Get ready to enter the Multiverse. DC has long been playing in different universes and timelines, but their sprawling DC Fandome event has made it clear that the Multiverse is going to be a more tangible part of the DCEU going forward. And one of the biggest announcements that speaks to that choice is the arrival of the JSA in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s upcoming DC movie Black Adam.
The Justice Society of America has long been a core part of the animated and TV landscapes of DC, with their most well-known characters popping up time and time again. The team itself was also recently introduced in a very big way in DC’s Stargirl series. So what does all of this actually mean for the upcoming (sort of) Shazam spin-off Black Adam and its recently announced roster of heroes? Well, let’s just say this isn’t exactly your grandad’s Justice Society of America.
The latest casting news on the project has Aldis Hodge (One Night in Miami, The Invisible Man) in talks to play Hawkman, according to The Hollywood Reporter. So let’s dig into what the arrival of the JSA could mean for Black Adam and the bigger DCEU!
Justice Society of America Members in Black Adam
While the membership of the JSA has varied greatly over the team’s eight-decade history, the Black Adam movie will be featuring a pared-down membership:
- Atom Smasher
- Doctor Fate
- Black Adam (?)
Judging by the concept art teaser that played at DC FanDome, it sounds like Black Adam will be fighting the Justice Society in the film… but of course don’t these things usually end with everyone making friends to fight a bigger threat? So maybe Black Adam will join the JSA by the end of the film…
What Is the JSA?
The JSA is a classic Golden Age superhero team — the first superhero team actually — that was born out of the minds of Sheldon Mayer and Gardner Fox. The team debuted in 1941’s All-Star Comics #3 — predating the Justice League by almost two decades — and featured a lineup of powerful heroes: Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Spectre, Atom, Hour-Man, Sandman, Jay Garrick’s Flash, and Alan Scott’s Green Lantern.
Eagle-eyed fans will notice that a couple of Black Adam’s characters are from that original lineup, as both Doctor Fate and Hawkman will be appearing in the upcoming superflick. (The Stargirl TV series, meanwhile, has featured a selection of those characters both in their classic forms, and as reimagined modern versions, alongside heroes from the Seven Soldiers of Victory including Starman and his titular legacy successor.)
The JSA’s adventures eventually ceased as superhero comics fell out of favor in the early 1950s, but in time the Silver Age of comics brought new versions of heroes like the Flash and Green Lantern back to popularity. In 1961, the new Barry Allen Flash met his counterpart from the JSA, Jay Garrick, and soon the concept of alternate Earths established that the JSA had been from Earth-2 while the “modern” heroes were from Earth-1. The JSA’s connection to the World War II era led to them being depicted as older characters who often mentored younger heroes, and the different Earths were eventually merged in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths.
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The first hint that Black Adam wouldn’t feature the full original iteration of the JSA was the announcement of Noah Centineo (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) being cast as Atom Smasher. The character first appeared in All-Star Squadron #25, a WWII-set series from Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler, and Jerry Ordway that gave the creators a chance to tell stories of the JSA in what they saw as their heyday. The period yarns were all set in the Earth-2 continuity which allowed the series to reimagine the adventures of the Golden Age heroes without disrupting their current continuity while also opening up space to introduce fresh faces and new legacy characters like the godson of the Golden Age Atom, Albert Rothstein, a.k.a. Atom Smasher.
Just like the original Atom, the hero can manipulate the molecular structure of his body, and he even gained these powers in the same way as the original Atom, via a supervillain known as Cyclotron. Though the Golden Age Atom received his abilities during a battle, Albert inherited his from the maniacal villain who was his grandfather. Despite his grim origin, the hero was always far more interested in following in the do-gooder footsteps of his heroes in the Justice Society of America, first as the teenage super Nuklon and later as the fully fledged JSA member Atom Smasher.
Atom Smasher is a particularly interesting character choice when you set it alongside Dwayne Johnson’s eagerness to frame Black Adam as an anti-hero rather than a straight-up villain. During the ’90s JSA run written by Geoff Johns and David Goyer, with art by Stephen Sadowski, Black Adam joins the JSA alongside Atom Smasher and Stargirl. If we look to that series as inspiration, we could see Johnson’s powerful antagonist become an ally to these more traditionally heroic characters, at least for a little while. Basically, Black Adam and Atom Smasher are deeply connected in the comics, and you can expect to see Johnson and Centineo going on an emotional journey together in the film.
Next up is probably the most well known of Black Adam’s antagonists. Hawkman, who will reportedly be played by Aldis Hodge, has appeared in numerous DC animated movies and shows while also playing a major role in the early seasons of the long-running CW superhero series Legends of Tomorrow. Like most Big Two heroes, Hawkman has lived through multiple iterations with many people holding the mantle, but the usual suspect is Carter Hall, an Indiana Jones-style archeologist; it seems unlikely that we’ll see his alien Thanagarian cop iteration, Katar Hol, in this film. That doesn’t mean his is a simple story though, as Carter Hall’s Hawkman is actually a contemporary reincarnation of Khufu, an ancient Egyptian royal. The Shazam movie featured a sequence which told the story of Black Adam, and it looked like he was in ancient Egypt. Plus there’s the fact that Hawkman’s entire backstory is filled with time travel, multiple lives, and DC’s mysterious Nth metal.
