This week, the world lost a legend.  But, Faithful Spoilerites, did you realize that Muhammad Ali once went toe-to-toe with Superman for the fate of the entire world?  And did you know it was also awesome?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali (aka All-New Collectors Edition C-56) awaits!

SupermanVsMuhammadAliCoverSUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI (ALL-NEW COLLECTORS EDITION C-56)
Writer: Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams
Penciler: Neal Adams
Inker: Dick Giordano/Terry Austin
Colorist: Cory Adams
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Editor: Julius Schwartz/E. Nelson Bridwell
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.50
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $140/$160

Previously in Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali: Though many people think of “comics” only as the 8×10 stapled pamphlets of recent years, comic book publishers have experimented with any number of printing formats.  Golden Age comic books were taller, wider and much thicker, featuring multiple strips and features every issue.  The standard size of the average comic has varied over the years, and variant formats have popped up, from squarebound Prestige Format books to the coverless newspaper experience of ‘Wednesday Comics.’

But, I’ll tell you right now, as both collector and sometime-comic-store-employee, the most vexing, the most irritating, the most grandiose of all is the Treasury Format.  Double the size of a “normal book” (it’s as wide as a regular format book is tall) the Treasury Edition format officially debuted in 1972, with a thicker cardstock cover.  Treasury Editions are nearly impossible to store, difficult to protect, and perhaps most frustrating of all, feature an arcane numbering system that STARTS at 21 at meanders about from there  Eventually, these factors (and the rising cost of paper) led to the format’s disuse, but there’s one other thing you need to know about these monsters: They’re kind of an awesome reading experience.  And, frankly, what other venue is big, bold and brash enough to host the battle of the Man Of Steel versus the Greatest In The World?  We open in Metropolis, as the trio of Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen pound the pavement, following a lead…

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Continuity note: In the 1970s, The Daily Planet was purchased by Morgan Edge’s Galaxy Communications, and Clark and company moved away from the dusty old newspaper archives into the state of the art TV studios of WGBS Television, hence Jimmy’s “portable camera.”

Normally, I would question why a national news anchor would be doing his own street interviews, but when it’s three-time Heavyweight Champion of the World Muhammad Ali?  I can kinda see Clark handling it himself.  Boxing was huge in the late 70s, enjoying a popularity not seen since the 1920s, and Ali was indisputably the biggest name, culturally speaking.  Of course, Dipstick Jimmy Olsen has to ruin even this opportunity, realizing he forgot to load his film.  As he scrambles to load more, an ominous bright light fills the air…

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The alien creature’s intentions are at first uncertain, but as it callously strikes Lois down, Ali steps in.  “Where I come from, we don’t treat folks like that,” challenges Ali, and the alien swivels and backhands him as well.

It’s somewhat less effective.

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I mentioned the huge format of this book as being apropos to the source material, but the art is likewise as impressive, delivered by DC stalwart Neal Adams, operating at perhaps the peak of his abilities here.  His Muhammad Ali is remarkably photo-accurate without seeming overly referency, and his eye for action and clothing ground the story in realism.  (Since Superman and aliens are involved, that’s a pretty tall order.)  Mister Kent sneaks away to become his alter ego, discovering a massive alien armada headed for Earth, while the creature called Rat’lar reveals the reason for his arrival…

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The alien wants to symbolically defeat Earth, by pitting its greatest warrior against HIS greatest warrior, as a prelude to ACTUALLY defeating Earth.  Unfortunately, Superman’s arrival throws a slight wrench into the discussion of what constitutes “Greatest Warrior.”

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To prove they’ve got the muscle to back up their threats, and to punish Superman for laying hands on him, the alien triggers an attack to destroy one of Earth’s cities…

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The Man Of Steel is hard-pressed to combat the attack, even with his full spectrum of Pre-Crisis might, and a second volley leaves an entire island devastated, forcing even a Superman to capitulate.  But, there’s still the question of which champion is the fittest…

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I have to admit, I kind of like Denny O’Neil’s confident, trash-talking but still entirely in-character take on Superman here.  It does help that both men are fighting not for glory, but for the survival of the entire Earth.  Given 24 hours to prepare for their preliminary bout, sports hero and superhero head to the Fortress Of Solitude (“You been to a garage sale lately?” quips Ali at the sight of Superman’s myriad trophies) to prep for a one-on-one battle.  Of course, with a Superman, you can’t just rush up the stairs and punch a side of beef…

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The Champ pulls not punches, literally and metaphorically, using time-distortion, red-sun radiation and some very skillful art to give Kal-El (and, not coincidentally, the readers) a crash course in what Howard Cosell often called The Sweet Science.

