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Christopher Priest talks legacy, redemption in new 'Black Adam'

Comic Books

Christopher Priest talks legacy, redemption in new ‘Black Adam’

Is the end nigh for the immortal regent of Kahndaq?

Black Adam has had an interesting run as of late. For one, he was the only surviving member during the whole “Death of the Justice League” saga. And that’s inevitably lead him to a not insignificant role in the ongoing Dark Crisis, where he’s clearly trying to head up a brand-new version of the Justice League. But all of that’s just the warm-up, as the man in black makes his DCEU debut with this October’s Black Adam (starring Dwayne Johnson).

But now, as some have already pointed out, there’s a reason for Black Adam’s abrupt ascension: if he wants to be a silver screen star, he’s going to have to die first. That very sense of doom and foreboding rests at the heart of Black Adam, a new series from writer Christopher Priest and artist Rafa Sandoval. Faced with an “incurable plague destroying his immortality,” Black Adam must find someone to take his mantle to “redeem Adam’s legacy and defend their ancestral homeland of Kahndaq.” Hiccups inevitably occur, of course, and the resulting story isn’t just about his death, but Black Adam’s role in the DC Universe and whether he’ll be remembered as a hero, villain, or something else entirely.

Ahead of issue #1 dropping today (June 21), we caught up with Priest via Zoom to talk about the series. That discussion touched on past series/storylines, how Black Adam is best portrayed, the character’s connections to other Priest projects, and much, much more.

On His Initial “Reluctance”

“When DC approached me to do the book, I was reluctant to do it.

I really feel like the C. C. Beck characters belong in the C.C. Beck universe.

And I never saw the value added of having Shazam exist in the same world as as Superman and even Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter… and they’re all on the same team.

I made the same mistake that I always make where when I’m talking to the editor. I said, ‘Well, if I were going to do something like Black Adam, I would do this,’ thinking that when I said, ‘Well, I would go this way, or I’d go in this direction,’ that I would frighten them off and they would hang up and never darken my door again.

So it was a little disquieting when my editor, Paul Kaminski, became even more interested in working with me.

Eventually I went, ‘Well, you know, it would be kind of interesting to explore this character.’ And then Paul reminded me that the C.C. Beck characters do exist in their own sort of alternate universe. So, if the book survives into year two, if the book finds an audience, and we get a year or two, we are absolutely doing a crossover. There will be Tawky Tawny.”

Christopher Priest talks legacy, redemption in new 'Black Adam'

Main Cover by Irvin Rodriguez. Courtesy of DC Comics.

On Leaning Into Other Stories And Much-Needed Realism

“I have a great deal of respect for authorship. So I have a very have a great deal of respect for Otto Binder and writers that have come before me. I thought Geoff Johns did an amazing job with it. So the last thing I want to do is come around and sort of badmouth them

I’m a big fan of realism, and so anytime someone hands me a character, I would ask myself, ‘If we were doing a Netflix series, what what would that Netflix series be like? What’s it smell like? What’s it taste like?

I really feel like if we were going to bring Black Adam to life — and this is separate and apart from what’s happening in the film because they won’t tell me, by the way, what’s going on in the film — I would tend to do what we did with Black Panther, and drill down into realism. What was Stan Lee’s original intent with Black Panther? And how does that translate into modern times?

What would this world look like on the African continent, and what would the leader of that world look like? So when we get to Black Adam, we’re talking about something very similar, where he has carved out a homeland for himself. And this is a guy that keeps weaving lanes on the good guy/bad guy Autobahn. He doesn’t have a lot of consistency in terms of his overall purpose.”

On Bringing Black Adam To The “Modern” Era

“And so I thought, well, we would be dealing with a lot of today’s issues. We’d be dealing with a democratic movement, and Black Adam is absolutely against democracy. Not so much because he wants to be a ruler; the U.S.-style democracy is a very difficult thing to implement and even harder to maintain. And we’re struggling to maintain it here in our country, let alone in a country that’s never had it before. So Black Adam, it’s not that he wants to keep his people enslaved, it’s that he doesn’t want the country to devolve into chaos.

He’s trying to move the country forward, but he’s got different factions — there’s progressive, and people who want Sharia law — and they all object to this modernization that Theo has got going on.

He’s got pressure from the United States, and we see them you see him in a Senate hearing. It’s like, if this guy was walking around, what would his life be? What would the world be for this guy that is ancestrally Egyptian; of course, we’re using conduct as a metaphor, but he’s ancestrally Egyptian. So here’s someone who is a powerful guy on the world stage, but when he’s walking down the street, he’s just another another guy from that part of the world. He is prejudiced against, and he gets pulled over for driving while Egyptian. I thought Paul would would hang up on me, and so far, to my great surprise, this is actually coming out.”

Christopher Priest talks legacy, redemption in new 'Black Adam'

Variant Cover by Cully Hamner. Courtesy of DC Comics.

On Black Adam-Lex Luthor Comparisons

“Mike Carlin, if you remember him, was, in my opinion, one of the best Superman editors ever. And I had him explaining Lex Luthor to me once, and he said something to the effect — don’t be mad at me, Mike, if I get this wrong, but he said something to the effect of the main difference between Superman and Lex Luthor is that Lex Luthor lacks the strength of character. It’s not about Superman’s powers; it’s about Superman’s character. Lex has these innate insecurities and he can’t quite reach the bar of the character strength that would enable him to succeed in his pathetic rivalry against Superman.

