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Superman Crossovers: A medley of Whaaa?
(Muhammad Ali, He-man, The Thundercats, and I Love Lucy)
Superman vs. Muhammad Ali:
So screwed up on SO many levels.
Today, we're going to talk about blasphemy. Now, some things are fun to blaspheme and others are almost trendy. A story about Superman fighting Muhammad "Holy Crap I converted to Sunni Islam and then named myself after The Prophet even though before that my name was Cassius Clay" Ali is bound to bring up some touchy subjects. In fact, I've oh-so-skillfully implied one of them in that last sentence...hell, maybe even two of them. Religion aside (because that's a road I do not want to wander down), the blasphemy is going to be my talking about a sick, sick man. Muhammad Ali suffers from Parkinson's Disease, a condition we're reminded of every time the man speaks or makes a public appearance these days. The problem is that I AM going to have to make fun of Muhammad (the Boxer). Since he's ill, there's this weird "kicking a cripple" vibe here, but really, when you see what he signed off on in 1978 you'll understand exactly why no one is above pop culture analysis. On a final note before I get this puppy rolling (please do not roll your puppies), let me just say that I purposely did NOT post this article last week because it was Muhammad Ali's birthday. You know, because I'm the kind of guy that wants you to be able to enjoy your b-day cake no matter what religious icon's name it has written upon it.
If you glanced at the cover above, you might have missed the weirdest thing about it. Since this comic came out in 1978 (which is funny and you'll find out why later), the cover price of $2.50 strikes me as somewhat insane. I mean, that's not that much money really, but back then you could buy a whole bushel of strippers...or so my Grand-daddy tells me. Let's not get into him...he's lived a full life and I really don't want to know about it. Neither do you. Two other things of slight interest include a cameo by Lucy of I Love Lucy fame....which makes this article kind of cyclical because Superman once appeared on an episode of her show (see the end of this article for proof) and the fact that DC comics definitely wanted to cash in on the whole "Star Wars" thing. Considering the fact that the year before this came out Star Wars hit the silver screen, I'm somehow not surprised.
Now, when I first heard about this, my first question was WHY? Why would Muhammad Ali want to have himself presented to children (and filthy proto-geeks) as someone who can and will beat up Superman if he gets the chance? How much money did DC comics pay him to sign off on this project? As you'll soon see, Muhammad Ali obviously signed a contract that can be best summarized as such: "Muhammad Ali will totally rock the world and is the best man ever created and you'll let him write his own dialogue because he's the man and if you even thing of presenting him as weak he'll punch you in the face." I'm sure the actual contract was wordier than that, but I think these panels illustrate what I'm talking about. When the PLOT gets involved, it'll become far too obvious. Check it:
So you're terrific at making slam-dunks on seven-year-olds that are half your height? Apparently, egotism is a positive tactic in a professional boxer. On an unrelated note, most sexual predators ALSO "move among the neighborhood youth with casual ease." Gah.
And now we get to why Muhammad Ali is a psycho. I can't prove that he wrote his own dialogue, but I'd bet money one it. Pay close attention to the transition between the first and second panel.
Um. Muhammad? What the crap? Muhammad totally just pulled a "I want to brag and talk about myself at this party so I'm going to just randomly do it even if it doesn't fit into the current conversation." Either that, or anytime someone says the word "greatest" he goes apeshit and starts rattling off people you don't know that he's beaten up (Sorry, but boxers from my father's childhood just don't have a file in my brain). Can you imagine if Superman was the same way? NO ONE would want to talk to him ever.
Aquaman: "So what do you think I should do about the whole Coral Reef Embargo?"
Superman: "Hold it right there, Fish Face! I'm the greatest! I've saved the world 2,309 times and have turned back time by knocking your entire puny planet off its orbit...with my MIND! I'm not saying I could pop your skull like a grape, but I could totally pop your skull like a grape."
