I was around 12 when some distant relative, realizing I was the only loved ones member who would appreciate them, sent me a box complete of comic books. None had been in excellent sufficient situation to sell, which was unfortunate thinking about it was largely a collection of Action Comics from the ’50s. The haul also included the 1978 supersize comic Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. I’m not a huge fan of DC Comics. Even though Marvel comics have been born from stories about relatable superheroes — the perpetually broke Spider-Man, the ostracized X-Males, the alcoholic Tony Stark — DC was always about gods. Most of their characters weren’t human, and the ones who were, like Batman, were so unbelievably wealthy that their lives have been foreign and unattainable.
Superman, produced by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, has constantly represented “truth, justice, and the American way.” The power of whiteness is such that two Jewish creators who invented Superman to combat the Nazis in comic books saw their hero, tiny by little, morphed into a Christlike figure (he even dies in 1992’s The Death of Superman and is resurrected soon right after, a plot point also borrowed for Batman v Superman) that represents all the shit Francis Scott Crucial wrote into the national anthem. Superman is an alien from another planet, and however he somehow manages to look like the paragon of a white, functioning-class American male. He has an alien-as-hell name, Kal-El, the one particular he was born with, but his image allowed him to pass as Clark Kent, an unassuming white male. The recent Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice questioned Superman’s capability to be judge and jury on a global scale thanks to his extreme skills, which is actually far more of a metaphor for whiteness than most individuals comprehend. The ability to go anyplace at will with the expertise that no a single can stop you is the really thesis of white supremacy, and Superman represents that thesis come to life, like white supremacy’s extremely personal Kim Cattrall in Mannequin. (Or the ivory statue in the Pygmalion myth, I guess, if you favor a pretentious analogy.)
And here’s the point: I doubt Ali genuinely fucked with Superman either. He questioned the pervasiveness of whiteness, spoke adamantly against white privilege, and when he watched Rocky II with Roger Ebert in 1979, he told Ebert he knew Apollo Creed would lose the fight, “For the black man to come out superior would be against America’s teachings. I have been so wonderful in boxing they had to generate an image like Rocky, a white image on the screen, to counteract my image in the ring. America has to have its white photos, no matter exactly where it gets them. Jesus, Wonder Woman, Tarzan, and Rocky.” Superman is of course no different than these pillars of whiteness, so you have to wonder why Ali would let DC Comics use his image in Superman vs. Muhammad Ali. That is, until you read it. Ali kicks Superman’s ass.
Ali turned himself into the black Superman. He referred to as himself the greatest. He rejected his birth name Cassius Clay. He rejected Christianity and turned to Islam. His motto may as nicely have been “truth, justice, and the African-American way.” In pitting Ali against Superman, DC Comics was a lot more than just cashing in on their most popular character stepping into the ring with the planet heavyweight champion (in truth, by the time the comic was released, Ali had lost the title to Leon Spinks) — they were unwittingly letting blackness do battle with whiteness. The story itself is mostly ridiculous: an alien race comes to Earth and wants to challenge its greatest champion. When Ali and Superman both volunteer as tribute, they have to fight one one more for the honor to fight for Earth. They fight on a planet that orbits a red sun and Superman is stripped of his powers. He spars with Ali in a fair fight and, as I stated just before, Ali kicks his ass.
The mantra “twice as very good to get half as much” is one black achievers have heard far as well frequently. You have to be stronger than your white counterparts. Ali, since he’s a trained fighter, decimates Superman in the ring. His ability comes from coaching, from pushing himself to be the greatest — Superman’s talent is a privilege he was born into. When you are white, there’s constantly an added potential to put your opponent asunder, whether it be through racist use of the Mann Act against boxer Jack Johnson or stripping Ali of his title for a refusal to participate in the Vietnam War. When Ali was the world heavyweight champion, Rocky Balboa ruled the box office and the Academy Awards simply because boxing demanded an unassailable white face. Superman was molded into the purview of all items white, but when stripped to his core he became putty in the hands of America’s greatest fighter — a man who worked challenging to become a champion, not one particular who was imbued with their nobility by the sun that rotates the Earth.
To claim that Ali “transcended race and sports,” as the Los Angeles Times did, is wrong as hell (note: white men and women have to transcend racism). To “transcend race” is some fake type of ascension developed by white folks to whitewash black heroes and make them palatable for white audiences, like pretending all Martin Luther King Jr. ever did was sing “we shall overcome.” The gods of the DC Comics pantheon are still mostly white and so are the faces that rule more than America. No black person has but to transcend these barriers, not even our 1st black president Barack Obama, who will most likely remain an anomaly in American history for the quick future.
Cut back to me. Picture you are a young, black achiever. You attain into a box full of some relative’s old comics to uncover that the world’s most potent white man can be defeated by Muhammad Ali. You understand that when you take away the smoke and mirrors, Superman is nothing much more than the Wizard of Oz hiding behind his curtain. It’s a actually radical factor to place into a comic book, and could’ve really almost toppled the Superman ethos. “Could have” is the key phrase right here, even so.
Far too radical a point, it seems. Because as considerably as you may don’t forget Ali beating Superman, the comic itself ends with Ali declaring to his opponent, “Superman, WE are the greatest!” As a kid, reading that, it made me smile. Superman and Ali have been buddies. Their scrap was just playground make-think in the course of recess. But now, reading it back, it is some bullshit. Ali kicked his ass — why’d he have to pat Superman on the back like that? It’s not surprising that this story reaffirms the status quo — a Marvel comic may well have let Superman shed. But this is a story about a god, and as Greek mythology taught us, the home constantly wins. To date, it’s nevertheless a powerful Superman story. He wasn’t beat by some alien and he wasn’t beat by impossible billionaire Bruce Wayne. He was beat by a black human. I’ll in no way contact Ali the black Superman, much as individuals want to grant him that title. I can see the comparisons and what they represent to each of the societies they reflect — but Ali worked for his prowess. It wasn’t granted to him by some stroke of birth and the sun of a foreign planet. He wasn’t the bastion of American superiority. In his death, some have attempted to sanitize him. Make Ali a black Superman who can be the perfect model of American’s acceptable black male: the fighter, the good steward for his nation. But Ali fought for his folks, not America’s myth. To America, Superman is a person they can make theirs. But Ali is not so easily controlled, not so easily molded into America’s ideal image. He’s as far from Superman as you can get. And when he bests him in the ring so handily, the myth of white American exceptionalism has never ever rang so hollow. Superman was capable to hide as Clark Kent amid a sea of white men. Ali was never in a position to hide, and what’s much more critical, he didn’t want to be hidden. He rejected Cassius Clay he refused to be America’s docile Clark Kent. Instead, he chose a name that sounded foreign on American tongues, and he became Muhammad Ali. He was no Superman — he was fine getting Kal-El.