52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Longtime collaborators Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams have worked on so many titles together that it’s almost hard to keep track of them all. One of the earliest collaborations between the two men was actually for Marvel Comics, resurrecting Charles Xavier in X-Men #65. From there they moved over to DC Comics, working on titles like Green Lantern, Batman, and Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. O’Neil widely regards Superman vs. Muhammad Ali as one of his favourite collaborations with Neal Adams, giving us another celebrity style team-up for everyone’s favourite Man Of Steel!
Superman vs. Muhammad Ali
Standing in the red corner, is a man often referred to as “The Man Of Steel”. Brandishing less than traditional ring wear, with a pair of tights that look like he’s wearing underwear over top of them along with a red cape draped over his shoulders, he is humanity’s one, true hope. He is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He is the one and only, Superman! In the blue corner, he is the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. In his iconic white shorts, a towering mass of a man as powerful as an ox but as fast as a cheetah, he floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee! If you ever dream of beating him, you’d better wake up and apologize because he is none other than Muhammad Ali! In a showdown for the ages, Superman and Muhammad Ali must face each other down to decide who’s Earth’s greatest champion is. This match will decide who will take on the chosen champion of an invading alien race with the fate of the entire world hanging in the balance. When an unstoppable force collides with an immovable object, there is no telling what may occur as the two men duke it out, holding nothing back in deciding who is the greatest of all time and fit enough to defend the Earth.
Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil give you the crossover you never knew you wanted with Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. This one-of-a-kind story perfectly encapsulates the beauty of the sequential art form, bringing the stories that readers could only dream off to life with this magnificent story. The two iconic creators take two of the most iconic pop culture figures of this century and throw them together, full steam ahead in a story that is cheesy, ridiculous, over-the-top, but most importantly, fun. In a simple series of words, it’s easy to point out that this isn’t the greatest comic book story ever created but it’s again worth noting that this story is one of the best examples of why comics are so much fun to begin with.
From the top we have to look at the plot and accept it for what it really is: a paper-thin tale that is meant to get Superman and Muhammad Ali in the same panels as one another. There’s no complexity to the narrative, although Adams and O’Neil do try their best to throw at least one unexpected swerve the reader’s way before the end of the story. It’s Silver Age in the finest of ways even if this is technically a Bronze Age comic, embracing the campy nature of what is trying to be done to the fullest to tell a story with kind intentions and a great amount of heart. It all starts simply, with the crew from the Daily Planet trolling the streets for a hot new scoop when they encounter the champ himself out on the street with some children playing basketball. The sudden appearance of a mysterious alien draws Clark Kent to quickly change into his alter ego, Superman, to try to remedy the potentially chaotic situation. Before long, the alien demonstrates that its race could do whatever it wants to Earth with their weapons, placing a proverbial gun to our planet’s head. The invader demands that the Earth’s champion face a champion of their own for the fate of the planet, with Superman and Ali immediately torn between which one of them should defend their planet, feeling as though they are both the “greatest ever”. Through some trickery, the two men condense weeks of training into mere hours and face off to determine who will fight for the Earth’s survival. The story does have a clear act structure, from which it benefits but, like I said earlier, this isn’t a story that would be winning awards nowadays. Everything serves a purpose here though and the plot fulfills the need to have the two heroes from Earth jump from witty banter, to punching each other before ultimately saving the planet.
The plot most certainly won’t be the reason you trooper through all the pages of this comic. The redeeming quality of this unique crossover is without a doubt the star power of the two characters it features. O’Neil and Adams cast Superman and Muhammad Ali perfectly, showing a great grasp on both of the brave, powerful men. It seems that at any story juncture, the two creators take any opportunity to highlight what makes these men so unique, as well as woefully important to the story. With Superman, it’s perfectly characterized from the conversation he has with Muhammad Ali early on in trying to decide who should fight for Earth. The obvious answer to some is Ali simply because Superman is an alien himself, not originally from our world but instead adopted amongst our people. Superman at his core is a character who is meant to highlight the acceptance and diversity of the human race, being this magnificent being who is still humbled to live amongst those who are significantly weaker than him. That’s why he bares the name Superman instead of “Super-alien”, because as far as he’s concerned, he is just a man with exceptional abilities, even if he has an alien physiology. This is the argument he makes for representing a planet that has become as much of a home planet to him as it is to the very people born upon it. O’Neil and Adams also capture the undying spirit of Superman when he fights Ali to decide who will fight the aliens to save their world. Rocked by numerous punches, Superman absorbs punishment without rest, never wavering as he eats shot after shot, refusing to succumb to the pain that Ali throws at him.
At the same time, O’Neil and Adams also capture the “greatness” of Ali with seeming ease, from impassioned speeches about how he’ll handle his alien opponent to predicting which round he will defeat his enemy. The most important personality trait of Ali is the confidence the man exudes, balancing the line between said confidence and cockiness but reaffirming everything he states with his surprising skill. To me, the best part of the entire story was how perfect Ali’s dialogue was, always coming off as sharp as a knife and hitting all the right notes with the messages it tried to convey. Part of what helped Ali’s ascension to the ranks of the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time wasn’t just his skill level but also the way he used his mouth in conjunction with said skill. The story goes out of its way to point out how Ali felt as though you could win the fight before evening stepping into the ring because of the use of one’s words in regards to verbal or mental warfare and that stands true with this take on the iconic character.
Collects: Superman vs. Muhammad Ali
Best Character: Muhammad Ali
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “I’m glad I got the stage set! All these suckers thinkin’ this is a tough fight! I’m gonna give ’em all a lesson! I’m gonna whup ‘im an’ spank ‘im! I’m the greatest! I’m the king!!” – Muhammad Ali
Best Scene/Moment: Ali rallies late in the fight.
Best Issue: Well this is an easy one to just phone in on since this is technically an oversized issue itself but I’ll pick out the best portion of the book to keep things rolling. Pages 43-63 is definitely the most interesting chunk of pages in this comic book. It all starts off with an epic Ali speech about taking it to the aliens before a brilliant boxing match gets underway. Meanwhile, O’Neil and Adams provide the one actual twist in this comic that perfectly defines the the campy, fun nature of this story.
Why You Should Read It: You have to read this one simply because it’s a one-of-a-kind crossover. Think about it: when will we ever get to see something as monumental in comics as Muhammad Ali versus Superman? Sure, DC and Marvel crossing over is cool but this, taking a fictional hero and having him duke it out with a real life boxing champion is a one-of-a-kind idea. It’s far from perfect but that’s part of what makes it all laughably brilliant.