Hiram Garcia on Comic-Con, ‘Black Adam’ and ‘League of Super-Pets’

We chat with producer Hiram Garcia about returning to Comic-Con and finally unleashing 'Black Adam' on that particular crowd.
Hiram Garcia Black Adam Comic Con

Welcome to Comic-Con Returns, our column celebrating San Diego’s mightiest comic convention and its revival after three long desolate years. In this entry, we chat with producer Hiram Garcia about finally bringing Black Adam to Comic-Con and why DC League of Super-Pets might be his secret weapon.

There is no other room on the planet like Hall H during the San Diego ComicCon International. Six thousand movie maniacs crammed into a massive arena, feeding off each other’s energy as much as the presentations dished out on the main stage. Most inside spent hours (if not days) sleeping outside to secure their spot. By the time the trailers kick-off, the audience is loopy and receptive to pretty much anything you’ll give them…as long as you respect their energy and bring your own to compensate. Fail to do so (*cough* *cough* House of the Dragon panelists), and you’ll be met with grumbly stern, slack-jaws ready to escape into their phones and Twitter feeds.

No one understands or appreciates the Hall H passion better than Hiram Garcia. The President of Production at Seven Bucks Productions (co-founded by Dwayne Johnson and producing partner Dany Garica) has brought numerous projects to Comic-Con over the years. He’s in awe of the room and was eager for its reception this year, three years since the last event.

Boosting curiosity even further, Garcia and Seven Bucks finally brought Black Adam with them. For a decade, the film percolated, and many thought it would never materialize. Garcia was never one of those people. Black Adam required intense consideration as Johnson connected deeply with the character, and he did not want to produce something that could easily stand next to or fade behind another superhero endeavor.

“It’s a version of a character we’ve never seen DJ play before,” says Garcia. “He really got immersed in this character, who really toes the line between what’s right and what’s wrong, the gray area between good and evil. That’s an area that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, especially superheroes. That makes them very uncomfortable.”

Garcia is talking about the Justice Society of America, featuring Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell), and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo). However, he may as well be talking about Black Adam‘s audience. While we’re accustomed to supervillain protagonists like Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad, are we really prepared to watch Dwayne Johnson tear bodies to shreds?

The Hall H Comic-Con crowd provided the answer. After Johnson commanded the stage in full Black Adam costume, sending LED lighting throughout the audience and their exclusive Black Adam lanyards, they were treated with an absolutely nasty sneak preview. Unnamed mercenaries storm a desert tomb where the god-imbued Black Adam awaits. After unleashing some pesky bullets upon him, Johnson lunges with super speed, snapping heads from shoulders, arms from sockets, and electrically frying the leftovers. The initial trailer barely hints at such ferocity, and the sight puts the Hall H folks on their feet.

“If we have a character who’s that powerful,” continues Garcia, “and can’t be controlled and tends to do what he feels is right, where he’s the judge, jury, and executioner, it puts the world on notice. For us, it was so much fun to tell that story because it isn’t a typical character that we’ve done before. It isn’t a clean hero. It’s an antihero. Someone who is very violent when they feel someone has done something wrong and they deserve punishment. They’re the ones that are going to deliver it, and they’re usually going to deliver it in a very violent way.”

As much as the crowd loves being in Hall H, Garcia enjoys being there too. Our anxiety rests on whether or not we’re going to love what we see. His anxiety rests on whether or not we’re going to love what we see. The excitable tension is addictive, and he finds himself craving it and missing it when they didn’t have an opportunity to present these previous two years.

“It’s just that energy,” says Garcia. “The fans are happy, and they’re excited. They love the world. They just want more. They’re so supportive. There’s a lack of cynicism there. It’s just the best energy in that room. It’s the kind of audience you love to be in front of, right? Where you’re celebrating, telling great stories, and bringing things to life. It’s the best.”

As the Hall H crowd, and the crowd outside Comic-Con, become more familiar with superhero stories, they’re more willing to take a chance on narrative and tonal shifts. That works for much darker projects like Black Adam but also titles on the other end of the spectrum. While Seven Bucks toiled away on their costumed killer, they were also presented a chance by Warner Bros. to create the DC League of SuperPets, featuring the voices of Dwayne Johnson as Superman’s canine Krypto and Kevin Hart as Batman’s hound, Ace.

“We have been working on Black Adam for what feels like forever,” says Garcia. “Then an opportunity for SuperPets came up that we just leaped at, obviously, to tell a story that I like to refer to as a little bit of a deeper cut. A lot of fans may not know that the Super-Pets have been around for a while. I think people are very familiar with Krypto, but some of the other characters maybe not so much. With our directors, Jared Stern and Sam Levine, there was a real authentic hunger to tell a story that gave some love to shelter animals. We love the idea of finding pets, of people finding their soul-pet.”

Black Adam follows a particular creative impulse as audiences adjust to superheroes. If these beings existed, the planet would be irrevocably changed. It’s hard to remain optimistic. It’s easier to fall into skepticism and despair, establishing a market for gnarly spandex content. Yet, our appreciation for caped characters creates space for lighter tones and more joyous genres.

“That’s where I think the power of this Super-Pets universe lives,” says Garcia. “I think a lot of the superhero movies because people are so familiar with them, you’re starting to feel them get a little bit edgier. Black Adam is very edgy, but I like being on the other side telling something kid-friendly. There’s a thing that anyone who owns a dog or a cat or a guinea pig, whatever you want to say, it’s just that special bond. I think this movie’s really able to tap into that while wrapping it up in great superhero powers with them flying around the world and doing all the stuff we love to see.”

Hiram Garcia can pump you up about anything. You leave conversations with him itching to get into a theater, to put his movies in your eyes. He and Dwayne Johnson are showmen, busting with confidence and assuredness. Hall H was seemingly made for them, so they must tackle that crowd without an ounce of worry.

“Well, look,” says Garcia, “you always are nervous. You’ve been working on this for a long time. It’s your baby. Now, you want to give it to the world. You want them to be as excited about it as you are. We have a lot of confidence in the film. We poured our heart and soul into this. We took great care to make sure we were honoring the characters. We introduced a lot of fun characters into this world. It’s just exciting to be able to bring it to Comic-Con, show the fans some more, and share this new version of an antihero into a superhero field that is so filled with characters…but none like this.”

DC League of SuperPets is now playing in theaters.

Brad Gullickson: Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)