The DC Universe Is Making A Mistake With Black Adam
The DC Universe is making a mistake by centering Dwayne Johnson's Black Adam, because it is losing its sense of heroism.
The DC Universe is in a very chaotic state right now, as it always seems to be. The first generation of movie stars that Warner Bros. brought in to compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe largely seem to be departing, with Ben Affleck mostly out the door, Henry Cavill moving on to other iconic characters, and no word of what is happening with Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman 3. By all reports, it looks like the DC Universe is preparing to refresh and re-center around one of the biggest movie stars in the world, Dwayne Johnson, in Black Adam, and we are here to say that is a very big mistake.
The upcoming DC Universe movie Black Adam is maybe their most hyped ever, with perhaps only Justice League having the kind of pre-release promotion push it is receiving. Much of that has to do with Dwayne Johnson himself, who did not get to be the single biggest movie star in the world without having a firm handle on self-promotion and marketing blitzes. However, it is still a bit odd that the DC Universe, one of the biggest movie franchises in the world, is trying to center itself around a second-tier anti-hero character like Black Adam, just because Dwayne Johnson really likes him.
The mistake that DC is making with Black Adam is simple, and it is not that they are hitching their wagon to Dwayne Johnson. That makes sense, given that the self-proclaimed “franchise viagra” boosted the Fast and Furious, Mummy, and G.I. Joe series when they needed it the most. But by promoting the villain of Shazam as the focus of the DC Universe over Superman, they are preparing to turn it into just another generic action franchise.
To be fair, in DC Comics, Black Adam has become more than just Shazam’s archvillain; over the years, he has been re-characterized as a morally ambiguous antihero who can compete with Superman and Shazam on the power raw power level. In a sense, DC Comics has turned Black Adam into their version of Marvel Doctor Doom: a mega-powerful, mystical character who rules over his own fictional country (Kahndaq) and pursues his own ends whether they support or oppose those of heroes. But by turning Black Adam into the main tentpole character of the franchise, they lose something: a moral center.
Superman has been positioned as the center of the World of DC for decades, which is to say, the single character whose sense of justice and rightness is something for other heroes to aspire to and for the villains to contrast. That’s the reason why it was so vital for Henry Cavill’s Superman to be resurrected in Justice League; on a narrative level, it may have been to have his super strength on their side, but on a larger symbolic level, it was because he represents heroism as a whole. What does DC’s Black Adam represent?
In a word, Black Adam represents power without mercy. While what has been revealed of the plot of the movie so far indicates that Black Adam has a traumatic past as a slave and a dead child, so it is not like he does not have a reason or justification for his desire for revenge and his embrace of power that he once did not have. But when Superman killed General Zod in Man of Steel, it was clearly something he did as an absolute last resort and an action that he continually regrets; Dwayne Johnson has cheerfully, repeatedly promoted the idea that his “Man in Black” kills at will.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe may have started with Iron Man, but it eventually came to build its sense of heroism around Captain America. Steve Rogers’ innate, unshakeable sense of right and wrong was something for other heroes to aspire to and is the reason why he was the one to ultimately face off alone against the amassed forces of Thanos in Endgame. For most of DC’s history, Superman has filled that role and frankly, Black Adam does not have a sense of justice. He has a sense of revenge.
Perhaps Warner Bros. Discovery’s plan is to rebuild the DC Universe around Black Adam’s redemption and eventual acceptance of the role of hero. But that is definitely not how Dwayne Johnson is presenting the character, who he seems to really want to be a menacing, tough guy that scares people. If DC does not want to just become another Fast and Furious in which there is not a whole lot of difference between the heroes and villains, they need to think about what they are doing with Black Adam.