Muhammad Ali passed away on Saturday, but will remain in the hearts of many, and etched in history as one of the greatest advocates for equality. He also happened to feature in one of the most interesting issues in comics – DC’s Superman vs Muhammad Ali.
Many of you may not be aware, but in 1978, DC released one of the most intriguing issues in the company’s lineup, featuring one of the most unlikely team-ups of all time. Superman vs Muhammad Ali.
It wasn’t the first time a superhero teamed up with a real life celebrity. John F. Kennedy and Bob Hope came before the Heavyweight Champion. It actually made sense too. Muhammad Ali was practically a real life superhero in his own right, and a collaboration with one of comic book’s greatest icons was only natural.
At first everyone laughed at the idea, but soon enough, the publisher was convinced, and gave the go-ahead to open negotiations with the boxer to have him featured in a DC comic book along side the Man of Steel.
Dennis O’Neal wrote the issue and initial story, but left before being able to finish. Writing duties landed in the hands of Neal Adams, who was responsible for coming up with the idea of the team-up in the first place.
The issue itself followed the story of an alien race named The Scrubb, arriving on our humble planet, and demanding to fight earth’s greatest champion. Both Ali and Superman step to the plate, and Scrubb leader, Rat’Lar, arranges a fight between the two on planet Bodace, where the playing field is level due to Superman’s powers being negated.
Adams also drew the final cover for the issue, featuring celebrities Andy Warhol, President Jimmy Carter, Ron Howard, Lucille Ball, Johnny Carson and others. Batman, Lex Luthor and Diane Prince were among fictional characters also added to the cover.
Ali reportedly only allowed his likeness to be used, after lengthy negotiations. One of the conditions was that Ali would discover Superman’s secret identity.
When Ali beat Leon Spinks in News Orleans on 15 September 1978 to regain the world heavyweight boxing title, Adams encouraged the world to buy Superman vs Muhammad Ali at his press conference.
“The comic would be published in every free country in the world,”
Adams later added –
“I fought my way through the crowd to Ali’s side for a photograph,” Adams says, “I put my hand on his shoulder and it felt like stone. He radiated power and strength.”
The issue was eventually published in fall of 1978 after being pushed back several times from the initial scheduled release of fall 1977. It was later released as a hardcover in 2010.
You can get your hands on the hardcover on Amazon.