I couldn’t resist putting the beginning of the official synopsis of this brilliant 192-page hardcover comic book classic as the lead, because if you haven’t read it in your mind with the voice of a typical sports announcer, you’re not human.
Anyone who knows my comic tastes knows that I am a fervent admirer of Neal Adams, the creator -for example- of the iconography of Batman as we have known it to this day, or the designer of such iconic characters as Ra’s Al Ghul. A great among the historical authors of the world of comics and a pioneer when it comes to dealing with the burning social and political issues of the time in his comics. Not surprisingly, characters like Deadman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Batman, The Avengers or the same Patrol X have reached their graphic zenith thanks to this veteran New York cartoonist.
But let’s focus on the work, which I disperse: it’s wonderful to see how this genius cooks it and eats it in “Superman vs. Muhammad Ali”. Watch out for the story, which begins in a very conventional way but soon takes on surreal overtones: some alien invaders come to Earth in search of a champion to fight against their most powerful warrior. And they find two on a basketball court in one of the ghettos of Metropolis: Superman (as Kent) and Mohammed Ali, who is teaching the neighborhood kids how to play basketball (watch out how the recently deceased famous boxer crushes, not even Jordan, listen. Also… What is a famous boxer going to do more than teach the ghetto kids to play basketball? ?). In short, once challenged and in order to prove their mettle, the two potential champions of our planet are forced to have their own boxing match to decide who will face the extraterrestrial champion.
Ali has to train Superman, super strong but not very good at boxing, in record time. Fortunately, the Kryptonian has some aces up his sleeve: in this case, the construction of a habitable ring at the limits of space, there where time passes more slowly in order to have a longer period of training with the minimum loss of time outside. that relativistic space. And… Anyway, I invite you to find out who wins that fight to face the champion of the invading Martians. As well as the elaborate ploy they use to ensure victory. And all in a clean way in terms of narrative, hey!
But that, dear readers, is only half the story. And it is from here when everything becomes a wonderful absurdity. “Superman vs. Muhammad Ali” is simply an incredible and wacky story, starting with the tremendous work that Adams went into designing the cover, which features recognizable drawings of 170 celebrities (don’t worry if you don’t know them, you’ll find a graphic in the interior in which he will tell you) among which we will find scriptwriters, artists, employees and even characters from DC. It’s a relief to think that if a match of this magnitude were to take place at Madison Square Garden, Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne would be able to get front row seats next to Sonny Bono or former President Jimmy Carter.
However, the level of detail in the comic is not as meticulous as on the cover, but it is still there: from the montage of the formation of the different alien races created by Neal Adams, or the explanations of how to box (totally real). In just 73 pages, they make sure there’s some kind of logical unifying means to string together this surreal story, stuffing it with so many facts and explanations that, in the end, you just shrug it off, accepting the plot squarely and enjoying all that they tell you. authors have to tell us.
I must admit that we could classify this work as a simple silly comic, but it goes somewhat beyond that, because there is a latent and continuous feeling that it is a magnificent nod to Denny O’Neil and Adams that pushes us to continue reading enjoying, at the same time, the most exquisite surrealism. It is still a fairly simple “Team-Up”, because let’s see: haven’t superheroes met all kinds of historical and famous figures on its pages? Why can’t it be like that with the great heavyweight champion and one of the greatest boxers of all time? O’Neil and Adams are fully aware that it might be a bit of a silly crossover, but they play it dead for real and show us how anything can happen in a superhero comic: once Superman and Ali meet on the pages, the story it just happens the same way as any other “Team-Up”. And they do it with care as great as the love they profess to the medium.
The book opens with a two-page view of a Metropolis street, with Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen walking among the people in search of a story. And it’s just an excuse for us to see how Adams represents a street in a 1970s city with all kinds of people and generic items of the time, a street like the ones we might find in Nnew york or chicago typical of summer days, in which you could buy your fresh fruits and vegetables at the corner store. That detail and care puts it on all the pages of this comic (although not as much as on the cover, I insist). For such a well-known and iconic author in the world of comics, this work may be the best semi-comic mirror he has ever done. Fill all the pages with wonderful drawings that show us an infinite number of situations: Superman and Ali walking through an alien shipa “Splash” in which we see how the heavyweight champion teaches Superman to box, or shows us how Ali throws Martians out of the ring with his fists… Nothing is saved, but he lets all his energy explode on each page.
And let’s not leave out almost the best of this comic: its number of extras: 19 pages with the breakdown of the personalities on the cover, various sketches and designs, the historical context of the work and what led to its writing, the biography of the authors …everything you ever wanted to know and never dared to ask.
This comic has everything a reader could want: great characters, pages full of ideas, and two great creators. In addition, it is a historical volume that every aficionado should have, since it represents the swan song of what the Silver age from the American comic And, also, a heartfelt tribute to a great boxer who is no longer with us, a superhero in his time who won in his own right to team up with the most powerful being on Earth: Superman. Two true supermen united in a common goal for the good of the planet.
A great and extravagant work at the same time that will not only satisfy veteran readers. We encourage you to discover it!
We want to give thanks to the author of this short article for this remarkable material
Review of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. Neal Adams in his purest form
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