Friday, June 3, 2016

In Memory: Muhammad Ali


   The news this evening is filled with well-deserved tributes to boxing legend and icon Muhammad Ali, who passed away Friday evening at the age of 74.

   He had a single connection to comics, having appeared in the classic oversized Treasury Edition that had him fighting Superman. That improbable concept didn't inspire much confidence in me - but how I loved that comic! 

   Here's the "classic" review I wrote on Sept. 28, 2008: 


   In the interest of complete honesty, I'll confess a couple of things about the Superman vs. Muhammad Ali Treasury Edition that was released in 1978 (the actual title of the issue, believe it or not, is All-New Collectors' Edition #C-56).

   My first reaction to it was, "This has to be the stupidest idea for a comic ever." The idea of a boxer - any boxer - fighting Superman was, on the face of it, dumb.

   My second confession - and this is a tough one to admit today - is that I wasn't a fan of Muhammad Ali in 1978. I was never a huge boxing fan (basketball was my favorite sport at the time), and my fleeting impressions of Ali was that he was a braggart and swell-headed - not exactly qualities I admired in a sports figure in 1978. 

   I picked this issue up because it was drawn by Neal Adams. Period. 

   So imagine my surprise when, after reading the comic, I found that it was immediately one of my all-time favorite comics - and it made me a fan of Ali.

   The story by Denny O'Neil and Adams has Earth facing destruction at the hands of an alien armada - a force too powerful for even Superman to handle. The mad leader of the Scrubb offers a challenge - Earth's champion must fight the Scrubb champion, with the fate of Earth hanging in the balance.

   To determine the Earth's representative, Superman and Ali fight an elimination round - but it's on the Scrubb planet, which circles a red sun, so Superman's powers are nullified.

   The story that follows is full of twists, turns, improbable events, wonderful heroics and sports action sequences - and an incredible space battle!

   It also features some insightful sequences with Ali explaining the art of boxing, and his own use of psychology to outmaneuver his opponent. It gave me new-found respect for Ali's intelligence and skill, and it made me reconsider my (formerly ignorant) opinion - and I became a fan!

   Adams was at his peak as an artist here, with cinematic fight scenes, amazing alien vistas and emotional impact on each page. The cover alone is worth the price of admission, as it features dozens and dozens of '70s celebrities in the audience.

   It's a wonderful thing when a comic book (even a big, 73-page-long one) can surprise and delight and defy expectations, and this issue did that and more. 

   It holds up just as well today as it did 33 years ago. I may be older (even Superman has changed a bit), but Ali's exploits still loom large, and while this may be just the tiniest slice of his legacy, it's one I'll always be grateful for, because it opened my eyes to a real-life hero.

   Not too bad for a comic book.

Grade: A+


1 comment:

Mr. Brooks said...

In my neighborhood Muhammad Ali was our Superman. He talked smack and backed it up to the hilt. My favorite scene was the two-page spread of Ali and Superman shaking hands saying "We are the GREATEST".

This was during the era of busing, so that moment carried a lot of weight to me.

Plus Superman was taught how to box by The Greatest Of All Time. Not even Batman has that street cred.