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Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali by Neal Adams

01/11/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali Deluxe Edition in the USA - or Buy Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali Deluxe Edition in the UK

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pub: Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali Deluxe Edition by Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil. DC Comics. 96 page hardback graphic novel. Price: $19.99 (UK), $23.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-4012-2841-5.

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Back in the late 70s, the release of the treasury-size comicbooks was becoming the thing although DC did very few of them. ‘Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali’ was all new material from DC at this size created by the famous artist Neal Adams, inked by Dick Giordano, and writer Denny O’Neil team from a proposal to have the Man of Steel meet the boxer with the wallop. In many respects, they could be seen as a bit of a mismatch, after all, under normal conditions, Superman could take out any normal human with a flick of his pinkie. So things had to be made more even.

An alien species called the Scrubb’s emperor Rat’lar is planning to destroy the Earth unless we produce a champion to fight their champion in the boxing ring. Earth has two willing to do it, especially as they were approached together and have to duke it out to take on the Scrubb champion. No need to guess who. With only a short interval to train, Superman takes Ali to an inter-dimension space with slower time so they can get some practice in. After all, Superman with his reliance on his super-powers isn’t really a boxer. Ali teaches him how to psyche out the opponent as well as spar, under red sun conditions – assuming he doesn’t beat the dude in the cape, until after two relative weeks away, the aliens cotton on and request them to return.

Then comes the fight between them and Superman is soundly beaten, mostly cos he refuses to fall, so that Ali has to face Hun’ya who positively towers over him. However, it is a nefarious plot by the alien emperor to win regardless and...well, we are now in real spoiler land.

I suspect a lot of newer comicbook readers are going to buy this graphic novel simply because it’s Neal Adams than any relevance to Muhammad Ali these days although I could be wrong about that. Adams depiction of Ali in his prime demonstrates how well he captured real people and gives them all physical presence. When you see the pencil sketches at the back of this book, it’s obvious from the art. However, the story is pretty sound and an interesting demonstration at the end that violence is not the answer to major conflict. An interesting point is made that the reason Superman fights in costume because the aliens at the boxing ring wouldn’t be able to tell the two humanoids apart otherwise.

The reason why there was some controversy with the original took a year longer to be released was the idea of the cover having recognisable humans of the time in the arena rather than the aliens in the actual story. DC’s legal department recognising that they needed permission from all concerned to do this had to make frantic contact with those who were going to be used to make it possible. Considering that a couple actors turned this down, this is just as well. In the end, the 172 people used were a combination of DC staffers and characters – mostly in civvies, Warner executives and various celebrities, a lot of whom might actually be meaningless to today’s generation. I actually have the original edition in my collection to know that it works at a larger size but at comicbook size which this hardback is and perhaps not knowing everyone today, despite the overleaf identifying them all, tends to make this aspect a curio. Just goes to show that fame is fleeting.

That said, the appeal of this book is likely to spread between comicbook and boxing fans alike and so will still sell today regardless of whether you’re into boxing or not.

GF Willmetts

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