Sunday, December 7, 2014

Superman vs. Muhammad Ali Deluxe Edition

 One of my treasured possessions as a kid was my battered copy of DC's ALL NEW COLLECTOR'S EDITION, VOL. 7, the oversized epic known as SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI. I must have read this 500 times, which was odd, because I was far from being a Superman fan, and, at seven years of age, I doubt that I knew much about Muhammad Ali. Yet something about this particular comic-book struck such a deep chord in me that I found myself returning to it, over and over again, for years. Was it the stunning Neal Adams art, which was made more amazing by the oversized format? Was it the outlandish plot? Or was it the character, wit, and determination of Muhammad Ali himself, his personality and larger-than-life mannerisms and speech-patterns so perfectly captured by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams?
 Reading this as an adult, and knowing so much more about Ali than I did 36 years ago, I think the reason that I took to this book the way I did was because of Ali. I have no idea who really wrote this book (Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams are listed as "Co-plot and writing", but both the introduction, by Neal Adams, and the afterword, by Jenette Kahn, make it sound like O'Neil departed the project for some unknown reason fairly early on...), but whoever it was, they nailed Ali's bluster, bravado, and huge heart perfectly. Adams also hits it out of the park with Ali's likeness, which is spot-on. (I did spot a few panels where he used a famous photo as a reference.)

 The plot is pure 1970's high-concept, as an alien race, worried about the warlike nature of Earth's inhabitants, arrives ready to wipe us out entirely if we do not agree to a contest: Their greatest champion, a massive alien beast named Hun'ya, will fight our greatest champion...If Earth's champion wins, our planet will be spared. But who, exactly, IS Earth's greatest champion...? Superman and Muhammad Ali both feel it should be them, so the question is settled by a preliminary bout, which finds Ali battling a depowered Superman.

 Someone reading this today, for the first time, will probably not enjoy this anywhere near as much as I did. As an about-to-turn-45-year-old-man, rereading a book he adored as a seven-year-old, I had a blast. It was every bit as good as I remembered, and then some. The book has been completely remastered, with gorgeous new colors, and a large original art section featuring Neal Adams' pencils. (Considering Adams' penchant for re-drawing his work for reprints, I wouldn't be surprised to find that some or all of this had been re-drawn, but since my original copy is long gone, I can't say anything other than: It looks pretty much how I remember it as a kid.)

 DC published two versions of this book in 2010: The SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI DELUXE EDITION, which is what I bought, is pretty much a standard DC hardcover. They also published a "Facsimile edition", which is supposed to be the same size as the original Treasury Edition.

 I had a BLAST with this book. I thank my mom for giving me the whopping two bucks that this cost back in 1978, and I thank DC for making it available again.