Joe Meola ‘25 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
On October 21, 2022, DC Comics’ long-awaited Black Adam film hit theaters. While it is yet to be seen whether or not Dwayne Johnson’s anti-hero film has “changed the hierarchy of the DC Universe,” as was once claimed by Johnson, what the film did achieve was introducing viewers to a somewhat obscure superhero team. In fact, the film’s “Justice Society” is DC’s oldest major superhero team.
Created by writer Gardner Fox and editor Sheldon Mayer in 1940’s All Star Comics #3, DC’s Justice Society of America initially consisted of the most popular superheroes from DC Comics and All-American Comics: The Flash, Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Green Lantern, Hourman, the Atom, Sandman, and the Spectre. Some of these names–such as Hawkman–may be recognized by those who have just viewed Black Adam, while others–such as the Flash–may stand out to those familiar with other popular DC media.
Before their big-screen debut, the Justice Society was perhaps most popular for featuring the Golden Age precursors to Justice Leaguers Flash and Green Lantern. This Flash is Jay Garrick, who gained his superspeed from inhaling hard water vapors (yes, really; the 40s were a weird time). The Green Lantern of the time was Alan Scott, who gained his powers from a mysterious green flame following a railroad accident. While perhaps the most popular members of the team, the two were absent from the Black Adam film, likely to place the spotlight on some slightly lesser-known characters and avoid confusion with characters appearing in other DC media.
In the decades following the group’s debut, the Justice Society’s roster has gone on to include a variety of popular and obscure characters, such as Wonder Woman, Stargirl, Power Girl, Captain Marvel (AKA Shazam!), Atom Smasher, and Cyclone. The latter two of which appeared as members of the team in Black Adam. Black Adam himself was even a member of the team for a period of time.
Now that you know a little bit of the backstory for the team as a whole, let us delve deeper into the histories of the members that appear in the film. Black Adam’s Justice Society roster–consisting of Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Atom Smasher, and Cyclone–is relatively small compared to most iterations from the comics, and the film has barely scratched the surface of their origins and backstories.
The biggest name in this version of the Justice Society is Doctor Fate. This is due to a variety of factors, in particular his role as one of the most powerful magic users in DC Comics, his appearance in the videogame Injustice 2, and his portrayal in this film by James Bond alum Pierce Brosnan. There have been various individuals under the helm of Fate, such as Hector Hall and Khalid Nassour, but the first and most popular identity of the hero–as well as the one played by Brosnan–is Kent Nelson. Nelson is the son of archaeologist Sven Nelson, who died when the pair went on an expedition to the tomb of Egyptian god Nabu, one of the “Lords of Order.”. Nabu goes on to train Nelson and give him the tools necessary to become a powerful sorcerer, including the Helmet of Fate, which allows Nabu to actually possess the user. Nelson, as well as other users of the Doctor Fate moniker, often resides in the mystical Tower of Fate in Salem, Massachusetts, and often makes an appearance whenever the Justice Society or the mystic arts become involved in major DC events.
Cyclone would perhaps be the easiest character in this roster to explain, if not for the complicated legacy of the Red Tornado line of characters. Portrayed by Quintessa Swindell, Cyclone is the superheroic alter-ego of Maxine Hunkel, granddaughter of “Ma” Hunkel, the original version of the Red Tornado. Ma Hunkel originated as a comedic relief supporting character to the character Scribbly the Boy Cartoonist. The editorial decision was made for Ma to become a superhero due to the increasing popularity of then-new character Superman, who began the trend of superhero comics as a whole. In the costumed guise of the Red Tornado, Ma does not have any superhuman abilities. She is merely a grandma in a cape, so naturally her granddaughter should end up with tornado powers, right?
The second, more popular version of Red Tornado is an android created by villainous scientist Doctor T.O. Morrow with the intent of infiltrating and destroying the superhero community. However, Tornado rebelled against his creator, and has since served as a prominent member of the Justice League and Justice Society, as well as a mentor figure to the teenage super-team Young Justice. This version of the character does have the wind-based abilities that one would expect from a name such as “Red Tornado.” While Maxine Hunkel is the granddaughter of the first Red Tornado, the second Tornado is equally as important to her origin. When she was a little girl, Hunkel was captured by T.O. Morrow, creator of the android Red Tornado, and injected with nanotechnology in an attempt to replicate the powers of his previous creation. The attempt was successful, and Hunkel would eventually use her abilities to join the Justice Society as the hero Cyclone.