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I’m not enough of a boxing aficionado to judge the accuracy of those descriptions and poses, but I can tell you as a comics fan, that’s one beautifully done page of infodump.  (And as someone who knows a bit about dramatic storytelling, there’s an important bit on this page  that is our metaphorical Chekhov’s Gun.)  Muhammad is a good teacher, and Clark a good student, and before long…

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In the interim, the forces of Earth actually tried (and failed) using nuclear weapons against the alien armada, but the Scrubb decided this insult was enough to cut short the training period.  Ali and Superman once again use their abilities in concert to distract the aliens, before traveling to their ship.

And then, the other shoe drops…

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Even with nearly two weeks of prep time in the bubble of the Fortress, Superman is a bit shaken by this revelation, but then Superman and Ali meet the creature that the victor of their bout will have to face…

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The no-sell is both brutal and beautiful, worthy of Earth’s Greatest Champions, causing the Scrubb’s leader to rage at their insolence.  When Superman questions Ali, he reveals that it’s all psychological warfare…

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In preparation for the battle, The Scrubb have transported representatives of every intelligent civilization to ringside, including Earth, as represented by Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, doing his best impersonation of Howard Cosell.  (Kudos go to O’Neil and the production team for making it so clear through only the word bubbles and dialogue choice, though there are a couple of inexplicable dialogue moments that just scream of Neal Adams involvement.)  Before long, the combatants make their way to the ring…

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I feel that there’s a major missed opportunity in this story, in that no one ever describes Superman as ‘in the red trunks.’  It’s truly a sad moment for history.  Ali’s corner man, Bundini Brown throws a little poetry, described as second only to Muhammad Ali himself, and the two men square off: Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali!

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The skills of a Superman, even with the two-week crash course, are impressive, but Ali is in his element, and gives no quarter.  As Supes continues to take punishment, the crowd begins to cheer, chanting “Fall down! Fall down!”

But Superman will not fall.

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Superman continues to stagger, clearly on his last legs, and the crowd prepares for Ali to deliver the coup de grace.  Instead, The Champ walks away, refusing to continue battling a man who can’t fight back, and Superman collapses to the canvas in a red-and-blue heap.  Ali is declared the winner, but before the Scrubb can gather his vanquished foe…

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Ali’s team rushes Superman to the back, and by the time the enraged leader of the Scrubb can intervene, things are looking heavy for our Kryptonian…

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As Superman is evacuated back to Earth, the Scrubb leader mocks him, but the people of the universe know differently.  Though Superman lost the fight, he refused to fall, and whispers of his heroism begin to travel.  One day later, the intergalactic audiences prepare for the main event, Ali Vs. Hun’ya.  But before the fight can begin, the proceedings are interrupted by an ethereal presence from above…

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Yes, Faithful Spoilerites, the battle is of such grave importance that the eternal embodiment of wisdom and courage herself has descended to serve as impartial referee.  (I guess Mills Lane wasn’t available?)  The aliens mock Ali, with Hun’ya showing his power, and the Scrubb vowing to reduce Earth to a cinder.

That makes Ali mad.

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I am truly disappointed that I can’t show you the full two-page spread of this lovely sequence, but I couldn’t find any way to do so without ruining part of the experience.  It’s a truly beautiful moment of comics, and Ali’s refusal to accept defeat once again throws the Scrubb leader into apoplexy.  Even facing a massively powerful alien foe, Muhammad Ali is not cowed.  Then, the fight begins…

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While Ali takes the brunt of an inhuman (literally) pounding, Bundini Brown slips away from ringside, and unseen by the madding crowd, slips into the alien control booth…

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How can a boxing corner man, even one as experienced as Ali’s, be so skilled and courageous?

