SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI, who remembers this one? Not long after the seminal DC/Marvel crossover in which Superman teamed up with Spider-Man in 1976, boxing promoter Don King stepped into DC Comics' sanctum sanctorum and proposed a bout between the Man of Steel and the Louisville Lip. In 1978, the monumental 73-paged one-shot issue came out.
We know of Ali's impact as a cultural icon and his stand against the Vietnam War. His exploits in the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila are legendary. But did you know that Ali also helped save the Earth from an alien menace? See, what had happened was: The extraterrestrial people, the Scrubbs (yeah, they shoulda picked a better name), have deemed humans to be too warlike and a threat to the other alien races in the galaxy. This sets up a mega-boxing match between the Scrubbs' champion and Earth's champion, with the Scrubbs armada hovering over Earth ready to destroy it should our warrior loses. With the stakes so high, Superman steps up to the plate.
Except that the planet's reigning heavyweight champ, Muhammad Ali, takes exception. Superman tells Ali: "You may be the best human scrapper, but I'm super human!" To which, Ali retorts: "Right. But that's exactly why you shouldn't! They're talkin' about an Earthman... an' you were born on Krypton!" With both men unwilling to back down, there was only one way to settle things: duke it out in the ring to see who would represent Earth.
The story's highlight, of course, is the donnybrook between Ali and Superman (and that was a hell of a fight). In the confines of the story, theirs would only be the undercard, the main event still that match for all the marbles against the Scrubbs' formidable pugilist. Co-writers Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil inject several nice touches that elevate the story. First, of course, is that Ali's presence makes this a fascinating curio piece. The writing pays homage to Ali and Superman's core personas, to what makes them such lasting iconic figures. I thought the Greatest was portrayed terrifically, his dialogue sounding true to form. He even predicts the round he'll knock out his opponent. Neal Adams draws the thing, and maybe the highest compliment I can pay him is that Ali looks like Ali. Adams is such an awesome, dynamic artist. To segue some, Dick Giordano and Terry Austin, two of the best inkers in the biz, do great embellishing Adams' pencils.
Superman has abilities far beyond those of mortal man. Doesn't mean he knows squat about the Sweet Science. In the interest of fair play, to prep for their big fight, Ali teaches Superman the basics of boxing. And maybe my favorite part in this story is how their fight unfolds, and the outcome. Many alien races descend on our solar system to attend this mega-event, and Neal Adams really does justice to the scope of the story. Jimmy Olsen as the ringside boxing commentator, I can take or leave (mostly leave). The story isn't limited to the squared circle, of course. There's a sneaking suspicion that the Scrubb leader is headed for a seriously heel turn, and sure enough we get treated to duplicity and an undercover mission, to an epic space battle which pits Superman against an alien armada and Ali again proving that he's a baaaaad man. To cap it all off, the epilogue features Ali demonstrating a phenomenal bit of deduction. It certainly leaves Superman flustered.
Bonus material for this hardcover Deluxe Edition consists of a brief foreword from Neal Adams; an afterword by Jenette Kahn (who at the time was DC's publisher); a reprinting of the famous wraparound cover - which featured a galaxy of celebrities who were relevant back in the '70s and a host of those then on the DC Comics staff - and a key which identifies all the people on the cover; and eleven pages of Neal Adams' pencil sketches.