'Black Adam': Plot, Cast, Release Date and Everything to Know

In this Shazam spinoff, think of Dwayne Johnson's superpowered comics character as an antihero rather than a villain.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
3 min read
DC supervillain Black Adam looks angry in a black suit with a golden lightning bolt on the chest.

Dwayne Johnson is Black Adam.

Warner Bros.

It's difficult to keep all the comic book heroes and villains straight. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson stars as Black Adam in a new DC Comics feature film coming out from Warner Bros. on Oct. 21, but even loyal comics readers may have no idea who this character is. A new trailer for the film was released on June 8. Here's a look at this intriguing character and his past.

Who is Black Adam?

In the original comics, Black Adam was a corrupted ancient Egyptian with a complicated backstory. He first appeared in 1945 as a side character in the adventures of Captain Marvel (confusingly, not the Marvel character, but an older character who pre-dated Marvel being founded) and was then reintroduced in the 1970s when the old Captain Marvel was licensed by DC and re-branded as Shazam.

His original name was Teth-Adam, and the wizard Shazam granted him superpowers. However, once loaded up with power, he turned evil and decided to conquer the world, starting with Egypt. Shazam couldn't take back the powers he gave Black Adam, so instead banished Black Adam, who didn't make it back to Earth until 1945.

But comic book stories are flexible, and Black Adam's story has been rewritten several times since his first run-through. You could spend months digging through old issues, catching up on all his storylines. There's no question that you won't need to know anything about Black Adam's comic past to understand the movie -- DC isn't about to cut out a huge number of potential moviegoers.

What are his powers?

He has the powers of Shazam, whose name originally stands for the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and speed of Mercury. (But later on in his comic history, these powers are attributed to Egyptian gods.)

Either way, he's kinda like Superman: He's got it all. The movie trailer shows Black Adam not even blinking when he gets hit in the face with a metal rod, then tossing the guy who hit him an enormous distance. He's also impervious to gunfire and he can fly. He can also catch rockets.

Is he a hero or a villain?

Originally, a villain. And he seems to lean that way in the film. But yes, moviegoers love The Rock, and maybe Warner Bros. will be tempted to give him a revelation that turns him good. Call him an antihero? Like how people rooted for Tony Soprano even though they knew he was doing bad things?

The trailer teases a tragic backstory involving his son, and suggests a moral dilemma when Hawkman says, "In this world, there are heroes and there are villains. Heroes don't kill people." Black Adam replies, "Well, I do."

He's also told in the trailer that he can be "the destroyer of this world, or you can be its savior." Though Black Adam doesn't say which way he's leaning, he's then seen to catch a rocket that would've killed two regular humans in a Scooby-Doo-style van. So at least he's THEIR savior?

One of the YouTube commenters on the trailer addresses the dilemma, writing, "Looks like a solid movie, just hope they keep him as a villain, I get Dwayne's star power and how he's the Hollywood action hero guy, but Black Adam is way more interesting as a villain."

Who are all those characters in the trailer?

In the trailer, Black Adam says he was a slave until he died -- and then he's shown being horribly murdered: slashed and thrown off a cliff. "Then, I was reborn a god," he says, adding that his son sacrificed his own life to save him, and as a result, "Now, I kneel before no one."

Pierce Brosnan is prominent in the movie trailer. He plays Kent Nelson/Doctor Fate, a member of the Justice Society of America and the son of an archeologist. That elaborate hat he puts on is the Helmet of Fate, which gives him superpowers.

Other JSA members appearing in the movie are Carter Hall/Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), an archaeologist who can fly; Albert Rothstein/Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo), who can change his size and strength; and Maxine Hunkel/Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), who controls wind and generates sound.

What's the song in the Black Adam trailer?

The background music in the Black Adam trailer is the 2011 song Murder to Excellence, by Kanye West and Jay Z. It samples a traditional Romanian tune, Purtata Fetelor de la Căpâlna.

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