Trouble with Comics, Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali

Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali

Writers - Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil

Artist - Neal Adams

DC Comics. $19.99 USD / $39.99 USD (Tabloid Facsimile)

One thing I like about Neal Adams is how much pride he takes in his work. And I don’t just mean that his hard work is evident, but that he publicly takes pride in it. The Introduction to this hardcover reprint makes that clear—he thinks this is a great book that shows everyone how great comics are. You know what? He’s right on both counts.

Although I have no doubt Denny O’Neil made an important contribution to the plotting of this titanic team-up, it’s probably to the better that Adams ended up writing the thing—a superstar depicting the meeting of two superstars. Adams gets Superman fine, but he really understands Ali, because Adams is also a “it’s not bragging if you can do it” kind of guy. Adams takes pleasure in depicting a man who is not only at the top of his game, physically, but who also has a philosophy behind what he does. Adams was never just a showy artist; he served a story, and was constantly trying to move the art form forward.

I don’t mean to just lather up Adams here, but I was honestly really pleased to find how well this book holds up over thirty years later. I remember it coming out and reading my cousin’s copy, but I never had my own. It turns out it’s very well-plotted, with a number of interesting twists and developments, not to mention a great depiction of a respective union of two talented characters of integrity. It’s also a great distillation of Muhammad Ali, a knowing primer on some of the intricacies of boxing, and a celebration of American ingenuity and resilience, and it can’t have been the easiest book to put together, given that it featured a living icon and had to be approved by his religious guru. Somehow, Adams leaps the hurdles, and delivers a fun but well-thought-out story with not just the stuff above, but some pretty good fights, aliens, robots, spaceships and celebrity onlookers.

Adams is pretty corny at times, but that’s the only minor complaint. There’s so much more going on here than most specials of the past couple decades, with their full-page spreads and extended battles. Adams rightly found the common denominator of dignity between Ali and Superman, and even gives some to some of the alien enemies, which raises the tale up a couple notches from your average alien invasion story. And the art, forget about it. Adams is not only inked by his most complementary embellisher, the late Dick Giordano, but a young (but recognizable) Terry Austin inks the backgrounds. It’s great stuff, and unlike some of the Adams reprints of recent years, the recoloring is for the most part an improvement, though noticeably different from the original book. Really one of the most enjoyable single issues of a superhero comic you’ll ever read.

—Christopher Allen

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