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How strong is Black Adam? He waged a one-man WWIII in the comics
In the comics, Black Adam was responsible for World War III, and all the DC heroes combined couldn't stop him.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is joining the DC Extended Universe this week when he stars in Black Adam, the live-action film debut of one of DC Comics’ most powerful characters. Black Adam, a longtime foe of Shazam since the ‘40s, is typically a supervillian, though he has dabbled in antiheroism, which seems to be the route that the new movie is going to take. He is also, it should be noted, one of the most powerful characters in the entire comics universe.
How powerful is he? In 2007, the DC Comics Universe experienced World War III, but rather than a global conflict that pitted country against country, this WWIII was simply Black Adam, alone, versus every other country and superpowered being in the world. And, Black Adam nearly won.
Before he was the subject of a major motion picture and before he took on the entire world, Black Adam was a mortal named Teth-Adam who lived in ancient Egypt. He was the precursor to Shazam (a character known as Captain Marvel until a decade ago), having been gifted magical powers much the same way that Billy Batson would be centuries later. However, while Billy was pure of heart, Teth-Adam was soon corrupted by his powers, using them for ill, and he survived to the present day. More modern iterations of the character have had his powers come from the Egyptian gods rather than the Greek pantheon that powers Shazam.
World War III was part of an incredible run of comics in the mid-'00s, specifically a title called 52, a yearlong, weekly series that tell the events of a year in the DC Comics Universe in essentially real-time. Over the course of this year, Black Adam, who had become the dictatorial leader of a fictional Middle Eastern country called Kahndaq, pivots to being something of a good guy when he falls in love with a freed slave named Adrianna Tomaz. He marries her and rescues her brother, Amon, and gives both of them a portion of his magical powers. Adrianna, now known as Isis, has shown Black Adam the light and convinced him to use his powers for good to help save the world. Everything is going great… until it isn’t.
For reasons that are too complicated to get into the specifics of here, a cabal of evil super-scientists targets Black Adam. One of their creations, a member of a group of constructs known as the Four Horsemen, kills Amon, and the other three attack Black Adam and Isis. During the fight, Isis dies, and in her last breaths, she tells Black Adam that she was wrong about humanity. He shouldn’t be saving the world, he should be punishing it.
Driven mad with grief, Black Adam heads to Bialya, another fictional country where the Four Horsemen were based. As revenge, Black Adam doesn’t just slaughter those responsible for his family’s death — he kills every man, woman, and child in the country before setting out on a world tour of death and destruction.
As detailed in the pages of 52 and a four-issue limited series titled World War III, Black Adam is essentially unstoppable. The Doom Patrol and the Teen Titans throw themselves against him to no avail, and there are casualties. Black Adam wreaks havoc on Syndey, Australia, destroys the Pyramids of Giza, and topples the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Heroes as powerful as the Martian Manhunter, Power Girl, and Green Lantern can do little but slow him down. (Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman are all MIA during the year that 52 takes place so, admittedly, those heavy-hitters might have changed the tide had they been around.) Reading the comics, you get the sense that on any average day, one of these A-list superheroes on their own would stand a good chance against Black Adam. However, when he’s this enraged with a vendetta against the world, he can't be bested.
Things come to a head when Black Adam is in China, as the base of the mad super-scientists, the fictional nation-state of Oolong Island, is under the protection of the People’s Republic of China. The mightiest heroes of China try to best Black Adam under the shadow of the Great Wall, while literally dozens of heroes from the West wait on the other side, forbidden from entering Chinese airspace. Eventually, China realizes their heroes can’t stop Black Adam, and they allow all the other heroes to help. It’s a massive brawl but even still, Black Adam simply cannot be defeated.
It’s only when Shazam (who at this time was still called Captain Marvel), comes up with a new plan that the war ends. With the help of some of the strongest flying superheroes and some of DC’s top magic users, Shazam gets Black Adam high in the sky and then calls down the lightning bolt that gives and takes away both their powers. Shazam, who at this point in comics continuity is the Guardian of Magic, cannot get the Egyptian pantheon to rescind their support of Black Adam and take away his powers. He can, however, change the magic word that summons Black Adam’s lightning bolt, and he does so. He won’t tell a soul, but he promises that it is a phrase that Black Adam will never, ever guess. Black Adam still manages to escape justice, but he is powerless and on the run. The war is over.
Black Adam eventually got his powers back in the comics. (Shazam, who is very much a hero from the ‘40s, changed Black Adam’s lightning-summoning phrase to “Chocolate Egg Cream.") But, for a couple of weeks, he waged a one-man war against every nation and superhero in the DC universe. The new Black Adam movie is not an adaptation of 52 or World War III, and how powerful a character is frequently changes during the adaptation process — or indeed from storyline to storyline.
Even so, when you’re watching The Rock do his thing, remember the extent of Black Adam’s potential.
Black Adam opens in theaters on Oct. 21.
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