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‘Black Adam’ #3 slows things down to rip the world wide open
DC Comics

Comic Books

‘Black Adam’ #3 slows things down to rip the world wide open

A less tantalizing issue becomes a great moment for moral introspection.

I really like Black Adam.

The comic — not the man, obviously.

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From the very start of issue #1, writer Christopher Priest and artist Rafa Sandoval (alongside colorist Matt Herms and letter Troy Peteri) made some intriguing decisions in exploring the possibility of redemption for the immortal leader of Kahndaq. But in issue #2, as the story kicked off the rise of the young Malik “White Adam” White, the duo wrote themselves into a corner.

That’s sort of what happens when you kill of your title character.

But, as we see quickly in issue #3, the demise of Adam isn’t so cut and dry. Does that mean he’s alive? I won’t spoil that, but I can say it’s another decision that shows that Priest and company aren’t pulling any punches. They’re willing to do some gnarly things to Black Adam, and place him in the kinds of situations where he can learn about himself and the world though suffering and struggle. In short, they’re delivering on some of their big promises for a truly important story into the man and the myth.

DC Preview: Black Adam #3

Courtesy of DC Comics.

More specifically, Adam ends up in a kind of underworld. (Or so we’re led to believe, and, as he’s told, this may be something else entirely, like the final dreams of an oxygen-starved brain. Just more proof that this book wants to see Adam squirm.) In the so-called underworld, Adam meets two characters — Eres and Sargon — who, for the sake of not spoiling too much of their actual interactions, represent the struggle between the past and future that Black Adam is stuck facing.

If his shot at redemption is going to mean anything at all, this conflict is a way to force Adam to engage with what he’s done and what it all means, and it’s done in a way that feels like both a metaphysical exploration of morality and a really fun extended big fight, where Adam feels the blows on a level that’s profoundly resonant. It’s the perfect torture chamber for the character, and the place we begin to dissect him for all his worth.

Black Adam #3

Courtesy of DC Comics.

Part of that aforementioned future inevitably lies with the upstart Malik. Here, our young hero spends the issue trying to save the life of our “hero”; the fact that Black Adam is already in the underworld might demonstrate the futility of Malik’s effectiveness, but don’t get bogged down by that. (Instead, read the story for the little twist involved.) Ultimately, what matters here is that Malik, who is a med student FYI, opts to save a man. More than that, he actively weighs the options of helping a murderous demigod, and the kind of world that might exist either with or without Black Adam.

It’s a struggle that speaks to Malik’s own uncertainty, but also his power as a genuinely good and virtuous hero. He may not want the power he’s been gifted suddenly, but he’s clearly already made for the role. It’s a thing that makes Black Adam’s own journey all the more complicated and compelling. And it’s also, as we see in the big reveal at the end, a catalyst for some future beef between the two Adams. That confrontation is going to be epic — not only just for the cinematic fight scenes alone, but also in exploring the tension at the heart of this book and just how much Black Adam himself really wants some level of redemption.

Black Adam

Courtesy of DC Comics.

I think this is also one of the first issues where the art from Sandoval and the rest of the team have done things beyond just bolstering the narrative. The design work of the underworld and the aforementioned Eres and Sargon is excellent overall —  there’s some real New Gods vibes there, and that little aesthetic vibe and series of design choices are great in finding a balance with the mismatched theology at play here. (Eres mentions that very notion as Black Adam remains confused about the shape of this realm.) The whole feel and scope of the underworld really makes those segments a genuine centerpiece for this issue, even as the rest of the issue feels a bit more mundane thanks to interiors of surgical ORs and shots of Black Adam’s diseased body.

That balance of the magical and not-so-magical doesn’t slow down the story or its overall sense of pacing; rather, it enhances the idea of straddling two worlds, and that’s going to be an increasingly relevant notion as we build toward whatever happens between our two Adams. That whole idea is really expressed truly and earnestly through the art, and it feels like the team is layering in new ideas with some real grace and efficiency. It’s part of why the book is so successful already: everything works on different layers and tones to foster this larger character study.

DC Preview: Black Adam #3

Courtesy of DC Comics.

Issue #3 didn’t leave me feeling as instantly blown away as the preceding two. But even without that instant wow factor, it felt less like a disappointment and more like the story settling into its own work. Efforts, I might remind you, that are ultimately about exploring the future of this character and everything he means as an utterly imperfect hero in an equally imperfect world. It had some flash and sizzle with the underworld bits, but the issue’s greatest accomplishment was to place that spotlight on these characters and make us as readers beg to see what happens when the walls fall down and things are finally laid bare at last.

We’re still likely a few issues away from all of that (this is a 12-issue maxi-series, after all), but things have built thus far into a promising narrative that feels inventive without being overwrought; thoughtful without being too deliberate; and thrilling without forgetting to rip at the ol’ heartstrings. In a word, magical.

‘Black Adam’ #3 slows things down to rip the world wide open
‘Black Adam’ #3 slows things down to rip the world wide open
Black Adam #3
The story that took off like a magically-empowered demigod settles into itself. But that change of pace opens up new ways to delve into these dynamic characters.
Reader Rating1 Votes
This character study continues to explore the players in new and interesting ways.
The art here builds the mythology of the story while keeping the focus on the heroes and villains.
We're seeing so many layers of Black Adam thanks to an unflinching view of the immortal one.
There's not as much initial impact in this issue, and that lack of sizzle may affect some readers.
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