In order to discuss Atom Smasher, one must also discuss the legacy of DC superhero the Atom. The most famous version of the character is Ray Palmer, a scientist with the ability to shrink himself. However, Palmer was the second version of the character, with the first person to go by the name of “the Atom” being Al Pratt. Pratt did not have any size-altering abilities, nor did he initially have any superpowers at all, but rather derived his codename from his short stature, and he fought enemies using his skills as a boxer. However, the character would eventually gain super strength as a result of a battle with the villain Cyclotron.
When DC Comics relaunched its comic book universe with the 2011 “New 52” initiative, the Justice Society characters were rebooted in the Earth 2 ongoing series. Notable changes in this universe included Jay Garrick gaining his super speed from the dying Roman God Mercury, Alan Scott’s Green Lantern powers being derived from a connection to the Earth’s plantlife (as well as Scott himself being a gay man, a change that would eventually be applied to the original version of the character), and Batman’s sidekick Robin being Bruce Wayne’s daughter, Helena. Another change made was to Al Pratt, who was given the ability to increase his size, an ability often attributed to the character Atom Smasher, Pratt’s nephew portrayed by Noah Centineo in Black Adam.
Al Rothstein–AKA Atom Smasher–is the nephew of original Atom Al Pratt, and originally went by the alias Nuklon while serving as a member of Infinity Inc., a team comprised of the children and sidekicks of Justice Society members, Such as Jade and Obsidian–the children of Alan Scott–Silver Scarab–the son of Hawkman and Hawkgirl–and the aforementioned Nuklon, among many others. As Nuklon, Rothstein would also serve as a member of the Justice League. When Rothstein went on to join the Justice Society, he changed his alias to Atom Smasher. During his time on the team, he became a mentor figure to the young heroine Stargirl, and he developed a rivalry-turned-surrogate-brotherhood with Black Adam.
The leader of the film’s iteration of the Justice Society, Hawkman has the most complicated backstory out of the members represented in Black Adam; in fact, he has one of the most convoluted backstories in all of comics. The winged hero, played by Aldis Hodge, has had numerous backstories, some of which have become canon during the same periods of time despite contradicting each other. In his original origin, Hawkman was archaeologist Carter Hall, who discovered he was in fact the reincarnation of Egyptian pharaoh Prince Khufu and used the mysterious enchanted Nth Metal to suit up as the winged hero Hawkman.
When DC Comics began relaunching its superhero characters in the 1960s, such as replacing Jay Garrick with Barry Allen as the Flash, Hawkman and his love interest Hawkgirl were also altered. Now, Hawkman was intergalactic cop Katar Hol, hailing from the planet Thanagar along with his partner Hawkgirl/Shayera Hol. The pair arrived on Earth while pursuing the criminal Byth Rok.
Matters with Hawkman’s origin became even more complicated following DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths event, which resulted in both a reboot of the DC Universe and a merging of its multiverse. At this time, all of the Golden Age/Justice Society characters, such as the Hall version of Hawkman, resided on Earth-2, while the Silver Age/Justice League characters, such as the Hol version of Hawkman resided on Earth-1. After the Crisis, these two Earths along with several others merged to form “New Earth,” and Hol became the main version of Hawkman.
DC then launched the series Hawkworld, which was intended to be a limited series detailing the origins of Hawkman and Hawkgirl on Thanagar but proved to be so popular that it became an ongoing series running concurrently with the then-current DC timeline. This means there were two pairs of Hawks running around: The two on Thanagar and the two on Earth. The version on Earth was retconned to be Carter Hall, Jr., who claimed to be the child of the original Hawkman. This, though, was actually villainous Thanagarian agent Fel Andar in disguise.
Hawkman’s history is incredibly confusing, and there is even more that could be unpacked. It is not fully clear who Black Adam’s Hawkman is. He is referred to as “Carter Hall” in the movie, but that name has also been used as an alias for Katar Hol and Fel Andar. Is the film’s version likely just regular Carter Hall? Probably. Is this long, convoluted explanation making matters more confusing? Absolutely.
The Justice Society and its members are quite complicated. Does the confusion of their comic book counterparts make it difficult to enjoy their Black Adam appearances? Not really. No prior context is needed in any regard to watch the film. Black Adam is currently playing in theaters worldwide.