To Muhammad Ali's credit, he does point out something that I've always wondered about Superman. He's an alien. He happens to look human and like to bang Earth girls when he can, but...he's still just about as human as something from H.R. Giger. Luckily, he's been granted citizenship by EVERY NATION in the U.N....so that means that (after checking a history book) Superman is NOT an American citizen. I mean, he is. But he's also a citizen of Iraq, Vietnam, Israel, Cuba, China, Japan, & Russia, oddly enough. So despite all his anti-communism and his slapping of the Japanese (see WW2 Cartoons Article), Superman is very much a citizen of the world. I really shouldn't be bugged so much when comics make no sense. I mean, they haven't for a long time, why should it bother me? But still. When did the United Nations get together and say "Alright. Raise your hand if you don't want to grant citizenship to the immortal alien that can melt your face off from 50 yards away. Ah, I see we're all agreed." :sigh:
Yep. Muhammad Ali is insane. From the look of the last few panels, Muhammad Ali has no qualms arranging fights with things that don't generally lose boxing matches. You know, like concrete walls or suburban utility vehicles. Luckily, the evil aliens offer to negate Superman's powers so that he and Muhammad can beat the crap out of each other...and the winner of that fight gets to beat the crap out of the Alien champion. So the main plot of the book is all about how two guys CAN'T compromise and have to bludgeon each other excessively to win their argument about who should fight. Somehow I don't see that being repackaged for an after-school special any time soon. Violence solves everything, kids!
Sweet Science = not gay
"The Sweet Science" is apparently a super-fairy term for the manly art of Boxing. Muhammad Ali takes some time out to teach Superman a bit about boxing. If you care, pay special attention to his "rope-a-dope" technique...it'll be important later.
Muhammad Ali was the captain of his debate club in High School. Somehow I'm not surprised. Oh, and I like how if you read this page wrong, it sounds like Muhammad is explaining how he punches people in their BRAINS.
Muhammad Ali meets the comic book writers: "So then on page 34, Superman is like totally impressed with my Sweet Science and looks longingly at me in a heterosexual way and totally agrees with me that I have a doctorate in the Sweet Science. You know. Because I am the Greatest. Capital G."
Speaking of being the greatest, now that Superman's had his powers negated, I wonder how the fight is going to go:
Not well. While the text on the pages says that Superman punches Muhammad Ali, every image provided shows Superman taking it to the face. And here we see the other part of Muhammad Ali's contract: He had to be better than Superman. Muhammad Ali IS the greatest as far as this book is concerned as even the crowd starts pleading for Superman to take a fall and let Muhammad win before he kills the man of steel. Funnily enough they don't plead for Muhammad to stop SLAUGHTERING Superman, but mercy isn't part of the Sweet Science curriculum. Speaking of punches to the face, it's time to blaspheme a bit.
Superman: "Seriously Muhammad, stop punching me in the face, you're going to give me Parkinson's Disease."
Muhammad Ali: "AHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHA!"
In the early 1980's Muhammad Ali would be diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, a crippling and chronic disease affecting the motor functions (as well as causing potential mental dysfunction and speech problems). Parkinson's Disease is most often caused by nothing at all (the word's . There are a few specific types of neurological disorders that are similar and related that DO have specific causes, unlike normal Parkinson's Disease. The reason I mention this is that Muhammad Ali does NOT have your standard Parkinson's Disease. In 1997 it was confirmed that he suffered from "Dementia Pugilistica", also known as "boxer's dementia", "Punch-drunk syndrome", or just "being punched in the face too many times Parkinson's." I think I mention it because suddenly I have less sympathy for Muhammad on the subject of his disability. We don't pity smokers too much if they get lung cancer, because, well, they knew the risks. If a shop teacher is missing a few fingers, it's funny, because losing a digit to a band saw is sort of an occupational hazard. Apparently, Boxer's Dementia has stricken a lot of professional boxers, just as carpal tunnel syndrome strikes out at construction workers and musicians. Of course, musicians don't box with a "hole in their brain's membrane" (according to the Mayo Clinic in 1980). Muhammad Ali was obviously dedicated to his craft, as if you look at his career history you see a weird tapestry involving doctors telling him he should retire before he does more damage to himself. It's kind of sad and maybe poetic, but the fact that we've got a guy who legitimately had boxing-related brain damage at the time this was written needs to be pointed out.
