Black Adam Ending Explained: Doctor Fate, The JSA, and the Future of Kahndaq

From Doctor Fate to the villainous Sabbac, the Black Adam ending is packed with DC lore and cameos. We break it all down for you here, in case you missed anything.

Dwayne Johnson in Black Adam Review
Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

This article contains Black Adam spoilers.

Believe it or not, the ending of Black Adam is a lot deeper than your average superhero movie. At the very least, there’s more going on, and given how little backstory it provides for pivotal characters like Doctor Fate and Hawkman, not to mention the deep DC lore tied to Black Adam himself, means that a little extra context might help you keep track of everything that went down. Let’s try to get at this…

Doctor Fate’s Vision

The seeds for the ending of the film are planted midway through the film’s first act, during the introduction of Pierce Brosnan as Kent Nelson, aka Doctor Fate. We see Brosnan riding in a car, when the mystical (and according to the film, also alien!) helmet of Nabu materializes next to him. When touching the helmet, Nelson experiences a vision of a massive battle in Kahndaq with the demon Sabbac, and appears to witness the death of his teammate and old friend, Hawkman. Of course, that’s only the portion of the vision that we, the audience see, and it’s not clear whether Doctor Fate also envisions the solution here, or his actions later in the film are a direct attempt to change it.

If this seems weird, it shouldn’t. As Cyclone tells Atom Smasher at one point in the film, Doctor Fate’s powers are so intense, that Kent Nelson often seems “possessed” when wearing the helmet of Nabu, almost as if being Doctor Fate turns him into another entity entirely. That’s pretty much in line with how the character is portrayed in the comics, as well. Doctor Fate is not only scary powerful, but also just a little scary, period.

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Of course, there’s a whole lot of movie that happens between this and the end…

Ishmael and the Crown of Sabbac

Throughout the film, the traitorous Ishmael is hunting for the Crown of Sabbac, the artifact made from the magical metal of Eternium. It’s the same crown that his ancestor, King Ahk-Ton wore in Kahndaq 5,000 years before. But the secret to the Crown of Sabbac isn’t that it grants its wearer power, but that they must die while in possession of it. “Death is a Path to Life” reads the inscription carved on it, and when Ishmael engineers his own death at Black Adam’s hand, he gets what he wants, and is sent to the “Rock of Finality,” which seems like the magical DCEU equivalent of Hell, but is also basically the evil equivalent of the Rock of Eternity, the site where both Black Adam and Shazam‘s Billy Batson were granted their powers.

It’s there, that he is greeted by a group of demons, who grant him the power he has been looking for, once he speaks their combined name (kinda like Shazam). While they don’t identify themselves on screen, their names (at least in the comics) are Satan, Aym, Belial, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, and Crateis. Put ’em together, and you have the magic word “Sabbac,” which is also the name of the demon that Ishmael transforms into, imbued with the powers of all of his demonic namesakes.

By the way, if you’re looking for an explanation of what gods grant Black Adam his powers and what those powers are when he says “Shazam” we’ve got that all laid out for you here.

Teth-Adam Surrenders His Power

Ishmael essentially committed “suicide by antihero” when he kidnapped Amon. He knew that Black Adam would come, and he knew that would result in his death. The fact that it came by mystical lightning probably even helped the Eternium in the Crown of Sabbac do its thing and send him to the Rock of Finality. And it had another, possibly unexpected byproduct: Adam inadvertently caused serious injury to Amon, and with the memory of how his son sacrificed himself, that’s too much for him to bear. As a result, Black Adam speaks the magic word of “Shazam” for the first time in 5,000 years, reverts to his mortal form as Teth-Adam, and allows himself to be taken into custody by the JSA.

He’s taken to a Task Force X (as in The Suicide Squad!) black site, where he’s met by none other than ARGUS agent Emilia Harcourt (Peacemaker‘s Jennifer Holland, in a nice surprise cameo). Adam is placed in stasis (in what appears to be a room with hundreds of other superhuman threats), and that’s that. Except, of course, it isn’t.

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Sabacc and the Legions of Hell

Sabbac, looking like a really awesome heavy metal album cover demon, returns to Earth, and begins raising the legions of hell to wreak havoc in Kahndaq. Essentially, if he is able to sit on the throne of Kahndaq, the same throne that King Ahk-Ton occupied 5,000 years prior, it’s all over for the world. And as cool as the JSA are, they’re outmatched here…or are they? You see, Sabbac didn’t count on Doctor Fate. Frankly, neither did Doctor Fate’s teammates.

This is indeed the scenario that Doctor Fate envisioned earlier in the movie. So this is where he takes action, using his magical powers to prevent the JSA from pursuing him as he takes on Sabbac on his own. But even he knows this won’t work, he’s really just buying time to give Teth-Adam a mystical, telepathic pep talk, awakening him from suspended animation…

The Rebirth of Black Adam

“The battle your son was meant to fight is upon us,” Fate telepathically tells Teth-Adam, referring to how Adam’s son was indeed the champion of Shazam and was meant to prevent King Ahk-Ton from becoming Sabbac and ruling the world. It’s a wonderful sequence, and it’s a really great offscreen performance from Pierce Brosnan. It awakens Teth-Adam and frees him from his stasis tank.

