Comic book reviews: Black Adam – The Justice Society Files

I’ve been so busy I haven’t had an opportunity to do too much blogging. I finally have a chance to take a brief look at Black Adam – The Justice Society Files, a series of four double-sized comic book specials released by DC Comics as prequels to the live action Black Adam movie.

I’m probably not going to have the opportunity to do a full-length review of Black Adam itself, so I’m also going to include some thoughts on the movie itself.

Black Adam – The Justice Society Files: Hawkman cover by Kaare Andrews

The Justice Society Files specials spotlight Hawkman, Cyclone, Atom Smasher, and Dr. Fate, the members of the Justice Society of America who appear in the Black Adam movie. A fifth story is the serial “Lost & Found” running through the back of all four issues. That story alternates between Teth-Adam & his family in ancient Khandaq when it was under the oppressive rule of King Ahk-Ton, and Professor Adrianna Tomaz & her teenage son Amon in present-day Khandaq as they seek to prevent the high-tech crime syndicate Intergang from acquiring specimens of the mystic metal eternium.

I already touched upon Black Adam – The Justice Society Files a couple of months ago in my blog post “Hawkman is now black… and that’s okay” but here are some further thoughts.

The writing on the four specials is not especially complex or in-depth. Co-writers Cavan Scott & Bryan Q. Miller admirably achieve the task of introducing the characters, situations & concepts that are then developed in-depth within the actual Black Adam movie. It’s perfectly acceptable work, fun & entertaining, and it achieves its goal of generating interest in the movie. That was certainly the case with me. Prior to reading these specials I really didn’t have much interest in seeing Black Adam in the theater. But afterwards I was definitely looking forward to seeing the live action version of the Justice Society previewed in these comics.

I feel the major draw on these specials is the high-quality artwork. Kaare Andrews certainly does an outstanding job on all four covers. His drawing of of Dwayne Johnson as Teth-Adam on the Hawkman cover is absolutely dead-on in capturing the actor’s distinctive likeness.

Black Adam – The Justice Society Files: Hawkman written by Cavan Scott, penciled by Scot Eaton, inked by Norm Rapmund, colored by Andrew Dalhouse and lettered by Rob Leigh

Hawkman is penciled by Scot Eaton & inked by Norm Rapmund. Cyclone is drawn by Maria Laura Sanapo. Atom Smasher is drawn by Travis Mercer. The credits are unfortunately missing from the Dr. Fate special, but according to the official DC Comics website the artist is Jesús Merino. The “Lost & Found” back-up story is drawn by Marco Santucci.

The work by Sanapo on Cyclone is my favorite. That was actually the first issue I bought, and I got it for her art. I enjoyed the comic, and I also saw that Sanapo’s husband, the equally-talented Santucci, was drawing the back-up serial, so I decided to purchase the other three specials. Eaton & Rapmund, Merino also do quality work. Merino certainly drew a good depiction of actors Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Mercer’s work on the Atom Smasher special, though. It was a bit too loose and manga-inspired for my tastes. Although I suppose that sort of suited the more comical tone of this particular story. However Mercer did utilize some effective layouts & storytelling.

My only other major complaint was that I thought Dr. Fate’s helmet looked ridiculous without eyeholes! But that’s totally down to the costume & visual effects designers of the movie itself. The artists on The Justice Society Files had to work with what they were given.

Black Adam – The Justice Society Files: Cyclone written by Canan Scott, drawn by Maria Laura Sanapo, colored by Arif Prianto and lettered by Becca Carey

Editing all four books was Michael McAlister, with Katie Kubert as senior editor. I have to say, it brought a smile to my face to see Kubert, the granddaughter of legendary artist Joe Kubert, editing a book featuring Hawkman, a character her grandfather drew so memorably over the decades.

Moving on to the actual Black Adam movie, I enjoyed it. Honestly, I do not get the hate I’ve heard from some people. It was a fun movie with a good balance of action, drama & comedy. As a long-time Justice Society fan it was great to see Dr. Fate and Hawkman in live action. Absolutely, positively a huge improvement over Batman V Superman. If the people in charge of the DC superhero movies keep making enjoyable flicks like this I will definitely be happy.

