Yep, this was actually a thing. In the 1960s and ’70s, teaming comic book superheroes and pop culture celebrities and athletes were all the rage. Possibly the best one of these came in 1978, when DC Comics put out a special edition issue featuring Superman fighting Muhammad Ali.
The premise was that an alien race comes to Earth and demands for its champion to square off with Earth’s best fighter. Both Superman and Ali step up — so the alien leader (Rat’Lar, of the Scrub) — proposes that the two fight to decide who will move on the the finals, so to speak.
The fight will take place on a planet with a red sun — so Superman’s powers are negated. And thus we have the largest asterisk in sports history — bigger even than Barry Bonds’ career home run record. Yes, Ali won. But, you know, red sun.
The site i09 has an interview with creator Neal Adams, in which he reveals some fun facts about the comic.
DC editor-in-chief Julius Schwartz first had the notion of teaming Superman with Ali in late 1977, but he was alone in thinking is was a good idea. Finally he got DC’s new CEO to give it the OK, and so another huge task loomed: Getting Ali to approve the use of his likeness. i09:
Ali had reportedly allowed his image to be used with one condition: his fictional self would have to discover Superman’s secret identity. (It’s also rumored that he wrote his own dialogue).
I’ve always had problems with this book, and it starts with the premise. Why in the world would Superman claim to be Earth’s greatest fighter, sans his powers? Batman would be a much better choice — and he’s actually there (see bottom right). As for Ali, just off the top of my head, Andre the Giant (7-foot-4, 520 pounds) was in his prime in 1978. He would have crushed Ali like a bug. Why not recruit him?
Love all the celebrity cameos — plus the fact that some, like John Wayne, didn’t give permission to be included. So Adams simply drew mustaches on those to keep them somewhat unrecognizable. One pictured from behind (Telly Savalas) became Lex Luthor, when Adams removed the sucker from Savalas’ hand.
So anyway, in the comic book Ali won by TKO, with Superman being taken out of the arena on a stretcher. And my favorite part is that the alien leader demands that Superman fight in his costume, so as to be recognizable. Adams:
“Because to the aliens, all Earth people look alike.”
And now please enjoy a handful of other superhero/real life celebrity crossover comic books: