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Friday, 14 January 2011


If you think Muhammad Ali's toughest challenge was George Foreman or Joe Frazier then think again. Henry Cooper and Sonny Liston may have raised a sweat on Ali's forehead, but by far Ali's toughest bout was in 1978 when he went fifteen blistering rounds with America's man of steel, Superman.

Superman vs. Muhammad Ali is a comic book published by DC Comics in 1978. The 72-page book, retailed for $2.50, and featured Superman teaming up with the heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali to defeat an alien invasion of Earth. It was based on an original story by Dennis O'Neil which was adapted by Neal Adams, with pencils by Adams, and figure inks by Dick Giordano with background inks by Terry Austin.

The pairing of Superman with real life American icons was not new and Supes had already appeared in stories with the likes of Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis and  even John F. Kennedy. And in the Superman/Ali battle hordes of famous faces, some fictional others real,  could be seen in the crowd watching the fight - The Beatles, Jimmy Carter, Frank Sinatra, the cast of Welcome Back Kotter, Sonny Liston, Sonny Bono, Wolfman Jack, Ron Howard, The Osmonds, The Jackson Five, Johnny Carson, Batman, Wonder Woman and The Green Lantern to name but a few of the celebrity audience. One nice touch was that Christopher Reeve was also there wearing the same glasses he wore as Clark Kent in the then due to be released Superman movie.

The comic book had a troubled road to publication and it was delayed several times before eventually appearing in 1978 while Superman The Movie was in its last stages of production. It was originally to appear in the fall of 1977, then Jan 1978 and eventually it came about in the spring of 1978. By the time the book was published, Ali was no longer World Heavyweight Champion, having been dethroned by Leon Spinks Ali won back the title in September 1978.

The comic book has become a genuine collectors' item in recent years, partly because it could not be reprinted. In addition to Ali, the story featured cameos of real-life personalities and celebrities. Changes in intellectual property law have prohibited the use of celebrity faces in media or artwork they do not personally endorse.  Though in 2011 the book will be released as a hardcover graphic novel.

 The plot is typical comic book stuff -
Rat'Lar, the maniacal leader of a species of aliens called the Scrubb, demands that Earth's greatest champion fight the greatest fighter of their world. If Earth refuses, the Scrubb and their huge armada of spaceships will destroy it. Superman and Muhammad Ali each come forward to volunteer. However, Ali argues that Superman is not really of Earth, and has an unfair advantage in his many superpowers. In typical Ali-style verbiage, he puts himself forward as the obvious choice.
Intrigued, Rat'Lar decides that Superman and Ali should fight one another to see who really is Earth's champion. To make the fight fair, he decrees that the match should take place on his home planet, Bodace, which is orbited by a red sun (which temporarily robs Superman of his powers). The winner would simply be the best boxer. To make the most of the battle, the match will be broadcast on intergalactic television to thousands of other worlds (with Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen acting as broadcaster). The two would-be champions decide that Ali will train Superman in the finer points of boxing. They journey to Superman's Fortress of Solitude to have his powers temporarily deactivated.
When the real match begins, it soon becomes apparent that in battling with more or less equal strength, Ali is the superior fighter. Superman takes a serious beating, but somehow refuses to drop; he stays on his feet all through the beating. Finally, Ali stops the fight, urging the referee to call for a technical knockout. Superman then falls face-first on the canvas, making the knockout more than technical.
Thus Ali is set to face the Scrubb's champion, the behemoth Hun'Ya. The alien leader then asks Ali to predict at what round the fight will end. After some chiding, Ali predicts that he’ll knock the alien out in the eighth round. Once the match begins, however, Ali quickly starts to suffer from fighting the super-powered Hun'Ya. Suffice to say Superman regains his powers and returns to kick alien ass but with more than a little help from the black superman, Muhammad Ali.

The book is great entertainment in a 1970's comic book kind of way and it's great that it's finally being reprinted. Amazon are already taking pre-orders for the book which is due to see publication next month in a deluxe hardcover edition.

And so we leave you with another page from the comic book.


John Sinclair said...

Its already out, Dobby! I had a copy at Christms, even though I have the original!

BTW: sickener.. Just before Christmas I was over at my friend, comic artist Mike Collins', studio, discussing a graphic novel we're working on together..
Anyhow, Mike had a copy of the new release and we talked about it, and later I posted on his fb page that I didn't like the modern computer colouring: I much prefered the old hand-coloured style.
Bugger me if a few hours later a comment came up on the thread - from NEAL ADAMS!!

And he was NOT pleased! Seems some other comic pros had made the same point. He said that he and his team had worked hard on the new colouring and that it was superior to the original!
So there you go - a few passing comments and you can get jumped on by one of your heroes! Who would have thought that Neal Adams would be lurking around a FB page?!

And he IS one of my heroes.
Love his work. One of the top three in my estimation: Adams, Kirby, Barks.
the tops.
'Nuff said!

And if you should read this Mr Adams; can't wait for your new DC collection at the end of the year!

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

John - I was referring to the UK deluxe hardback from Titan Books - it's out 25th Feb 2011