Near Mint Memories: Shades Of Black… Adam

I’m a huge fan of Captain Marvel (the one and only Fawcett incarnation, not Marvel’s rip-off); yet I was a little worried about writing this column. I’ve read a good amount of the original Fawcett published adventures, but I’ve by no means read a large percentage. Considering the storied history of Captain Marvel the fact that Black Adam is considered, by some, Cap’s ultimate villain is actually quite strange. You may ask why? Mr. Adam, you may be shocked to realize, actually only made one appearance during the “Fawcett-days” of Captain Marvel’s publishing history (which encompasses the years 1940-1953).

I’ve read that one appearance, and just about every other book with the Captain Marvel stable of characters since. I’m feeling tremendously relieved about writing a column on character that I’ve read every appearance of. Its the perfect time too, with the Black Adam centric six-part “Black Reign” arc currently unfolding in the pages of JSA and Hawkman. Yeah, I’m hoping the rest of the column will be a touch more interesting then the first couple of paragraphs. So, why don’t I give it a shot?

Adam, but no Eve

Black Adam, also known as Teth-Adam, made his one and only appearance in the classic Fawcett incarnation of the Captain Marvel Universe in Marvel Family #1, which was published in 1945. The original origin for Black Adam hasn’t changed all that much, even when you consider that there have been two reboots since.

In ancient Egypt 5,000 years ago, the wizard Shazam deigned to make Teth-Adam the first person bestowed with his power. Shazam unfortunately made a major error, and Adam, who Shazam dubbed Mighty Adam, attempted to take over Egypt. Shazam was more powerful, and banished him to the furthest star in the cosmos, for all-time.

All-time is a lot sooner than you would think in comics. Adam actually made it back to Earth in 1945. In the premiere issue of Marvel Family he did battle with Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel Jr. The fifteen-page story was really more of a re-introduction of the three bearing the name Marvel, then about Black Adam. As each of the three are pulled into the story we are retold their origins. It certainly makes sense considering Fawcett was launching a new book at the time.
Holy-Mxyzptlk, Cap-Man! In typical campy Captain Marvel-fashion, the titanic villain that is impervious to attack is defeated when Uncle Marvel, Cap’s Uncle Dudley, tricks him into saying “Shazam.” Which of course triggers the villain’s transformation back to Teth-Adam. The 5,000-year-old, would-be, world-conqueror quickly crumbles into dust, and is no more.

That was until 1977.

The gold, and black attack is back!

After Fawcett’s demise in the early 50’s Captain Marvel and crew vanished from the publishing landscape. That is until DC relaunched the property in 1973. The writing and art team of E. Nelson Bridwell and Kurt Schaffenberger eventually brought Black Adam back in 1977’s Shazam #28. It certainly wouldn’t be another 30 years between appearances.

As a good example to the difference in storytelling between yesterday and today: Not counting the title page (which back in the day was used as a hook) it takes Dr. Thaddeus “Bodog” Sivana (Cap’s true arch nemesis) exactly two panels to reincarnate Black Adam. That’s not two issues, or even two pages. While it was more than thirty years of real-time, Sivana accomplishes the task with no fanfare. If this were an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, instead of two panels it would take at least two issues to tell that much story. The entire plotline of this issue, if it were an Ultimate, would have encompassed about seven issues. Ah the simple comics of the 70’s.

Another great example of how “70s” this comic is? Well, Black Adam is beaten exactly the same way as last time. Uncle Dudley once again tricks Adam into saying the “magic word.” Captain Marvel then levels Teth-Adam with an “amnesia” punch. This wasn’t the end of Black Adam; he showed up a handful more times pre-Crisis, but there wasn’t much else of real value.

Also in issue #28 of DC’s Shazam series was the list of where Black Adam draws his powers. The wizard Shazam’s name actually breaks down to give the God where the characters draw their powers. Below is both Captain Marvel’s as well as Black Adam’s source of power.

Captain Marvel

Solomon – Wisdom
Hercules – Strength
Atlas – Stamina
Zeus – Power
Achilles – Courage
Mercury – Speed

Black Adam

Shu – Stamina
Hershef – Strength
Amon – Power
Zehuti – Wisdom
Anpu – Speed
Menthu – Courag

New beginning: a fit, a start, and then alas stillborn

After Crisis On Infinite Earths the Marvel Family who used to occupy “Earth S” in DC’s multiverse had to be integrated into the DC Universe proper. This gave the powers-that-be the opportunity to reintroduce Captain Marvel and the entire crew once again. Following the Legends miniseries, DC’s second company-wide crossover, the time was deemed right.

1987 saw Captain Marvel as a member of the new Justice League and a brand new origin in the four-part Shazam: The New Beginning. Written by Roy Thomas with art by Tom Mandrake; this was an attempt to bring the Marvel’s into the 80’s. Black Adam was made an integral part in the origin of Billy Batson (Captain Marvel’s secret identity) and his early days as Captain Marvel.

The series took a very 80’s approach going with a grim tone, and didn’t really work out as planned. This mini had none of the magic that the classic Fawcett books brought to Cap, and was a misfire the grandest sense.

The mini was followed by a few appearances of the “new” Captain Marvel in the pages of the short-lived Action Comics Weekly. Cap fought another big-time old school villain, Captain Nazi, in those pages. The final appearance in ACW made us aware of the soon to come ongoing Shazam series. Thankfully this didn’t happen, and thus Black Adam, version 2.0, was never seen again.

