Asked point blank if Black Adam is – as hyped – the new über-villain of the DC Universe or merely a misunderstood anti-hero, writer Peter J. Tomasi declared, "Black Adam is most definitely the über -villain of the DCU right now. That's how I perceive him and that's how I'm writing him."
Illustrated by Doug Mahnke, "Black Adam: The Dark Age" is an eight-issue mini-series set to debut August 8, and marks Tomasi's first project for DC Comics since he stepped down as senior editor after 15 years of service and signed an exclusive writing contract with the publisher.
Not a bad place to start for a "rookie."
CBR News caught up with Tomasi to learn about his plans for Black Adam and what readers can expect from the mini-series.
Black Adam made his first and only appearance for Fawcett Comics in the 1945 premiere issue of "The Marvel Family" by Otto Binder and C.C. Beck. He made his DCU debut nearly thirty years later in the series "Shazam!" After receiving a revised origin in the 1987 mini-series "Shazam! A New Beginning," Black Adam returned to mainstream DCU in the graphic novel "The Power of Shazam!" by Jerry Ordway in 1994 and the subsequent "Power of Shazam!" ongoing series. From there, Black Adam found a home in the cast of "JSA" and eventually the landmark "52."
Due to the incredible critical and commercial success of "52," Black Adam has been hurled to the forefront of the DCU. As a character with a history dating back to 1945, Black Adam has never been more prominent in terms of stature and significance. At the close of "52," during the "World War III" story arc in which he personally slaughtered thousands of Bialyan citizens, Captain Marvel and a group of mystics stripped Black Adam of his godly powers. Among this group were Zatanna and the Phantom Stranger, who changed Adam's magic word from "Shazam" to a secret word that they were certain he would never utter.
Last seen wandering the Middle East as a mortal in "52" #52, Black Adam returned to DCU in Countdown #49, apparently with his powers restored and madder (in both the Dr. Claw and Hatter sense of the word) than Hell. "I will definitely be showing how Adam gets his powers back," Peter Tomasi told CBR News. "This mini-series is an integral chapter in the mythos of Black Adam and his standing in the DCU, and I'm not just saying that to sell more copies. Well, maybe I am, but I honestly believe that to be the case. Even though you see in 'Countdown' that he is Black Adam again and powered up, the point of our series is to delve into the journey that gets him to that spot. I don't feel that knowing the endpoint, as revealed in 'Countdown,' will spoil the story of the mini-series. What we see revealed in 'Countdown' is more of a coda, an epilogue, in a way.
"The 'Black Adam' mini-series is about the epic journey it takes to get him to that point in 'Countdown.' It's like 'Apollo 13.' You know the ending of the story when you watch it, but it's the road traveled – the journey of the characters – through this pivotal event in their lives that is the most involving aspect."
Tomasi said writing a series with a villain lead is no different than any other superhero book because the former ruler of Khandaq believes that he is a one of the good guys. "I feel you need to write a 'baddie' exactly the same as you'd write a 'goodie,' otherwise it just becomes an exercise in how many times you can have him twirl his moustache and cackle an evil laugh at different railroad crossings," explained Tomasi.
"Black Adam is the DCU über-villain because I think that he's a villain who isn't a villain," Tomasi continued. "Black Adam is the hero of his own story. In my mind, that's what makes him interesting. When Black Adam goes to sleep at night, he sleeps the sleep of the just, and when you approach him that way it becomes incredibly easy to get in his head and add a lot of shadings to his character. Also in this series, there's no third person narrator. It's a first person perspective, so we're in Adam's head and Adam sees things in his own special subjective way, as we all do."
Tomasi drew comparisons to an Oscar-winning performance by Robert De Niro as to how he hopes readers will react to his take on the anti-Captain Marvel. "In regards to how the ending shapes up and cheering for him, well, it's tough to say as the writer," Tomasi said. "It's kind of like Jake LaMotta in 'Raging Bull.' He's a great fighter who pours his heart out when he fights, but you can't get around the fact that he's a bastard and hurts the people around him.
"Obviously the scale of 'hurt' on the world stage within the DCU is, to say the least, a bit more amplified regarding Black Adam and the death and destruction he's caused. But in fiction there's nothing wrong with having a bad guy you love to hate. And as a writer of any character, I feel, you have to simply open that closet door and step into his shirt and shoes. Otherwise the audience will immediately feel the false note and never plug into the story.
"I mean I'd be lying my ass off if I didn't say I wanted each and every reader to root for Black Adam in a weird way."
While Tomasi admits that it may be premature to give Black Adam his own ongoing monthly, the writer feels that as a headliner in his own eight-issue mini-series, the bar has been raised for the Lex Luthor of the Marvel Family. "I do think publishing a book with Black Adam's own name above the lights gives him a better cache, ups his ante so to speak, and ranks him in a way that he wasn't before," Tomasi said. "But 'JSA' and '52' put him on the map, and I do hope he's here to stay now as one of the great pantheon of villains. And whether a bad guy can carry his own monthly series is always a tough road when it comes to sales. I think the best way to approach Adam would be to – if the numbers justify it of course – simply have more minis down the line and tell cool, contained stories that weave into the fabric of the DCU."
