faithful Captain Marvel movie. One that injects the wonder and colour of the comics -- a potentially unique vision for broad audiences to enjoy.

If I had to note one more positive, it would be that a Black Adam film can get ahead of any plans Disney might have for the Sub-Mariner: a similar character who was once attached to Dwayne Johnson!

Pointy ears, arched eyebrows, and widow's peak aside; the modern Black Adam has come to quite closely resemble Sub-Mariner in plot and tone. As conqueror of Khandaq, he acquired the monarch's burden shouldered by Atlantean Namor. A noble responsibility that underpins a fiery temper and penchant for vengeful action, especially of the war variety. Adam has had his issues with lost loves, but he doesn't tend to be the romantic that Sub-Mariner is. He certainly shares a lot of the pathos, arrogance, and physical power to back it all up, though.

We talked a bit about the unique screen choices Marvel could make for Sub-Mariner last year, knowing full well that Marvel films tend to rely on a simple formula that makes them all feel a little bit similar. A choice that arguably deserves more disdain than it gets, even if the worm is turning.

Black Adam should do what DC films have done best, putting forward a strong visual. It would be nice to get away from Zack Snyder's muddy nights of Dawn of Justice, to borrow more from the painterly palette of 300. It would be tempted to revert to something more naturalistic after the CG heavy films Snyder has already made, but they'll want to avoid applicable comparison to Johnson's early starring role of The Scorpion King.

I'm not entirely sure who Black Adam should be fighting in a big screen introduction, but I like the visual potential for The Deadly Sins of Man, or Azraeuz - the Horseman of Death who plagued Adam during his star-making appearances in 52. Both are stylized almost two-dimensionally, like black paintings that have leapt from ancient artefacts to attack the material world!

Establishing a threat like The Seven Deadly Sins of Man in Adam's ancient Egypt could do a lot for his return in any subsequent film. Because Adam will become corrupt and leave the ancient world behind, filmmakers could have free reign to demonstrate the danger of these villains. The loss of loved ones is obvious motivation for Adam to become corrupt. Any success he may have in stopping the threat - perfect reason to reintroduce him when The Sins return in modern Fawcett City.

It's been a SHAZAM sort of week all around. As noted Friday, I'd been hoping to talk about Power of Shazam #11 since the middle of last year, when Ibis was our Hero of the Week! It was pure coincidence that the Black Adam announcement coincided with our pre-ordained schedule! This Friday we have another battle inspired by a past Hero of the Week. Stay tuned for that!

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