He’s back and badder than ever!

Jerry Ordway’s The Power of Shazam graphic novel ushered in a new day for Captain Marvel. This was the first truly wonderful Captain Marvel story to see print in more than forty years. While it was yet another relaunch, for a character that had been mired in a slump, this “version” finally got a lot more right than wrong. Black Adam got a facelift as well, and while story has changed somewhat, it’s still very true to the original vision.

The “new” incarnation of Black Adam was reintroduced in the pages of the Ordway’s graphic novel; this time though he would have a central role in Billy’s life. A man named Theo Adam was responsible for the death of Billy Batson’s parents during an excavation in Egypt. Adam claims a mystical scarab, which released the trapped soul of Teth-Adam and grants him the powers of, you guessed it, Black Adam. He then goes on a rampage like none before, which is eventually stopped when Theo’s power of speech is removed.

This version of Adam seemed all-bad, and was a fairly solid update to a character that until now didn’t have a very large place in Captain Marvel’s pantheon. He made a couple more appearances before undergoing the biggest change yet.

White Adam?

After creating such an evil version of the character, Ordway’s next move, of course, was to turn him good. Huh? Actually it worked out quite well and leant the character a definite gravitas. Adam was used by Blaze, the evil daughter of Shazam, and in the end turned on her. In the end he was banished to the farthest reaches of space, but first had shown his potential for good.

Black Adam returned towards the conclusion of the The Power of Shazam ongoing series. The final three issues of the series (#45-47) saw the return of the Egyptian Teth-Adam, who claimed to have rid himself of Theo’s evil within him. This was born out in the fact that Teth’s fingerprints no longer matched those of Theo’s. Are you confused yet? This is definitely a tough bit of continuity to follow. Especially since a great deal of Black Adam’s next appearances occurred prior to these. At least as far as continuity went.

Attempts to further build the character in JSA…

Over the last couple of years in JSA Geoff Johns and David Goyer have made a concerted effort to further characterize Black Adam. He showed up early in the series as a villain. He later claimed that he was under the influence of Theo Adam once again. He ended up joining with Johnny Sorrow’s group, The Injustice Society, but helped to take them down from within. He asked to be allowed into the JSA, but was only allowed probationary status. This status led to several interesting altercations with Captain Marvel (after all Theo Adam had killed Billy Batson’s parents). This definitely made for some very odd, but immensely satisfying stories.

JSA #43 and 44 saw what’s, to date, probably the best Black Adam story. In the story Hawkgirl, Mr. Terrific, and Captain Marvel travel back in time to ancient Egypt. The JSA trio joins forces with the following modern heavyweights in ancient form: Nabu (the power behind Dr. Fate), Lady Chay-Ara (the first incarnation of Hawkgirl), Prince Khufu (the first incarnation of Hawkman), and, of course, Teth-Adam.

Black Adam is able to confront Ahk-Ton, the evil priest that killed his wife and child. Ahk-Ton is teamed with the eternal villain of the DC Universe, Vandal Savage. In the end, Adam kills Ahk-Ton, avenging his wife and child, but setting in motion the events that lead to his fall, and the JSA trio returns to their time.

Johns and Goyer do a fantastic job with this storyline explaining the reasoning behind Adam’s militancy. His somewhat villainous tendencies are more from his varied view of society and life in general. The death of his family causes him great consternation and forces him to adopt a much more final approach to fighting evil.

Of vice and men

Current events in DC’s JSA and Hawkman feature Black Adam centrally. A six-part storyline is currently unfolding entitled “Black Reign.” As I write this the second part is about to ship. From the first piece alone, the greatest Black Adam story appears as if it’s being published as we speak.

The events that lead to Black Adam’s current “war” came about when the JSA failed to take the form of action that Adam would have liked against Kobra in issue #45 of JSA. Kobra eventually got off on a technicality, but was murdered by Adam’s new team, who want to wipe out evil literally. Adam’s homeland of Kahndaq is now being overrun by “evil” men, so Black Adam and his men (and woman) go in to make things right.

“Black Reign” began this past week in the pages of JSA #56. It will run weekly continuing alternating weeks in Hawkman #23, 24, and 25, and JSA #57, and 58. This is going to be a series that redefines just what a hero is, and to what lengths they can, and should take. In the world we currently live in, this bears very real similarities on real life.

Does anyone have a right to kill those that are evil? Is it wrong to fight in this fashion? Are these people heroes or not? Geoff Johns has some very interesting concepts on tap in the next few weeks; if you’re not reading “Black Reign” you may miss one of the best storylines of 2004.

As you can see, Black Adam is a character, even though he’s been around for nearly 60 years, who hasn’t really stepped into his own until the 21st century. The events currently unfolding in JSA and Hawkman really bear some looking. Black Adam was a vastly underused character for far too long; thanks to Jerry Ordway, Geoff Johns, David Goyer, and other fine writers at DC Comics, that appears to be a thing of the past.

The Reading Rack

Shazam Family: The Lost Annual – This book that came out in 2002 contains a reprint of Black Adam’s first appearance from Marvel Family #1.

The Power of Shazam – Find this exceptional graphic novel by Jerry Ordway and you’ll be privy to the current-continuity origin of Black Adam.

JSA: Darkness Falls – Here you’ll see Black Adam’s first involvement with the JSA, an involvement that eventually led to his joining the team.