For DC Comics fans, one of the most exciting aspects of the upcoming Black Adam film starring Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson is the cinematic introduction of the Justice Society of America, the world’s original superhero team. Although a trimmed-down version of the team will appear on screen, featuring just four heroes, they will no doubt prove to be a match for the ancient antihero Teth Adam. But just who is the Black Adam‘s JSA? And why are they so important to comics as a medium? Here’s the lowdown on why the Justice Society is so important to DC history, the character of Black Adam, and comic books as a whole.
The Origins of the JSA
So what is the DC Comics’ Justice of America? Well, the Justice Society of America was actually the first superhero team in comic book history. They first appeared in All-Star Comics #3 in 1940. Superheroes (or “mystery men,”) were all the rage in the early ’40s. In just three years’ time, Superman’s debut had led to dozens of costumed heroes on the newsstands. So DC editor Sheldon Mayer and writer Gardner Fox put all their biggest guns together as a team, the Justice Society of America or JSA. It was a genius concept that changed comics forever.
Did we say all of DC’s biggest heroes? Well, all except for Superman and Batman, who they decided were too popular and didn’t need the extra exposure of being on the JSA (they would get the rank of “honorary members”). Although originally without an origin story, later DC stories revealed that during the early days of World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought the heroes of DC together for a special JSA mission to retrieve the Spear of Destiny from Adolf Hitler himself.
Who Are the Founding Members of DC’s JSA?
The founding members of the Justice Society of America were the Golden Age versions of Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Doctor Fate, Johnny Thunder, the Spectre, Sandman, the Atom, and Hourman. At first, JSA stories were all about the members getting together and sharing their solo adventures. Eventually, however, they began to function as a proper team. This concept would shake the foundations of comics. Without the JSA, there would be no Justice League and, therefore, no Avengers. Our pop culture landscape would be very different without them. We owe a lot to the JSA.
Other Members of the JSA From DC Comics
Later additions to the DC Comics JSA team were Starman, Wildcat, Doctor Mid-Nite, and a superheroine of some note named Wonder Woman. Despite Wonder Woman being a hero who outsold every comic the male JSA members starred in, they forced her to be the team secretary due to her gender. At the height of the Golden Age, the members of the JSA fought mad scientists, supervillains, and the Axis powers. Eventually, they even let another woman join the team, a heroine named Black Canary. But after World War II, superheroes lost their popularity. The JSA published its last Golden Age adventure for DC Comics in 1951.
The JSA Returns to Comics, Thanks to the Justice League
But then, thanks to the revival of the Flash in 1956, superheroes returned to popularity in a big way. So DC revived the Justice Society concept in 1960. This time, they would be called the Justice League of America, and Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman would be full-fledged members. But with the runaway popularity of the Justice League, DC also brought back their WWII forerunners, the JSA. They were revealed to be still alive and active, on the parallel world of Earth-2. The two teams met in Justice League of America #21 in 1963.
DC Comics’ Justice Society of America in the Modern Era
The return of the Justice Society led to annual JLA/JSA crossovers, solidifying their importance to the DCU. They featured in Adventure Comics and other titles, introducing new heroic members to their ranks like Power Girl and Huntress. Eventually, in 1999, they received their own long-running title, at last, JSA, which ran till 2006. This version of the team included members like elder statesmen heroes the Flash and Green Lantern, but also new legacy heroes like Cyclone and Atom Smasher. The JSA also included, however briefly, Black Adam himself as a member. And this is why the JSA plays a prominent role in the Black Adam film and not another DC team.
Who Is Black Adam‘s Doctor Fate? (Played by Pierce Brosnan)
Doctor Fate’s DC Comics Origins
Several DC heroes have taken on the helm of Fate since the Golden Age of Comics. The most prominent, and the one played by Pierce Brosnan in Black Adam, is Kent Nelson, originally appearing in More Fun Comics #55 in May 1940. We learned that in 1920, an archaeologist named Sven Nelson took his son Kent with him on an expedition to the Valley of Ur in Egypt. As they explored an ancient temple, Kent opened the tomb of the ancient wizard, Nabu the Wise.
