Yes, I know this is was last week’s Jake & Leon but a recent interview by Johnson in Vanity Fair just came to my attention that made it even more fitting now. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson seems to hate Billy Batson after reading this interview. It’s not about accuracy, it’s about ego and fighting the “big name”. I suppose that shouldn’t be a big surprise seeing as he comes from the world of professional wrestling, where fighting the top name in the organization gets you the most attention by fans and by the bookers looking to see who should be the current champion.
Then again, I doubt he knows who Billy Batson is, since I’d be surprised if he read a comic book. He certainly didn’t read Shazam! or any of the previous Fawcett comics. He wants Superman, he wants to be an antihero if not outright evil, and he doesn’t care what the comics are doing. This is another example of how celebrities see storytelling versus the fans who want to see the characters they love continue on in a different media format to see what that format can do with him. Art Of Storytelling, the article series here at BW, has gone over what each type of media can do that others can’t. (I’ve run out of those so the series will be shifting focus next time I do one.) It’s why I also enjoy Star Trek comics, audio dramas, games, and novels. I want to see what they can do but I want to feel like it’s the same franchise. As we see in the interview with Johnson it’s all about ego…like most Hollywood celebs.
You can tell Dwayne Johnson has absorbed some personality traits from his Black Adam character by the way he’s already starting to trash-talk Superman. Black Adam is the nemesis of Shazam in comics lore, but Johnson seems to enjoy picking fights with those who loom even larger. “When you pull Black Adam out of the pantheon of superheroes in the DC Universe, he is blessed with these incredible superpowers from the gods that rival Superman,” the actor says. “The difference is, well, a few things. Number one, Superman’s greatest weakness is magic, and one of Black Adam’s greatest superpowers is magic.”
Captain Marvel originally didn’t have magic powers. He had regular superhero powers (though he did learn to weaponize the magic lighting bolt that allowed him, Mary, and Freddy to gain their powers) that just happened to be created by magic. The addition of magical lightning powers was a New 52 thing under Geoff Johns, something he managed to save from DC’s Rebirth that was even able to repair Firestorm to his (or they’re, given the composite being thing) traditional concept. Magic back then was an edge that Black Adam had over Captain Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Captain Marvel Junior. Remember, when Black Adam made his debut/one-time appearance he wasn’t even a DC/National Comics character. The various Captain Marvel comics were from Fawcett Publications and Black Adam died in that same debut story, when he was tricked into calling back the Shazam powers and regained his natural age, turning to dust because at the time he was from ancient Egypt and made the mistake of trying to conquer it without using a trading card game. Like Shredder with the Ninja Turtles, value was seen in the villain and DC brought him back as Captain Shazam’s opposite number in the new “Earth-S” continuity and followed the Marvel Family to the post-Crisis DC universe.
“Superman won’t kill anybody.”
“There’s a code that he lives by and he honors,” Johnson says. “Black Adam has a unique code of ethics too. He will not hesitate—and I like to have a little fun when I’m explaining this—to rip somebody in half.” Does that mean the actor is…kidding? “Literally, he’ll grab someone by the neck and by the thigh and then rip them up, tear them apart,” Johnson clarifies.
There are plenty of actors who want to play villains, believing them to be more fun to play because he or she can do almost anything and laugh maniacally about it. In fact, the wrestler formerly known as Rocky Miavia started out in the WWF/WWE as part of the Nation Of Domination, an extremist group out to “dominate” the organization but really was just a way for Faaroq Assad (the WWF persona of former WCW mainstay Ron Simmons) to protect his own backside and push his message. (Writer Anthony Breznican didn’t research that when he claims being a villain was new for Johnson. The Rock was even a villain for a time after the NOD went to bed, though he’s mostly remembered for his hero years as “The People’s Champion”.)
It’s okay to have zero idea who Black Adam is. Few outside the hard-core geek sphere do, although the character has been causing havoc in the pages of comic books since 1945. “I did think about that a lot because I didn’t know about Black Adam either,” says Jaume Collet-Serra, the director of the movie. Johnson and producers Hiram Garcia and Beau Flynn first pitched him the project while they were making Jungle Cruise in 2018.
