Superman vs Muhammad Ali, DC Limited Collectors Edition C-56, 1978, DC Comics, Cover by Neal Adams, based on a concept by Joe Kubert.
The POP Retro Cover Of The Week continues its celebration and examination of iconic comic covers from the 1970s through the 2000s, this week returning to the late Seventies, the early Bronze Age of Comics, when the late Silver Age/early Bronze Age titan Neal Adams had moved on to form his own comic company and concentrate on his graphic arts agency.
Occasionally, he would do a cover for DC, but his days of doing interior stories had ended in the early years of the decade. But then along came this oversized (10w x 14h) treasure, featuring some of Adams’ most amazing interior work ever. Back before the internet, this was a beautiful, knockout of a right cross that readers didn't see coming.
Playing off the success of the oversized team-up edition of Superman vs Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century in 1976, DC Editor Julius Schwartz thought that a team-up (and even bigger battle) between the two most famous and recognizable names on the planet would be a great idea. However, most people who heard Schwartz's idea thought it was silly and ludicrous. How could Ali conceivably have a fair fight with Superman?
Schwartz left it up to writer Dennis O’Neil to figure out how to make this story work, and Adams stepped in to finish it when O'Neil had to bow out.
The cover was originally designed and illustrated by DC legend Joe Kubert, a curious choice since his gritty style was visual whiplash next to Adams’ realistically rendered interior art. Why Adams wasn’t the first choice to produce the cover of a book he was drawing is hard to understand. Perhaps deadline issues were to blame, taking into account that he was crafting 72 time-consuming pages. However, the title was delayed several times, which allowed Adams to once again step in, this time to redraw and upgrade Kubert’s beautiful-but-too-serious and rejected illustration.
Keeping Kubert’s design and his poses for Superman and Ali, Adams used his considerable talent for capturing likenesses to transform the crowd from anonymous and tense, to celebrity-filled and celebratory. More than 170 recognizable figures now populated the scene, identified with a Legend of Who’s-Who. Presidents, actors, singers, comedians, artists, DC characters like Batman and Lois Lane, DC staff, and most especially, Siegel and Shuster, Superman’s creators, can be spotted, all with happy, joyful faces. Now THIS was a party (even thought the fate of the Earth is at the heart of the story)! Adams also made the arena open-air, revealing alien planets and starships in flight, an important reference to the inside story. Adams also wisely replaced the headline with one that was more accurately descriptive. The Muhammad Ali title logo was also better positioned on the final version, to better mirror the curve of the Superman logo. Thankfully, there is very little other trade dress to intrude on this masterpiece.
I can’t imagine how much time it took Adams to draw all these portraits, but they are an achievement in itself and makes this a winner of a POP Retro Cover Of The Week.
Next week: A cover from the grim & gritty 1980s!