Black Adam: The Dark Age #1

by

Or – “An Interesting Take On The Anti-Hero…”

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There’s pretty much no question that Teth Adam is a bad man. Principled, disciplined, even honorable in his own way, but still the kind of man who would tear a fellow human being apart to make a philosophical point. The loss of his family has damaged him, and the real tragedy is that his own actions keep robbing him of surrogate families, (the Marvel family first, then the JSA, then Isis and Osiris) as if the scars from losing his first family have caused him to repeat his worst moment over and over throughout his life. At the end of 52, Billy Batson stripped Adam of his powers and his kingdom, and left him to wander alone. We know that by the time of Countdown, Black Adam has been repowered (or at least someone who LOOKS like him has) and has loaned his considerable abilities to Mary Marvel. But what happened to Teth during the missing months? The answer, it seems is as byzantine as it is brutal…

BA1.jpgPreviously, on Black Adam: When his life with the Justice Society of America went sour, Black Adam went to ground, overthrowing the ruthless dictator in charge of Kahndaq, the country where his homeland had been centuries ago. Despite his villainous history, Adam made a popular leader, and the JSA’s attempt to overthrow him was resisted by the very population they thought they were freeing. When Lex Luthor, The Calculator, Talia al Ghul, Doctor Psycho and friends assembled their Secret Society, they recruited Adam to be a member of the central core of the team. Unfortunately for Adam, this was less out of respect than out of a need for a native of Earth-S to power a strangely familiar dimension-breaking machine. The founder of the society wasn’t the former DCU president, but actually ALEXANDER Luthor of Earth-3, passing himself as his counterpart from our Earth. Black Adam’s role became much blurrier during 52, as his dark nature was tempered by his beloved bride Isis, so much so that he empowered a young boy as his mentor and settled into happiness. When an attack by the Four Horsemen of Apokalips nearly cost him his life, Isis gave up her own to save her beloved Teth-Adam, and Adam’s grief turns into a whirlwind of super-powered murderous rage that ended with hundreds of thousands dead and Adam not only powerless, but with his mind entirely wiped of the word that allowed his magic change. Left powerless, a wanted fugitive, Adam has no choice but to change his looks… the HARD way.

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Adam’s goading causes Tamir to lash out, smashing his fist into his king’s face with bone-breaking force. His identity concealed by the mass of swollen bruises, Adam tells his men how proud he is of them, beating him even though their instincts told them not to. He tells them that they can now take the next step towards their greater glory, whatever that may be. At the same time, the Justice Society of America (Doctor Mid-Nite, Wildcat, Mr. Terrific and Atom-Smasher) travel to the middle-east to survey the damage wreaked by Adam’s actions and perhaps track down the man himself…

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As much as I hate racial slurs, I like Wildcat’s part of this conversation. He’s a bit ashamed to slip back into the old vernacular, and knows that he’s in the wrong, but he’s also an unapologetic man of the 40’s. It’s nice to see a hero showing his faults, and also working to correct them… The foursome lands in Bialya, devastated by Adam’s attacks, only to find a slavering mob gathered around the body of Black Adam, hung by his ankles and beaten to death. Atom-Smasher forgets their low-profile mission, growing giant and dispersing the crowd, while Mr. Terrific scans the body (and the crowd curses them all for interfering.)

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They continue their goodwill tour, not realizing that Black Adam isn’t far away at all. In fact, he’s at the border checkpoint between Bialya and Kahndaq, trying to cross over into his old homeland. Passing by a poster of his own old visage, it’s obvious that Adam’s plan has at least made him unrecognizable. “What happened to your face?” questions a U.N. soldier, and Adam spits venomously, “That bastard Black Adam is what happened to my face…”

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Hmm… never underestimate the power of overkill, I guess. Successfully gaining admission, Adam waits for his men, using the shadows as cover, until they’ve all made it. A few nights later, they make their move, assaulting the tomb of Osiris and Isis in the night, killing all the security troops with knife and cane, then making a beeline for their objective: the body of Isis. “They tried to keep me from you, my love. But they have failed.”

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It’s uncertain how long this story is after 52, but apparently at least a few months have passed… Adam gathers her body and puts her in his backpack, but a sudden burst of gunfire alerts them that all is not right. Adam and his boys return fire, but it’s obvious that they’re about to be cut to pieces. Teth Adam isn’t going to be stopped from his objective by something as trivial as a little death, and orders his men to throw themselves to the wolves to save his plan…

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Black Adam escapes, but his loyal subjects are all killed, and the mysterious troops sent to gather Black Adam check the bodies to make sure that Teth is among them… Whomever they’re working for, they make a point of getting gone before the U.N. troops arrive, and soon after the JSA. Mr. Terrific’s t-spheres confirm the presence of Teth Adam from fingerprint evidence, but they’re still unsure of his overall goal. What possible reason could he have for stealing the body of his dead wife?

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Uh oh… Atom-Smasher, you may remembers, was once part of Black Adam’s liberating force, and nearly ended his heroic career because of it. In fact, since I haven’t seen him post-One-Year-Later, I’m wondering what’s in Albert’s future… I’m also wondering what the deal is with that ring, and if Adam got all of Isis’ body. Some weeks later, we rejoin Black Adam in the Himalayas, having killed and eaten poor Tamir to survive a fierce blizzard. He’s single-minded, I’ll give him that. He climbs upward, through the wind and snow, sometimes surviving by the barest of margins…

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Finding the blossom (which, if I’m not mistaken, was seen in ‘Batman Returns’) proves that he’s reached his destination: the hidden Lazarus pit of Ra’s Al Ghul. Smiling for the first time in weeks, Black Adam gently places her various bones in the glowing green fluid, silently praying for the return of his beloved. Now, I’m no expert, and certainly this could be wrong, but I don’t recall anyone being resurrected when they’re this far gone. I mean, she’s an incomplete series of desiccated bones! Luckily for Adam, despite my doubts, magic is magic, and Adam’s eyes grow wide…

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She’s baaaack… I actually like this point, as I felt like Isis has much more potential than was actually channeled in 52. Sure, she had her moments, and she died heroically to save the man she loves, but I would have liked to see more of her. Assuming this isn’t a delusion on Adam’s part, having Isis back should prove interesting. We end the story there, but the next issue box warns that “Isis and Adam are reunited… but for how long?” It’s that little Bobby Heenan moment that makes me wonder if she’s really actually even here…

Even so, this is a first issue that many books only WISH they had. Black Adam, even without any Marvel powers, shows that he’s a force to be reckoned with, showing courage and resourcefulness (as well as an ability to draw followers that shouldn’t ever be underestimated.) Even with the heroic JSAers on his tail, part of me wants to forgive Adam, much as Atom-Smasher seems to want to. He attacked Bialya out of revenge, and though logically I know that his actions were psychotically over-the-top, I imagine the kind of rage I would have if such things happened to my family, and then factor in super-powers… His actions are understandable. Adam is a fascinating character because he never questions his own ethics, never even stops to wonder if his principles are correct, he KNOWS what he believes is true, and acts, and even without superhuman abilities, shows a tenacity that’s perversely admirable. Pete Tomasi keeps the character as fascinating as Geoff Johns did in 52 and JSA, and the art by Doug Mahnke is beautiful, even when what he’s drawing isn’t. Black Adam: The Dark Age #1 ranks 4 out of 5 stars, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series, something that surprises me, given my distaste for Adam’s brief Countdown appearance. If you’re worried about the continuity like I was, don’t let it keep you away from the book. Even if it turns out that they can’t clear up the timelines, this story is well-done enough to make you forget it…

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