Let's Talk Comics

 
 
Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
The Greatest died June 3. He boasted a 56-and-5 record with 37 knockouts. But there's one match that wasn't listed on his sheet: The 1978 TKO of Superman in a 76-page over-sized spectacular.
 
It's a simple enough story where an alien race demands a fight to earn the right to destroy the planet by defeating Earth's mightiest hero. Both Muhammed Ali and Superman stepped up the plate.
 
Ali argues Superman is not of this Earth, but Superman temporarily loses his powers and they decide to fight it out in the ring to see who would become Earth's defender in the ring against the alien champ for galactic supremacy in the DC comic.
 
Well, one can only imagine what would happen to a Superman without his powers.
 
But more than the story is Neal Adams' powerful art, where many critics and reviewers have suggested it is his best work. It is detailed, expressive, action-packed and jumps off the page.
 
The tabloid-sized comic cover was initially going to be drawn by comic legend Joe Kubert, but the job was then given to Neal Adams, who was then a young artist making a name for himself for his gritty work in Batman, the realism in Green Arrow-Green Lantern and previously energizing the then moribund X-Men that had faced cancellation.
 
Using an initial sketch by Kubert, Adams transformed an apparently somber-looking boxing ring crowd into a marvelous wrap-around panorama that shows a joyous crowd of identifiable celebrities, sports figures, writers and artists, politicians and other DC artists, writers, editors and characters, cheering Ali and Superman as they battled in the ring.
 
The list of celebrities include the Beatles, including Yoko Ono and Linda McCartney, Cher, Andy Warhol, Johnny Carson, The Jackson 5, Wolfman Jack, Peter Falk as Columbo, Frank Sinatra and Raquel Welch. Other notable faces include Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, writer Kurt Vonnegut and sports greats Pele and Joe Namath. Mixed in the crowd are Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, the creators of Superman. Some celebrities didn't give permission for their likeness to be on the cover, including John Wayne, so Adams etched in a mustache.
 
Hours could be spent scanning the faces trying to remember names and the events associated to them during the tumultuous era, but if stuck, there's a guide in the comic naming who's who on the cover.
 
The book, listed under All-New Collectors' Edition #56, retails in a range of about $7 U.S. in Good, $14 in Very Good, $21 in Fine, $46 in Very Fine and about $125 in Near Mint. A Whitman label could command slightly more.
 
Demand for the comic is expected to peak since Ali died.
 
While there's a 2010 hardcover reprint of the comic in bookstores, it doesn't pack the same punch as the original Great One.
 
•••
I was scouring through my comics collection recently and came across a number of issues of a title I forgot I owned (memory has a disproportionate relationship to the number of gray hairs): the magazine-sized The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. And just in time, as of this writing Marvel intends on launching a similar genre series on Netflix with its character Iron Fist, although there seems to be some issues on story direction.
 
The Deadly Hands black-and-white magazine series was launched in 1974 and cancelled in 1977 after 33 issues. It allowed the artists and storytellers to go beyond the limitations of the four-colour comic version The Hands of Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu, a character that may also appear in the Netflix series.
 
The book, which carries a Curtis imprint, caught the wave of popularity of martial arts television shows and movies of the time, including the TV hit Kung Fu, with David Carradine, and Bruce Lee, with his movies exploding from his role as Kato on the now iconic 26-episode Green Hornet television show from the 1960s.
 
The anthology magazine included characters licensed from Sax Rohmer's estate, Bruce Lee, Iron Fist, Billy Jack (remember him?), Chuck Norris and a few others. There were also reviews, interviews and articles dealing with the then-exploding genre.
 
The artwork was as explosive as the titles on the covers: "You'll Gasp at These Iron-Fisted Features", screams the caption on the face of issue 3e 2. Artists include Neal Adams, Jim Starlin, George Perez and Paul Gulacy.
 
Prices vary on the title, as number 1 range from $5 U.S. in Good to $100 in Near Mint, and are getting harder to find in Near Mint. Bruce Lee covers demand a premium; Billy Jack does not, but the issue (#11) still peaks at about $40 in Near Mint. Expect interest in the title to rise when Netflix and Marvel gets Iron Fist flying through the air.
 
Illustrations
 
1 - Ali and Superman meet for their greatest battle in the ring
 
2 - List of celebrities found on the cover
 
3 - Deadly Hands of Kung Fu comic from the 1970s
 
Previous column: Charlton comics gems
 
Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on his career as a not-so-mild- mannered crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a little bit of history the past three decades.
 
You can reach Rob at lamberti@cogeco.ca
 
 
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