As noted, he caused havoc once in 1945 and then not again until the 1980s because he was just a pile of powder. My question is did the director and producers look into his history? The Fawcett comics were considered public domain until DC Comics saw dollar signs and if DC doesn’t have a “best of” selection for the writers and directors of movies and shows with these characters, and it’s obvious they don’t, it’s no wonder nobody knows anything. Harve Bennett didn’t know anything about Star Trek, watched the shows and paid attention, and put out the most beloved Star Trek movie to die-hard fans. You don’t have to be a fan to get it right, you just have to care.
Collet-Serra says he was interested in leaning into the character’s obscurity, making the movie more of a mystery than a recitation of a familiar origin story. “It’s not your typical superhero movie where a guy wants to be a superhero and gets the powers, and then you spend 50 minutes trying to figure out how the powers work,” the filmmaker says. “This is a movie where you introduce Black Adam right away, and then throughout the movie you slowly peel back the onion and reveal what happened.”
Every Batman and Superman movie has to have the origin, even though we’ve seen it a few hundred times by now, Shazam has never had a proper origin story even when Filmation did the shows (the cartoon mentioned how the Marvels got their powers but no real origin adaptation while the live-action series didn’t even both sticking to the comics) or in the serial, and only the cartoons had Black Adam. This is admittedly his first live-action opinion, but the media snobs don’t care about animation or even kid shows had the serials or Filmation series used him. Outside of comics and cartoons nobody knows his origin. Maybe instead of the characters whose origin non-comic viewers are more than aware of you should actually tell the story of the hero–or in this case villain–who is so obscure? Then again, Johnson doesn’t want Black Adam attacked to Billy Batson at all.
When Warner Bros. began development on a Shazam movie in 2014, Johnson signed on to costar as Black Adam. But when the film starring Zachary Levi was released in 2019, there was no Rock, and almost no Black Adam either. “When the first draft of the movie came to us, it was a combination of Black Adam and Shazam: Two origin stories in one movie,” Johnson recalls. “Now that was the goal—so it wasn’t a complete surprise. But when I read that, I just knew in my gut, ‘We can’t make this movie like this. We would be doing Black Adam an incredible disservice.’ It would’ve been fine for Shazam having two origin stories converge in one movie, but not good for Black Adam.”
So it was fine for the New 52 Silvana (from what I can tell because I don’t want to see the movie based on Johns’ re-imagining) to get an origin but “your” character just has to have his own origin? Shazam! barely escaped development hell and I covered the early concept, which sounded closer to the original version but still had a bunch of issues, like a Billy Batson who didn’t want to be himself when he could be Captain Marvel all the time. I went over in that article why that wasn’t accurate to the character, but it speaks to the Hollywood mindset that normality is for suckers. They wanted the Rock from the start, first as Captain Marvel (the MCU didn’t break out the name thief yet) and then going with Black Adam instead but apparently he doesn’t want to fight his character’s actual arch nemesis.
Johnson started lobbying for the bad guy to get his own film. “I made a phone call,” Johnson says. “I said, ‘I have to share my thoughts here. It’s very unpopular…’ because everybody thought, ‘Hey, this script is great, let’s go make this movie.’ I said, ‘I really think that you should make Shazam!, make that movie on its own in the tone that you want. And I think we should separate this as well.’”
What’s next, the Lex Luthor movie? (Please don’t let it be the Jessie Eisenberg origin.) Are we ripping off the Sony wing of the MCU with their villain movies with Venom and Morbius? As noted earlier, Johnson just wants to have Adam ripping limbs off. I don’t like antiheroes to begin with and I know DC moved into that route after first making him Egypt-replacement Kahndaq’s answer to Doctor Doom but that’s not the purpose of his character. Black Adam isn’t an antihero, he’s the anti-Captain Marvel. While pre-52 Billy Batson was a kid who went through devastating loss but managed to keep a positive attitude, Adam sought power for conquest. He’s the dark reflection of the hero, the “evil Superman” before doing evil Supermen was done to death. You know what he isn’t? Anything in the next two paragraphs. Especially not the second paragraph.
Comics are full of heroes who lose loved ones to wrongdoers, only to seek solace in saving others from similar fates. Black Adam is just built differently. He’s more aligned with the vengeance-seeking antiheroes of the ’70s, whose brutality start to overtake that of their enemies: Think Charles Bronson in Death Wish, Pam Grier in Foxy Brown, and Meiko Kaji in Lady Snowblood—or one particular cop who simply harbored extreme contempt for punks.