While this awakened Nabu from a magic slumber, it also released an ancient poison gas by mistake, killing Sven. The wizard Nabu the Wise, a Lord of Order, felt responsible for the death of Kent’s father. So he took Kent under his wing, teaching him the ways of magic. Eventually, he gave him his mystical helmet, amulet, and cloak. Kent then moved to America and began a career as the mystical superhero DC’s Doctor Fate. Despite their similarities, Doctor Fate preceded Doctor Strange by over two decades. The two did fuse together once, as “ Doctor Strangefate.”
Doctor Fate’s Powers and Abilities
Fate’s magical abilities were extensive. His mastery over various spells allowed him to fly, teleport, wield super strength, astral project, fire mystical energy bolts, cast illusions, and use telepathy, telekinesis, and pyrokinesis. Doctor Fate could also time travel occasionally and create portals to other realities. The helm of Nabu contained the essence of the old wizard. Sometimes, Nabu was in control, using Kent as a vessel. Other times, Kent had dominion over the body. Although several other heroes have worn the helm of Fate, it is the Kent Nelson version who will appear in Black Adam as Doctor Fate.
Who Is Black Adam‘s Hawkman? (Played by Aldis Hodge)
Hawkman is another iconic DC Comics hero who will also make his live-action movie debut in Black Adam‘s JSA. But there are few heroes of Hawkman’s stature with as complicated a backstory, or as many iterations, as the Winged Wonder. So, for the purposes of this article, we’re going to stick to the Hawkman who was a member of the JSA, Carter Hall, and only lightly touch on his alien counterpart, Katar Hol.
Hawkman, a long-standing and prominent DC hero, first appeared in Flash Comics #1 in early 1940, along with DC’s Scarlet Speedster. Much like Doctor Fate, Hawkman’s origins tied into ancient Egyptian archeology, something that was a national obsession since the 1920s and fueled many hit movies like The Mummy. Sporting huge wings and a mace, along with a winged helmet, Hawkman has one of the most memorable costume designs in DC Comics.
Hawkman’s DC Comics Origins
Hawkman was originally Prince Khufu of ancient Egypt. The Egyptian royal discovered an alien spacecraft from the planet Thanagar, powered by a mysterious anti-gravity element called Nth Metal. This otherworldly substance infected his soul, and he and his lover Princess Chay-Ara were reincarnated over and over for centuries because of it. In the 20th century, he was reborn as Carter Hall, an archaeologist and adventurer. Hawkman was a founding member of the JSA, and one of its most prominent members. While the Justice League’s Hawkman was an alien warrior from the planet Thanagar, the JSA’s Hawkman was human. His wife Shiera (a reincarnated Chay-Ara) became Hawkgirl, and also joined the JSA.
Hawkman’s Reincarnation Abilities and Other Powers
Hawkman’s main power is his ability to reincarnate across the centuries, rendering him effectively immortal. He can also recall these various lives in detail, which gives him access to centuries of knowledge. This knowledge of previous lives allows Hawkman to have expertise in ancient weaponry. Khufu reincarnated on alien worlds as well, which explained the Justice League’s alien Hawkman, Katar Hol, as being the same person as the JSA’s Hawkman. The Nth metal allowed Hawkman to defy gravity, something the wings allowed him to maneuver. He also had speed healing, hawk-like sight, and a degree of enhanced strength and stamina.
Hawkman in Black Adam
Like Doctor Fate, Hawkman’s origins were tied to Ancient Egypt. It makes sense, therefore, that he would be a prominent JSA member in Black Adam, a character with deep ties to Egyptian mythology himself. As far as we can tell, the Black Adam version of Hawkman,played by Aldis Hodge, is Carter Hall, although how much of his backstory from the comics will stay intact remains a mystery.