But Adam is still unable to speak the magic words, and gets pummeled by ARGUS guards as he tries to make his escape. It’s a nice way to illustrate how even without his powers, Teth-Adam is a tough, determined individual, one with an indomitable will to do the right thing…even if it’s his own way.

Of course, that’s an underwater prison, and Adam’s just taken a serious beating, and he may as well drift off and die…but instead is visited by a vision of his son, who reminds him of why he must continue the fight. Is this merely Adam’s near-death brain showing him visions of those he loved the most, or is this Doctor Fate planting this here to motivate him further? It’s not clear, but it works, and Teth-Adam says the magic word, is transformed, and gets a brand-new (and badass) comics accurate costume to go take the fight to Sabbac and his demonic horde.

The New Black Adam Costume

Look, this isn’t THAT big a deal, but it sure looks awesome, right? It also follows the recent DCEU tradition, established in Aquaman, of having a character start their movie in a “cool” costume (or no costume at all) and then eventually get one that looks like it came right off the comics page.

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Of course, there’s a little more to it than that, as it also represents Black Adam’s spiritual rebirth. Before this point in the movie, he was wandering, directionless, a man out of time, and with no mission other than to kill anyone who got in his way or threatened people he perceived as innocent. Now he is fully ready to be Kahndaq’s protector, and that’s exactly what he does as he takes off.

The Death of Doctor Fate and Hawkman’s Ruse

Doctor Fate calls on his full mystical arsenal, including creating multiple decoy versions of himself to take on Sabbac, but it isn’t enough. Sabbac’s demonic magic and brute strength are too great, and Fate endures a fatal blow just as his JSA teammates arrive to witness him discorporate, leaving only his helmet. Of course, since Fate’s powers aren’t innate, but rather come FROM the helmet, Hawkman uses it to create a decoy version of himself to attack and fall at the hands of Sabbac.

When Sabbac stabs Hawkman, this is the same portion of Doctor Fate’s vision that we witnessed earlier in the film…except that’s just Hawkman’s mystical decoy, and he just bought Black Adam enough time to arrive on the scene and literally RIP THE DEMON IN HALF (holy moley, that’s such an awesome moment). The question remains, did Doctor Fate foresee his own demise and know that Hawkman’s death was a ruse, or did he see Hawkman’s death as it was meant to be and then change things accordingly?

Pierce Brosnan told us about why the Hawkman and Doctor Fate scenes are so powerful…

“It had an emotional impact for me because these men are brothers,” Brosnan says. “They are men who have traveled through the eons of life together. They know each other’s souls so well. They’re endowed with these incredible powers. But more importantly, they have such a human heart for each other. So that for me, as Dr. Fate carried me through every day’s work, that I was with Aldis and Quintessa and Noah. So it’s not about being a superhero, it’s about being that man, Dr. Fate, who can foresee the future and knows what’s about to happen with his dear friends and the consequences of it.”

You can listen to more from our interview with Pierce Brosnan and Aldis Hodge here.

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Is Doctor Fate really dead?

Shortly after the victory over Sabbac, Doctor Fate’s helmet of Nabu discorporates, just as he did. Folks, one of the primary rules of superhero storytelling is that if there’s no body, then they can come back. With Fate, it’s a little murkier, though.

It’s possible, even likely, that Kent Nelson, at least his physical form, is indeed dead. It’s a shame, because Brosnan is so exceptionally delightful in this role and seemed to be having a blast. It’s reasonable to assume that he could return, even as a disembodied mystical entity if he and the filmmakers wanted.

On the other hand, the center of Doctor Fate’s power is in the helmet of Nabu, so another wearer could pick it up and we could have a new Doctor Fate (but hopefully one who consults with the spirit of Kent Nelson from time to time). This sort of thing happens all the time in DC Comics, and other folks who have worn the Doctor Fate mantel include Inza Nelson, Khalid Nassour, and even Hector Hall, the son of Hawkman Carter Hall!

Kahndaq’s Protector

In the comics, Black Adam becomes the ruler of Kahndaq, and he rules fairly but harshly. But here in the film, despite the residents of Shiruta apparently calling for a strongman dictator type (ummmm…) after being liberated from Intergang, Adam realizes that he’d be better suited as a protector than a ruler, and smashes the throne instead. From a heroic standpoint, and in terms of tying a bow on the character’s arc within this movie, it’s the right move. But I have to say, it sure would have been interesting to have a DCEU that made Kahndaq a global power with a super-antihero leader sitting on a throne!

Superman Returns

Of course, all this action in Kahndaq even further draws the attention of Amanda Waller and ARGUS, who tells Black Adam that he can do what he wants, as long as he stays where he is. When Adam unsurprisingly doesn’t take well to this threat, she calls in Superman (a triumphantly returning Henry Cavill). Of course, breaking down ALL the implications of this historic scene would take another article in itself, and that’s exactly what we’ve done for you right here.

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