“I talked early on with D.J. about how there were many similar aspects between Black Adam and Dirty Harry, which is a movie that broke rules in the ’70s,” Collet-Serra says. “The systems were corrupt, so you had criminals taking advantage. You needed a cop that would cut through the bull@#$%, and basically do what needs to be done. That’s very much in line with Black Adam and his way of thinking. I think that’s appealing to pretty much everybody. Everybody knows how the world sometimes is not fair, and you need people that break the rules to even out the playing field.”
That’s not Black Adam, that’s Sinestro. Unless DC did some more retconning Black Adam wants power to rule, not to “even out the playing field”. I suppose that would still make Black Adam a dark reflection of sorts and I’m not totally against the notion but that’s not the character I know. He even corrupted Freddy in an alternate version of Captain Marvel Junior for the alternate universe title Billy Batson And The Magic Of Shazam, someone out for revenge on the Marvels and the Wizard who gave them their powers because the Wizard punished him for misusing his powers for himself and petty vengeance rather than protect the innocent like he was supposed to. So who is Black Adam fighting if not his actual enemy?
The film introduces moviegoers to the Justice Society of America—which is separate from the similar-sounding (and now more widely known) Justice League. The JSA started uniting heroes about two decades before and features the likes of Dr. Fate and Hawkman, who turn up in Black Adam, played by Pierce Brosnan and Aldis Hodge.
Doctor Fate…and Hawkman. There’s also that race-swapped Cyclone and a de-aged Atom Smasher, the former another former redhead in the further de-gingering of Hollywood. Again, I’m not sure it’s intentional but there are so few redheads that they seem an easy target for race swaps. Hawkman has been utterly ruined by his ever-retconned origin and I only know Doctor Fate from the DCAU and the comic inaccurate Young Justice TV show version. I will say based on what little I know Pierce Brosnan isn’t a bad choice. Cyclone I admittedly don’t know at all while Atom Smasher I’ve seen in action but really don’t know as a character. I can’t really comment on those but Black Adam versus the Justice Society Of America is not what fans were looking for. While Captain Marvel was briefly a member of the JSA when the older heroes returned and served as mentors to a series of younger heroes, he wasn’t one in this hodgepodge of a continuity that the DC Extended Universe has become in the race away from the tonal and continuity inaccuracies of the Snyderverse.
Breznican notes a theme for this movie: “The more certain you are that you’re right, the less likely that’s true.” It seems to be the case for Black Adam, unless they opt to go with him being totally right. It’s also the theme they’re going for with Hawkman’s “strong sense of right and wrong” and Atom Smasher re-thinking if this is what he wants to do. Making him and Cyclone the same age is supposed to make them a good observational pairing as the rookies, ignoring a few contemporaries for Cyclone they could have went with–heck Nucleon would even give them a gay character and that’s what Hollywood cares about–but this isn’t a Justice Society movie. Allegedly. So instead of sharing the origin with the character you’re actually tied to, Johnson has no problem with introducing four heroes for people who didn’t watch the CW “Arrowverse” shows or Smallville, which already introduced Hawkman and neither of which introduced the other three. (I think. I didn’t really watch much of the Arrowverse.) And of course any of us who watched the old Filmation DC shows, Superfriends, or Justice League knows who Hawkman is but it’s those silly cartoons. Who watches those outside of kids, geeks, manchildren, and people who aren’t media snobs and want to see a good story even if it doesn’t have big names actors to watch?
So I’m not interested in this movie, either. It’s based on the Geoff Johns re-imagining that already screwed these characters up, it’s not Black Adam facing his actual enemy but will go up against four characters he has barely if any tie to, and it’s about the supervillain instead of the superhero. If you wanted to fight Superman, Rock, you should have tried to play Bizarro or Nuclear Man or something. Maybe Doomsday. You are playing a Captain Marvel/Shazam villain. I’m sorry Zach Levi isn’t playing the most popular hero on the planet…though I’m told that would mean fighting Batman… and would rather go up against Henry Cavill, though if it makes you feel better National Comics only filed their lawsuit against Captain Marvel because the World’s Mightiest Mortal was doing better than the Man Of Steel in comic sales at the time and had the superior serial. This isn’t the DCU championship belt you’re after. I’m sure the Rock has enough fans to make this work but they’re going for him and not the character. I guess that’s all Warner Brothers cares about and I know that’s all he cares about. Some of us however actually care about the characters and story and while I can’t speak for everyone else who does I’m not interested in anything this movie is offering me.