When he’s actually a Superman, my friends…

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Superman uses his mighty super-brain (and a little bit of Ali’s psychological warfare technique) and recalls the alien fleet from Earth back to the battle, sneaking into the ships command center, where Ali’s tutelage comes in handy…

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Emperor Rat’lar of the Scrubb interrupts the bout just as Muhammad Ali is seemingly defeated, offering the Champ a compromise: Admit defeat, and Earth will not be destroyed…

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Ali’s response: “I CAN WHUP ‘IM!”  As the boxing match continues, the alien armada makes its way back towards home,

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Superman’s trick is revealed, but before the fleet can fully pivot back and destroy Earth, a single ship bursts out of hyperspace.  It rushes the oncoming fleet, which is notably no longer within range of the precious blue jewel called Earth.

It is also NOT UNDER A RED SUN.

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A series of truly impressive battle sequences entails, with one warrior fighting a mano-a-alieno battle for his world, while the other pits solar-driven might against a fleet which shrugged off multiple nuclear strikes.  Both battles seem hopeless…

They are not.

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Superman defeats the entire armada, thanks in part to the strategies of his boxing counterpart, but Rat’lar reveals that he never intended to play fair…

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He orders any and all remaining Scrubb warships to converge on Earth and destroy it, regardless of the fact that they took (and WON) his “bet.”  But, like all big jerk dictator types, he makes one fatal mistake…

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…he underestimates his own people.  Hun’ya, having learned first-hand of the Earthers’ tenacity, turns on his former leader, and when Rat’lar orders his guards to destroy what he sees as a traitor, they make no move to obey.

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Under Hun’ya’s command, the flagship finds and retrieves the Man Of Steel, explaining that, for all their warlike nature, his people still understand that there are rules that must be followed, and honorable opponents to be admired…

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The Earth is saved, and balance restored, and one fewer intergalactic despot stains the skies, and after their wounds have begun to heal, the two heroes of our tale meet again…

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And that, my friends is the real mind-blower of the story.  The final page, with Superman and Ali shaking hands, with the Champ declaring “WE are the greatest”) is lovely, but the fact that DC editorial presented this story with that ending blew my mind as a kid.  NOBODY was allowed to penetrate Superman’s secret identity in 1978, it was practically unthinkable that anyone could.  Lois Lane had been trying without success for decades, but Muhammad Ali put the pieces together AND was allowed to keep his memories afterwards, having proven himself a stalwart hero and trusted friend.

The thing about a Treasury Edition is, the creators often felt the need to ‘scale things up’ to fit the bigger format.  The Legion of Super-Heroes Wedding Edition from the same year, f’rinstance, is a glorious mess filled with time-travel, kidnapping and splodeyness, but this story manages to successfully keep a human element to the story that makes it even better.  The fact that Ali had such a huge and inimitable stage presence helps the story greatly, but what it really comes down to is two men who are forced to fight for what they believe in, regardless of the odds.  Don’t let internet cynics steer you wrong, Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali (All-New Collectors Edition C-56) boils down as a pretty great comic book tale, one that even makes it worth storing the awkward format, if you can find it, and earning a well-deserved 4 out of 5 stars overall.  If you ever want an example of how to make Superman work, even with his massive powers, this is the book for you, and it’s a pretty amazing and remarkably respectful take on the late champion, as well.

This week, the world lost a legend.  But, Faithful Spoilerites, did you realize that Muhammad Ali once went toe-to-toe with Superman for the fate of the entire world?  And did you know it was also awesome?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali (aka All-New Collectors Edition C-56) awaits! SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI (ALL-NEW COLLECTORS EDITION C-56) Writer: Denny O'Neil/Neal Adams Penciler: Neal Adams Inker: Dick Giordano/Terry Austin Colorist: Cory Adams Letterer: Gaspar Saladino Editor: Julius Schwartz/E. Nelson Bridwell Publisher: DC Comics Cover Price: $2.50 Current Near-Mint Pricing: $140/$160 Previously in Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali: Though many…
Takes advantage of the comics format, the skills of the creative team, and the reps of the stars to deliver an incredibly entertaining comic book experience.

SUPERMAN VS. MUHAMMAD ALI (ALL-NEW COLLECTORS EDITION C-56)

Writing
Art
Coloring

Takes advantage of the comics format, the skills of the creative team, and the reps of the stars to deliver an incredibly entertaining comic book experience.

User Rating: 4.68 ( 2 votes)

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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1 Comment

  1. June 5, 2016 at 3:07 pm — Reply

    I got this few years ago and was positively surprised how good the story was. I’m also probably not as shocked about the books size, because I’m from Europe and here, most of the other than American comics are published in “album” format, which is pretty much same as this one.

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