As society mourns the death of champion boxer Muhammad Ali, who died Friday night at the age of 74, there will be recollections of his culture-defining fights, like his rematch fight against Leon Spinks to clinch his third heavyweight championship or any of the three historic go-arounds against Joe Frazier. But, one of Ali’s most memorable fights didn’t take place in the boxing ring, it happened in the pages of one of the best comic books of all time — Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.
Sports fans and comic book nerds alike can appreciate this tale of two heavy weights, published in 1978. The story details how aliens have come to destroy Earth and wish to fight the planet’s strongest fighter for its salvation. Both Ali and Superman step forward, with Ali claiming he is by far the superior fighter – as he would often confidently proclaim real life.
This sets up the battle. On one side the nationally beloved boxing heavyweight champion, and on the other side the super hero that has come to symbolize all of American greatness.
The famed comic-book creator Neal Adams adapted the story by Dennis O’Neil, and it became more than just a silly one-off fight for fans. It turned into a symbol of how Superman could be humanized – and embodied the love America had for boxing.
One of the most iconic images comes from Superman’s eventual defeat at the hands of Ali, and the vivid picture of a bloodied, and beaten Superman being carried away on a stretcher.
“To me, the idea was to make Superman human,” Adams told Nerdist. “He may be part of the same species — but super elevated in some way — but without that (image) you don’t get a sense for the character.”
The cover of the oversized comic also depicts numerous cultural icons watching the match from the stands, which further preserves the comic’s relevance in time. Attendees included former presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, musicians Frank Sinatra and the Jackson 5, as well as DC comic book characters such as the Flash and Green Lantern.
Ali defeated some big names in his life, but let us not forget that he also took on America’s greatest superhero and knocked him out.