Sorry for the seriousness, but when a site called Head Injury Theater finds out about a celebrity who's suffers from the having too many head injuries, it needs a little analysis and attention.
And now, for random strange things that need to be pointed out:
When the comic shows what type of aliens are watching the fight, I don't know why I laugh every time I see the albino Chicken People. Seriously. I'm laughing right now.
I think it's become clear that Clark has been spending too much time around Muhammad Ali.
So we've got a plot about aliens, Sweet Science, Muhammad Ali, AND a Greek Goddess of wisdom? And she's the referee now? Why? This is just getting random.
Speaking of random, please check out the two pages featuring the speech Muhammad Ali delivers before fighting the alien in the ring:
I'm speechless. When I finish my dictionary, I think the above page is definitely going to go under the "batshit insano" entry. I...I...don't know what else to say.
Muhammad Ali is scary...except not scary because he's a great fighter, more like scary in that "Guy on the subway who won't stop screaming about the elves listening to his thoughts" way. :shiver:
I can't believe there's a real "name" for a "not letting the other guy hit you" move. Rope-a-dope my ass, you're BLOCKING. Wait...does this mean that a lot of boxers DON'T know how to do this? It's slowly becoming clear why so many great boxers have Boxer's Dementia/Parkinson's. Christ. Don't let them punch you in the face, that's the key.
Luckily it all works out, as the alien fighter puts on a muumuu and decides to make peace with the brave earthlings that totally kicked his people's ass.
Well, actually that's not true. This book came out a bit later in 1978...and, get this: Muhammad Ali wasn't the world champion anymore. So technically Leon Spinks (the guy who beat up Muhammad to get the Title in 1978) should be shaking hands with Superman there. Well, maybe not, but when this book came out what we really had was the story of how the Earth was saved by Superman and the guy who totally lost the big fight last month to someone with a name nowhere near as cool as Muhammad.
What's kind of sad is that THIS is sort of Muhammad Ali's last great moment...and it's a comic book. Muhammad Ali would return, reclaim his title, and retire within the next couple of years. He was a great athlete, but man, I'm scared of him. It takes dedication to be considered the GREATEST at taking and giving punches to the face and as such Muhammad Ali gives a weird message by modern sensibilities. I mean, it's almost a story some sappy creative writing student turned in for extra credit: Great fighter rises to the top, finds religion, wins, loses, wins, loses, retires and then spends the next twenty years famous but slowly degenerating because he has to pay the price for his Greatness. I don't know what the moral is. If you're positive, it might be that all great things come at a price. If you're more of a Negative Nancy, it might just be that we had some stupid celebrities back in the day that got paid to give themselves brain damage. Either way, it makes for a good story.
And with that, let's talk a bit more about Superman and some OTHER bits of Cross-over fun he's taken part in. They need to be mentioned, but they're nowhere near as interesting as the Muhammad Ali fiasco.
2003: Superman & The Thundercats (Hoooooooooo!)
The retro-pop movement comes to a weird place, as almost two decades after their popularity peaked, the Thundercats return to beat up and get beaten up by Superman. The comic itself isn't that interesting: A dimensional portal opens up and characters from the Thundercats cartoon get sucked into DC comics land and do what happens whenever to groups of heroes meet in comics: There's a misunderstanding that makes them beat up each other for about four pages. If you know comics, you know this happens all the time. Superman wails on Batman, the Punisher shoots Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk slaughters the Fantastic Four...you get the idea. So what we really get is some pretty keen fan art of the Thundercats right next to some slightly less keen fan art of Asian Superman (I've mentioned this before on the site, but the artist behind this particular comic has a thing for oriental features that amuses me). By "keen" I mean honestly good, which is a rarity with the comics I review. That said, let's just point out the highlights.
I consider spookily large-breasted yet obviously malnourished women to be a highlight.
Of course that same spookily large-breasted yet obviously malnourished woman turns into a little annoying leprechaun. When hot bald girls go "splorch", it's time to run away. What you're actually seeing here is the comic's surprise ending, where we find out the dimension-bridging sorceress that let this crossover happen is actually a super-gay bad guy from the Superman comics known as Mr. Mxyztplk. I think he's the guy that you have to get to say his name backwards to make him turn into pudding or something...I really don't know. What I do know is that I'm totally freaked out that during his sex change the clothing comes off and he looks right at you. That's just not right.