Who Is Black Adam‘s Atom Smasher? (Played by Noah Centineo)
Who Is Atom Smasher?
Unlike Doctor Fate and Hawkman, Atom Smasher, a.k.a. Albert Rothstein, was a legacy JSA character, going back only to the ’80s. He wasn’t even named Atom Smasher at first nor was he part of the JSA. Instead, Atom Smasher was a founding member of the super team called Infinty, Inc., which first appeared in 1983’s All-Star Squadron #25. Infinity, Inc, often called the Infinitors, were the sons, daughters, and proteges of the Justice Society, similar to how the Teen Titans were the sidekicks to the Justice League. At that time, Atom Smasher went by the name Nuklon and had a prominent red mohawk.
Atom Smasher’s DC Comics Origins
Al Rothstein was the godson of Al Pratt, the Golden Age Atom. He inherited his superpowers from his grandfather, the villain known as Cyclotron. Even though he descended from a villain, Al was a hero through and through, always trying to live up to the legacy of his godfather, the Atom. Eventually, Nuklon joined the Justice League. When the JSA reformed, he finally joined, taking the name Atom Smasher as a tribute to his godfather. The name and costume for Atom Smasher originally came from Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come, which presented an alternative future for the DC universe.
Atom Smasher’s Powers and Abilities
Atom Smasher gained the power to grow to enormous sizes from his grandfather’s DNA. Although, even at his “normal” height, which is 7 foot 6, Atom Smasher still has incredible strength. Atom Smasher’s strength and density increase proportionately to whatever size he chooses, having grown as tall as 60 feet before. However, heroes and villains alike who are regular-sized and gifted with super strength have knocked him out cold on more than one occasion.
Atom Smasher in Black Adam
Of the four JSA members chosen for Black Adam, Atom Smasher makes the most sense. Al and Teth Adam formed a bond during his brief stint on the team, and Atom Smasher was much more permissive of his militant ways than the other JSA members. When Black Adam “breaks bad” again in the comics, Al regretted his close relationship with him, and helped the JSA fight him. It remains to be seen how much of this relationship dynamic makes it on screen.
Cyclone (played by Quintessa Swindell)
Who Is Cyclone?
Cyclone is one of the more recent JSA additions, introduced by writer Geoff Johns and artist Dale Eaglesham into the Justice Society of America series in 2007. She actually first appeared in a non-speaking background role in the alt-future series Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, which inspired Johns to introduce her properly to regular DC continuity.
Cyclone’ DC Comics Origins
Cyclone or Maxine Hunkel is the granddaughter of Abigail “Ma” Hunkel, the honorary JSA member who was the original Red Tornado. (Not to be confused with the android Red Tornado, a long-standing JLA member). When she was six years old, the mad scientist that created the second Red Tornado, Dr. T. O. Morrow, kidnapped her and infected her with nanobots. When she grew to adulthood, those nanobots allowed her to create powerful cyclones, similar to the android Leaguer. (Her grandmother had no such powers). Since she idolized the JSA, when she came of age, she asked to join the team as Cyclone.
Cyclone’s Powers and Abilities
Maxine Hunkel had the power to manipulate winds, and she could summon all manner of tornadoes and whirlwinds with a thought. She could also project strong bursts of air as a defensive tactic. Additionally, she used her power to fly by riding wind currents. Later, she found out she could control sound currents as well, adding to her power set. A huge fan of the Oz books and Wicked, Cyclone uses imagery from that series as costume inspiration since a cyclone was so prominent in The Wizard of Oz.
The Future of Black Adam’s Justice Society of America
So what will be the future of the JSA should Black Adam hit big? We can imagine a solo movie for the team, probably with a larger roster. A version of the team exists on the CW’s Stargirl, but the DC Multiverse is infinite. A WWII JSA origin story, perhaps with Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman on the team? A version of the JSA that showcases the original Flash and Green Lantern? When it comes to the JSA, there are nearly 80 years of stories to pull from. The sky is the limit.
Originally published October 5, 2022.