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Who is Black Adam and why should you care? A spoiler-free guide

a man in a superhero suit
Dwayne Johnson as Teth-Adam in “Black Adam.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Smashing a place for himself (and his throne) in the increasingly crowded comic book superhero movie space this week is Black Adam.

Starring box office juggernaut Dwayne Johnson, “Black Adam,” opening Friday, is the titular antihero’s origin story, and will also introduce a new team of superheroes to the DC Extended Universe.

Johnson’s debut as Black Adam has been a long time coming. The wrestler-turned-actor was originally announced to play the character back in 2014, and was expected to debut with his rival Shazam — the superhero formerly known as Captain Marvel (no, not that Captain Marvel) — in the same film. Those plans were eventually scrapped and the Black Adam-less “Shazam!” was released in 2019.

In “Black Adam,” Johnson’s Teth-Adam instead shares screen time with the Justice Society, featuring heroes portrayed by Aldis Hodge, Pierce Brosnan, Noah Centineo and Quintessa Swindell. The film’s cast also includes Sarah Shahi, Bodhi Sabongui, Marwan Kenzari and Mohammed Amer.

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Here is everything you need to know about Black Adam and the Justice Society before watching “Black Adam.”

There’s a void at the center of ‘Black Adam’ — a charisma-free Dwayne Johnson — but director Jaume Collet-Serra manages to give the film a sense of style.

Who is Black Adam?

Black Adam — also known as Teth-Adam — debuted in the 1945 launch issue of “Marvel Family” about Captain Marvel (who has since been renamed Shazam for obvious reasons) and his family.

As could be expected for a comic book character with a history that spans nearly 80 years, Black Adam’s origin story and background have been rebooted over the years. But he is generally known as a hero-turned-villain-turned-(sometimes)-antihero with ties to ancient (and, more recently, fictional) North Africa.

Black Adam wields superpowers bestowed upon him by magic, including flight, superhuman strength, invulnerability, enhanced speed and the ability to shoot lightning. His powers are triggered by saying the magic word “Shazam,” much like the superhero Shazam, his modern-day successor and rival.

a man wearing gold bird-inspired costume with a beaked helmet and wings
Aldis Hodge as Hawkman in “Black Adam.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Where does “Black Adam” fit in the world of DC superhero films?

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, “Black Adam” is a spinoff film set within what is known as the DC Extended Universe. The long-gestating project is most closely associated with “Shazam!” (2019) because of the character’s comic book history, though there are no explicit ties to any of the other DCEU films. (The DCEU faithful will notice at least one familiar face, however.)

The DCEU is a shared superhero universe that launched with “Man of Steel” (2013) and features characters such as Superman (played by Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). “Black Adam” will be the first DCEU-set film since 2021’s “The Suicide Squad.”

Beyond “Black Adam,” upcoming DCEU films include a couple of sequels (“Shazam! Fury of the Gods” and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom”) as well as a couple of other solo debuts (“The Flash” and “Blue Beetle”), all slated for 2023.

Films based on DC comics characters set outside the DCEU continuity include Todd Phillips’ “Joker” (and its upcoming sequel) and Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” (and its future spinoffs and sequels).

Any crossover potential?

In the comics, Black Adam is mainly associated with Shazam as his archenemy, so uniting these two on screen would be a natural progression. He has both fought with and against various superhero teams over the years, including the Justice Society and the Justice League, so future confrontations or collaborations with either teams or their members could also happen. (And yes, that also means Black Adam has fought with and against Superman — another hero with a power set similar to his own.)

a man holding a helmet and pushing back a bald man
Pierce Brosnan, left, and Dwayne Johnson in “Black Adam.”
(Frank Masi / Warner Bros. Pictures)

Wait, the Justice Society and the Justice League are different?

Yes, the Justice Society of America and the Justice League of America are two different superhero teams.

The Justice Society is the oldest of DC’s superhero teams, debuting in 1940. The lineup has changed over the years, but its original members included Doctor Fate, Hawkman, Green Lantern, the Flash, Atom, Hourman, Sandman and the Spectre. Familiar names from the DCEU such as Superman, Wonder Woman, Shazam and Black Canary have also had stints as part of the Justice Society.

The better-known Justice League, a sort of revamped version of the Justice Society, made its comic book debut in 1960. The original team comprised Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter — characters those who have seen “Justice League” (2017) should be familiar with. Different incarnations of the team have also included Cyborg, Blue Beetle, Hawkman, Mera, Supergirl and Black Canary. In the comics, it was eventually revealed that the Justice Society and the Justice League operate on different Earths within the multiverse.

‘The Flash,’ starring Ezra Miller, shows no signs of stopping despite multiple allegations against its lead actor and DC’s film shakeup.

What is the Justice Society’s lineup in “Black Adam”?

The Justice Society introduced in “Black Adam” comprises Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Atom Smasher and Cyclone — the aliases of Carter Hall, Kent Nelson, Al Rothstein and Maxine Hunkel, respectively.

Carter Hall/Hawkman and Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate are both characters who debuted in 1940 and are among the founding members of the Justice Society. Although aspects of his backstory have changed over the years, Hall is generally understood to be the most recent reincarnation of a prince of ancient Egypt who has been reincarnated countless times and retains all of the memories of each of his lives. A special metal in his superhero suit gives him enhanced strength, sight, healing and the ability to fly.

Nelson is a skilled sorcerer who has access to magical artifacts — like the Helmet of Fate — that give him additional powers. Besides his brilliant mind, his powers include flight, controlling elements, seeing the future and conjuring illusions.

Al Rothstein/Atom Smasher and Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone are both newer comic book characters who have links to other heroes affiliated with the Justice Society. Rothstein, who was originally introduced in the 1980s, has the ability to manipulate his mass — meaning he can grow larger, which also increases his super strength. In the comics he is the godson of Atom, one of the founding members of the Justice Society.

Hunkel made her formal comic book debut in 2007 and is the granddaughter of the original Red Tornado, who has been depicted as an honorary member of the Justice Society. Hunkel was kidnapped by a mad scientist as a child who subjected her to nanotechnology experiments. She has the ability to control wind.


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