Pop Quiz: What do you notice about these panels?
If you said: "It looks like Jimmy Olsen is trying to fart really loudly in panel one" or "All those people are looking at a weenis made of stone" then you've got good eyes (and a sick brain) but you're missing the joy of panel three.
Superman hates buttons. For a guy who wears his underwear (and cape) under his cloths and can also move at super-sonic speeds, I have no idea what would inspire him to do the Hulk Hogan signature move and rip off his shirt. Then again, maybe he's got some sort of "Super-Sewing" power so replacing buttons is a breeze. I don't know.
Considering that Superman's friends haven't aged in the past 60 years, I'm not going to point out how weird it is that a little girl is playing with a Thundercats toy in the year 2003. Because in comic book time Vietnam hasn't happened yet. I will say it's a cute little ironic touch because OMG SHE'S PLAYING WITH THE DOLL AND THEN THE REAL THUNDERCATS ARRIVE IT'S SO POETIC AND SUBTLE IN ITS IMAGERY I WAS NOT EXPECTING THAT AHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA. :sigh:
So the Thundercats arrive on Earth chasing after some mutant lizard/monkeymen (who are invisible, don't ask) but since they don't speak English everyone thinks they're monsters, including Superman. His meeting with Cheetara is slightly memorable:
Because she's speaking in alien gibberish, I'd like to pretend she's saying "Let me go and I'll show you my six nipples." Of course, once you start thinking like that you start thinking of how the Thundercats are cat people (taste like cat, talk like people) and how they probably mark their territory and have barbed....err..never mind. Let's just joke about how Cheetara has six nipples and likes it rough and leave it at that.
The misunderstanding lasts a few pages and we learn the the magic sword of the Thundercats (the Sword of Omens) is made of Kryptonite or something. It's amazing how often that super-rare element shows up in Superman comics. Truly amaaaaaazing.
Luckily Snark (the reason I want to set the Thundercats on FIRE because he's the most annoying thing I can remember from my childhood) finds the "clarifying staff of knowledge" also known as a "karaoke microphone". Karaoke always soothes my nerves so, of course, the Thundercats and Superman stop fighting and do a chorus of "Bohemian Rhapsody" together. (By the by, I'm lying to you in case you didn't read the damn panel above. But karaoke would have been awesome.)
I feel invisible monkey-men around me all the time, don't you?
With the proliferation of computer effects and digital printing, certain special effects show up a little too much in comics these days. While in theory "glowing eyes" are cool, when they happen to EVERYONE every two pages it sort of loses its impact. By the way, that's Mumm-ra and I don't have to tell you that I think he looks bad ass awesome. It's a shame he only appears on two pages and ends up fighting a guy in red underwear and boots that stitch into his pants.
On the blog, I mentioned this comic and shared the promo art a few months back, joking about how very ASIAN (to quote the movie The Cable Guy) Superman looked. Take a look:
Now in the actual comic book (which was released after the above picture shows up in Wizard magazine as an advertisement) they changed one thing. Can you see what it was:
Ummm. Yeah. Apparently DC comics agrees with me about the whole "Asian" Superman thing. I'd like to think so as this is what actually appeared in the comic and not a Japanese man dressed as Superman.
1982: Superman and the Masters of the Universe
I like how death is mentioned twice on the cover despite the fact that it really isn't even a remote possibility inside the comic itself. On the other hand, He-man has never looked scarier. Remind me to buy him some pants next Christmas.
The plot of this comic is really all about Skeletor's dumbest plan to date. For those of you that don't know, Skeletor is always after the secrets of Castle Grayskull. The Trix rabbit is after his Trix and will never get them in the very same way. In the past, Skeletor has uses infiltrating robots, powerful curses, and long-reaching Machaveillian schemes to get inside. So what's his current plan?
Beastman: "Watcha doin' boss?"
