How Black Adam Became The Most Powerful Anti-Hero In The DC Universe

Some DC heroes stand for truth, justice, and a better tomorrow, but an anti-hero like Black Adam takes a different approach to changing the world. Black Adam's abilities overlap a lot with Captain Marvel – the DC version, not Marvel's – but while DCEU fans know the story of Billy Batson from Shazam!, Adam flies a bit more under the radar. The casual fan probably wonders about where Black Adam's superpowers come from. Is Black Adam as strong as Superman? And should he be considered one of DC’s greatest villains or heroes? 

Above all else, Black Adam believes laying the smackdown is the only way to send a message to his detractors, which makes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson the perfect person to bring the character to life on the big screen. Perhaps the People’s Eyebrow might even become part of the character’s official canon going forward.

The secrets of Adam can be partially traced back to ancient history and Egyptian gods, however, and the lore around the man once known as Teth-Adam is even deeper than that.

  • Black Adam Hails From The DC Universe's Ancient Past

    Black Adam Hails From The DC Universe's Ancient Past
    Photo: DC Comics

    Black Adam has played a part in several millennia's worth of DC comics history with roots that stretch to ancient Egypt according to 1945's The Marvel Family #1. Known then as Teth-Adam, he encounters the wizard Shazam who deems him worthy because of his purity and bestows upon him powers much in the same way he would Billy Batson centuries later. 

    At first, the champion goes by the name of Mighty Adam and inspires others by using his powers for good. Unfortunately, instead of punching mummies and keeping evil in check, he becomes obsessed with gaining more power. After breaking bad, he receives the moniker of Black Adam from the wizard, since the word “Mighty” was too good for him. The wizard doesn't just rename him — he also casts Adam into space for his misdeeds.

  • Black Adam's Powers Come From Egyptian Gods Rather Than The Wizard Shazam

    Black Adam's Powers Come From Egyptian Gods Rather Than The Wizard Shazam
    Photo: DC Comics

    Since Black Adam is framed as the darker version of Shazam, there’s a belief the two titans possess the same power set. This can vary depending on the continuity or DC’s latest crisis (because Adam did possess the Greek gods’ powers at some point in time).

    With comics always changing and reshuffling canon, there's a possibility it could happen again or be changed altogether. According to the current modern canon, though, Adam draws his powers from  six Egyptian gods: Shu (invincibility), Heru (speed), Amon (super strength), Zehuti (infinite knowledge), Aton (lightning power), and Menthu (courage). In a serendipitous turn, the combined letters happen to spell out “Shazam” as well.

  • Black Adam Is A Dictator Of His Own Nation

    Black Adam Is A Dictator Of His Own Nation
    Photo: DC Comics

    Whether it’s Prime Earth or New Earth, it’s clear Black Adam is passionate about his home country, Kahndaq. At some point in the past, he develops some concerns about how things are run in his homeland and decides that change is necessary. Instead of campaigning for leadership, he simply takes it through aggressive means. Like most dictators, however, he doesn't see himself in that tainted light, believing he is a liberator rather than an oppressor of freedom.

    Adam is a direct contrast to Superman here. The Man of Steel spends his entire superhero career defending Earth from various threats, but he draws the line at involving himself in politics since he’ll be overstepping his role. For Adam, he believes it’s his right to interfere. Yes, he might silence his detractors at will, but he also defends his people from outside threats.

  • Black Adam Has Two Wildly Different Origin Stories

    Black Adam Has Two Wildly Different Origin Stories
    Photo: DC Comics

    In the New Earth continuity, which was DC's pre-New 52 timeline, Teth-Adam is introduced as the son of Pharaoh Ramses II. The wizard Shazam serves as a high priest for the pharaoh and believes Prince Teth-Adam displays all the key qualities that would make him a worthy champion. Determined to pass on the mantle to the prince, Shazam arranges for a transfer of power. Shazam's daughter Blaze throws an unexpected curveball into the mix that would only be revealed much later. Blaze's interference makes it so that when Teth-Adam says “Shazam,” he gains the power of the Egyptian gods rather than the wizard’s regular abilities.

    In his Prime Earth origin, Teth-Adam is born into enslavement instead of royalty. He experiences tragedy as his family is wiped out by the cruel rulers of Kahndaq. Dejected but not defeated, he searches for his only remaining relative - his nephew Aman - and helps him escape from prison. However, Adam is gravely injured in the process. The future appears bleak for Teth-Adam, but fate (not Doctor Fate) plays its card. Teth-Adam and Aman find themselves transported to Shazam’s Rock of Eternity, where the wizard selects Aman as his champion and offers him the magical powers to free Kahndaq. Honored by this, Aman accepts the powers under one condition: Shazam has to also heal his uncle from his injuries. The wizard agrees, and Teth-Adam also gets powers as a side effect. After receiving their powers, neither Aman nor Teth-Adam can agree on the best way to save their nation and liberate their people, with the former wanting peace and the latter demanding blood. So Teth-Adam turns heel, taking his nephew's life and combining their powers for his own purposes.

  • Black Adam Is The Reason The Wizard Shazam Waited So Long To Select A New Champion

    Black Adam Is The Reason The Wizard Shazam Waited So Long To Select A New Champion
    Photo: DC Comics

    Think about the poor wizard Shazam for a second. He possessed so much power and believed Teth-Adam was the best person to carry on his legacy. After all, the young man displayed all the right qualities, and he could have used his abilities for the good of mankind, as the wizard intended. Sadly, he didn’t bank on the fact that human beings are largely unpredictable creatures, and Adam decided to become nefarious instead.

    In The Marvel Family #1, the wizard reveals that his biggest “sorrow” was creating Black Adam. Even though he banished him to the stars, he was hesitant of making the same mistake twice. So hesitant that he let the world exist without a champion for centuries before finally taking a risk on Billy Batson.

  • Black Adam Tries To Create His Version Of The Marvel Family – With Tragic Results

    Black Adam Tries To Create His Version Of The Marvel Family – With Tragic Results
    Photo: DC Comics

    Every lone wolf searches for a pack at some point. The same is true about Black Adam. While he does spend ages roaming the Earth on his own, he still craves what Shazam and Dom Toretto cherish the most: family. 

    In the New 52 continuity, Adam decides to forge his own group that he dubs the Black Marvel Family. It consists of his wife Adrianna Tomaz, who gains the divine powers of the goddess Isis, and her brother Amon, who takes on the name Osiris after receiving his own gift of Black Adam's powers. After Osiris brings a talking crocodile (no, it wasn't Alligator Loki) named Sobek to Kahndaq, the creature becomes a part of the family team, too. Unfortunately, Sobek turns out to be the duplicitous Fourth Horseman of Apokolips, Famine, in disguise, and the interloper brings more tragedy to Black Adam's life by slaying both Osiris and Isis.