The announcement on Monday that DC’s Legends of Tomorrow has cast actress Tala Ashe as Zari Adrianna Tomaz fulfilled a promise to introduce “an established character who is not from the comics,” while leaving more casual viewers of the CW drama asking, Who?
“Let me be very clear,” executive producer Marc Guggenheim teased in in March, “not original to the show but not from the comics and not from any of the other DC Arrowverse shows.”
Zari Adrianna Tomaz fits that description perfectly, as she’s better known to DC Comics readers — not to mention anyone who grew up in the 1970s watching Saturday-morning television — as Isis, part of the extended Marvel/Black Marvel Family. Before Lindsay Wagner starred on The Bionic Woman, and before Lynda Carter became a pop-culture icon as Wonder Woman, actress Joanna Cameron flew into living rooms each week as Isis.
Debuting in 1975 on CBS as part of Filmation’s live-action The Shazam/Isis Hour, Isis introduced Cameron as Andrea Thomas, a seemingly ordinary high school science teacher who discovered an ancient magical amulet on an archaeological dig in Egypt that permitted her to call upon the powers of the goddess Isis. This being the 1970s, that extraordinary backstory was related each week in the minute-long opening, but never actually addressed in the show itself.
“O my Queen,” said the Royal Sorcerer to Hatshepsut, “with this amulet, you and your descendants are endowed by the goddess Isis with the powers of the animals and the elements. You will soar as the falcon soars, run with the speed of gazelles, and command the elements of sky and earth.”
3,000 years later, a young science teacher dug up this lost treasure, and found she was heir to — The Secrets of Isis!
And so, unknown to even her closest friends, Rick Mason and Rennie Carroll [initially Cindy Lee], she became a dual person: Andrea Thomas, teacher …
O MIGHTY ISIS!
… and Isis, dedicated foe of evil, defender of the weak, champion of truth and justice!
Those “powers of the animals and the elements” were vast, and included super-strength, flight, command of fire, water, earth and air, and control of the weather, invoked by a rhyming incantation (for instance, “O zephyr winds which blow on high/Lift me now so I can fly”). Like the Man of Steel in the early Superman movies, Isis’ abilities were occasionally far-reaching, and situation-specific, permitting her to peer into the recent past, alter the molecular density of her own body, and even alter time. And as a bonus, Andrea could communicate telepathically with her pet Mynah bird Tut.
Although Isis’ vast array of abilities possessed world-changing potential, much like her counterpart Captain Marvel, the superheroine seemed more concerned with mundane, local matters and Scooby-Doo-like mysteries: exposing UFO and ghost hoaxes, warning of the dangers of hitchhiking, stopping thieves, and teaching her students valuable life lessons (it was low-budget kids’ TV, after all).
Renamed The Secrets of Isis in syndication, the series aired for 22 episodes over two seasons, and included a handful of crossovers with Shazam! During that span, the character also starred in her own short-lived DC Comics title, called The Mighty Isis, and later appeared in animated form alongside the likes of Merlin and Sinbad on Filmation’s The Freedom Force and, in a guest role, on Hero High (part of The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!).
But then Isis largely disappeared into the mists of 1970s nostalgia — that is, until she was revived in a significantly altered form in 2006 in DC Comics’ weekly series 52. There she was reintroduced as Adrianna Tomaz (a nod to Andrea Thomas from the TV series), an Egyptian refugee who was enslaved by the organized crime group Intergang and delivered as a gift to classic Captain Marvel foe turned antihero Black Adam, the iron-fisted ruler of Kahndaq. Freed by Black Adam, Adrianna became a moderating influence on the despot, and inspired him to take a gentler approach to governing. In return, Black Adam retrieved the amulet of Isis from the tomb of his wife, and asked Captain Marvel (then the Keeper of the Rock of Eternity) to bestow its powers upon Adrianna.
Exchanging “O Mighty Isis” for “I am Isis,” Adrianna could transform into an avatar of the Egyptian goddess Isis, which imbued her with super-strength and -speed, invulnerability, flight, telekinesis, clairvoyance and control of the elements. Alongside Black Adam, her long-lost brother Amon Tomaz, aka Osiris, and the (yes) intelligent humanoid crocodile Sobek, Isis was part of the Black Marvel Family, a mirror version of the traditional Marvel Family.
That family didn’t last, as young Osiris was eaten by Sobek, and Isis died in 52 as a result of the Black Marvels’ battle against the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This being superhero comics, however, Adrianna’s death was hardly permanent: She was briefly resurrected and then killed by Black Adam once her body began decaying, only to later be revived again. That didn’t last, either, as the newly resurrected Isis, now cruel and driven to madness, travels with Black Adam to the Rock of Eternity in hopes of deposing Shazam as its caretaker. They failed, of course, and the conflict ended with Teth-Adam and Adrianna transformed into statues.
Naturally, that wasn’t the end of either Isis or Black Adam, as Osiris was resurrected as part of DC’s 2009-2010 Blackest Night storyline, and turned his attention to restoring his family. Isis was ultimately awakened and, after purging herself of corruption, became the new ruler of Khandaq. Adrianna was reintroduced in DC’s “New 52” as a civil-rights activist opposed to the Kandaqi regime who helped to resurrect Black Adam when her brother is killed by government forces.
The rights to The Secrets of Isis were owned by Filmation, whose catalog of properties have changed hands over the decades (it now resides with Universal Studios), which helps to explain why DC Comics and Warner Bros. Television have made significant changes to the character and her origin. However, the introduction of Zari Adrianna Tomaz next season on Legends of Tomorrow won’t be the first time a version of Isis has appeared on a CW superhero drama: On a 10th-season episode of Smallville, titled “Isis,” the body of Lois Lane (played by Erica Durance) was possessed by the goddess, whose spirit had been trapped for centuries in an amulet Lois discovered in Egypt. The episode appeared to make several nods to the 1970s series, with Durance’s costume resembling that worn by Cameron, and her powers — flight, strength, speed and telekinesis, for starters — evoking those of the original TV Isis. The curator of the Metropolis Museum in that episode was named Adrianna, a reference to DC’s Adrianna Tomaz.
However, the character arriving on Legends of Tomorrow would seem to be the greatest departure to date, as Zari Adrianna Tomaz is described as a Muslim-American “grey hat hacktivist” from the year 2030 who “doesn’t realize that she has secret, latent powers derived from an ancient, mystical source.” It’s likely that source will turn out to be an ancient amulet, the one element that unites the different versions of the heroine across comic books, animation and live-action TV. But perhaps the biggest is whether the series will focus on the character’s connection to the goddess Isis or, much like Archer, be forced to downplay the name because of real-world events.
Returning Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT this fall on The CW, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow also stars Victor Garber as Martin Stein, Arthur Darvill as Rip Hunter, Dominic Purcell as Mick Rory/Heat Wave, Caity Lotz as Sara Lance/White Canary, Franz Drameh as Jefferson “Jax” Jackson/Firestorm, Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer/Atom, and Nick Zano as Nate Heywood/Steel.