In Black Adam’s case, he, Black Adam, is Lex Luthor; he’s Lex Luthor wearing the Superman suit.”

On Similarities To Deathstroke

“We did this thing with Deathstroke where Deathstroke had this near death experience, and he kind of found God and he puts together his own version of the Teen Titans. He recruits these kids, and he’s like, Okay, I’ve turned from my wicked ways and I’ve renounced evil. He realizes that he has a problem he needs to solve, and the best way to solve this was for him to go out and murder a guy. So he goes out and murders this guy and comes back, ‘I renounce evil. Now.’ Our story was that he tried being a good guy for quite a while and he can’t do it.

I think Adam is a very conflicted person, and what we’re writing is similar in tone to Deathstroke.

If Deathstroke was Macbeth, a another sort of Shakespearean tragedy. This is definitely a guy who is trying to turn his world around, but I can tell you — spoiler alert — he’s just not capable of it.”

On More Shared Dynamics

“I have to agree Black Panther, as I saw him, as I wrote him, was not above crossing lines. And his sense of morality was not dictated by Western rules of play. And that was what made him interesting. Everyone expected him to be a Marvel hero, and he joins the Avengers and everybody loves them. And then he reveals, in quite a matter of fact way…the only reason why I joined the Avengers was to spy on you to make sure you guys were not evil and that you weren’t posing a threat to Wakanda. That offended a lot of Avengers fans and caused the big ripple, which I find curious. Because Black Panther is not American, and he doesn’t need to play by our rules.

Black Adam

Variant Cover by Lucio Parrillo. Courtesy of DC Comics.

Now, similarly, I see Black Adam as a bad guy. You know, my editor disagrees; he sees him as an antihero. No, he’s not an antihero. He’s a villain. He’s killed too many people, and he’s done too much dirt. This guy is a villain. This guy is a very scary individual.

So, as with Black Panther, who is not averse to crossing the line into ‘dark territory’ to accomplish a goal, Black Adam is not averse to crossing the line into the light to accomplish his goal. And his goal, as I said previously, is to clean up his legacy.

He’s not going to ask anybody’s permission. He is in the Submariner category of being this monarch, and along with the monarchy comes a certain level of arrogance.”

On Further Separating Black Adam From The Shazam Family

“I’ve always felt that DC, particularly, has a penchant for rounding the corners off of their characters. Like, where Guy Gardner can’t really be that much of an asshole. Or, how bad could The Creeper actually be?

At the end of the day, Deathstroke needs to be somehow redeemed and relabeled as an anti-hero, when he’s a paid assassin who has absolutely no moral compass whatsoever.

Black Adam, I don’t think he’s a sociopath or anything like that. But I think he just really lives on Planet Black Adam.

The character owes more to the fact that he wears a black costume, and that the Shazam character is too nice. He’s the Big Red Cheese. It would be a bigger challenge for me to make that character interesting and relatable. I think that that’s why people like Black Adam, because he wears a cooler looking costume. He’s a cooler version of the whole Shazam thing.

Christopher Priest talks legacy, redemption in new 'Black Adam'

Variant Cover by Crystal Kung. Courtesy of DC Comics.

Which I think is kind of unfortunate. I think that all these characters have enormous potential and enormous strengths and weaknesses. But I don’t want, or would not, participate actively in some effort to change Black Adam into a hero. I think that’s misguided. I think that’s not the intent of the character.

There is no redemption for Black Adam. And it’s something that is repeated over and over again, because this is a guy that’s just he realizes on some level that, like an alcoholic who’s hit bottom, he’s gone too far and he’s done too much. There’s no way back, and yet he is clawing and trying to find his way back.”

On The Comics-Songwriting Connection

“So, if we were talking about music, the key to writing good music is to play off of the listener’s expectations, where the listener assumes the song is going this way and you turn that way.

Here’s this bridge, or this progression, that we didn’t suspect. Or, maybe instead of ending on the fifth chord, we end up on the suspended cord here. And in writing, particularly when you’re doing this type of writing, I am writing to an audience that is composed…the vast majority have been reading comics a very long time. They’ve seen everything and they’ve read everything. So I’m this guy who comes along and goes, ‘Well, let me see if I can screw with these people and play off of their expectations of where they think this thing should go.”

On A Final Word

“Black Adam is like a death row inmate; he knows that that needle is coming. And so for ego and for selfish reasons, he’s trying to clean up his act. If I was using the death row metaphor, I’m about to meet God one day, will Saint Peter let me in? Is there a way for me to erase the blackboard here or fix up something? But I am not trying to redeem him.

I am leading the readers — spoiler alert readers, and feel free to tell them this –I’m leaving the readers to believe that that we are trying to redeem Black Adam, but I have no interest in redeeming Black Adam. No matter what Paul [Kaminski] or DC says. ‘Hey, he’s a movie star now, so he gets to be a hero.’ Not in this book in this book. He’s bad guy who’s getting, very richly, what he deserves.”

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