Black Adam: A Superhero Tale with Marxist Undertones

Black Adam is breaking down oppressive barriers with his powers. It’s a bold move for a comic book film and the theme is etched into your mind.

After months of hype, The Rock’s Black Adam premieres to an underwhelming 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. Hope is not lost. The movie also garnered a solid 7.6M in Thursday Previews. We can say for once that critics are split exactly down the middle when it comes to how well the movie has appealed to critics.

The movie is based on Otto Binder and C. C. Beck’s character Black Adam, champion of Kahndaq. Released from his prison, Black Adam’s goal is to free the people of Kahndaq. In 2600 BC, Kahndaq’s tyrannical king Anh-Kot has enslaved his people. He is searching for eternium to create the Crown of Sabbac. The Crown of Sabbac gives the wearer great power. After staging a revolt and being sentenced to death, a young slave boy is saved and given the power of Shazam, transforming him into Kahndaq’s heroic champion. Using his newfound powers, he kills Anh-Kot and sets the people of Kahndaq free.

Dwayne Johnson portrays Black Adam in Warner Bros Black Adam
Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Presently, Kahndaq has been occupied by Intergang, who hopes to find the crown. Archeologist Adrianna Tomaz finds the Crown of Sabbac. Shortly after, Interbang ambushes them. Adrianna reads an incantation that awakens Black Adam from his sleep to help them liberate their home.

The day I saw the movie, I was coming from my second week of teaching Marxist theory to my English IV classes, and as I watched the movie, I began to see similarities between Marx’s teachings and what the film attempted to address.

Liberation is Not Free

Dwayne Johnson and Pierce Brosnan in Black Adam. Johnson wears a Black super suit with leather accents on waist and wrists. Bronsan wears a striped shirt underneath a brown suede vest, he holds a golden helmet.
Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Kahndaq’s current occupation and past dictatorship were the contributing factors that led to Black Adam’s creation and his resurrection. Because of the enslavement and encampment, Black Adam’s presence was needed to liberate Kahndaq’s people because they simply had no resources nor the will to stand up to Intergang.

The film makes this very clear from the beginning. When we meet Adrianna Tomaz and her son Amon, they are being harassed by military checkpoints. The heavy military presence is a smoke signal for liberation, and by the time we get Black Adam on our screens, we’re begging for someone to liberate these people.

But Black Adam does not stop there. Discussing class politics in itself is a complex issue; adding superbeings to the mix makes the conversation even more difficult. What makes a hero? Does saving people opt them out of class relations?

These are all questions that Black Adam attempts to address but doesn’t fully answer.

What Makes a Hero?

A man is clothed in golden armor with large gold and red wings expanding from his back. He wears a golden winged helmet and stands in the midst of destruction. Warner Bros Black Adam
Image Courtesy of Warner Bros.

comic book media’s #1 question is: what makes a hero? Is it superhero abilities? Courage? is it compassion? A mix of all these?


But those black and white lines become shades of grey when discussing an anti-hero. We’ve seen this in the Deadpool series, Batman in BVS, and even more recently, Peacemaker. The question of what makes a hero is not easy to answer.

Black Adam’s flawed answer is based on the hero’s intent. Teth-Adam was birthed out of oppression and created for his people. Therefore, using any force necessary to deliver his people is heroic. Who cares if he kills everyone that stands in his way, right? This is why anti-heroes offer some of the best storylines and spark meaningful discussions in ways that heroes and villains can’t. The world cannot be simplified into good and evil, and discussions stop there.

This is why Adrianna Tomaz and Amon’s characters are so important to the film. She can speak to the need that Kahndaq has and does so repeatedly. Her character allows us to focus on what’s at stake if Black Adam does not defeat Intergang.

Are Heros Considered the Bourgeoise?

Marxist theory divides the world into two distinct categories, The bourgeoisie and The Proletariat. The people who own the modes of production (who also have power) and the workers whose labor is sold for pay. Where do heroes fall in this category?

The justice society is tasked with taking Black Adam down. The team consists of Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Cyclone, and Atom Smasher. Hawkman is introduced to us in his gigantic mansion; Dr. Fate is, as we know, is rich as hell too. Does their material wealth blind them to class issues such as the one’s going on in Kahndaq?

When they arrive in Kahndaq and Adrianna explains to them that they are living under military occupation and that Intergang killed her husband, the Justice Society do not respond. It isn’t until Black Adam jumps ship to take on the Intergang himself that they finally give in and decide to help take them down.

Is this because of their class status, though?

There is an argument to be made that because the Justice Society has never been in the place that Kahndaq is currently, they cannot empathize or sympathize with them. This makes the audience question the type of heroes the Justice Society are, which is an important question to be asked.

Marx discussed a proletariat revolution. A revolution in which the working class seizes political power.

Black Adam represents that revolution. While he does not see it himself, he symbolizes freedom to his people. His revolt against king Anh-Kot was the catalyst of change for Kahndaq.

Black Adam’s way of breaking down oppressive barriers with his powers is a bold move for a comic book film. While many of those bold topics do not seem to be explored deeply, they definitely are etched into your mind by the end of the film.

This is not your typical comic book film, the risks are greater, and the reward is freedom. Black Adam plunges full force into those big ideas that I want my students to consider when thinking about the world they will be entering.

I just wished they would’ve pushed the envelope a litter farther.

Outside of these heavy topics, Black Adam is a fun movie. With action scenes that mirror the best from Man of Steel and jokes that land almost perfectly each time, it’s definitely worthwhile catching.


For more from Deareyes check out his review of Hocus Pocus 2 here!

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