Many DC Superheroes have complex back stories. There are some that start off as heroes such as Jason Todd who end up becoming villains before becoming superheroes and others who start off as villains like The Shade and become more like antiheroes over time.
This can be applied to a wide variety of different DC characters though one of the most debated characters who falls into this category is Captain Marvel aka Shazam’s arch rival Black Adam.
Once the ruler of an ancient Middle Eastern nation, Black Adam was given powers similar to those of Captain Marvel however he ended up abusing them and so was stripped of his heroic duties.
This makes him sound fairly like a super villain, right? Well, this is the question – is he still? This article will deal with this particularly thorny subject and if you have ever wondered if Black Adam is a hero or a villain, by reading this you will be sure to find out.
Black Adam’s Comic Origins
Before we start discussing whether or not Black Adam can be counted as a hero or a villain, it is worth delving into his origins as a character and seeing if they might offer some clues as to which side he is really on.
Black Adam was created by Otto Binder and C C Beck and first appeared in Fawcett Comics The Marvel Family issue one in 1945. You see the good Captain himself and most of his supporting cast were not originally created by DC Comics but rather the now long defunct Fawcett Comics whose characters were bought by DC during the 1970s and incorporated into the DC Universe.
It is thanks to DC’s effort in buying and then promoting their Fawcett characters that they survive today both in comic books and in live action and animated movies.
Binder and Beck created Black Adam because they wanted there to be an antagonist to Captain Marvel who had the same powers as him and who could serve as a means of giving information on previous champions picked by the wizard Shazam.
Marvel gained his powers from Shazam and thus the writers wanted to show what would happen if someone who had ill intent had the same powers as Captain Marvel – an attempt to show that with great power comes great responsibility.
Black Adam only appeared once in the original 1940s run of Captain Marvel in which he is depicted as an Egyptian with similar virtues to Captain Marvel who is picked by Shazam to be his champion on Earth.
However, Adam’s new power corrupts him and he attempts to take over the world. Unable to control his new champion or take his powers away, Shazam sends him to the furthest star in the universe in order that he might no longer be a threat.
Instead, Shazam spends the next five thousand years traveling back to Earth to confront the wizard only to discover that the Earth had new champions – Captain Marvel, Marvel Jnr and Miss Marvel.
Black Adam is eventually beaten by the Marvel Family when he is tricked into saying the word Shazam which reverts him back to his human form which, after five thousand years, ended up collapsing and dying.
Black Adam would then appear with the rest of the DC characters that were bought from Fawcett, and it would be in his DC incarnation that Adam would become a more nuanced character.
Is Black Adam A Hero Or A Villain?
You might be thinking based upon the above origin of Black Adam that he is clearly a villain, however this isn’t the case with DC’s version of the character.
Since the 2000s, Black Adam has undergone a radical recharacterization thanks to David S Goyer and Geoff Johns who reformed Black Adam during their run on the Justice Society of America comic book in order that they could give a subtler characterisation of the former villain.
In the book they attempted to separate Black Adam from Theo Adam and suggested that Theo Adam was a malevolent force that had effectively corrupted the previously noble Adam.
Black Adam’s period in the JSA brought him sometimes into conflict with his older former foe Captain Marvel and helped to provide many questions about the nature of justice.
Adam’s form of justice is often seen as much more old fashioned and militant – unlike other super powered personages Adam believed that it was justified to kill super villains rather than let them live in prison, a belief that eventually saw him break away from the JSA to form his own super powered team.
Goyer and Johns’ reworking of the character made Black Adam a far more ambiguous figure who could either be viewed as still a super villain at heart because of his continued wish to kill or as someone who was struggling to do the right thing for him and his people.
Black Adam would eventually return to his fictitious homeland to rule it during the events of the comic book series 52 written in the aftermath of Infinite Crisis.
So, the truth of the matter is that Black Adam in modern comics, particularly the Goyer and Johns run of JSA, is more of a hero than a villain.
However, it would not be accurate to say he was a true hero in the same vein as Captain Marvel but rather he is an antihero – someone who attempts to act in a heroic manner despite trying to be heroic using methods that you would more associate with a villain than a hero.
Why It Is Important To Know Whether Black Adam Is A Hero Or A Villain
Black Adam is one of those characters who so often gets miscast by comic book fans. He is either seen as an out and out villain or as a true hero.
The truth is that he is neither of those – he is someone who had great powers and struggles between using those powers for his own benefit and using them for good. These are struggles that we can all comprehend and, in many ways, sympathise with.
However, of course, it is the complexities of him as a character that make him so interesting to read and engage with. Black Adam’s struggle for character resolution is truly important to know about because it gives us all a great deal to think about when reading our favorite comic books.