Thirty-two years after it's original publication, DC Comics has released two new editions of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. How does this classic work hold up today?
Credits & Solicit Info:
Two legendary figures meet for the first time in this spectacular adventure, as an alien race called the Scrubb demand that Earth's greatest champion battle their world's own greatest fighter. Both Superman and Muhammad Ali step forward -- and to determine who is truly Earth's greatest fighter, Superman temporarily loses his powers and faces Ali in the ring. Ultimately, the duo must work together to defeat the Scrubb, with Ali taking on their champion while Superman battles their space-armada. Features previously unpublished developmental artwork and other bonus features, at DC's Deluxe Edition trim size.
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In the fall of 1978, DC Comics published a comic book featuring arguably the most iconic superhero of all time teaming up with arguably the most iconic sports figure of all time, Muhammad Ali. Written by Dennis O'Neil and co-written and drawn by Neal Adams, this 72 page one-shot comic was a product of its times, illustrated both by the plethora of 70s celebrities adorning the cover, as well as the distinct storytelling style that was a staple of the Silver and Bronze Ages. Surprisingly, this book ages very well.
For those impressed by the cooperation that led to the Marvel and DC crossovers of this same era, the work that went into producing this book surpasses even that. According to the foreword, the creators of the book needed the approval of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, and Wikipedia tells us that Ali himself would only agree to appear if his character could discover Superman's secret identity. In fact, the process of producing the comic took so long that Ali was no longer World Heavyweight Champion by the time it was released.
Regardless, Superman vs. Muhammad Ali is fondly remembered by fans who owned the original release. And it's no surprise, as this is a Bronze Age comic at its finest. An evil alien race threatens to destroy the Earth unless Earth's greatest champion fights theirs in a boxing match. Of course, there is some dispute over whether that champion is Superman or Ali, so the two decide to settle it in a match of their own. While Ali bests Superman in a powerless match, Superman's refusal to give up wins over the hearts of the alien spectators, and the two eventually team up to defeat both the alien champion and the unscrupulous alien warlord, who attempts to destroy the Earth regardless of the winner of the fight.
Okay, so it sounds pretty ridiculous written out like that, and in truth, it is. Storytelling in comic books in the seventies was not known for it's literary complexity. In fact, simplicity was preferred, and in many cases, the reader was beaten mercilessly over the head with wordy exposition. To some extent, that flaw is present here, and as a result this might not be for readers who can't appreciate older comics with a historical perspective, and might be more inclined to incorrectly view this as kitsch. On the other hand, older fans and those with a proper appreciation for the days of comics past will find a treasure in Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.
And with good reason! The art here is a pleasure to behold, which is to be expected from a true master like Neal Adams. Not only does Adam's current work hold up well in modern times, but even this thirty year old artwork shines today, aided of course by what I'm guessing is a brand new coloring. In fact, many consider it to be some of Adams' finest work. The format itself is oversized like the original, and comes in both a regular hardcover and deluxe version packed with extra features.
Superman vs. Muhamad Ali will make a fine addition to anyone's bookshelf or coffee table, and in particular would be an excellent choice of holiday gift for the classic comic book lover in your family. Literary complexity may not be a factor here, but it doesn't need to be. This story has all the elements that make a classic superhero story packed together into one "heavy-hitting" package.
Review by: Jude Terror