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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Graphic Novels - Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali

This installment of Graphic Novels is brought to you by the makers of Superman: Brainiac Attacks... No, I don't know what the heck they were thinking either in making that piece of... "Who-Ha!"

Welcome back to the Month of Superman. This time, I'll be looking at this big match-up from the 70's. Now, I literally just got this book a couple of days ago. I've never read it till now mostly because it wasn't too high on my "Find" list. It's not that I thought bad of the overall premise, it's just I didn't know if I would find it for a good price. I'm not a really big boxing expert or anything, but I do like the history of it especially when it concerns Muhammad Ali's era. I think I get most of my interest in that era because of my dad.

The creative team for this 60-page book involves names Dennis O'Neil, Neal Adams, and Terry Austin. O'Neil is mostly known for his work Batman, but he did do something Superman related: "Kryptonite Nevermore!" Neal Adams is also known for his work on Batman and is just an all-around good artist. I know Austin for his work on Uncanny X-Men and I also read in the deluxe edition that this was his first major work.With names like these, this book should rock, right?

Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali
Writers: Dennis O'Neal and Neal Adams
Penciller: Neal Adams
Inker: Terry Austin

The story starts out as two boxing gloves hit one another and "Eye of the Tiger" plays in the background... wait, wrong decade and wrong "Superman."

Our story begins as reporters Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen search the neighborhoods to get an interview with Muhammad Ali. When they find him, they're about to set up an interview when suddenly a green alien who resembles Ra's al Gul shows up and threatens them. Ali jumps into action while Clark runs off to change into Superman.When he comes back, we find out that the alien is of a race called the Scrubb and they have come to Earth to face Earth's greatest human champion, Ali. If the champion disagrees or loses, Earth will be destroyed. To prove they mean what they say, the alien tells the waiting armada to fire a couple of missiles at a city. Superman is able to stop them in an awesome way, but the Scrubb armada (funny name by the way) shoots at an uninhabited island to show their power.

Behold "The Fist Pump of THOOM!!!!"

Since Superman and Ali want to both face the Scrubb's champion, Rat'Lar (the leader of the Scrubb) will have the two duke it out on the Scrubb home-world. Since it has a red sun, Superman's powers will be temporarily removed. Rat'Lar gives the two 24 hours to prepare for their match. Superman and Ali go to the Fortress of Solitude so Superman can learn a little about the "Sweet Science" of boxing from Ali. One may wonder why Superman knows little about boxing, but that can be forgiven since we don't need him to be too perfect. All the scene is missing is Paulie complaining about the cold. The reason they came to the Fortress is because Superman has a device that slows down time in the Fortress. This way they'll be able to practice more.
The sweet science... I guess it sounds sweet. Also, I love Superman's expression. He's like "Don't hit me, bro! I give up!"

Unfortunately, the Scrubb realize that something's not right, so they send some robots to get the two. Superman and Ali take care of the robots, but they still head to the Scrubb's armada to meet the Scrubb's champion: Hun-ya (Nice name... rolls off the tongue). The two heroes look at the 7 foot Ivan Drago wanna-be and scoff at him. After their meeting, Superman tells Ali that something's not right with all of this. The two decide to come up with some sort of plan.

Man, Rat'Lar is ugly with a capital U-G-L-Y.

Later, the two combatants and their supporting cast are at the Scrubb homeworld. The whole universe is watching the event and Jimmy is the announcer. The two men come out ready to fight. A logical reason is even given on why Superman is fighting in his suit (hmm... ain't that suit invulnerable? Oh well...). The first round starts and the two are pretty much even. Superman mirrors Ali's style well. Then, the second round starts... All I can say is "OUCH."  Superman is pummeled by the heavyweight champion. Still, Superman refuses to fall, so Ali stops the fight and wins via technical knockout. Superman passes out afterwards.

I know this is supposed to be a shocking page, but I can't take my eyes of the green, bug-eyed alien in the upper left corner. It looks like he wants to utter "Get your stinkin' hands off me, you dang, dirty human!!!"

After the match, Superman is taken to Ali's dressing room. Since he's badly hurt, he's being sent back to Earth. Before the big match starts, some random goddess (I think it's supposed to be Athena) shows up to referee the match... yeah, that moment was weird. The fight starts and we see that Ali is struggling against Hoon-ya. During the break , Rat'Lar asks Ali to predict when Hun-ya's knockout. In one of the weirdest (and coolest) double splash pages, Ali predicts he'll be Hun-ya in Round 4. The fight continues and Ali is able to gain the upper hand on Hun-ya. Eventually, he beats the green alien in Round 4.

This is one part epic and one part weird.

During the match, Bhudini Brown (Ali's trainer) sneaks around the Scrubb homeworld and opens a can of "Whup-Booty" on some Scrubb guards. It's revealed that Bhudini is actually Superman in disguise. He used that time in the dressing room to get into disguise and get the real Bhudini dressed up like Superman. When he makes it to the communication center, he mimics Rat'Lar's voice, calls the armada at Earth, and tells them to come back While they come back, Superman is able to steal a ship and  and head out to face them. When he meets them, he's fully-powered again and takes on the entire armada. Words can't express how awesome he is in  this part. He's able to take them out in an awesome battle, but he is unconscious by the end.

I just wish he screamed "DRAGO" here. 

Rat'Lar doesn't take the losses well and basically start to act a fool. Fortunately, Hun-ya takes a page from Dolph Lungderon and knocks out the mad leader. Since Rat'Lar has acted without honor in the eyes of the rest of the Scrubb, Hun-ya is chosen as the new leader of the planet. Hun-ya calls off the invasion of Earth. Eventually, Superman is picked up by his friends and the new leader. On Earth, Superman and Ali share a private moment where Ali tells Superman that he knows he's Clark Kent. The book ends on another double splash page of Ali and Superman shaking hands.

Superman: I know that's right! We even got "The Glow"... yeah, I'm just throwing all sorts of 80's references in this thing.

.................................................................................

Well, I gotta say it: this was awesome. While there are a couple of small missteps, this was a really good read. There are a lot things I like about the book. The first and biggest thing is the art which looks pretty awesome. Superman is in fine form here and Ali looks well rendered here too. Everything from the battles in space to the battles in the ring look epic in my opinion. I also like the plot. Yes, it may be wacky and somewhat cheesy, but it is still well laid-out and pretty cool. It may not be grounded in reality, but this is Superman we're talking about here. Superman's completely in character and I guess this version of Muhammad Ali is also in character. I love that both characters get moments to shine.

I don't have many complaints about the issue. The only gripe, and it's a small one, is that most of the dialogue isn't that good. While it is an older comic, the dialogue just feels a little off at times. Still, that small gripe doesn't hurt the comic at all. I definitely recommend this to any Superman fan who's looking for a little something different.

Well, I'm outta here. Next time is going to be a little different and more dark.

NEXT TIME: "SUPERMAN'S TRIPPIN', YO!!!" ALSO, SWAMP THING SHOWS UP!

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