Of all the DC Comics movies on the slate for Warner Bros, the one most shrouded in mystery is Shazam! All we know about the movie is that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been set to play the villain/anti-hero Black Adam for years now. Since 2008 to be exact, which is when New Line first started developing a Shazam! movie, long before the DC Extended Universe even existed. Johnson has been the main creative driving force behind this project and it appears that his passion has been rewarded.
Johnson took to social media last week to comment on a high level meeting he had with the Warner Bros suits as well as DC Films co-head and prolific comic book writer Geoff Johns (who has penned some of the best Black Adam stories of all time) to discuss Shazam! While “The Rock” didn’t get into specifics of the meeting, he was very happy about that result, saying that there was “hope, optimism & fun” to come. And now we know why.
According to a report from THR, during the meeting the WB execs noted that since he first signed onto the film, Johnson has become one of the biggest movie stars on the planet and “it made no sense to have a man of Johnson’s stature be just a villain and a supporting character in an expensive tentpole”. This resulted in Shazam! being split into two films, with one focusing solely on Johnson’s Black Adam, being co-produced by New Line and WB.
Johnson’s stature aside, this actually also makes a lot of creative sense, when you look at the character origins of both Black Adam and Shazam. In the comics, the Shazam (or as he was originally called before the copyright hammer came swinging, Captain Marvel) is Billy Batson, a troublesome young orphan boy who magically transforms into a powerful and noble adult superhero when he speaks the word “Shazam”. The name is an acronym for six gods and heroes of the ancient world as well as their attributes: the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Aries, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury. He gained these powers from the Wizard, one the last remaining godlike beings who controlled magic in the DC Comics universe, as the Wizard’s chosen champion.
However, thousands of years before, the Wizard had a different champion: Black Adam. Born in ancient Egypt as the son of a Pharaoh, Teth-Adam was perceived as a man of moral purity, and thus chosen by the Wizard to wield his power. However, once he gained this power, Adam decided he can be a better ruler to his people and promptly killed and overthrew the Pharaoh and began ruling in his stead. However, this angers the Wizard who names him Black Adam and banishes him. The details of this banishment and Adam’s subsequent return has been revised multiple times by different writers over the years (I always preferred the original version of him being banished to a distant star and taking 5000 years to fly back), but in all the versions he eventually returns to modern times, still convinced that he can do a better job ruling the world than anybody else.
What makes Adam such an intriguing character though, is that he is genuinely not evil. He just wants to ensure the safety and livelihood of his people and believes that with his power he can ensure that as a ruler. And if that involves taking extreme steps, he has zero qualms. Even if it entails literally ripping apart his enemies with his bare hands.
What all of this story allows for though, is for one movie to depict Black Adam’s story, his rise to power and fall from grace. Then Shazam! can tell of Billy Batson’s own redemption story, and how he has to face down a returned Black Adam. I would much rather have this deconstructed approach than trying to essentially cram two origin stories into one two-hour movie. At this moment, we still don’t have a release date or even a cast and director attached to either film, so there’s still plenty of time to work out the scripts for both. Last rumblings had Earth To Echo’s Henry Gayden working on a Shazam! script, but nobody yet for Black Adam. Whomever they get to make these movies though, I just hope they don’t fall into the traps the other DC Comics movie have and nail the correct tones. Black Adam is supposed to be a bit darker and intense, but Shazam! is essentially a magical adventure story. It needs to be treated as such.