Yes, the whole “heroes fight each other over a misunderstanding / overinflated egos before teaming up against a common foe” thing has been done on numerous occasions, but at least it’s fairly well executed here.

Black Adam – The Justice Society Files: Atom Smasher written by Canan Scott, drawn by Travis Mercer, colored by John Kalisz and lettered by Rob Leigh

Dwayne Johnson is an actor not exactly known for his vast range, but he was perfectly cast as Teth-Adam. Given that he spent years working to get the Black Adam movie made, he obviously has an affinity for the character. And he certainly looks a great deal like him. Johnson definitely brought to life the ruthless anti-hero developed by Jerry Ordway, David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns in the pages of The Power of Shazam, JSA and 52.

As with a lot of others, I feel that Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate pretty much stole almost every scene he was in. I love how he brought a combination of somber gravitas and wry humor to the role. Subsequently reading an interview with Brosnan about his work on the movie, I was really struck by what he had to say:

“Well, Kent Nelson had a wife. Inza was his wife. In my books, he is a widower. And so, my wife Keely (Shaye Smith) – I love watches, and she gave me a beautiful Blancpain 15 or 20 years ago. And the inscription is, ‘Time flies on love’s wings.’ And so I thought it was very fitting to wear it as a time piece for this character. And the wedding ring is my wedding ring. And there’s a silver amulet on my right wrist that is Heidr art, which is the (Nordic) mythology of the whales. You know, those three objects became Talismen for me. I don’t normally wear them in movies.”

Considering Black Adam is a slam bang popcorn flick, I was impressed that Brosnan took the time to research the character of Dr. Fate and then invested such subtle, personal touches towards informing his performance. It really demonstrates that he took the role seriously.

Black Adam – The Justice Society Files: Dr. Fate written by Cavan Scott, drawn by Jesús Merino, colored by Ulisses Arreola and lettered by Rob Leigh

I’m going once again address on the live action version of Hawkman being black, since actor Aldis Hodge himself discussed it in an interview last year:

“I think about the representation aspect of that, because I didn’t grow up watching superheroes that look like me. I remember in my early-teens maybe we came into Spawn and Blade, and that was awesome. So, to know that young kids are going to be able to see that and see opportunity, and have an awareness that I didn’t have at a young age about what they can accomplish, that really is fantastic.”

As I’ve said before, representation matters. Black Adam has a fairly diverse cast, both in terms of the ethnic backgrounds of the characters and the actors who are portraying them, and the majority of the movie is set in the Middle East.

I found it interesting that Black Adam actually presented a very direct criticism of American foreign policy. Intergang has been occupying Khandaq for two decades when the story begins, oppressing its people, looting its wealth. Yet it is only after Teth-Adam returns and begins violently fighting Intergang that the Justice Society is sent to Khandaq to intercede, because the United States is suddenly worried that this incredibly powerful, brutal superhuman will upset the global status quo. A furious Adrianna Tomaz (played by actress Sarah Shahi) angrily points out that hypocrisy to the team of superheroes.

I feel that the conflict between Hawkman’s “heroes don’t kill” stance and Black Adam killing, well, pretty much everyone in sight works because the story took the time to show there’s a certain validity to both their points of view. I like that the movie acknowledged there are certain moral ambiguities without cynically, depressingly attempting to deconstruct superheroes for the umpteenth time.

Black Adam – The Justice Society Files: Hawkman “Lost & Found” Chapter 1 written by Bryan Q. Miller, drawn by Marco Santucci, colored by Michael Atiyeh and lettered by Rob Leigh

To a certain degree the movie also subverts the whole “superhero as savior” trope. Towards the end it’s stated that the people of Khandaq do not need a hero; what they actually need is freedom. No single individual, no matter how powerful, can save a country or a world. What is necessary is for all the people to stand up and fight alongside one another for life & liberty.

So, yes, I found Black Adam to have a surprising degree of depth, while also being a slam-bang action flick.

Now if only they’d given Dr. Fate’s helmet some eyeholes! Oh, well, maybe next time. So bring on the Justice Society movie, please.

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