Apart from being a villain, another roadblock on Black Adam's rise to superstardom may be the fact that, traditionally, magic books don't sell particularly well. "I really feel that if you build a magic book right, they will come. And if not, at least tell a great story that you and the company can be proud of," Tomasi said.
"A magic character that comes to mind that I had written off as never getting a break was Doctor Strange," Tomasi added. "And Brian K. Vaughn picks up the bat and knocks it out of the park. Another great magical character is Doctor Fate. I can't wait to see the new monthly. Some of the stuff I saw on Joey Cavalieri's desk before I left the offices looked great."
But enough about the negatives, what about the fact that, in terms of the Tale of the Tape, Black Adam sizes up well with just about any hero --magic-based or otherwise- the DCU has to offer. "It took the entire DCU to kick his ass in '52' and 'World War III,'" quipped Tomasi. "So I guess I'm saying I believe at this juncture that Black Adam is easy, probably, ranking in the top three heavyweights of bad guys. Right now I'm working on the script to #4, so I'm in a Black Adam state of mind, so I'm not sure how objective I can be, but I think he can go toe-to-toe with any of the big guns and hold his own."
Tomasi promised some of those "big guns" will be showing up in "The Dark Age." "My approach to the mini-series was to make sure it didn't feel like some solo character story happening out there on the fringe of the DCU," explained Tomasi. "I wanted it to feel like it was tied into the fabric of the DCU in a big way. So you'll most definitely be seeing some of the 'big guns' in the series."
As a senior editor, Tomasi oversaw the re-launch of "JSA" by James Robinson, Geoff Johns and David Goyer. The series returned Black Adam to the DCU spotlight, if not slightly up-stage. "I did edit the re-launch of 'JSA' from the get-go, but so much time has passed, along with so many stories, that I felt it was necessary to go back and re-read them," Tomasi said. "Especially the great Black Reign arc that crossed between 'JSA' and 'Hawkman.' Geoff did a great job with that story.
"And to flashback quickly, Black Adam moved into the forefront of the DCU in 'JSA' with careful planning and consideration. I've been in the mix with Adam for so long, it felt natural putting on my black and yellow shirt to write this series. But Geoff, Goyer and I took great pains to build Adam up in 'JSA' and give him some real anti-hero leanings, and all the work put into his character the last few years has made the steps he's taken into '52' and beyond a natural and organic progression.
"But back to re-reading. Actually, I went back further and checked out Adam's original appearance along with a bunch of ['Power of Shazam!' author] Jerry Ordway's stuff, too, before I started writing ['The Dark Age']. Whenever you approach a character I think you should take a look at what's come before and familiarize yourself with it. I don't think you should allow yourself to be hamstrung by it, or get so reverential that it puts you in a box of continuity gobbledy-gook that suffocates the story, but it should be there as a foundation and a touchstone, and from there you build a new building."
Tomasi is very excited about his collaborators on "Black Adam: The Dark Age," especially artist Doug Mahnke. "Wait until you see Doug Mahnke's art for this series. It's freakin' breathtaking!" Tomasi gushed. "[As a writer,] I have wanted to work with Doug for a long time and damn if this wasn't the stars aligning at the right time and the right place for it. Coupled with the fact that Mike Siglain, who has a great innate story sense, is my editor, well, this is shaping up to be a special series for me. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the brilliant inks by Christian Alamy that I've seen so far."
The former editor of such top-sellers as "Batman," "Detective Comics," "Robin," "Green Lantern," and "Green Lantern Corps," Tomasi said he feels like he is on an elongated vacation since he left his old office at DC. "After fifteen years at doing a job you love, how can you not miss it?" remarked Tomasi. "I've only been home writing three weeks, so in a weird way it feels more like I'm on vacation than actually never going back to my desk. I do miss the interaction with the writers and working up story ideas, and also working with the artists on coming up with cover ideas and such. And I do miss poking my head in the other editor's doors and catching up. Hell, I think my shoulder must have left an imprint in Mike Siglain's doorway."
Tomasi has a few other projects in the works that he "can't really discuss just yet," but wants folks to check out "Light Brigade," the highly acclaimed original graphic novel he created. "In the special plug-your-own-stuff-now-that-you-have-a-soapbox-department, check out the trade paperback "Light Brigade" that I wrote with stunning art by Peter Snejbjerg ('Starman'). You won't be disappointed. Well, maybe you will, but what the hell?"
Pushed on what toy he'd take if someone left the lid off the DC sandbox, Tomasi confessed, "Batman, being my favorite DC character, would be phenomenal one day, and Nightwing would be great, too.
"After re-launching the Green Lantern mythos with Geoff, I do love those characters and concepts. That would be fun to get my hands on at some point. And I love the war and Western characters.
"And The Spectre is a favorite too –a helluva library of characters awaits."
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