In his review of Black Adam #1, my colleague Nathan Simmons made a few great points. But the one that really resonated with me is this idea that, from nearly page one, the team of Christopher Priest and Rafa Sandoval were really pushing the envelope. And by the time you turn the final page on issue #2, you’ll get the idea that they’ve blasted the dang envelope into space.
If you didn’t read #1, what made it so innovative was how it treated Black Adam — with the utmost transparency and honesty. Gone were any superhero shenanigans, and instead we got a magically-tinted political thriller about Theo Teth-Adam and “The Case of an Assassinated Political Rival.” That led firmly into the rich narrative nougat, as we discovered Adam’s dying, and how he’s chosen a predecessor, the plucky Malik White. (And that puzzle of bad news was extended further when it was revealed that Malik was initially meant to meet with Adam’s now-dead rival. Dun dun duuuun!)
But as it turns out, that was only the beginning, and issue #2 really leans into infusing Adam’s current status with some genuinely juicy, deluxe-sized revelations. That includes the source of Adam’s illness (hint: it involves another nasty dictator from space); the unseen origins of Teth’s rise as Black Adam (involving a bit of family drama that should land firmly on the solar plexus); and our first look at Malik’s likely future as the “new” of Kahndaq. And if all that weren’t enough, the issue ends with a massive revelation that most series either avoid or use as a kind of bait.
We knew having Priest attached to this project would mean some welcomed controversy; in our recent interview, he hinted at some intriguing insights into the character, and thus far he hasn’t been afraid to make some truly important narrative choices. Are they going to be innately popular decisions? Once again, as our own Mr. Simmons pointed out, no. But then, that’s not the point, and Priest’s projects have always tended to cut right to the core of characters. (See Deathstroke, which from the very first issue gave us a novel and thoughtful look at Slade Wilson.)
The question, then, is whether Priest’s narrative decisions work. And the answer is, yeah most definitely. This whole thing is about Black Adam being depicted as he is — an unrelenting control freak who doesn’t want or even need redemption (in a traditional sense, at least). Priest is more than happy to deliver for his “protagonist,” setting him up not for some saccharine leap to glory but instead trying to give Black Adam an “ending” that feels in line with what the character is (a super dictator) and not what we think him to be (some asinine anti-hero). It’s here we see Adam as a profound character study and not a bag of trite cliches.
The focus then, as issue #2 proves right off the bat, is on Malik and his role as the next “leader” of Kahndaq. Adam’s very hopes for redemption are not through his own life but in Malik picking up the mantle. On the one hand, you couldn’t have picked a better choice for the new White Adam — our young friend is cocky and headstrong, and he has the chutzpah to embrace his new role — if that’s what he indeed chooses — head on.
But as we also see in this issue, Malik is his own man, and he’s trying to find ways to have his own life and also make more, let’s say, progressive choices for a people that he’s now meant to lead and/or inspire. There’s a certain proximity to Black White in terms of their personalities, yet Malik is different enough already to prove that we’re not getting Black Adam 2.0. It’s about fostering character development and connections that allow Priest to explore ideas of legacy and second chances and how the past dies to birth the future.
But it’s not just Priest that’s really putting in the work for this issue. The art of Sandoval really gives him the room and the encouragement to tell this very specific story. Whether it’s that really great outer space chase scene with Adam; the look and overall feel of Malik (especially when it comes to his “transformation”); or just the general world of Kahndaq and how it balances the new and the old (detecting a pattern here?), Sandoval is vital. (The same obviously extends to the rest of the artistic team, including colorist Matt Herms and letterer Willie Schubert.)
I think if this book weren’t as visually sharp and compelling as it was, the narrative might not feel as effective. If anything, it’s that very visual identity that helps foster a lot of those aforementioned themes while also feeling richly emotional and out-and-out appealing to the old eyeballs. The end result is that it keeps that superhero magic even when things lean into the realm of thriller or statecraft. It’s more than the story and visuals becoming synchronized — there’s a lot of organic interplay here that lets the story exist in different shades and degrees.
I won’t spoil the ending more than I likely already have, but I continue to be struck by the way it all landed. It’s not exactly a cliffhanger of sorts, although some may feel the same rush of overt shock. Instead, it just felt like the next natural puzzle piece fell in line, and I was left wading through the process of deciphering what comes next. I have a general idea, but regardless of whether I’m wrong or not, the end result is the same — this story is alive with tension and ideas and a general edginess that feels earned and never half-baked.
This is a superhero story without all the pompous mess; a thriller with ample heart; and an HBO-esque drama with some comic book-style silliness. It’s a damn good story, and you’d be wise to join the fray before things truly take off.
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