Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Greatest of ALL Time!

The Greatest of ALL Time meets …The Greatest of All Time!
That really is the only way you could bill Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali when it was published in a treasury sized edition in 1978! Of COURSE it had to be in that oversized format because no NORMAL comic could hope to contain Ali, Superman AND the art of Neal Adams!!!
And now, for the very first time this great graphic novel has been reprinted in both the oversized and standard format. Trust me. This is one you MUST have.

Neal Adams, in the introduction of the new edition says, with some humility, that Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali may be the best graphic novel ever done.

I say he is being modest. There is no “may” about it. What’s that? How could something as silly as a boxer against Superman be better than Watchman? How could it be greater than Dark Knight Returns?!...How can it be more amazing than Howard the Duck???!!!

Well with all due respect to Howard, The Comedian and the slightly psychotic Batman just the ART depicting Ali would make this book hard to beat. Neal Adams is simply, like Ali and Superman, The GREATEST (comic artist) of ALL time! He and Dennis O’Neil (who had the original story idea and was Adam’s partner on the iconic Green Lantern/Green Arrow books) captured the essential Ali, a man who is in every sense of the word a hero. They teamed him up with the greatest fictional hero of all time, Superman and together they overcame not only the villain of the piece, but their own limitations and weaknesses.

Below is the official plotline:

Rat'Lar, the maniacal leader of a species of aliens called the Scrubb, demands that Earth's greatest champion fight the greatest fighter of their world. If Earth refuses, the Scrubb and their huge armada of spaceships will destroy it. Superman and Muhammad Ali each come forward to volunteer. However, Ali argues that Superman is not really of Earth, and has an unfair advantage in his many superpowers. In typical Ali-style verbiage, he puts himself forward as the obvious choice.
Intrigued, Rat'Lar decides that Superman and Ali should fight one another to see who really is Earth's champion. To make the fight fair, he decrees that the match should take place on his home planet, Bodace, which is orbited by a red sun (which temporarily robs Superman of his powers). The winner would simply be the best boxer. To make the most of the battle, the match will be broadcast on intergalactic television to thousands of other worlds (with Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen acting as broadcaster). The two would-be champions decide that Ali will train Superman in the finer points of boxing. They journey to Superman's Fortress of Solitude to have his powers temporarily deactivated.
When the real match begins, it soon becomes apparent that in battling with more or less equal strength, Ali is the superior fighter. Superman takes a serious beating, but somehow refuses to drop; he stays on his feet all through the beating. Finally, Ali stops the fight, urging the referee to call for a technical knockout. Superman then falls face-first on the canvas, making the knockout more than technical.
Thus Ali is set to face the Scrubb's champion, the behemoth Hun'Ya. The alien leader then asks Ali to predict at what round the fight will end. After some chiding, Ali predicts that he’ll knock the alien out in the eighth round. Once the match begins, however, Ali quickly starts to suffer from fighting the super-powered Hun'Ya.
Meanwhile, Superman's great recuperative powers have enabled him to make a speedy recovery. Disguising himself as Ali cornerman Bundini Brown, he steals into the Scrubb command ship and sabotages their space armada. In his brave showdown with the armada, however, Superman is again badly hurt, and is left drifting in space.
Miraculously, Ali gets a second wind. In the predicted eighth round, he not only knocks the alien champion out, but out of the ring as well. Yet after witnessing Superman's decimation of his invading forces, the Scrubb leader cries foul and decides to invade the now helpless Earth anyway. Just as Rat'Lar is about to give the go-ahead to his backup forces, his own champion Hun'Ya becomes enraged at Rat'Lar's dishonorable tactics and deposes him. There will be no invasion. Earth is saved.
Superman is rescued and once again revived. Hun-ya, the new Scrubb leader, makes peace with Ali, Superman, and all of Earth. The very end of the book shows Ali and Superman in a private moment. Ali reveals that he discovered Superman's secret identity as Clark Kent, but implicitly vows to keep it secret. The book ends with the two champions embracing and Ali proclaiming, "Superman, WE are the greatest!"

Great space opera but also a story about how true champions go the distance.
Add to that the fact that in 1978 Ali was still a very controversial figure both as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and for his conversion to the Nation Of Islam. And though it seems silly from the viewpoint of 2010 but back then a black protagonist in comic books was rare if not unheard of.

This was a book about inclusion. This was a book about heroes, real and fictional.
And you cannot overstate enough the inclusion of the one and only Muhammad Ali.
Ali was and is a very personal hero of mine. Superman was and is a very personal hero of mine. I learned a lot about personal courage from watching Ali in and out of the ring. This was a man who jeopardized his career and millions of dollars for his personal and religious belief that Vietnam was an unjust conflict. Whether one agrees with that or not (and many at the time din NOT) there is NOTHING more American than standing up for what you believe regardless of the consequences. Remember, from Ali’s point of view at the time he was facing jail and financial ruin. He could not foresee the day when he would not only be vindicated but beloved by people all over the world.

Of course he had to get his title back in the ring. Which he did just a year before this book was created when he defeated the “unbeatable” George Foreman in “The Rumble In The Jungle”. In fact I met Big George some years later and HE said that not only was Ali the greatest heavyweight of all time but that he was a true hero for standing up the way he did when everyone else said he was wrong. How’s THAT for an endorsement?!

As for Superman. Well the world would certainly be a poorer place without him. He may not be as “cool” as Batman or as “edgy” as Wolverine. He has more in common with Captain America than with Green Arrow. But he is a hero for one reason. It’s the right thing to do. Alex Ross captured the essential Superman in Kingdom Come when the Man of Steel observes “there is a right and a wrong and it’s not hard to tell the difference”. For the rest of us right and wrong can get confusing but not for Superman. I find that very comforting even after nearly 50 years of reading his adventures.

Ah! You say to yourselves. “He’s just “Geek The First Generation” and sentimental over a washed up superhero and some old boxer.”


But buy a copy of the reprint and then tell me you don’t smile at the end…or even get just a bit misty.

I am thrilled that this book is getting it’s long overdue attention. It is a landmark. It is great fun. And Neal, it IS the greatest graphic novel of all time.

That’s 30!


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