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MORE OF THE GREATEST

Among the many encomiums lavished on the late Muhammad Ali upon his expiring at the age of 74 having survived 19 years with Parkinson’s, none of the champion-caliber fights extolled included two of his greatest. In one, he defeated Superman; in the other, an alien monster half-again-as-tall as Ali. Both these contests occurred in 1978 in All New Collectors’ Edition Vol.7, No.C-56, a gigantic 72 10x13-page comic book, cover-dated April.

Superman vs

Written by Denny O’Neil and adapted and drawn by Neal Adams, work on the book undoubtedly took place while Ali was four years into his second heavyweight championship, having regained the title after 3 ½ years (his peak years as an athlete, from age 25 to 29) during which he was barred from fighting because he Ali-Superman interiorrefused induction in the army to fight in Vietnam. As Ali put it: “I got nothing against no Viet Cong,” he said, adding a pointed racial justification: “No Viet Cong ever called me nigger.” He was convicted of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison, but he stayed free as long as his appeals progressed through the courts, finally reaching the Supreme Court in 1971; it was then overturned. And Ali, reinstated in professional boxing, regained his title by beating George Foreman in 1974.

By the time All New Collectors’ appeared on the newsstands, ironically, Ali had lost the championship to Leon Spinks in March. So the last pages in the book, depicting Ali and Superman shaking hands and proclaiming themselves “the Greatest,” was, strictly speaking, no longer true of Ali. But he would regain his title by beating Spinks in a return match in September and could once more, in ample justification, call himself “the Greatest.” (Not that just being the champion was the only qualification for him being “the Greatest.”)

The fight between Ali and Superman was staged in order to pick a champion for Earth who would fight the champion of an alien race, the Scrubbs. The Scrubbs had heard Earth was a warlike planet and they, the Scrubbs, wanted to forestall any future hostilities by defeating Earth now. They proposed to do that by having their champion defeat Earth’s champion in a fist fight. They had their champion, the 15-foot-tall Hun’ya; all that remains is for Earth to pick its champion.

Ali reading Superman vsAli and Superman decide Ali should be the champion, but Superman must train for the fight so it’ll look authentic when he loses. He gets pretty badly beat up by Ali, and he finally falls down, completely (as Ali would say) “whupped.”

Then Ali faces Hun’ya, and the fight, after going well for Ali at first, begins to weaken him. He’s still in there slugging, but it looks as if he’ll lose. Then the Scrubb emperor, Rat’lar, intervenes and offers Ali a proposition: since he’s about to be beaten, the Scrubb fleet of space battleships is poised to descend on Earth and wipe it out, but Earth will be spared, saith Rat’lar, if Ali’s government agrees “to deed the people of Earth to us as our slaves.”

The thought of slavery fires up Ali, who in 1964 had abandoned his birth name, Cassius Clay, saying it was a “slave name”; and he resumes the fight with Hun’ya. As he does, thoroughly defeating him.

 

 

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