Hawkman’s wings are powered by that magical compound, which is also connected to his origin as he was stabbed by a dagger made of Nth metal and cursed to live again and again and again. Though the Shazam movie leaned into the Egyptian version of Black Adam’s origin, in the Johns JSA run mentioned above the team retconned Adam to being from Kahndaq, a fictional North African nation. Don’t despair, however, as Hawkman still plays a key part in that lore, as Black Adam served under Khufu, who would later be reincarnated as Carter Hall.
Something very interesting about these JSA choices is it seems the film is essentially building a team around Black Adam, with everyone having some deep-seated connection to the villain/anti-hero and his comic book history.
Doctor Fate is the only Justice Society character here who will have featured in both the Stargirl series and the Black Adam movie — as well as, get ready for this throwback, Smallville. He’s a very interesting choice as the massively powerful hero doesn’t have a substantial pre-existing relationship with Black Adam in the comics. Still, the origins of his magical helmet and powerset do lean into some very Shazam-style tropes. In his Golden Age incarnation, Doctor Fate awakens a wizard in a tomb and becomes a hero… that sounds a whole lot like Billy Batson and his origin story, so there’s a lot to play with there. But seeing as we’ve been talking about Egypt, let’s skip forward a few decades and talk about a smuggler known as Jared Stevens.
Hired by two previous Doctor Fates to steal the helmet and amulet from an Egyptian tomb — *cough* sounds like a good way to build in a backstory with Adam *cough* — Stevens was first introduced during 1994’s Fate #0 and played a part in Johns and Goyer’s time on JSA. It would make sense then that this is the version of Doctor Fate that we’ll see (although, to be pedantic, he never truly took that mantle and was known only as Fate). It would be super cool to get a classic iteration of the character but we’ve seen that onscreen before and this version has an interesting connection to one of the biggest surprises from the Black Adam panel.
There was plenty of concept art shared during the expansive show but one image showcasing a small purple gem next to Adam got fans talking. In the comics, that artifact is home to the demonic entity known as Eclipso — who was also recently introduced in Stargirl, thank Grodd for the Multiverse — who opens up another layer of connection to Jared Stevens. During his stint as a hero, Stevens had to face down threats from the mysterious Gemworld, the home of iconic teen heroine Amethyst. And in some parts of Eclipso canon — specifically the New 52 era — it’s revealed that he was imprisoned in his gem by the House of Amethyst on Gemworld. Could that be the connection here? Does Stevens come up against Adam whilst they’re both hunting for Eclipso? Perhaps they already know each other due to that connection? If so, then that’s another hero with a bone to pick with Johnson’s yellow and black-suited character.
The final confirmed member of Black Adam’s Justice Society of America is an interesting one. A legacy character with ties to both a classic Golden Age hero and their android replacement, Cyclone, a.k.a. Maxine Hunkel, is the granddaughter of the original Red Tornado (another Sheldon Mayer creation). An older, unnamed Maxine first appeared in 1996’s future-set Kingdom Come series by Alex Ross and Mark Waid but a younger version of the character was retroactively added to the JSA by Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglsham a decade later.
Though at first it may seem that she doesn’t have a connection to Black Adam, Cyclone’s dark origin story introduced a thread that could be key. Maxine was recruited to the JSA by Mister Terrific and Power Girl during Johns and Eaglesham’s 2007 JSA relaunch. It’s there that we find out she gained her powers due to being kidnapped by the mad scientist T. O. Morrow, who was also the creator of the second Red Tornado. In some kind of horrific experiment, he imbued Maxine with the same technology that he used to create that android hero and years later she manifested her powers, joining the up-and-coming DC Comics team. So what does that have to do with Black Adam? His antagonistic history with T. O. Morrow introduces an easy potential connection that could very likely be built on during this exploration of the JSA.
In 2006, DC embarked on an unprecedented experiment: 52 was a weekly series that aimed to put out a new issue every Wednesday for a year… and they achieved it! Featuring some of DC’s biggest creators, it was a huge moment for the company and it’s also where Black Adam and T. O. Morrow faced down. During the event, Black Adam hunted down the scientist for the part that he played in the creation of the Fourth World’s Four Horsemen of Apokolips. Now, while we don’t necessarily think Black Adam will be getting deep into Darkseid lore, we do know this Adam is more of an anti-hero. Could he inadvertently run into Maxine while hunting down T. O. Morrow — maybe in flashback? Perhaps he even saves her from him? If so, it could mean that her connection to the antagonist is a positive one, which would add an interesting layer to the team.
We’ll have to wait until the Black Adam film hits to find out, but what do you think of this Justice Society of America roster? Is our sleuthing outrageous or does it actually make quite a bit of sense? Are you just stoked to see the Rock finally become Black Adam? Let us know in the comments!
Note – Sept. 25, 2020: This story has been updated with the latest information about Black Adam.