Needless to say that with a movie called Black Adam, the chief purpose is for the title character played by Dwayne Johnson to shine brightest, and this was certainly accomplished. However, the latest addition to the DC movies library is also notable for featuring the Justice Society of America, which was introduced to 1940, making it the comic book medium’s first superhero team. The JSA has previously been seen in live-action in Smallville, Legends of Tomorrow and Stargirl, but Black Adam marks its theatrical debut, meaning this is the first time a lot of people are learning about the team.
For Black Adam, the Justice Society consisted of Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman, Pierce Brosnan’s Doctor Fate, Quintessa Swindell’s Cyclone and Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher. As a longtime JSA fan (I read their Golden Age stories as a kid and enjoyed the JSA and Justice Society of America comic book series that ran back-to-back from 1999 to 2011), I was jazzed to see this property finally get its due on the big screen, but walking out of Black Adam, I had mixed feelings about how these four characters were handled. So let’s go over how this 2022 movie release did rightly and wrongly by each Justice Society member.
Black Adam SPOILERS are ahead!
What Black Adam got right: Right off the bat, Aldis Hodge’s Hawkman costume looks tremendous. While I might’ve gone for a splattering of green rather than red, the golden armor, mask and wings constructed from Nth metal make the character look like he was peeled right off a comic book page, along with the mace and shield he wielded in battle. Hodge also did a great job portraying Hawkman as the Justice Society’s leader, who goes way back with Doctor Fate and is ready to show Atom Smasher and Cyclone the ropes of protecting the innocent.
What Black Adam got wrong: Hawkman is never one to shy away from a fight, and rightly so. However, he was treated like too much of a punching bag in Black Adam. Obviously Dwayne Johnson’s character significantly overpowered Carter Hall, but it would have been nice to see the winged superhero either get in a few more decent blows against Teth-Adam or at least not get tossed around as much in comparison to his teammates. More importantly, I was bothered that absolutely none of Hawkman’s backstory was explored in Black Adam. I realize the character has a convoluted history in the comics, but moviegoers could have easily been tipped off to how Carter has reincarnated many times over the millennia stretching back to ancient Egypt. Then this could be explored more in-depth in a Black Adam sequel or a Justice Society spinoff movie.
What Black Adam got right: I won’t mince words, Pierce Brosnan gives Black Adam’s best performance. The James Bond actor excelled at playing Kent Nelson, a.k.a. Doctor Fate, a magic-conjuring superhero who’s walked the Earth for a century and struggles with seeing potential futures regularly play out before him. Fate’s spells looked amazing, the helmet looked badass without the traditional eyeholes and Kent’s death in the climactic conflict was one of Black Adam’s most emotionally resonant moments. Fortunately, Dwayne Johnson said on Twitter that we’ll see more of Fate in upcoming DC movies, although he didn’t clarify whether this means more Brosnan (which is never a bad thing) or someone else will inherit the mantle.
What Black Adam got wrong: My main gripe with Doctor Fate in Black Adam doesn’t concern Pierce Brosnan’s Kent Nelson, but rather his helmet. In the comics, the Helmet of Fate is so much more than the tool from which Kent Nelson and the other individuals who’ve been Doctor Fate draw their powers. It also contains the spirit of Nabu, the Lord of Order who mentored Kent, but has also been shown to be ruthless in his conflict against the Lords of Chaos, to the point he even once took complete control over Kent’s body and mind. I don’t think Black Adam should have gone that far, but it would have been interesting to see Kent push back against Nabu’s cold-blooded tendencies.
What Black Adam got right: It would have been was enough to show Maxine Hunkel’s wind powers in a more conventional manner, but thankfully, Black Adam thought outside the box when bringing its Cyclone to life. The green and purple from Cyclone’s costume melding with the wind and sound currents she controlled was a dazzling display. Quintessa Swindell also effectively captured the enthusiasm of a young woman who’s just getting started in the superhero game and eager to show what’s capable of, and it was good to see that the DCEU’s Maxine is highly intelligent like her comic book counterpart.
What Black Adam got wrong: My issue with Cyclone in Black Adam is the same one I have with Atom Smasher: outside of their powers and basic personality quirks, there’s no dimension to these characters. In Cyclone’s case, her enthusiasm could have been kicked up a few notches; not to the point where she was annoying, but it would have been endearing to watch her geek out about getting to be part of the Justice Society. Black Adam also would have benefitted from shedding a little more light on the circumstances surrounding how Maxine got her powers and how she deals with that traumatic experience.
What Black Adam got right: While Black Adam taking creative liberties with Cyclone’s costume paid off, the movie’s team made the right call crafting a faithful Atom Smasher suit for Noah Centineo. Black Adam also nailed Albert Rothstein’s size-increasing ability, and the cherry on top of the proverbial sundae was Henry Winkler cameoing as Al Pratt, better known in the comics as the Golden Age Atom and Albert’s godfather. In this reality, Al is Albert’s uncle and was the first Atom Smasher.
What Black Adam got wrong: As I said in the previous section, there’s really no dimension to Atom Smasher in Black Adam. He’s there to become massive, throw some punches, accidentally knock some things over in his gargantuan form and snack afterwards to regain energy. At the very least, the movie should have actually explored Albert looking to honor his uncle’s legacy as the new Atom Smasher. Also, in the comics, Black Adam and Atom Smasher started off as rivals before forming a brotherly relationship. Since there’s only so much to accomplish in a movie runtime, I didn’t expect Dwayne Johnson’s Black Adam and Noah Centineo’s Atom Smasher to form that deep a relationship, but had they been able to face off against each other, maybe a little more begrudging respect could have been established.
Though Black Adam has received more negative reviews from professional critics than positive ones, Dwayne Johnson has touted how much audiences love the latest DC movie, which has made over $150 million worldwide at the time of this writing. Now that we’ve covered the Justice Society, read through our breakdown of Superman appearing in the Black Adam end-credits scene.
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