Skeletor: "I'm stabbing the castle with a sword. Maybe it'll open if I stab it enough."
Beastman: "That's cool. How long have you been at it?"
Skeletor: "About three days."
I'll be in the corner licking myself until you need me."
Skeletor's plan is to simply stab the castle until it gives up it's secret like a big mystical pinata. What does happen is that a magical portal appears and dumps Superman into his lap.
While I'm amused that Superman tit-punches Skeletor (knopf!) and that Beastman likes to take people from behind, the real reason I share this page is for Superman's dialogue in panel 2. Out of all the possible questions he could have (including WHY IS THIS MAN STABBING ME?) he wonders how Skeletor was able to "cut his indestructible costume." Wait. Superman has an indestructible costume now? Or was this written by someone who thought Superman's powers came from his costume...or what? Giving Superman an indestructible costume is no more ridiculous than giving him, say, a super secret base at the North Pole or giving him the ability to turn back time by flying in circles really quickly...so who am I to judge?
Again, I'm wondering if the people who made this had even seen the cartoon. I haven't seen He-man in decades and I know he doesn't swing an ax...though even if he did I don't know why he's even bothering to use it. If it actually connected to Skeletor's face as attempted in the panel above, this would seriously stop being a kid-friendly comic very quickly. That's the thing about He-man and those old G.I. Joe cartoons: No matter how dangerous the weapon, no one ever actually got hit by them. G.I. Joe soldiers couldn't hit the broadside of a barn and the Masters of the Universe practiced a unique form of combat that revolved around not hitting anyone at all.
Considering how Superman wasn't allowed to punch Muhammad Ali, I felt it was only fair to show him knocking He-man unconscious. By the way, "Mortal Combat" is supposed to mean "to the death", right? Apparently in Eternia it simply means "until the other fellow is thrown off-screen."
Skeletor, never one to give up on a bad idea, decides to make his new slave (Superman) start punching Castle Grayskull. If stabbing it didn't work, having Superman knock it around a bit might work better.
Thank goodness Skeletor can survive "molten" lava encasing his feet. I'm thinking Superman is pretty lucky...I've no idea how many criminals have been vaporized or burned alive because Superman wasn't sure how much damage the human body can take. Remind me to buy Skeletor some shoes next Christmas.
And so Superman just happens to see a hole in the fabric of reality and leaves a world behind where EVERYONE wears their underwear on the outside.
Apparently the people of Eternia drive hybrid econo-cars. One day someone is going to analyze the He-Man universe and the world of science fiction will be doomed with tales of high science and low technology. In other words: Crusaders with lasers and Wizards with gene-spliced cyborg golems that drive around in environment-friendly cars and don't allow smoking in their dungeon lairs. I don't know what I'm talking about anymore, so let's wrap this article up.
1957: I love Lucy
George Reeves, the guy who played Superman in the original Superman movie (Superman versus the Mole Men), stars in an episode of I Love Lucy. George has no connection to Christopher Reeve, despite the extreme similarity in stage name. The episode is all about how Lucy pretends to be Superman and gets stuck on a ledge until the real Superman comes to save her. The joke here is that he's supposed to just be an actor, but when he moves a super-heavy piano with one hand, you're supposed to believe that Superman exists in the same universe as Lucy. I suppose that doesn't take too much more suspension of disbelief, as most of us accept that Ricky Ricardo doesn't want to murder his super-annoying wife in her sleep.
I've included this in my list of official crossovers because George Reeves is the official cinema Superman and anything he appears in as Superman is practically canon. Just because none of us were alive when he was playing the part is just a minor detail.
And there you go. A few of the stranger Superman crossovers that I've seen. The Muhammad Ali one still wins hands down, but it's also the one that I feel bad for reviewing.
"I'm mad! I'm terrible! I'm gonna Dee-stroy!"
Heh. Well, not too bad, anyway.
Copyright 2006 jared hindman, except for images used for Fair Use review purposes which are the property of their respective owners. Oh and really, Parkinson's is a terrible thing. I just didn't realize that the only celebrity I knew with Parkinson's actually has Boxer Dementia. Not that I'm surprised he doesn't want to call it that.
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