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"Superman vs Muhammad Ali? What? How can Ali fight Superman?" , was the thought going through my head during the mid 90s while I was a teenager after reading the last pages of a Superman comic book ad. Well I finally got it for Christmas and the book from cover to cover. It actually took me about a few days to read it because there were so many pages because there was so much going on. I thought it was interesting to see that Superman or Kal being on the same human level as Ali that he couldn't beat Ali. It's good to see a real fighter could always beat a slugger who lost his supernatural strength. Kal never did have a talent or the skill level of a boxer or fighter, he just has super powers. With that he could beat anyone without them.
I thought it was also funny hearing Ali talk the way he would in reality, making jokes about woopin somebody. I think it was a good read with a good storyline. It's definitely a collector's item.
"The Fight to Save Earth from Star Warriors!" Superman and Muhammad Ali teaming up to thwart an alien invasion of Earth. An idea so brilliant and bizarre it could only happen in the world of comics. Superman v Muhammad Ali is a 1978 one-off 72 page DC story by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams. The notion of fictional superheroes meeting real life people in special issues of comics was by no means new or original even at the time (Superman had already met Presidents and, er, Jerry Lewis) but this is a very inspired and enjoyable volume that remains a lot of fun. A very strange but surprisingly good comic that is now regarded to be something of a cult classic for the fantastic art and memorable meeting of these two legendary figures. I don't think anyone who is interested in comics could possibly resist the cover alone - which highlights the amazing art by Neal Adams especially during the boxing match between Ali and Superman. The crowd detail is incredible and you can pick out a host of celebrities (170 I believe in all). Don King, Raquel Welch, Woody Allen, Peter Falk as Columbo, Christopher Reeve, The Jackson 5, Cher, Pele, Jimmy Carter, Raquel Welch, John Wayne, Andy Warhol, The Beatles, Donny Osmond, Kurt Vonnegut. And so on. The cover is one of the greatest I've ever seen and the splash page art inside includes more celebrities in the crowd than you could ever spot or pick out. I think I even saw Batman too! Adams was an important figure in the comic industry and is credited with making Batman darker and a character to be taken more seriously after the Adam West television series and some campy Dark Knight comics in the early seventies. While Superman v Muhammad Ali is one of the more far out and daft comics in his career it never really sends itself up and has a weird logic that sort of works and makes the preposterous plot more palatable.
What is the plot of Superman v Muhammad Ali you ask? The legendary boxing champion Muhammad Ali is taking some well deserved time off from the ring and having some fun in his spare time playing basketball with some kids in Metropolis's down-town inner city ghetto. He's a real life superhero by the late seventies of course, arguably the most famous man in the world and a living legend. "At boxing I'm The Greatest but at basketball I'm only terrific!" the always modest Ali tells the kids. I love the way here the art captures Ali's features and the speech bubbles his cheeky and amusingly braggadocio personality. Anyway, while he is shooting some hoops (as the Americans would say) a pesky race of alien invaders known as the "Scrubb" appear led by their despotic and powerful leader Rat'lar. Rat'lar (to use boxing parlance) does some trash talking to Ali (Ali gives as good as he gets and takes out an alien with a mighty punch) and then explains he has a vast space armada ready and waiting to destroy Earth. Things suddenly don't good for our "green-blue pearl" planet. Superman is soon on the scene too though as Clark Kent just happened to be passing by with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen (this is Metropolis afterall). Rat'lar (obviously a big boxing buff with a weakness for games and gambling) announces that if they want to save humanity they must pit Earth's greatest champion against the Scrubb champion (the green behemoth Hun'Ya) in a bout of intergalactic pugilist fisticuffs to determine the fate of the planet. But Superman and Muhammad Ali both proclaim themselves to be the champion of Earth and feel they should represent Earth in the challenge. Which one should be our champion?
Superman reasons that he is surely the logical choice because of his mighty powers that make him impervious and a million times stronger than any man. He has a point I think. However, the Scrubb home planet Bodice orbits a red sun which will negate Superman's solar energy so Superman's powers will not be a factor in the fight. He will essentially be a normal human being. Rat'lar decides that Superman must fight Ali without his powers as an ordinary man in the boxing ring to determine which one will box their alien champion in a fight to save humanity. Who will win? The Man of Steel or The Greatest? Can the winner save Earth? It sounds ludicrous (and is) but Superman v Muhammad Ali is actually a really good comic with fantastic colourful art by Neal Adams. It has a large format approach at times with huge panels stretched over two pages. You know this is going to be a cut above your average DC comic as soon as you open it and Adams presents a Metropolis city street scene that is packed with vibrant colour and wonderful detail. So much love and attention seems to have gone into this and many panels are a delight. The comic has a nice optimistic look and feel and doesn't seem like an old comic at all in terms of the art. The story (which is enjoyably daft) scores really highly I think by allowing both of these icons to retain their lustre and dignity and they of course have to team up in the end to thwart this dastardly alien invasion rather than battle each other too much. "Superman, WE are the greatest!" declares Ali to The Man of Steel after they work together. A great moment. Ali ends up doing the boxing and Superman does his usual Superman type stuff - like saving St Louis from a rain of plasma missiles. The important thing is that they don't turn either hero into a villain. Both are great heroes in different arenas who find themselves thrown together in an unusual situation.
There is a wonderful section where Ali trains Superman and teaches him about the noble art before they fight (this takes place in outer space and Superman uses some sort of time barrier so that it doesn't take up any time... or something). Superman proves to be surprisingly innocent and clueless about the actual act of fighting someone though. You'd think that all those years clobbering supervillains would have made him an expert but I suppose he had his superpowers and didn't have to worry about the Marquess of Queensbury rules too much. I love the boxing panels on the Scrubb home world too because we see the crowd made up of all manner of strange aliens! Very Star Wars (and that film had obviously only just come out at the time so it was an obvious inspiration to Adams). There is a fantastic piece of art here by Adams in particular where he has a montage of Ali trash talking and boasting as he prepares to fight the alien champion. Behind the illustrations are three real photographs of Ali made to dominate the background of the panel along with stars. It's a great piece of art and the sort of invention you don't expect in a comic this preposterous. The boxing match between Ali and Superman is a lot of fun. Superman - sans powers - is no match for Ali but refuses to go down or give up which is of course perfectly in character. He would never give up even if he could no longer call upon the abilities of Superman. I love the way he wears his Superman costume during the fight too! Superman and Muhammad Ali is very silly but sort of brilliant in its own bonkers way. Both Ali and Superman are treated with the upmost respect and the lush art is wonderful to take in. It seems to often be a bit on the expensive side (about £20 last time I looked) but if you are a fan of comics, Ali and Superman then this is is something you'll certainly enjoy adding to your collection.