DC All New Collector's Edition,
Vol. 7 No C--58
Cover Date: 1978
Written By: Dennis O'Neill &
Inks: Dick Giordano & Terry Austin
As reports circulated that DC Comics
was planning a special book pitting the Man of Steel
against Muhammad Ali, the reaction was the same
among comic collectors, sports fans and the general
In previous decades, Superman had
encountered such real-life celebrities as Steve
Allen, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Allen Funt, Don Rickles
and John F. Kennedy, but by the mid-70s, superhero/celebrity
team-ups were looked down upon as one of the sillier
aspects of the genre. In a time when comics publishers
were desperately trying to redefine their product
as serious fare, the Supes-Ali match-up seemed to
be a nutty move. Just the title was enough to start
most people giggling.
Nonetheless, there were factors
in the book's favor. Fan favorite Neal Adams was
providing the art, the media was fueling the fire
with tons of free press and the much-anticipated
Superman movie was mere months away.
So it was that almost two decades
before 1993's "Death of Superman," this
book became, arguably, the original "media
event" comic ...and so -- silly or not -- it
sold like crazy.
From start to finish, the book is a miniature
time-capsule of the era that spawned it. For starters,
it sports a wrap-around cover depicting hundreds of late-70s
celebrities from the world of pop culture. Entertainment
legends like Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball are easy to
spot, but for today's readers even the "key"
inside the front cover may not explain the identities
of all the has-been stars. Ron Palillo and Robert
Heyges? (Here's a hint: "Up your nose wit' a
rubber hose!") Tony Orlando? Wolfman Jack?
Trust me, kids, you didn't miss anything. Sharing "the
good seats" with these pop icons are comic book characters
like Billy Batson, Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen, Barry
Allen and Diana Prince. Little do they know
that neaby sit the DC writers and artists who control
their destinies (Joe Shuster, Jerry Seigel, Neal Adams,
Wally Wood, Cary Bates, Gil Kane, E.Nelson Bridwell).
Over there in the front row is something you don't see
every day -- President Jimmy Carter sitting next
to Sonny Bono and Batman (!). Some figures
really blur the line between comics and the real world:
actors Kirk Alyn, Noel Neill and Jack Larson
look for all the world like their youthful selves from
Superman's serial days, and next to Johnny Carson
is Christopher Reeve, looking exactly like Clark
Kent (perhaps as a favor to Superman, to help preserve
the old secret ID). And if it seems odd that Lex Luthor
is sitting so peacefully next to Batman, look at how he's
sucking his fingers. Is he just nervous about the fight
or could it be that this bald head was originally intended
for Telly Savalas, and those fingers were supposed
to be holding a "Kojak"-style lollipop?
But, to the story: Things kick off with
a gorgeous two-page spread as Clark Kent, Lois Lane and
Jimmy Olsen scour the Metropolis ghettos for Muhammad
Ali, acting on a tip that the World Heavyweight Boxing
Champ is visiting the area incognito. In fact, they do
find him, but so does an alien who threatens to destroy
the Earth if our planet's greatest champion can't beat
theirs. Circling the Earth is an armada of over a hundred
starships, and just to prove their might, the aliens sink
an uninhabited island with their plasma missiles.
Hearing out the alien, who claims to represent
the "Scrubb" (not a promising name for a race
of aspiring sportsmen!), Supes and Ali agree in principle
to fight the alien champion on behalf of Earth. But then
they get into a shouting match over which one of them
will do the fighting. Both men want the job, each considering
himself...for very different reasons..."Earth's Greatest
Champion." The Scrubb leader offers (or rather commands)
a solution: Ali and Superman will fight each other for
the title, and the winner will combat the alien champion.
Showing he's a good sport, Ali agrees
to train Supes in the finer points of boxing, so at least
he'll stand a chance against the Champ. Supes takes him
to the Fortress of Solitude, where a "Red Sun ray"
temporarily removes his powers, so the two can spar as
Travelling to the agreed upon arena (Bodace,
a world under a red sun), they fight before an audience
assembled from the races of many worlds (including one
race that looks like fried eggs and another that resembles
albino chickens. As if in answer to the age-old puzzle,
Adams draws the eggs arriving on page 28 and the chickens
a page later. Ahem). No sign of Donny and Marie
or Joe Kubert in the audience this time, but we
do see spaceman Adam Strange and his wife Alanna, plus
a menagerie of aliens that looks like they just walked
out of the Star Wars "cantina" scene.
In case the suspense is killing you, let's
cut to the chase: Superman, lacking super-powers, being
largely untrained in the art of boxing and...well, let's
face it, being a caucasion, gets his clock cleaned
by Muhammad Ali. In fact he's reduced to a bruised and
bloodied mess ala Rocky Balboa. However, he does show
great character and courage by refusing to give up and
fall down. Finally, out of respect for Supe, Ali refuses
to go on, prompting the referee to declare a technical
knockout, which becomes more than just technical when
Superman keels over face first onto the canvas.
Poor old Supes is carted
back to Earth in an oxygen tent while Ali steps into the
ring with the alien champion, named "Hun'Ya"
(like the sound you might make when moving a sleeper-sofa).
As the fight begins, we see Ali's associate Bundini Brown
breaking into the control room of an alien ship. It turns
out "Bundini Brown" is actually a disguised
Superman, who's not quite as demolished as everyone thought.
While Ali does his stuff in the ring, Superman dupes the
alien starship fleet into leaving the Red Sun galaxy.
As soon as they do, his super-powers return and he conducts
his own personal "Star Wars," smashing the fleet
to bits with his bare fists.
Meanwhile, Ali wins his fight,
but the Scrubb leader petulantly declares he will destroy
the Earth anyway. At this show of poor sportsmanship,
the leader's own champion Hun'Ya punches him in the face.
Seems the Scrubb people were misled by their leader into
thinking Earthers were no-good warmongers, but the actions
of Superman and Ali have proven our true colors, so the
aliens make their apologies, shake hands and leave in
Returning to Earth, Superman and Ali shake
hands and make up, too, not that they were ever really
at odds. Ali reveals that he's figured out Superman is
really Clark Kent, but Superman seems unconcerned, having
come to trust the champ implicitly.
Again, the emphasis on space fleets, coming
in the wake of the phenomenal success of "Star Wars"
the previous summer, dates the book as much as the celebrity
photos on the cover. Also, it's hard to read the fight
scenes without thinking of the "Rocky" film
released the year before. "Superman vs. Muhammad
Ali" is very much a product of its time, but that's
part of the charm. For those of us who could never get
enough of Neal Adams' Superman, this book, at 72 pages
and tabloid-sized, is the closest thing we ever got to
a Holy Grail.
Silly? You bet. But fun, too. Although
the story's a bit thin, especially for 72 pages, there's
a disarming sense of humor to the whole affair. And as
showcases for great art go, this one's a real beaut. With
the recent resurgence of tabloids in the form of Alex
Ross' "Superman:Peace on Earth," "Batman:
War On Crime" and "Shazam: Power of Hope,"
it's fun to remember the original age of comic
book tabloids. This one represented the high point of
The only wet blanket in this whole affair
was the fact that at some point during the many months
the notoriously late Neal Adams toiled away at the artwork,
Muhammad Ali lost his championship title. So it was that
by the time the book hit the stands, Muhammad Ali was
-- at least in the eyes of the boxing commission -- no
longer "The Greatest." Proving, one might argue,
that it really is a dumb idea to mix superheroes with
real-world celebrities after all.